New Delhi: An upcoming global conference aimed at “exploring the consolidation of Hindu supremacist ideology in India and elsewhere”, has come under heavy social media criticism for propagating “Hinduphobia”.
Titled ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’, the online conference is being organised by a group of academics who wished to stay anonymous. The event will feature Indian academics, journalists and activists. It is being supported by a host of North American universities.
“The conference is co-sponsored by nearly 70 academic units from 49 universities. The legwork to get all these cosponsors on board was done by a small volunteer team of professors, students, and activists who would like to stay anonymous due to threats against their safety. They would like to go by the moniker ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference Team’,” said a statement by the organisers to ThePrint.
While the organisers say they are invested in examining the Hindutva ideology “that propagates hate, promotes Islamophobia, and seeks to reduce the myriad practices of Hinduism to a singular notion of a Hindu motherland”, those arguing against the conference say it will lead to “Hinduphobia”.
We are invested in examining the beliefs and actions that constitute Hindutva, an ideology that propagates hate, promotes Islamophobia, and seeks to reduce the myriad practices of Hinduism to a singular notion of a Hindu motherland.
— dismantlinghindutva (@dghconference) August 14, 2021
The organisers have claimed that the speakers scheduled to attend the conference have been threatened with “death and rape”, adding that wild conspiracy theories are being peddled on social media.
What the conference is
The three-day conference is scheduled from 10-12 September.
It will feature many speakers, including Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Ayesha Kidwai, Delhi University professor and sociologist Nandini Sundar, women’s rights activist and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation leader Kavita Krishnan, independent journalist Neha Dixit, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, and poet Meena Kandasamy.
The organisers told ThePrint that they have not released the full list of speakers to spare them threats.
The speakers will cover a range of topics including “what is global Hindutva”; “gender and sexual politics of Hindutva”; “caste and Hindutva”; and “white supremacy”, according to the official website.
The conference is being supported by over 40 North American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Princeton and Simon Fraser, according to the organisers.
The organisers have also found support from an advocacy group called Humans for Hindu Rights (HfHR).
In a public letter addressed to all the universities on 23 August, the group wrote: “HfHR advocates for civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of our faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). We provide a Hindu voice of resistance to all forms of bigotry and oppression based on one’s faith, color, caste, gender, or sexual orientation.”
It added: “We also staunchly oppose the misappropriation of our Hindu faith by the ideology of Hindutva (also frequently referred to as Hindu supremacy, Hindu nationalism, etc), whose foundational principle is to redefine over 200 million Muslim and Christian citizens of India as the ‘other,’ who do not legitimately belong and must therefore either accept second class citizenship or be displaced from their homeland.”
What the critics say
The to-be-held conference has come under heavy criticism in India and the US, with a section of academicians and writers saying “the label of ‘Hindutva’ is being used as a smokescreen for overt Hinduphobia”.
US-based advocacy group Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) has urged universities named by the organisers to dissociate themselves from the conference and ask the organisers to remove their logo.
“This conference falsely paints Hindus as purveyors of extremism, actively denies the genocide of Hindu people, and most troublingly, labels those who disagree as ‘Hindutva’, which the conference organisers define as Hindu extremism,” the group said in its undated letter to universities.
The conference speakers have “either a history of supporting Naxalite/Maoist violence or of disparaging Hindu deities, festivals and practices”, the letter added.
Last week, former Infosys director T.V. Mohandas Pai shared the CoHNA letter on his Twitter account, tagging others, including academic Makarand Paranjape and Oxford University student Rashmi Sawant.
Urge Universities to Disavow the "Dismantling Global Hindutva" Conference. Folks pl read, pl support @RashmiDVS @ShefVaidya @ARanganathan72 @anuraag_saxena @MakrandParanspe @vikramsampath @pradip103 https://t.co/wKUGgOSn8Y
— Mohandas Pai (@TVMohandasPai) August 22, 2021
Following its appeal, CoHNA has also claimed that universities are now disassociating themselves from the conference. In a tweet on 28 August, the group claimed that New Jersey-based Rutgers University has disassociated itself from the event.
Breaking news: Another so called “official sponsor” clarifies their stance. It is NOT Rutgers University, it's only some individuals supporting the “Dismantle Hindtutva” conference! Thanks @RutgersU for clarifying and for not lending institutional support to bigotry. #hinduphobia pic.twitter.com/oYcPsZXO5x
— CoHNA (Coalition of Hindus of North America) (@CoHNAOfficial) August 28, 2021
Another body called the Hindu American Foundation also wrote a letter to all the universities that were listed as supporting the event.
“While academics at your institution may choose to personally engage in political partisan activism concerning India, we hope you would agree that your institution should not,” said its letter.
A number of opinion pieces have also appeared, opposing the conference.
Author and mathematician Abhishek Banerjee wrote a piece titled, “How the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ Conference in the US Dehumanises Hindus Everywhere”.
Paranjape also wrote an opinion piece titled “Hatred of Hindutva may lead to Hindumisia”, which argues that this conference will lead to “Hinduphobia across global academia”.
What the organisers say
Reacting to the criticism, organisers say they are being threatened. In a statement Monday, a conference spokesperson said: “If this conference is shut down, it will set a very poor precedent for allowing Hindu supremacist attacks to stifle academic freedom in the US and the world.”
The statement added that the spokesperson wished to remain anonymous for the fear of harm.
The statement said the “conference organisers and prestigious faculty presenters have received hundreds of threatening emails and even threats of rape and death”, adding that “wild conspiracy theories” have been going around on social media about the conference.
It added that the attacks on the event “are full of distortions and lies designed to make a conference critiquing a supremacist ideology into one attacking the Hindu faith”.
“The conference organisers have clearly stated on their website and elsewhere the distinction between the Hindu faith and the alarming rise of incidents of discrimination, persecution, marginalisation, physical attacks on and killing of religious minorities in India and the US in the name of Hindutva,” it said.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)
This report has been updated to remove the name of one of the conference participants who is no longer on the list of featured speakers