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‘Dismantle Hindutva’ vs ‘understand Hinduphobia’: Battle of narratives now in foreign campuses

Pro- and anti-Hindutva academics have taken their debate abroad in the last few months, with both sides organising conferences and publishing articles.

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New Delhi: The ongoing battle of narratives between Hindutva and anti-Hindutva forces has spilled over from the domestic arena to foreign campuses.

The immediate catalyst for this debate, where academicians and social media warriors from both sides have challenged each other, is ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’, a global conference which is being organised by an anonymous group on 10-12 September.

The conference is, however, just the tip of the iceberg; just one of the battles being fought over the issue of Hindutva.

At least half a dozen such online events, projecting Hindutva as a harmful concept for India, have appeared on the calendar. Some of them include: ‘Republic of Caste’, organised by Ambedkar King Study Circle (USA, 27 June); ‘Caste and Hindutva in the (other) Diaspora’ (6 May), organised by Global Research Network; Genocidal Politics of Hindutva: From Kandhamal to Muzaffarnagar (4-5 June); and Congressional Briefing: Hindu Supremacist Attacks on Academic Freedom (8 September).

The names of the organisers for the 8 September conference hadn’t been made public, but there was a long list of sponsors that included Amnesty International, USA; Indian American Muslim Council; and Indian American Christians of North America, among others.

‘Hindutva vs Hinduphobia’

To counter this string of online events, the Hindutva forces organised a global conference in the first week of September. Titled ‘Understanding Hindutva and Hinduphobia’, the conference, organised by the India Knowledge Consortium (INK), brought together academics and experts in the field of history and religious studies to counter what they fear were distortions of history maligning Hindu culture to perpetuate Hinduphobia.

INK is a consortium of leading UK and European academics working across various fields.

The experts sought to highlight how Hindutva is rooted in principles of universal acceptance and tolerance of all beliefs and faiths, but misunderstandings about the concept have caused much harm in perpetuating Hinduphobia.

Meanwhile, in yet another move, to counter what the Hindutva forces term as propaganda by anti-Hindutva forces, many activists have started approaching universities and departments asking them to not support such events institutionally.

In the US, Hindu American Foundation (HAF) wrote to the presidents and key administrators of all 41 universities listed as co-sponsors of the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ event, asking them to distance themselves from the conference.

“The DGH organizers trade on the prestige of your institution’s name to host, not an academic conference, but a partisan event related to politics in India. The event platforms activists with extensive histories of amplifying Hinduphobic discourse, even while denying the existence of Hinduphobia. Many of these activists equate the whole of Hinduism with caste bigotry and other social ills; deny the subcontinental indigeneity of Hindus and Hinduism; and support or minimize violent extremist and separatists movements and deny the resulting genocides and ethnic cleansings of Hindus,” HAF’s letter states.


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DGH conference on Vivekananda’s Chicago address anniversary

The Hindutva forces feel that the dates for the DGH conference have been deliberately chosen to coincide with the anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous Chicago address in 1893, which established Hindutva in the West.

Ratan Sharda, who has authored several books on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently wrote a scathing piece in News Bharti, a platform run by RSS volunteers.

“It is significant that the seminar (DGH) is being organised from 10 to 12 September. Don’t miss the historical day of 11 September. It is the day signifies the stark difference between the essence of Hindu dharma, that is, Hindutva or Hinduness, and exclusivist, supremacist, Islamist world view. It is the day Swami Vivekananda spoke in the Parliament of Religions and presented his forceful argument about all embracing Hindu dharma that respects all viewpoints, gives asylum to all the persecuted people of the world, doesn’t claim that only it has the truth and everything else was false,” Sharda wrote.

Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly backed by the RSS, referring to the DGH event, wrote: “The date of the Rutgers University conference is 11 September, which has a historical significance. On 11 September 1893 in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda gave a historic speech that united the world, reaffirming fraternal, universal brotherhood in the World Parliament of Religions. They are using this day to corrupt the understanding of the Hindu community, to establish Hindutva as a terror that is a threat to the West or to the rest of the world. They are trying to establish Hindutva as a punk element.”

Strongly reacting to the agenda of such conferences, another pro-Hindutva platform, ‘The Dharma Dispatch’, wrote: “A slew of similar ‘conferences’ suddenly erupted in the very second year of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s prime ministership. Those who are old enough will recall the frequent and heated debates on Rediff, Sulekha and popular blogs over such diverse but related topics as the California textbook controversy, the third-rated Leftist and Islamist campaigns against the Hindu American Foundation, the anti-Hindu machinations of CAIR, engineered controversies over the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Wendy Doniger.”

The writer is a research director at RSS-linked think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. Views expressed are personal.


Also read: Shakhas in Sindh, patrols, self-defence training: The role RSS played during Partition


(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

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