Why the Hindu community in North America stands at a crossroads

They need pluralistic self-understanding and self-representation, to hold their heads high in the world of religious competition and identity politics.

 |  5-minute read |   10-11-2018
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In two recent trips to North America, I was struck afresh by the challenges confronting Hindus in that continent, with a sense of renewed urgency. The first of these trips was to the World Hindu Congress (WHC), held at Chicago, from September 7-9, while the second was to the Parliament of World’s Religions (PoWR), Toronto, Canada, from 1-7 November 1-7. When some friends heard that I was an invited speaker in the former, they asked, “But aren’t they a bunch of regressive Hindutvavadis?” Why there should have been such a reaction wasn’t entirely clear to me then.

Religious bigotry

Now I know that there’s a lot of bullying and shaming of persons in North America just for being Hindu. It’s not at all cool to have a murti (icon) of a Hindu god or goddess in your dorm room if you are an undergraduate; on the other hand, sporting a Buddhist mantra or Islamic calligraphy on your wall is quite all right. As to the WHC, my experience was quite uplifting. There was energy and enthusiasm seen there. Except for some Leftist-Dalit detractors, the WHC passed peacefully, with many stellar speakers, suggestive of the host community’s coming of age in the United States

Soon after my visit, I read, in an article by Suhag Shukla, executive director of the Hindu America Foundation (HAF), that, “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 bullying extends far beyond the classroom in the US.”

Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Hindu member of the US Congress, who made an appearance at WHC, had been accused by some organisations of “bullying and hate crimes”, just for being associated with the peaceful gathering of Hindus. I had experienced some of this intolerance myself as an invited speaker in London and Ottawa earlier when Leftist groups targeted me and tried to prevent me from speaking. Why is it, that not a career politician like Krishnamoorthi, but ordinary academics such as myself, face such “de-platforming” and “delegitimation” simply for appearing on so-called “Hindu” forums?

I realised that the same fringe group which had protested against the WHC were also present at the PoWR, not as protesters outside the event, but as respected speakers and participants. The Parliament was already embroiled in controversy in 2013, when two of its Hindu trustees, Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities, and Dr Anant Rambachan, Chair of the Department of Religion at St. Olaf’s College, resigned.

The Parliament pulled out of the celebration of the 120th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago address. The recently concluded PoWR, too, had, as several participants observed, its “anti-India and anti-Hindu” moments, starting with the omission of a Hindu speaker in the inauguration, and the accusation of genocide against India.

hindus-us-copy_111018115815.jpgMany claim Hindus to be one of the most discriminated groups in the United States. (Photo: Reuters)

Coordinated front

The reason for some of these embarrassments is that there are well-organised radical coalitions in North America controlling the discourse in Humanities and Social Studies on prominent campuses. Their modus operandi is to bully, boycott, browbeat and silence those who disagree with them. They have also been at the forefront of the California textbook case where, fortunately, Hindu groups seem to have the upper hand in their fight for a more balanced and fair portrayal of their traditions. Ironically, these Leftist groups don’t hesitate to associate with radical Islamist, Sikh, or Dalit groups, as long as they are anti-India and anti-Hindu. They do so, moreover, in the name of liberal values such as free speech and the right to dissent.

Often, libellous fictions are invented accusing their opponents of supporting violence against Dalits, women, and minorities, implying that Hindus are casteist on principle. It's no surprise that a favourite whipping boy of these groups is India’s popular mascot overseas, Mahatma Gandhi. There is not a single meeting in or about Gandhi that I have attended in the last few years when someone does not accuse him of being a racist, woman-hater or, worse, a child molester. Unfortunately, many so-called Right Wing Hindus have also joined this chorus of blame by calling Gandhi a coward who had weakened Hindus and favoured Muslims.

Hope for future

Shukla, a Civil Rights lawyer and activist, also points out how Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, and Tulsi Gabbard have also been targeted by anti-Hindu and antiIndian groups. The Hindu America Foundation (HAF), which few in India know about, has done path-breaking work in exposing the infamous United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Backed by American evangelists, it frequently depicts India as the attacker in its reports on religious freedom. One particularly virulent attack on India by the USCIRF was by “a Pakistani activist with alleged ties to extremist and Indian separatist groups.” Similarly, the HAF exposed the ‘The Coalition Against Genocide’ as an anti-India, Hindu-hating Leftist group, naming some of its members.

The estimated 3 million Hindus in the US and Canada may have increased by another 1 million or so North Americans who have also taken to Hinduism, whether officially or unofficially. All of them need rational, open-minded, and pluralistic self-understanding and self-representation, to hold their heads high in the world of religious competition and identity politics. But this needs better coordination and cooperation between Hindu groups in North America and India. Without this, I am afraid, we may be working at cross-purposes or, inadvertently, even against each other.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Shudras, not Aryans, built the Indus Valley Civilisation

Writer

Makarand R Paranjape Makarand R Paranjape @makrandparanspe

The writer is director, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. The views are personal.

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