'Dismantling Global Hindutva': Branded Hinduphobic, Academic Seminar Sparks Row

The organisers and speakers of DGH have been subject to targeted harassment and trolling.

4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Over the past few weeks, people affiliated with the conference have attracted the ire of Hindu right-wing groups, who have classified the virtual event as a 'Hinduphobic gathering'. Image used for representational purposes.&nbsp;</p></div>

Sponsored by over 49 universities and more than 60 departments across the world, a three-day global scholarly conference titled 'Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (DGH)' aims to examine the ethnonationalist ideology's reverberations in India and the rest of the world.

The three-day virtual conference, scheduled for Friday, 10 September, is cosponsored by departments from a host of major North American universities including Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton and will feature 25 academicians, activists, and journalists as speakers.

Having previously stressed on anonymity to ensure safety, the organisers and speakers of DGH have been subject to targeted harassment and trolling by right-wingers espousing the ideology.

Speaking to The Print, an organiser had stated, "The legwork to get all these cosponsors on board was done by a small volunteer team of professors, students, and activists who would like to stay anonymous due to threats against their safety. They would like to go by the moniker ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva Conference Team'."

What the Conference is About

According to the DGH website, the conference will "bring together scholars of South Asia specialising in gender, economics, political science, caste, religion, healthcare, and media in order to try to understand the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon of Hindutva".

Envisaged by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923 as an 'ethno-nationalist majoritarian ideological project', Hindutva classified people with a common nation, common race, and common culture as true inhabitants of India.
The DGH will examine topics seeking to understand the meaning of Hindutva, the gender and sexual politics surrounding it, and its ties with caste oppression, white supremacy and Islamophobia.

The organisers have asserted that the panels aim is to "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."
Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspectives website

'Hinduphobic', 'Justifying Hindu Genocide'

Over the past few weeks, people affiliated with the conference have attracted the ire of Hindu right wing groups, who have classified the virtual event as a 'Hinduphobic gathering', ThePrint reported.

Poet, author and activist Meena Kandasamy, who is one of the speakers at the event, has been at the receiving end of aggressive and threatening emails over her participation at the event.

Speaking to Aljazeera, she said,

"This is the textbook Hindutva approach. They just indulge in character assassination, slandering my personal life, questioning the parentage of my children, asking if they were born to one father."
Meena Kandaswamy

Hindu Janajagruti Samiti have even penned a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah, appealing for legal action against the Indian speakers at the conference.

As per Aljazeera, American organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), the Coalition of Hindus in North America (CoHNA), and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) claim that they have sent over 13 lakh emails, urging universities affiliated with the event to withdraw their support.

Further, opinion editorials expounding on the supposed targeting of Hindu views have propped up on media web pages, with OpIndia carrying a piece titled 'Dismantling Global Hindutva Event: Nazi-esque propaganda to justify the genocide of Hindus'.

In an article titled 'Dismantling Global Hindutva event an academic assault on Hinduism', David Frawley has written for Firstpost, while News18 has published an article titled 'How the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ Conference in the US Dehumanises Hindus Everywhere'.

Making a distinction between individual online trolling and the 'systemic and organised' response to the DGH conference, Kandaswamy pronounced, "What is upsetting them is that the topic is being given the halo of academic recognition and a theoretical framework," The News Minute quoted.

The Dilution of Hinduism-Hindutva Distinction

Meanwhile, those supporting the conference have asserted that the conference comes "at a critical time for the world’s largest democracy, which is seeing a precipitous decline in civil and human rights under the current government".

An advocacy group called Humans for Hindu Rights (HfHR) has penned an open letter in support of the scholarly event, saying that:

"We also staunchly oppose the misappropriation of our Hindu faith by the ideology of Hindutva, whose foundational principle is to redefine over 200 million Muslim and Christian citizens of India as the ‘other,’ who do not legitimately belong and must therefore either accept second class citizenship or be displaced from their homeland."
Humans for Hindu Rights (HfHR)

Over 900 academics have written a 'Letter of Support' for the conference and condemned the calculated smear campaign against it.

"We firmly reject these misleading attempts to conflate Hindutva and Hinduism. Hindutva is NOT a religion, nor is it a synonym for Hindu cultural identity, or 'Hindu-ness'," the scholars have pointed out.

Academic Freedom and Free Speech

Further, scholars from across the globe, have also pointed out that the hate campaign against the conference acts as a smokescreen for stifling freedom of speech.

"The campaign of intimidation carried out by Hindutva affiliates cannot be allowed to take root in the academy in the US, Europe, or around the world. Free speech must be protected," stated the letter signed by over 900 academics.

Professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University John L Esposito, in an interaction with Aljazeera upheld that the conference stands on the principles of academic freedom.

"Academics have a professional and moral obligation to respond to Hindutva, as they would to charges of antisemitism, Islamophobia, or racism," Esposito said.

Reiterating this, Purnima Dhavan, the associate professor of history at University of Washington told Aljazeera, "It creates an atmosphere of fear in the classroom when faculty and students know that they will be trolled, harassed, or threatened for any discussion or debates about these topics."

(With inputs from Aljazeera, ThePrint)

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