Silencing or suppressing a gathering where Hindus from across the diaspora participate is counterproductive.
One in three Hindu-American students report being bullied for their religious beliefs. Fifty per cent of the same children report experiencing social isolation because of their religious identity. What’s worse is that this bullying extends far beyond the classroom in the US.
In the latest example, after Raja Krishnamoorthi, one of four Hindu-American members of the US Congress, spoke at the World Hindu Congress (WHC) held in a district neighbouring his Chicago constituency, he was disinvited from an event to mark – with some irony – bullying and hate crimes.
Efforts to de-platform or de-legitimise speakers who happen to hold or even merely acknowledge ideological positions opposed to their own are in vogue. Such efforts frequently emanate from college campuses. Why? The radical left academic project has morphed into one which equates ideas that don’t align with their own intersectional calculations with violence. And their way to fight such “violence” is to silence it. So academics like Rohit Chopra and Maia Ramnath, unsurprisingly, use the same tactics here in ThePrint by throwing shade at the WHC.
Let’s dispense with a factual error in their piece: the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) did not co-sponsor the WHC nor speak on any panel. HAF is not and never has been affiliated with the Sangh Parivar, and is a professionally staffed independent advocacy organisation based in Washington, D.C.
Chopra and Ramnath go on to make the libellous claim that HAF and other Hindu-American organisations “publicly lauded” violence against Dalits and Muslims in India. Even a superficial perusal of HAF’s website demonstrates that such a claim is ludicrous and shows that such incidents have been unequivocally condemned.
The WHC, organised by a coalition of duly registered Hindu-American organisations, hosted 2,500 Hindus from across the global diaspora. The Dalai Lama addressed the audience. Swami Swaroopananda (worldwide head of the Chinmaya Mission), Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (Art of Living Foundation), Swami Paramatmananda (secretary of the Dharma Acharya Sabha), Satguru Dalip Singh (Namdhari Sikh), and other senior swaminis and mahatmas blessed the gathering. Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan recipients were among the panelists. Pakistani Hindus, Bhutanese Hindus, and many more were among the poignant voices on global human rights, environmental activism, and faith-based seva. Hindus from Africa, the Middle East, and South America assembled to network with their co-religionists.
But a short address by Mohan Bhagwat, head of the RSS, transformed the entire event into a Waterloo of sorts for the radical fringes of South Asian activism. As a result, Krishnamoorthi became the target of unrelenting social media attacks and demonstrations for appearing on the dais of the WHC – a dais from where the Lt Governor of Illinois, the Vice Presidents of India and Suriname, and assorted elected leaders from Mauritius and various European countries also spoke.
To deconstruct this overwrought targeting of Krishnamoorthi, it’s important to shed light on who actually was protesting the events in Chicago Friday. The six radicals who stood on their chairs and raised slogans to disrupt the event were arrested by Chicago police. These radicals immediately released a rambling manifesto that threw a demand at a Hindu Chicago city council member to oppose the opening of a local police academy. Another twitter handle that posted messages against the WHC includes the same actors who hounded and mocked Hindu children in California, trying to improve school textbooks, through live televised public testimony that said: “It’s only after I came to the United States that I learnt about what an oppressive construct Hinduism is”.
Another activist made the incredible claim that Kashmir unrest began with the advent of the Modi government and then called for denying Bhagwat a visa. And finally, not only did extremist Sikhs unfurl flags for Khalistan and the ISI-funded Referendum 2020 in the WHC parking lot, but one of the loudest internet portals that harangued Krishnamoorthi and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard over the WHC – the Organization for Minorities of India – is operated allegedly by a Khalistan supporter who was the subject of a federal investigation for allegedly trying to “procure illegal arms for the Khalistan movement”.
So, as I wrote just last week, Krishnamoorthi is not the first Indian or Hindu-American elected to national office who has been targeted like this:
Ami Bera (D-CA), an Indian American [legislator] born in California… was targeted by Sikh separatists… Ro Khanna (D-CA) faced dark insinuations of loyalty to India in a previously failed quest for a congressional seat, before he ultimately triumphed.
Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the first Hindu elected to the U.S. Congress… was targeted by an internet portal, infamous for its voluminous efforts to force American cities to take down statues celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolence movement, for having even met with Modi… [and] Hindu Americans previously came to Gabbard’s defense when not only Gabbard, but her temple, her spiritual mentor, and parents were maligned for embracing Hinduism.
In this mad rush to render the WHC toxic, most absurd is the spirited defence of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Chopra and Ramnath describe it, approvingly, as an “American congressional institution”. In fact, USCIRF is a commission convened only in 1998, under the Clinton administration, with deep roots in the ultra-conservative American Evangelical Christianity movement. It is known to promote that agenda through commissioners with overt anti-LGBT, anti-Muslim, and anti-Hindu views.
The Commission has never been given permission to visit India, regardless of the party in power, and its bias against India is considered so blatant that one of the commissioners took the unusual measure of penning a dissent against the commission’s annual rote condemnation of perceived ills in India.
And last year, HAF exposed a particularly blatant USCIRF attack on India, which was authored by a Pakistani activist with alleged ties to extremist and Indian separatist groups. The author’s background and lack of expertise raised alarm bells and members of the US Congress were requested to initiate inquiries into USCIRF’s vetting and review practices.
Chopra and Ramnath, and their sundry fellow travellers will choose their ideological battles. But silencing or suppressing a gathering where Hindus from across the diaspora – politicians, authors, poets, and the towering spiritual leaders of our times – participate is counterproductive. This internecine bloodletting – targeting and then de-platforming the few Hindu-Americans holding national office with a clear record of championing progressive causes in the US – is shamefully short-sighted and can only emasculate putative allies. Allies whom each one of us need at a time when illiberal ideas are on the rise and the very lives of Hindu and all Americans are at stake.
Suhag A. Shukla is a human and civil rights lawyer and serves as the Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation.