Leading Hindu advocacy groups in the US, which are campaigning against an upcoming online conference titled Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH), say at least five universities listed as cosponsors appear to have distanced themselves from the "partisan" event -- a claim rejected by anonymous organisers of the programme through a newly created Twitter account.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which is at the forefront of the campaign, also accuses the organisers of unauthorised use of names and logos of some of the universities touted as cosponsors for the three-day event slated for 10-12 September.
The event, which Hindu advocacy groups say promotes hatred against the community and is politically motivated, has triggered a heated online debate that is now spiralling into a full-fledged war of words between the campaigners and the organisers, who have not disclosed their identity.
HAF says its campaign reaching out to over 40 universities — mentioned as cosponsors or supporting cosponsors in publicity material for the event — is receiving "tremendous global response" and yielding results.
The group has written a letter to the universities asking them to dissociate themselves from the "anti-Hindu" event and also to "ensure the safety and well-being of Hindu students, faculty and staff on your campus who may feel targeted, threatened or face hostility" because of the developments.
It has launched a "grassroots campaign to enable students, alumni and concerned citizens to send their own letters to every university ostensibly co-sponsoring the DGH event".
Rajiv Pandit, whose Twitter bio says he is in the HAF board of directors, argues that names and logos of four institutes "are no longer on the" DGH website.
In a 22 August tweet, he said the institutes "never gave permission (to use their names) in the first place". He posted an image of what appeared before and after screenshots from the DGH website page listing its cosponsors.
According to this tweet, the logos of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), the University of Washington, the University of California and the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston) have gone missing even as a debate raged.
Firstpost could not independently verify the claim.
Caught red-handed. The circled logos of 4 universities from a few days ago are no longer on the site. They did not withdraw – they never gave permission in the first place. More expected to follow. The alleged support for the Dismantling Hindutva Conference is unraveling. https://t.co/VLNwN8lRCG pic.twitter.com/vR7aMOi0Nf
— Rajiv Pandit (@rajiv_pandit) August 22, 2021
"Western academia has taken advantage of language barriers and lack of access and resources to silence the formerly colonized. They’ve portrayed us through racist, Eurocentric frames for far too long. Their monopoly of defining who we are and what we believe is over," HAF executive director Suhag A Shukla said on Twitter.
"We @HinduAmerican got a call from @McMasterU (McMaster University in Canada) asking why they’re getting so many of the same letter. It’s called a grassroots campaign. Think of it like individuals singing the same song in the same key in a 'global' chorus demanding that each and every voice be heard and seen," she said in another tweet.
Separately, the Coalition of Hindus in North America (CoHNA), which identifies itself as a grassroots level advocacy organisation, says it is "relieved to know" UMass Boston and Dalhousie University in Canada are not sponsors for such a "hateful event & will get their name/logo removed". CoHNA hopes "others will follow" and says "the use of names without approval, shows us what @dghconference is all about".
On Twitter, it posted a screenshot of what appeared to be an email from the chancellor of UMass Boston who purportedly assured campaigners that the university will request the organisers to "remove UMass Boston name and logo from all media related to this event". The mail also said authorities at the institute were previously unaware that UMass Boston was listed as a co-sponsor and we have not formally received any request (from the organisers)".
We are relieved to know @UMassBoston & @DalhousieU are NOT "sponsors" for such a hateful event & will get their name/logo removed. We hope others will follow. But the use of names without approval, shows us what @dghconference is all about. Thank you #Hindus for speaking out! pic.twitter.com/X2VS28mkn9 — CoHNA (Coalition of Hindus of North America) (@CoHNAOfficial) August 20, 2021
But the Twitter account for the controversial event — named dismantlinghindutva (@dghconference) and created in August — says "Hindu supremacist groups in the US are spreading false claims regarding our cosponsors". "We wish to clarify that every single cosponsoring department, center, or program from the universities listed on our website continues to stand by the conference. We have not had a single withdrawal.
"Indeed, our cosponsors' resolve to stand up to this campaign of disinformation and bullying is stronger than ever," the DGH account posted on 22 August. The anonymous organisers say they will delay "disclosing the names of the entities at these universities that are backing us" to "protect them from precisely the kind of coordinated harassment that university presidents have been subjected to". "The full list of cosponsors will be made available closer to the date of the conference," the account said on Twitter.
When we launched this Twitter two weeks ago, we truly did not anticipate the current outcome. Thank you to the 1,000+ of you who are supporting Dismantling Global Hindutva. Please continue to spread the word about the conference, visit the link in bio for more information🔉 — dismantlinghindutva (@dghconference) August 22, 2021
HAF calls this response "typical dissembling and lies" and says it wouldn't be a surprise if South Asian studies departments stand by the event — because positioning "Hindus as oppressors, gaslighting their persecution & trying to influence Indian politics is what they do".
"But we are hearing from many universities that the use of logos by @dghconference on an anonymously hosted website was unapproved, against policy & frankly, a huge embarrassment & logos will be removed. We ask our supporters to make your voice heard. Contacting your alma maters directly & expressing outrage has particular power," HAF said on Twitter.
They just keep digging their heels in even as they scramble to cover up their ethical blunders. There is no virulent attack. It’s called a respectful, understandable community response. We’re human beings and we have agency and a right to free speech. pic.twitter.com/qT7O4NYc0X — Dr. Indu Viswanathan (@indumathi37) August 21, 2021
According to the DGH publicity material on the Eventbrite website, which identifies itself as a "global self-service ticketing platform for live experiences that allows anyone to create, share, find and attend events", the programme will be co-sponsored by a total of "60+ Departments or Centers from 45+ Universities".
The post, which too does not have the name of the organisers, says speakers will include filmmaker and activist Anand Patwardhan, Left leader Kavita Krishnan, academics Banu Subramaniam, Nandini Sudar and Ayesha Kidwai, and French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot, among others, including journalists. The artwork on the publicity material shows a hammer being used to claw out what are obviously cutouts of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers.
"This conference will convene panels on a variety of interlinked topics that address the threat and power of Hindutva. Scholars, journalists, and activists will examine the historical development of Hindutva, the fascist dimensions of the ideology, its alignment with other supremacist movements and define all that is at stake across a range of political, socio-cultural, and economic issues," said a part of the text in the publicity material.
According to this post, the co-sponsors of the event included "Departments and Centers" at UC San Diego, NYU, UToronto, Princeton, Stanford and Harvard. The list of supporting co-sponsors featured Boston College, Columbia, Concordia, Rutgers, U Illinois Chicago, U Michigan, U Virginia and York, among others.
HAF says the speakers' list consisted of activists who "equate Hinduism with caste bigotry", "deny indigeneity of Hindus to South Asia", "support the violent Kashmir militancy" and "deny Hinduphobia & systemic oppression Hindus face throughout South Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir)".
"The DGH website mentions no academic organizers & specifically defines the event as nakedly political with an intention to 'dismantle' the current government of India. Universities have clear political neutrality statements that oppose sponsorship of partisan political events," HAF said on Twitter.