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How the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ Conference in the US Dehumanises Hindus Everywhere

By: Abhishek Banerjee

Last Updated: August 23, 2021, 15:06 IST

Caste politics in India is changing rapidly, with the backward caste and OBC-based parties themselves moving towards a ‘sarvjan’ identity across all Hindu groups.

Caste politics in India is changing rapidly, with the backward caste and OBC-based parties themselves moving towards a ‘sarvjan’ identity across all Hindu groups.

When it comes to Hindus, there is a vindictive streak among intellectuals to twist things in ridiculous ways. Not even the Mahabharata is spared.

During the January 6 riots this year at Capitol Hill in Washington DC, there was a curious sideshow that indicates how some elements in Western academia are trying to whip up passions against Hindus. After someone noticed an Indian flag being waved in the pro-Trump crowd, academic Audrey Truschke pounced upon the image on Twitter, connected it to Hindus and announced that it would be included in her course on history at Rutgers University. There you have it; the official history syllabus at Rutgers University being designed live, based on social media rumors.

Incidentally, it turned out that the crazed individual with the Indian flag in the pro-Trump crowd was one Vincent Xavier, an unlikely candidate for a proponent of Hindutva. But imagine being a Hindu student on campus the next day. Likely to be an immigrant or born to immigrant parents, a person of colour, now suspected of having cultural links with a group of people who just tried to pull off an insurrection against the United States government.

And that is how they drive hatred against Hindus, as with the upcoming conference on ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’.

Two things come to mind immediately when you look at the announcement for this conference. Actually, three. The first is the word “dismantling”, an unusual action word for the title of an academic conference, which is supposed to be more about discussion, debate and analysis. More importantly, there is the emphasis on the word “global”. Even if there is a group of individuals that is disturbed by Hindu identity politics, how could the Hindus, who form a micro-minority in almost all countries in the world, pose a global threat?

This is clearly a dog whistle. It appears to highlight the fact that this tiny minority of Hindus in the West enjoys much higher levels of education and wealth than the general population there. The parallels from history are chilling. Which other religious minority in the West has been targeted like this? If someone proposed an academic conference on say “Dismantling Global Jewry”, would it be acceptable in mainstream society?

Also, you cannot help noticing that the three-day conference is scheduled for September 10-12, with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the middle. It is hard to imagine that the organisers, or anyone else, would miss the symbolic significance of choosing this date. The war in Afghanistan has ended in defeat, and not just a military one. It has ended with the Chief of Defense Staff for the British military accepting the Taliban as the good guys all along, committed to rooting out corruption and building an Afghanistan that is inclusive for all.
The sense of frustration and humiliation in the West must be running deep. Is there a group of intellectuals that is taking this opportunity to propose a new enemy to the West in the form of Hindus? The Hindus are easy to demonise. They come from a faraway country that everyone has heard about, but nobody really understands. To the West, their language and their customs are both strange and unfamiliar. And in the West, they happen to be economically successful, which makes them easier to resent. The ground is fertile to invoke ancient prejudices against those seen as pagans, worshipers of idols and forces of nature. This ‘academic’ conference appears to be tapping into that.

In their defence, the supporters of this conference, as well as many others with a left-liberal worldview, emphasise that their target is the political ideology of Hindutva, and not Hindus as a people. This defence is both weak and intellectually dishonest. First of all, is there any particular reason that Hindus should not be allowed to assert their group identity? Are there similar objections to say political Islam or political Christianity? Not at all.

Most Western democracies encourage Christian political expression by means of a number of special interest groups. In fact, Christian political expression is often institutionalised, with Vatican City recognised as a sovereign state, with diplomatic representation in almost every country on Earth, as well as the United Nations. In Germany, the dominant political party is the Christian Democratic Union, led by the formidable Angela Merkel, who has now been the Chancellor for 16 years. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held in 2010 that giving “preponderant visibility” to the majority religion of a country does not violate the separation of church and state. This was in reference to Italian law, which required that the crucifix be displayed in all public school classrooms.

With respect to political Islam, the global position is even more clear. The Organisation of Islamic Conference consists of 57 member states, and enjoys diplomatic representation both at the European Union and the United Nations. Incidentally, only 49 of the 57 member states of the organisation are Muslim majority countries. Even more interestingly, India under Indira Gandhi tried to join this organisation in 1969, but was refused membership because Pakistan objected.

So why do we see this peculiar liberal instinct to single out and dismantle Hindutva? In India itself, we have a wide array of political movements built around linguistic, regional and caste identities. While these interests don’t always get along, there is general agreement that they can all exist within a strong, democratic India. So why not Hindutva? How did it become socially acceptable, even liberal, to raise slogans calling to bury Hindutva? The latter actually happened at Aligarh Muslim University in December 2019.

When reading through the conference announcement, one also comes across the usual accusation that Hindutva repudiates the politics of caste and denies social justice. First of all, just because an individual or group can have multiple identities does not mean that they have to be at war with each other. Otherwise, the women’s movement would be against every other political movement on Earth.

Moreover, caste politics in India is changing rapidly, with the backward caste and OBC-based parties themselves moving towards a ‘sarvjan’ identity across all Hindu groups. The effort to show Hindutva at war with caste-based social justice is now more of an elitist crusade. It is mostly run by activists today. Ironically, these activists are most often from an upper caste background themselves, and believe they have a right to tell the ‘bahujan’ what to do. Could anything be more condescending?

Therefore, this reflexive hatred against Hindutva can only be seen as a design to deny Hindus their legitimate place in the world. All this hatred against people of a land that has been repeatedly invaded and torn to pieces at the behest of conquerors and colonisers. As the images from Kabul and the broken Buddhas of Bamiyan show, the Indian subcontinent is not going to be a safe place for Hindus any time soon. Worse, everyone insists on calling it South Asia now. One more step towards making India invisible.

When it comes to the history of Hindutva, there is a particularly damaging smear that the left has made its own. They cite old writings of MS Golwalkar to claim that Hindutva has something in common with Nazism. However, this would be fair only if the Nazi label was applied equally to every other institution, in fact more so to those that were in an actual position to help the Nazis. For instance, does the Nazi label apply to the Communists who were military allies of Hitler? The latter invaded Poland jointly with the Nazis in 1939, starting the Second World War. Do we get to ask members of the CPI(M) today why their ideological forefathers were aligned with Hitler?

Similarly, what do we make of the role of the Catholic Church, considering their close relationship with Mussolini? In fact, Vatican City itself was conceded by Mussolini to the Pope as part of the Lateran treaty of 1929. Also, what do we make of the fact that a Nazi intelligence officer served two terms as Secretary General of the United Nations, was elected President of Austria and was knighted by the Pope upon his retirement? That was as recently as 1994. So, the Communists, the Church, the European Union and the United Nations are all Nazis?

But when it comes to Hindus, there is a vindictive streak among intellectuals to twist things in ridiculous ways. Not even the Mahabharata is spared. According to Audrey Truschke, the Bhagavad Gita “rationalises mass slaughter”, because it was invoked on a battleground, before the Kurukshetra war. Can you imagine the texts of any other religion interpreted this way? Since war takes up so much space in our consciousness, any civilisation or people at any point in time could be smeared like this. What about General Eisenhower’s address to Allied troops before their landings on D-Day in Nazi-occupied Europe? Would that also be considered as rationalising mass slaughter? How ridiculous does this get?

So is there any Hindu they would not smear, at least not directly? Apparently, yes. Truschke accepts that Mahatma Gandhi interpreted the Gita to support non-violent resistance. But in the very next sentence, she hastens to add that the Bhagavad Gita rationalises mass slaughter in the plot of the Mahabharata. There you go! According to them, there has only been one decent Hindu ever, which was Mahatma Gandhi and that was only because he failed to take the Bhagavad Gita in context.

It is time that Hindus everywhere recognise that there is an effort to dismantle our identity as a civilisation. And that we have too much to lose.

Abhishek Banerjee is a mathematician, columnist and author.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.)

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first published:August 23, 2021, 13:28 IST
last updated:August 23, 2021, 15:06 IST