On July 6, 2021, the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective (SASAC) released a website called The Hindutva Harassment Field Manual, along with the formation of the group. SASAC alleges that they have been targets of attacks and harassment by “Hindu nationalists” while pursuing an “academic” study of Hinduism and expressing diverse opinions about the religion.
The site claims to provide resources to those who have been targeted and equip them with ways to respond to such “attacks.” And it claims that the alleged attacks are coming from “Hindutva ideologues” as well as “BJP IT Cell” who highly exaggerate the sentiments felt by most Hindus.
Unfortunately, as we illustrate in this report, this is an ongoing pattern to silence Hindu voices and deflect attention from the very real concerns of Hinduphobia and bigotry. Examples of such bigotry have been brought up by numerous Hindus (including scholars, students, and parents) as well as their non-Hindu allies from all walks of life over the past several years.
Hindu scholars have written extensively on these issues and recently held a conference that provided a framework to understand Hinduphobia for those who are unfamiliar with the phenomenon. On July 9, 2021, a young Hindu girl from the United States was subjected to Hinduphobia and hatred when she posed in a picture for NASA with images of Hindu deities on her desk. Ironically, one of the first to attack this young intern for her religion was a professor of Indian and Hindu origin at a leading European university.
According to the manual and SASAC, anyone who questions the methods and professional privilege used by the group is automatically demonized as “Hindutva.” It is a charged term used to silence dissent from Hindus or indeed any criticism at all.
It is a cover to continue spreading Hinduphobia under the garb of “scholarly pursuit” and “academic freedom.” As Professor Vishwa Adluri and Dr Joydeep Bagchee aptly put it in their paper Cry Hindutva: How Rhetoric Trumps Intellect in South Asian Studies: “In response to criticisms of the so-called text-historical method in Indology, the old guard of academia raises the spectre of Hindutva to scare off critics. With such anti-intellectual tactics, Indologists have betrayed liberal ideals.”
However, what makes the manual and SASAC even more problematic is the usage of sources and allies who are openly anti-Hindu something we detail in the last section of this report.
These sources subscribe to a certain political agenda in the name of “diverse opinions” while gagging those who differ from their biased views. This open association with bigotry should ring alarm bells for anyone serious about scholarly pursuits, diversity, and inclusion.
Allegations of harassment
SASAC members such as Professor Audrey Truschke continue to allege harassment by “Hindutva” organisations and individuals. Yet, without provocation, she has blocked the Twitter handles of numerous individuals, scholars, and organisations (including that of CoHNA) who have raised genuine concerns about her bigoted take on Hinduism.
Recently, she called CoHNA’s leadership as long-time harassers when no one from the leadership has ever sent her any direct email or message that would be deemed as harassment. Rather than engaging on specific points raised by individuals or organisations, she resorts to vicious ad hominem attacks even while claiming to be a victim of such attacks herself. Such behaviour belies scholarship and illustrates the emptiness of her claims about harassment and diversity of opinions.
We fail to see how the recent letter sent to Rutgers and signed by 75 American Hindu temples and spiritual organisations from 20 different states expressing legitimate concerns is harassment. The letter clearly states its support for academic freedom and condemns any attacks on anyone while raising concerns about Professor Truschke’s attempts to twist facts to promote bigoted views on Hinduism.
In the same vein, letters from students and alumni – both Hindu and non-Hindu – clearly outlining the problematic nature of Professor Truschke’s comments and “scholarship” are denounced as harassment.
Far from being about harassment of any academic, the manual is an attempt to shut down the voices of Hindus – especially Hindu students on campus – who face the direct brunt of the hurtful and Hinduphobic remarks of their professors.
In the words of Aishwarya, a graduate student at Rutgers University (full name withheld for safety reasons):
I joined Rutgers with the impression that it’s a very reputed university and will give me the perfect environment to grow. However, when I heard the comments of Professor Truschke about my faith, my scriptures and my Gods, it broke my confidence. I felt scared about mentioning my faith, that students will judge me and might hate me because that is what they are learning in the class or on social media. The kind of statements Professor Truschke gives on social media makes me feel scared. I hope professors like her and incidents like this are outliers.
The problem is echoed by a rising Rutgers sophomore who also did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals:
Being a part of a community that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s painful to hear my religion being slandered in the name of ‘scholarship.’ In the past few years, society has come far in terms of fighting for social justice. But I feel Hindus are excluded from this trend. The wise words of Gita and the enlightening lessons from the Mahabharata have guided several of my young Hindu peers and I during tough times. To have professors parse through our sacred texts and draw vile conclusions is not only an attack on our religion, but an attack on us. I feel unsafe, hurt, and unheard. As a student at Rutgers, I deserve better, as does my Hindu community.
Dr Sheenie Ambardar, an adult psychiatrist and psychotherapist and the founder of The Hindu Community Forum concurred:
It takes a tremendous amount of courage for minority college students, especially Hindu-American students, to speak out against a tenured professor who has belittled and maligned their faith. The students, some of whom have reached out to me for help, have chosen not to reveal their identities because this professor has stalked them online and they are afraid of retaliation. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, I am deeply concerned about the impact this ordeal is having on their mental health, self-esteem, and confidence.
It is always intimidating for students to raise concerns against tenured academics who occupy positions of power over them. In the case of Hindu students, this power imbalance is compounded because some of them are not even US citizens and are thus even more vulnerable. It is particularly shocking to see this type of targeting, including stalking the parents of some students, by privileged academics, at a time when universities are striving to make campuses a safe space for students of all backgrounds and religious traditions.
The Hindu community has tried to engage with and raise reasonable concerns to the academics in question several times for the past few years, but all attempts have been shut down. The students on campuses have tried to engage university administrations to express their concerns and trauma using rational approaches but have largely been ignored.
While there will always be individual actors and outliers (just like in every community), the Hindu community in the United States has not done anything that would be considered harassment. Flagging factual errors and misinformation or asking for a correction of a fake narrative are all perfectly reasonable and legitimate actions.
A note on the Hindu scholars of SASAC
Professor Truschke and SASAC dismiss the Hindu community’s concerns as a “bad-faith argument” by adding that there are Hindu scholars within the group who have actively contributed to the manual. Thus, any voice which does not toe the line of the SASAC scholars is deemed invalid. However, claiming to be a Hindu scholar cannot absolve one from peddling Hinduphobia and hatred.
SASAC’s argument also flies in the face of two high profile incidents that have occurred in just the past six months. In February 2021, Rashmi Samant, a 22-year-old Indian student at Oxford, was bullied for her Hindu background by an Oxford postdoctoral fellow of Indian and Hindu origin, who went so far as to dig into her parents’ social media profiles and post their pictures online.
In Samant’s case, Oxford investigated and concluded that she was indeed harassed by the type of academic that SASAC wants to protect by “crying Hindutva.” And as mentioned above, in July 2021, a young Hindu intern from the United States was attacked by another professor of Indian and Hindu origin at a leading Swedish University.
SASAC’s arguments reinforce the group’s exclusionary and elitist attitude – that it reserves the to pronounce judgments about Hinduism and the Hindu community while tens of thousands of individuals, organisations and even equally qualified scholars do not matter. Not only is this an active silencing of dissent and goes against the very academic freedom that SASAC claims to be defending, but it also attempts to reframe Hinduism, which has never had a centrally “approved” list of scholars or practitioners, unlike the larger Abrahamic traditions.
But, more perniciously, do the Hindu scholars of SASAC support a mistranslation of Sita Devi’s views on Rama, even when a reputed scholar like Professor Goldman has clarified that no such words have been uttered? Do these scholars agree that the Bhagavad Gita endorses mass slaughter, and the Mahabharata endorses social evils like gangrapes?
Now let us consider the issue of Hinduphobia among Hindu scholars themselves. On June 10, 2019, while commenting on the conviction of a Hindu priest and five others in the rape of an 8-year-old girl in India, Professor Ananya Chakravarti, one of the SASAC members, remarked: “…if these monsters are Hindu then Hindus are the worst scum on earth. I hope they never see daylight again.”
This is yet another example of how a horrific crime is projected upon an entire community, deeming them savages and “scum.” Such crimes, while horrific, happen across all religious communities around the world. For instance, on June 2, 2021, a Muslim cleric was arrested for raping a 12-year-old girl inside a mosque in New Delhi when she came to drink water. Yet, SASAC would not jump to make such broad-brush assumptions about the Muslim community – further evidence of Hinduphobia and the hypocrisy of SASAC.
More recently, Professor Chakravarti poked fun at Hindus who use the word “Hinduphobia” by saying that “If you whisper Hinduphobia into a mirror three times, Pragya Thakur shows up with a basketball and a sharp [curse] to destroy any non-Hindu in a three-mile radius. True story.”
Also note the deliberate spelling of Hindutva as Hindootva, a pejorative reference first coined by the colonialists in the 18th century by calling a Hindu a “Hindoo.” As a scholar, she certainly knows better but is hoping the inside joke would not be noticed.
SASAC demeans Hindus who raise concerns as “Hindutva ideologues” and as “long time, known harassers” and declares: “They invoke the language of diversity and inclusion to achieve the opposite —quell critical inquiry, undermine the academic study of religion, and advance a narrow, limited idea of Hinduism that leaves no room for diverse voices.”
Yet, the group behaves exactly that it advocates against and betrays the ideas of providing room for diverse voices and critical inquiry of the academy from scholars and practitioners alike.
Actively denying Hinduphobia and calling genuine Hindu concerns as fake
Perhaps more than any other religion, Hinduism encourages the pursuit of knowledge through inquiry and reasoned debate. However, when Hindu deities and festivals are disparaged and sacred texts are mistranslated to suit certain agendas, the argument of academic freedom is a mere fig leaf for bigotry. In fact, such an argument explicitly peddles Hinduphobia and hatred and puts students and community members at risk of bullying, harassment, and trauma.
The SASAC actively denies Hindus (including scholars) the right to define or even opine on what Hinduphobia is and how it impacts us as a people, by dismissing the term as something coined recently by the “Hindu Right.” The group even goes as far as calling the term a “flawed analogy” and “smokescreen for casteism and anti-Muslim prejudice.” Anyone who challenges such a premise is swiftly dismissed as engaging in a “bad faith argument.”
For SASAC, anti-Semitism is a real phenomenon due to the horrors inflicted by the Nazis. Similarly, according to them, Islamophobia is real, due to American foreign policies which resulted in the killings of civilians in the Middle East as well as the immigration policies of the Trump administration. However, Hinduphobia “…cannot be easily linked to casualties on such horrific scales.” In this monstrous admission, SASAC claims Hinduphobia is not real because not enough Hindus have died.
Their intergenerational trauma, resulting from systemic targeting and oppression in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh, does not count. If body count is to be the metric for -phobia, would SASAC claim that homophobia is not real?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Bangladeshi Genocide, in which nearly 400,000 women were raped and close to 3 million people killed. The Pakistani army specifically targeted Hindu men, women and children and went on a rampage of mass murders, rapes, and brutalization. Gary Bass, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, has described the ordeal in painstaking detail in his book The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. Speaking on the Senate floor on November 1, 1971, the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy described the dire situation of the Hindus as follows:
Field reports to the U.S. government, countless eye-witness journalistic accounts, reports of international agencies such as the World Bank, and additional information available to the Subcommittee document the reign of terror which grips East Bengal [East Pakistan]. 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’. All of this has been officially sanctioned, ordered and implemented under martial law from Islamabad.
SASAC does not find such horrors of history as worthy of inclusion under any anti-Hindu bias. This illustrates an overtly prejudiced take on matters related to Hindus.
The group strongly condemns peaceful petitions, letters and organizing efforts by the Hindu community (including students), by deeming these to be a “coordinated swarm” of the “Hindu Right.” For example, in the manual’s section on “Organized Harassment”, SASAC declares: “When an online, coordinated swarm goes after an academic, it can create the appearance of widespread discontent against that academic even if no such discontent actually exists among the students or colleagues of the academic in question. Bear in mind that many of these accounts are likely fake and are not associated with a real person.”
In essence, the tens of thousands of people and organisations who have signed petitions or sent letters to university administrations or have called or met these officials personally are erased as “fake.”
As mentioned earlier, recently, 75 temples and spiritual organisations from across the United States wrote a letter to Rutgers University calling out the agenda-driven mistranslation of Hindu literature. The letter pointed out the problem with those who falsely attribute words to some of Hinduism’s most cherished deities such as Devi Sita.
In it, they pointed out that Professor Truschke had misattributed a quote from another scholar to claim that Sita Devi called her beloved husband Shri Rama, “a misogynistic pig.” This attempted attribution was swiftly contradicted by Professor Robert Goldman, whose work was being referenced as the source.
I find it extremely disturbing but perhaps not unexpected to learn that AT (Audrey Trushcke) has used such inappropriate language and passed it off as coming from Valmiki. Neither the great poet nor we used such a vulgar diction and certainly Sita would never have used such language to her husband even in the midst of emotional distress. Nowhere in our translation of the passage do we use words you mention AT as using… she is in no way quoting our translation but giving her own reading of the passage in her own highly inappropriate language.
We can see here the issue is not an academic’s right to an opinion, but one of plain and simple mistranslation and twisting of facts.
The letter also pointed to Professor Truschke calling the Bhagavad Gita a book that endorses mass slaughter and arguing that an episode from the Mahabharata somehow endorses evils like modern-day gangrapes. As the temple letter had remarked, the dishonouring of Draupadi was condemned by important figures within the Mahabharata and was considered against dharma (righteousness) – not an endorsement of gang rape or other social evils. We fail to see how any of the above concerns equate to “casteism and anti-Muslim prejudice.”
Professor Truschke has attacked Hindu groups (including CoHNA) by saying that they are using selective quotes to target and harass her. However, consider the following example: On March 6, 2021, while discussing a #MeToo incident involving a high profile Indian Muslim politician, Professor Truschke shared a completely unrelated “edgy” comparison of the dishonouring of Draupadi to allegations of rape by noting an article where an Indian judge had made references to Hindu epics while discussing modern sexual harassment.
In essence, Professor Truschke goes on to claim that she is merely following such a practice when referring to the Mahabharata and other Hindu texts. Here too, we find Professor Truschke twisting facts to suit her bigotry – The Indian judge and the article made references to show how the epics and their characters respect women and thus everyone should do the same, not to indicate that Hindu epics endorse rapes and social evils!
This is yet another excellent example of how a professor in a privileged position advances Hinduphobia by twisting facts in the name of “scholarship.”
Various scholars including Jeffrey Long, Stephen Prothero and Vamsee Juluri have written extensively on the topic of Hinduphobia and shown the long history of the phenomenon in the United States and beyond. Others such as Vishwa Adluri and Arvind Sharma have critiqued academia’s silencing of scholars who provide differing viewpoints than those in power.
Additionally, Hindu groups such as Hindu Human Rights of UK have traced the usage of the term “Hinduphobia” going back to the late 19th century and into the early 20th century (e.g., a snapshot from York Newspaper March 20, 1883. Source: Hindu Human Rights).
According to the group’s research, modern cases of Hinduphobia coincided with Indian migration into the United States and the UK. In Hinduphobia (1914) Dr Sudhindra Bose recalls a House Committee hearing of an exclusion bill which would impact 4,974 Hindus from the United States “…over fears they might compete for both education and [labour] with the American colonial class.”
Numerous instances of Hinduphobia are prevalent today – in academia, media, and popular culture. As mentioned previously, a young Hindu girl from the United States was recently subjected to Hinduphobia and hatred when she posed in a picture for NASA with images of Hindu deities on her desk.
She was attacked for merely expressing her heritage, with comments such as: “Wtf! Is that really her room?!” or “I see a right-wing Hindu kid with right-wing Hindu gods in a pic” or “Wherever Hindus (Brahmins) will go they will divide the nation into caste” or “NASA and gods don’t mix. The Indian kid seems to have some kind of an obsession with gods.”
Yet, the SASAC dismisses the term Hinduphobia because it “…cannot be easily linked to casualties on such horrific scales.”
In essence, the group acts like a gated club allowing only its own members to define the terms of engagement and control the discourse as far as Hinduism and India are concerned. The club deliberately excludes South Asian scholars who support an alternative point of view or make an argument that Hindus have legitimate concerns.
Interestingly, the group argues for academic freedom, critical inquiry and diverse voices and yet uses the epithet of “Hindutva” to gag voices that do not agree with them. Such behaviour is a perfect example of peddling Hinduphobia and a betrayal of liberal ideals, academic process, diversity, and critical inquiry.
Some of the anti-Hindu sources used in the Field Manual
The manual extensively quotes and directs readers to sources and groups which have made it their business to denigrate Hinduism, its sacred texts and its deities and even call for its complete dismantling. For example, the Resource Page on “Intersectional Hate” quotes Equality Labs as an expert on “caste” related issues in numerous instances – ignoring the group’s public calls for dismantling Hinduism.
The page cites the 2018 Survey by Equality Labs that has become the standard yardstick to metaphorically lynch Hindus as “serial caste abusers,” in disregard of longstanding complaints about the survey’s quality. It even ignores how the Equality Labs survey was discredited by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in their recent survey of Indian Americans.
In January 2020, Sharmin Hossain, the former Political Director of Equality Labs publicly claimed that “arguing to salvage Hinduism is dominant caste rhetoric” and that “Brahmins have appropriated all their Gods from Dalits & Adivasis. Brahmins have stolen the Buddha, the hand of Fatima & other Islamic relics. Hinduism cannot be [a part] of progressive discourse until we dismantle Brahminism.” The tweets have since been deleted.
Similarly, in March 2020, Equality Labs published an article (and recently tried to delete it from existence) and social media messages calling Holi a “casteist” festival with a “violent history” where a “lower caste” female was immolated and claiming that a dispute involving a father, his son and his aunt, is somehow evidence of casteism. Various scholarly writers have debunked the claimed history. However, this incident illustrates the anti-Hindu agenda of Equality Labs.
In October 2019, Equality Labs’ Thenmozhi Soundararajan participated in a symposium on the “elimination of casteism” at the University of Michigan, where fellow panellist Kancha Ilaiah remarked that the annihilation of caste is not possible “without dismantling or destroying Hinduism as a religion…Hinduism does not reform, does not change because of the structural problems in the religion…” It should be no surprise that Professor Truschke includes Equality Labs and Ilaiah in her teaching materials and as resources.
Ilaiah’s book Why I am not a Hindu is full of hateful and misplaced information about Hinduism and a textbook example of Hinduphobia.
In Chapter 5 (p. 71), while discussing Hinduism and its deities, Ilaiah goes on to say that “…violence has been Hinduism’s principal mechanism of control. That is the reason why many Hindu Gods were weapon-wielders in distinct contrast to the Gods of all other religions.” And, while continuing the discussion on how Hinduism is different from other religions, Ilaiah concludes (p.72) that Hinduism “…from its very inception, has a fascist nature…”
Equality Labs also recommends Ilaiah as a resource on caste.
Dr Suraj Yengde
The manual also refers to Dr Suraj Yengde, a post-doctoral research associate at Harvard University, as an expert source on caste. On December 11, 2020, Dr Yengde called Hindus “…the sick people of India,” and that “…it is their religious books who train the mind.” The extremely bigoted tweet vilified an entire religious community of close to one billion based on incidents that occurred in India – incidents in which most Hindus in India and around the world had no hand in. It also implied that Hindus are brainwashed by their religious books, which teach them to be inherently violent and oppressive. Or, that Hinduism itself is incapable of promoting a positive outlook towards other communities, classes, or groups.
Similarly, on May 12, 2021, while remarking on a recent incident involving alleged caste discrimination at a Hindu temple in New Jersey, Dr Yengde stated that “Hinduism is exploitation & murder of Dalits anywhere.” And, on May 13, 2021, Dr Yengde added that “Hindu temples are monuments of Dalit slavery.
In another tweet, on March 22, 2021, Dr Yengde posed a question to his followers, asking “Can one be a Hindu. WITHOUT torturing Dalits, Muslims, Christians??”
Here, it is worth pausing to consider – would these academics similarly quote texts from other religions or endorse groups or people who use individual criminal acts to target and paint other religious communities as guilty?
Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI, Formerly Known As Holi Against Hindutva)
In the manual’s section for students, SASAC asks them to ponder upon questions such as “Do you have a place on campus where ALL aspects of your South Asian American identities are respected and acknowledged?” Yet, the group proceeds to provide an overtly prejudiced view of “identity” by directing students towards Students Against Hindutva Ideology (SAHI).
As some have demonstrated, SAHI started as “Holi Against Hindutva,” a fringe group that has also gone on record to call the Hindu festival of Holi “casteist.” Not to mention, SAHI works for hand in glove with Equality Labs. A snapshot from SAHI’s “campaigns” page is produced below to illustrate the Hinduphobic overtones that prevail within the group’s activism (notice also the red poster with the word “Azaadi,” which translates to freedom and argues for the freedom of Kashmir from India).
It is important to note that Professor Truschke, one of the main forces behind SASAC, is also on the Advisory Board of SAHI.
The same section of the manual overtly argues for “Kashmir’s sovereignty,” which is essentially a call for breaking Kashmir away from India and into a separate territory while actively suppressing the voices of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus and downplaying the atrocities faced by them. In doing so, SAHI supports regressive laws that had curtailed the marital and property rights of Kashmiri women and kept Kashmiri Dalits in a state of semi-bonded labour.
The SASAC section on students then ends with links to Equality Labs’ Caste Survey and the latter’s report on Facebook India Religious Hate Speech, thus reinforcing the linkages to anti-Hindu sources as “experts.”
The above information demonstrates the SASAC’s extreme ideological leanings. Scholarly works cannot be used as a smokescreen to support those with a history of hatred against an entire community. We would not want this type of treatment for any religious community or group, nor would such bigotry be tolerated by any other minority group.
To conclude, SASAC has been formed with the express purpose of gaslighting dissenting voices. These voices are pre-declared to be “far-right,” conjuring up similarities with popular images of people in white sheets burning crosses on the lawns of these professors and scholars. Nothing could be further from the truth. As concerned Hindus, we will continue to voice our outrage when academic freedom is used as a cover for bigotry by these professors and scholars. And, if voicing our concerns is deemed as harassment to shield their own bigotry and Hinduphobia, that is on their fragile but monumental egos, which seem to be allergic to the truth.
When professors who sit in privileged positions and have a large social media megaphone, decide to peddle such falsehoods, Hindus are fully within their rights to raise concerns in a just and uncompromising manner. Not doing so goes against the very teachings which pervade our sacred texts such as the Bhagavad Gita.
Author: This report was first published on https://cohna.org/, We have republished it with kind permission from the CoHNA.
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