"She is Islamophobia personified," said Minhaj Khan, former president of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) in New Jersey, when asked about Hindu nationalist ideologue Sadhvi Rithambara, whose fundraising event at the Old Paramus Reformed Church in the state was cancelled a few days ago.
Reverend Robert Miller of the Church reportedly stated that he had revoked approval for the event, scheduled to be held on 10 September, after receiving a flood of messages opposing Rithambara's appearance, including more than 1,000 emails and 100 phone calls from across the United States.
He also said that the Church had not been aware of the speaker's background when the reservation was made. Advocacy groups like Hindus for Human Rights (HfRH), the Indian American Muslim Council, and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) had spearheaded the protests against the event.
In fact, the same organisations mobilised on the evening of 17 September to try and get her fundraising event in California's Long Beach cancelled. This particular event, however, did not get cancelled.
The Quint interviewed Minhaj Khan of the IAMC and Sunita Viswanath, the executive director of Hindus for Human Rights, regarding the efforts that they put in to get the event cancelled and the peaceful mobilisation of the Indian American community against Hindutva in the US. The Quint also reached out to Reverend Miller with some questions about the controversy but has not received a reply yet.
'We Have the Right to Mobilise Dissent'
"Sadhvi Rithambara is a known hatemonger. She proudly incited and participated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. She has since vociferously spoken out against Muslims and Christians. She is here to spread hate. She is bringing together those who support the Hindutva regime in India," Viswanath of the HfHR told The Quint.
"She may have the right to speak, but we have the right to mobilise dissent," she added.
Similarly, Khan of the IAMC asserted that "Sadhvi Rithambra is a preacher of anti-Muslim hate. She is Islamophobia personified. We are a peace-loving community in the US. This is not India. We will not allow the Hindutva hatred in the US and will fight it hard. America welcomes immigrants from around the world but not their bigotry and hatred."
As explained by The Quint in this article, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Rithambara rose amongst the Hindutva ranks and went on to play a crucial role in the controversial destruction of the Babri Masjid.
The Liberhan Commission that probed the Babri Masjid demolition, compiled a list of 68 people whom they stated were individually culpable for leading the country "to the brink of communal discord."
Sadhvi Rithambara was one of them, but she was eventually acquitted by a special CBI court.
A Diverse Alliance 'Challenging Hindu Supremacists'
The Old Paramus Reformed Church, which was supposed to host the event, was informed about Sadhvi Rithambara's complicity in anti-Muslim bigotry in India.
"The church leaders immediately realised who she was, that they were misled about her, and quickly cancelled the event," said Khan.
"Our coalition that has been challenging Hindu supremacists in New Jersey has included Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Council on American-Islamic Relations New Jersey (CAIR-NJ), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), and American Muslims for Democracy and Black Lives Matter. We have Hindus, Muslims, and Christians among us. We have people of all colour and races in our coalition. They come from all walks of life."Minhaj Khan, Indian American Muslim Council
Viswanath added that successfully getting Rithambara's event cancelled "was an entirely grassroots community effort spearheaded by IAMC and CAIR-LA."
"There are many Indian American and South Asian American community organisations working together in coalitions to resist Hindutva. Hindus for Human Rights is the only Hindu organisation mobilising the Hindu community against caste and Hindutva. The members of our HfHR and our coalition partners are diverse community members: students, young professionals, artists, and religious leaders. There are politicians and celebrities who support our cause as well."Sunita Viswanath, Hindus for Human Rights
Resistance to Hindutva in the US
"There are sections of the Indian American community who believe in equal rights for immigrants in the US but do not believe in the same rights for minorities back in India. This is shameless hypocrisy. Why should an organisation like the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh invite Sadhvi Rithambra, who is a known bigot and anti-Muslim preacher of hate," said Khan when asked about Hindutva and the Indian American community.
He told The Quint that "there is a solid grassroots movement now building up across the US against Hindutva."
"We are educating elected officials in towns, cities, counties, states, and at the federal level across America that this hateful ideology is inspired by the Nazis and the fascists. Hundreds of officials and people in the interfaith movement are now learning that Hindutva is the same as white supremacy. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is India's KKK (Ku Klux Klan)."Minhaj Khan, Indian American Muslim Council
"Just this week, the Teaneck Democrat Muslim Committee passed a resolution explicitly calling out Hindutva in the US and identifying organisations such as the Hindu American Foundation, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, SEWA International, and Infinity Foundation as 'domestic branches' of 'foreign hate groups'. So rest assured, Hindutva is going to be exposed big-time in America and it will be defeated. This is America, not India. Hindutva has millions of dollars and some really influential people. But they have an ideology that belongs to the dark ages, not to the modern era, not to the pluralist West," Khan further said.
The Indian Business Association on 14 August had brought a bulldozer to the India Independence Day parade, igniting a huge controversy given the political and communal connotations of the bulldozer in India. It has allegedly become a symbol of oppression in India, given the suggested trend of state governments like those of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh using them to demolish the homes of Muslims under the pretext of those houses being illegal.
"Within two weeks, our campaigning forced them to apologize. Initially, they tried to brazen it out by claiming that the bulldozer represents law & order. But that went badly for them as there was all-round revulsion to their dirty ideology and its manifestation in the bulldozer parade," Khan said.
Khan went on to say that two US Senators from New Jersey – Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, members of Congress from New Jersey – Frank Pallone and Bonnie Coleman Watson, the mayors of Woodbridge and Edison towns, where the parade was held, and even New Jersey’s lawmakers condemned the act.
"The Hindutva people were exposed for who they are: bigots with their hearts filled with hate for Muslims," he said.
Additionally, Viswanath told The Quint that their "efforts to mobilise the community against Hindutva hatred are gathering momentum and growing. This is because of our persistent efforts over the past decade, and also because the crisis of democracy in India is worsening – we are seeing open calls for a Muslim genocide by Hindutva leaders."
"While the targeted minorities – Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits – are mobilising against Hindutva, we will need to redouble our efforts to mobilise Hindus to stand for India's secular and inclusive democracy. As long as the majority community remains silent and thereby tacitly supports the current regime, Hindutva forces will keep getting stronger. The brazen display of a bulldozer in New Jersey reveals just how confident the Hindutva forces are that they will succeed in their mission to turn India into a Hindutva rashtra."Sunita Viswanath, Hindus for Human Rights
It is urgent, she said in conclusion, "that pro-democracy Hindus in India and around the world speak up."
Finally, on the question of whether the Indian diaspora in the US is getting sharply divided along religious and political lines, Viswanath said that "the polarisation is acute."
"The Hindu and Muslim community in the States rarely socialise together. Our kids don't play together. Mandirs and Masjids rarely collaborate in community efforts. There are rarely Hindu community spaces in the US – political, social, religious, even family – where Hindutva and caste are opposed. This is the heart of the work we need to do: ensure that Hindus are engaged in this critical reckoning: Who are we? What do we stand for? What are we willing to sacrifice in order to protect democracy and human rights? Will we take the risk of being ostracised in order to take a public and principled stand against hate, and stand for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (we are all united in a sacred family)."