New Jersey, September 6, 2021. A diverse and broad collective of 150 community organizations, temples and spiritual groups have come together and signed a letter expressing their shock and dismay to 40+ universities, urging them to disavow the “Global Dismantling Hindutva'' conference. The letter comes in addition to the thousands of individuals - including students, parents and alumni - who sent over one million emails to the universities that are supporting this Hinduphobic event on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The letter remarked: “We are deeply concerned that this is a thinly veiled attack on Hinduism in the name of academic freedom and sows seeds of bigotry that will intimidate and imperil minority Hindu students and faculty members on your campus.” It also outlined some of the most egregious and bigoted positions of the conference speakers and organizers, and illustrated that the real target is Hinduism and not any political ideology.
The letter further asks the universities to consider why the conference is being hosted on the 20th Anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. By choosing the weekend of 9/11, the conference organizers attempt a false and dangerous conflation of the Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and global terrorism with Hindus. In fact, a scheduled keynote speaker at the conference has already expressed this sentiment.
Coordinated by the Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA), the letter’s signatories include a mix of organizations, ranging from some of the largest Hindu temples and national associations, to interfaith allies and local cultural groups. Collectively, these groups represent hundreds of thousands of mainstream Hindus, who live, study and work in communities across the two countries. “The fact that 150 American and Canadian organizations from all walks of life have signed this letter illustrates the outrage within the Hindu community and our allies,” remarked Nikunj Trivedi, president of CoHNA. “It goes to show that a broad swath of Hindus have galvanized and are truly concerned about today’s biased discourses around Hinduism and the silencing of Hindu voices by calling us purveyors of extremist ideology.”
Far from being an academic exchange of ideas, the conference features speakers who are on record for supporting violent groups like the Naxalites and Maoists, who have been declared as terrorists by the US State Department. Others have called for an end of Hinduism as a religion on a myriad occasions and have openly disparaged Hindu deities, customs and traditions. Yet, any Hindu who protests against such communist leaders being featured as speakers on 9/11 is accused of being an agent of a foreign government and a “Hindu supremacist.” It is therefore shocking that any university would lend its name to such an event while affirming its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Indeed, the scale, volume and diversity of the letter's signatories shows that, while the privileged organizers and supporters of the Hinduphobic conference have the megaphones on both academic and media platforms, they do not reflect the broader and mainstream Hindu community. What’s more, there has been a disturbing trend among academia, government bodies and corporations in the western world to start defining what does and does not constitute Hinduism - harking back to the days when colonizers attempted to define Hinduism and create policies based on a bigoted understanding of indigenous practices.
This is extremely problematic because Hinduism is a highly diverse, experiential and decentralized tradition, which has never been bound by the dictates of some elites - no matter how well off or well positioned they are. Any attempts to draw boundaries around Hinduism/Hindutva based on political ideologies and misplaced understanding are dangerous and encroach on the civil rights of a minority religious community.
Furthermore, signatories expressed concerns that the perpetuation of bigoted language and resources which vehemently deny the existence of Hinduphobia, will intimidate and imperil minority Hindu students and faculty members on campuses. One can already see instances where Hindu groups and students raising concerns are being singled out and labeled as extremists. The disregard for safety is particularly jarring since many Hindu students on campus and young alumni are immigrants on temporary visas, thus making it highly unlikely they will report any abuse they face.
At a time when privileged academics with tenure are hounding young vulnerable students for something as simple as displaying the images of deities in their home offices, it is imperative for universities to ensure their safety and to foster diversity, equity and inclusion for all. Institutional support for bigotry in the name of “academic freedom” achieves the exact opposite effects and legitimizes hatred against Hindus.
CoHNA and the signatories plan to send a copy of the letter to lawmakers, given that many of the universities are recipients of federal funding.
The full text of the letter can be found here and CoHNA’s complete campaign here.