‘Systemic Hinduphobic bias is real. A section of Western academia silencing Hindu voice'

Firstpost is convinced that Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH), a three-day online conference (from Sept 10-12) planned by anonymous organise...

Firstpost is convinced that Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH), a three-day online conference (from Sept 10-12) planned by anonymous organisers in the US, is a partisan and politically motivated event designed to malign an ancient religion and its adherents. Through columns and reported pieces, this Firstpost series exposes why such programmes are misleading, agenda-driven, and nothing but thinly-veiled Hinduphobia.

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Dr Indu Viswanathan, an immigrant and educationist, has made a statement in the first-ever US Congressional briefing on anti-Hindu bias, touching upon the controversial Dismantling Global Hindutva event that she says “amplifies the voices of several openly Hinduphobic agents". The hearing was organised by advocacy group Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA) and sponsored by Congressman Drew Ferguson of the Third District of Georgia. In her statement, Dr Viswanathan has delved deep into what she calls a systemic “Hinduphobic bias", and spoken at length about a section of Western academia that erases “Hindu persecution” and dubs all dissenters extremists – leading to the “silencing of Hindu speech". Follows the full transcript of her statement.

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Namaste and thank you for taking the time to hear us! My name is Indu Viswanathan and I am an educational scholar and teacher educator. As a former public school teacher, I now study how immigrant families navigate our public schools. I am the child of immigrants and a product of New York State schools, and I attended a land grant university. I am also a Hindu American mother. Both of my sons are well aware of the systemic biases that project Hinduism as fundamentally oppressive and inherently violent and backwards.

How can we establish that Hinduphobic bias is systemic? We examine our major institutions that determine and reflect the ways we collectively think about people and phenomena - education, media, and government. Anti-Hindu bias manifests both through direct speech and through the silencing of Hindu speech across these spaces. It is especially aggressive in colleges, where Hinduphobic rhetoric strives to keep Hindu American students from being included as equal members of American society.

This Friday, Hindus celebrate Ganesha Chaturthi, one of our most important festivals. It also marks the start of a three-day academic conference that amplifies the voices of several openly Hinduphobic agents, denies Hinduphobia, erases Hindu persecution, and labels anyone who disagrees with them as a political extremist. One of their stated goals is to create public educational curricula that extend and normalise those assumptions. Scholars associated with the conference repeat these same ideas across news media, while dissenting Hindu American voices are denied access to those same spaces. The organisers proudly assert the sponsorship of over 50 prominent American colleges and universities.

Click here for other stories on Dismantling Global Hindutya

Hindu Americans reached out to these institutions, sharing our concerns that they were sponsoring the silencing of Hindu American voices. Some schools replied that their names had been used without their consent. Others doubled down. The conference then shared that over 900 academics had signed a letter in support of their endeavour. The letter states in no uncertain terms that all Hindu American disagreement with their agenda is political extremism and intimidation.

That 900 academics at institutions that Hindu American children attend signed this letter is deeply alarming. In a way, the academics actively signed on to the erasure of Hinduphobia, including denying the documented ethnoreligious cleansing and genocide of Hindus in contemporary times.

The signatures were clustered around particular universities, some of which are land grant and/or public institutions and all of whom receive federal funding, through research or writing grants or other subsidies.

This indicates that a consensus is being reached on certain campuses that Hindu American voices should not be trusted or even heard and that it is vital and “anti-fascist” to erase Hindu persecution. Paired with the existing data we have on Hindu American student experiences on these specific campuses, it appears that there is a growing normalisation of institutional Hinduphobia that silences Hindu Americans in alarming ways.

Hindu American students are actively denied access to express their views and experiences in college newspapers under false pretenses. Hindu American students are publicly shamed about celebrating our festivals, harassed by student-run organisations that are vigorously supported by these professors. Hindu American students are warned by professors that joining cultural Hindu campus organisations is tantamount to participating in political extremism.  One institution hosted a speaker who called for the destruction of Hinduism entirely.

The silencing extends to genocide denial. A few months ago, one institution on this list held a three-day conference on the 1971 Bangladeshi War, when two-three million Bangladeshi Hindus were targeted and killed by the Pakistani Army for being Hindu. In November 1971, in a report that was a part of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,  Senator Ted Kennedy wrote: “Hardest hit have been members of the Hindu community who have been robbed of their lands and shops, systematically slaughtered, and, in some places, painted with yellow patches marked 'H'."

A colleague and I attended the sessions; we realised that the genocide was not being recognised, so we respectfully asked the panelists about it using the Q&A function. Our questions were actively ignored while other questions were answered - we were effectively silenced.

The silencing about Hindu persecution and shaming for being Hindu is not limited to universities. These are direct quotes from Hindu American students who attend public high school:

When people in school were really insulting you, and your religion, and your beliefs, did you ever feel like you wanted to give up the religion? So you could fit in?

The Western media likes to show a lot of Hindu extremism or terrorists or fundamentalists. But the problem is that they’re only showing us as these terrorists. What can kids do to combat that and kind of be like, “Hey, we’re not some weird cultish group that’s killing everyone. We’re just humans like you.”

Oftentimes Hindu girls are told that in order to be a good feminist, you can’t be a Hindu.

As a mother, as an educator, as an American, I find it unacceptable that the children and young adults of any community face bias and intimidation within our federally funded institutions and because of the specific efforts of powerful academics who receive federal funding and are effectively rewarded for actively silencing our free speech under the pretext of safeguarding their liberty. Simultaneously, they use their positions of power within public institutions to declare repeatedly that they are the experts about our religion. It is an overt attack on our First Amendment rights. This goes against the very principles that even my fifth grade students knew were at the foundation of our democracy.

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