Rights Body, Scholars Slam Hindutva Groups for Attacks on US Conference

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VHP volunteers. — File photo used for illustration.

Over 10,000 register to attend as the three-day online conference titled “Dismantling Global Hindutva” begins

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — The National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) has condemned the attacks and intimidation by the Hindu right-wing on the conference that seeks to investigate the phenomenon of Hindutva. The three-day academic conference titled “Dismantling Global Hindutva” began in the United States on Friday, September 10.

More than 50 universities including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers are co-sponsoring the conference.

Hindu nationalist groups are alleging that it promotes Hinduphobia. But the organisers deny the accusations saying that it’s an academic exercise which focuses on the political ideology of Hindutva.

In a statement, NCHRO says that despite a massive campaign of disinformation and intimidation by pro-Hindutva groups, support for the conference has only grown. When the attacks began, the conference was backed by 45 departments and centers from 41 universities. Now, the conference has the support of 70 co-sponsoring units and centers from 53 universities.

More than 10,000 have registered to attend the three-day online conference that has attracted speakers from within and outside the US, including India.

Meanwhile, a number of scholars have condemned the attacks on the organisers and participants of the conference.

“The level of hate has been staggering. Organizers and speakers have received death threats, threats of sexual violence, and threats of violence against their families. Women participants have been subjected to the vilest kind of misogynistic threats and abuse, and members of caste and religious minority groups associated with the conference have been targeted with casteist and sectarian slurs in the ugliest sorts of language,” said Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor of Communication, Santa Clara University.

“Each such instance of violent and forced censorship is meant to create a chilling effect. The hope of the Hindu Right is to intimidate and bully scholars so that no one dares analyze Hindutva in any manner other than the unequivocally laudatory or hagiographic,” he said.

Professor Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University, is another scholar to back the scholarly initiative. “This conference takes place at an urgent moment in my country’s history at a time when farmers, workers, women, Dalits, Adivasis, Bahujans, Muslims, religious and sexual minorities, are opposing the project of Hindu majoritarian nationalism being put into practice by the Sangh Parivar,” wrote Professor Gyan Prakash. “As education is an arena where Hindutva seeks to establish its dominance and control, such a conference is a collective intellectual exercise to plot and imagine our way out of this caste-fanatic, misogynist nightmare.”

Deepa Kumar, Professor of Media Studies tt Rutgers University, said: “This conference has been subjected to overwhelming attack both in India and in the United States. Fringe groups have placed immense pressure upon universities to back out of the conference. Their line of attack has been to falsely characterize the conference as anti-Hindu, even though conference organizers have made clear on the website for the conference from the start that they are critiquing the 100-year-old, fascist-inspired Hindutva ideology.”

“I was informed that Hindu supremacists have bombarded university servers with this disinformation, sending close to one million emails to the Presidents, Provosts, and other officials at co-sponsoring universities.”

“At Drew University for example, the servers registered over 30,000 emails within a few minutes. University servers were overwhelmed and had to block all emails containing the conference title in them, including legitimate emails.”

“Electronic attacks on the conference have included attempts to shut down the Eventbrite registration page; the Facebook page was shut down, but conference organizers are working to reinstate it; the conference website was taken down for a period of two days, and there was a successful attack on the conference email address, shutting it down for a day.”

Thomas Blom Hansen, Chair and Professor, Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, said, “It is clear that the campaign to suppress critical scholarship and discussion of Hindutva has escalated over the past decades, in particular since Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s victory in 2014, which has given many Hindutva activists a sense of impunity. However, such abuse are illegal acts that need to be reported to the police and to campus security immediately.”

“Hindutva activists do not represent Hindus as such. They actually represent the interests of a foreign government. The true face of the Hindutva project in India and the rest of world needs to be understood and documented, relentlessly. US-based academics are well positioned to be part of this work and uphold the value of fact-based scholarship against partisan forces that are trying to manipulate how Indian society and Indian history are understood in the wider public, in India, and in the US,” he added.

Audrey Truschke, Associate Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers University, said, “I am the target of repeated smears and misinformation campaigns. Hindu nationalist groups have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to prompt my employer, Rutgers University, to take punitive action against me. Many Hindu supremacists openly discuss trying to influence the New Jersey state government, elected officials, and Rutgers administrators in order to silence me, a scholar.”

“While I am a favorite target of US-based Hindu supremacists, I am not exceptional. Many other scholars of South Asia have been targeted as well – not only by nationalists overseas but also by US citizens who are part of this homegrown form of Hindu supremacist hate. In fact, Hindu supremacists based in the United States have led the campaign of fear and intimidation against the academic conference, Dismantling Global Hindutva.”

Apoorvanand, Professor of Hindi at the University of Delhi, “The idea of academic freedom has now become redundant in India barring one or two states. The primary reason is the complete takeover of all institutions by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a fascist organization which works in the name of Hindu supremacy.”

“It also rules the media space as most of the TV channels and newspapers have become its mouth organ. Rules have been framed depriving teachers of having and expressing their own opinion if it goes against the state. They cannot publish without the permission of the university authorities, especially if it is critical of the state policies.”

“Many central universities in India which are centrally funded have adopted these service rules. They are forbidden from making any collective representation, even about academic and logistical issues. Recently, three teachers at a central university were issued show cause notice for having written collectively asking for an internet facility on the campus for online classes. Before that, a general warning was issued after one of the faculty members published an article critical of the ideology of the ruling party.”

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