“Countering Hinduphobia requires Intent, Organization, and Strategizing”: Sangita Iyer

“Countering Hinduphobia requires Intent, Organization, and Strategizing”: Sangita Iyer
Image Courtesy: Sangita Iyer

Canada-based Hindu-Indian film-maker Sangita Iyer, whose most recent short film “Mitti” won an award for the best environmental film at the Toronto Documentary Feature and Short Film Festival (Mitti has been selected in 18 film festivals globally so far and has won three awards) opens up about life as a diaspora Hindu, Hinduphobia in Canada, celebration of Hindu heritage month, and her engagement with school boards among other issues that are of rising concern to Hindu Canadians. She has lived in Canada for over two decades. In 2019, her short film “Gurucool — Shifting Mindsets” was selected for screening at the South Asian Literature and Arts Festival in California (GuruCool has been selected in 31 film festivals globally and has won several awards). Hailing from Gujarat, Iyer speaks to Nidhi Shendurnikar about her efforts to counter Hinduphobia and work for a Hindu cultural revival in Canada.

Tell us about your experience of life as a diaspora Hindu in Canada and your encounter with Hinduphobia.

I have lived in Canada for twenty-five years now. I take pride in my roots; practice my culture and have integrated very well into Canadian society. Personally, I have never encountered Hinduphobia, and my preferred term is Hindu hate/anti-Hindu sentiments instead of Hinduphobia as there is nothing to fear about when it comes to Hindus. There are exceptions in every community but overall, we are a gentle community as Sanatan Dharma guides us to live and let live. Having stated that I can clearly see that things seem to have changed for Hindu-Canadians and Indo-Canadians. Canada celebrates diversity and different cultures, but the concerning trend of vandalization of Hindu temples which has never been experienced before should be discussed. These incidents are not sporadic. They are well-planned and organized, making Hindus question if they are safe in visiting their places of worship[1]. Many of us have lived here for decades, and we are utterly shocked over these instances of damage to our sacred space, our murtis, our Gods[2]. The absence of support and condemnation from the current government and political figures emboldens perpetrators.

What has been the community’s reaction? What steps are being taken by the Canadian government to address Hinduphobia?

As a community, Hindus are focused on work and family. They are law-abiding citizens of Canada. We give back to society by all means, without complaining. Thus, this expression of hate and vandalism is very traumatic and devastating for the entire community. We have come to the tipping point where we feel frustrated about not being heard. Unfortunately, even elected Hindu politicians have avoided the elephant in the room. They do not wish to call out “Hinduphobia,” except Chandra Aarya who always takes the issue head on[3]. Hinduphobia has started to manifest in the daily lives of many of us. Some Hindus in Canada have shared with me that they are asked “Why do you wear a bindi?,” “Why do you have so many Gods?,” and the most concerning for me is the misuse of the Swastika symbol which is rampant and used synonymously with the Nazi hate symbol of Hakenkreuz, by not just the general public but also political leaders. Then, there is the whole caste, cows, curry stereotype which exemplifies systemic institutional racism in culture and policies in Canada. So, definitely the community is not pleased about it.

MP Chandra Arya has worked to correct the misuse of the term Swastika. He made a statement in the Canadian Parliament on Swastika to distinguish it from the Nazi symbol of hate, Hakenkreuz or Hooked Cross[4]. MP Arya’s private member’s motion in the Parliament led to designating November of every year as National Hindu Heritage Month across Canada. MP Arya made a historic beginning of the first national Hindu Heritage Month in Canada on November 1, 2022, by raising a flag with the Hindu sacred symbol “Aum”. He called it the beginning of a new era for Hindu Canadians[5].

What kind of specific instances of anti-Hindu hate stand out prominently in the Canadian landscape?

In addition to the disturbing trend of temple vandalism, a troubling phenomenon is emerging in Western countries such as Australia, the UK, and the USA – a relentless assault on Hindus through what can only be described as a “caste bomb”. This divisive narrative, which began as a sweeping movement against Hindus in the US, is now finding its way into Canada, even infiltrating local school policies. Imagine the absurdity: if innocent children start getting questioned about their caste, a concept entirely foreign to them as second-generation Canadians who have no knowledge or understanding of it. The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) movement, gaining traction in the West, has recklessly equated “caste” with “race,” a fundamentally flawed comparison given our distinct histories and societal frameworks. This misguided conflation unfairly paints upper-caste Hindus as perpetual oppressors and all other castes as perpetual victims. It disregards the complexity and diversity within Hindu communities worldwide. It is also extremely unjust to impose this skewed narrative on second and third-generation Canadian Hindus, who grow up with no awareness of caste distinctions and now find themselves confronted with a biased and prejudiced portrayal of their heritage. These discussions are not merely academic but they shape the perceptions and identities of young Hindus in the diaspora, pushing them towards unwarranted shame about their cultural roots. This trend must be confronted and corrected to ensure fairness and accuracy in how we educate and integrate diverse communities, rather than perpetuating harmful stereotypes and divisions.

Why do you think Hindus are being specifically targeted in Canada?

In recent years we have seen troubled and fragile Indo-Canadian relations, aggravated by recurring issues, particularly those involving Khalistan. Indian students move here as they aspire to study, settle, work, and build lives in Canada. Sadly, we are seeing a trend lately where not all arrive with that intent. As a result, well-assimilated, longstanding Hindu Canadians who have contributed positively for decades are suffering due to the actions of newer arrivals, especially international students from India, who show little interest in studying, assimilating, or integrating into Canadian society. Some newcomers are disruptive and troublesome, tarnishing the reputation of genuine international students.

Besides that, the reluctance of media and political leaders to address issues head-on only perpetuates misunderstanding and division. Without clear and accurate information, Canadians are left to form misguided opinions. It is crucial that politicians and the media stop denying or covering up Hinduphobia and instead confront it directly. Canadians must be informed about these incidents for what they are – expressions of hate towards a specific community based on misconceptions and misinformation. For instance, when the Swaminarayan temple was vandalized with “Khalistan Zindabad” graffiti, it was dismissively labeled as mere vandalism rather than acknowledged as a manifestation of anti-Hindu and anti-India sentiments. Such minimization is discouraging as it is very common. While some local MPs tweeted about the incident, they stopped short of acknowledging its underlying anti-Hindu sentiment. Certain social media posts/handles even celebrate attacks on Hindu temples and Indian government representatives here, further intensifying tensions. The situation has worsened in Brampton, where voting for a Khalistan referendum, a matter entirely unrelated to Canadians/Canada, has stirred unnecessary hate towards India/Indians, and Hindus are collateral damage.

Are Canadian Hindus aware of Hinduphobia?

There appears to be a widespread lack of awareness within our community. Many of us are either caught up in the daily demands of our lives or indifferent because these issues have not directly affected us. While petitions are circulating and being signed in response to temple vandalizations, some individuals feel disconnected from or even reluctant to identify as Hindus, especially if they perceive no direct impact on their careers or their children’s schooling. At times, we find ourselves hesitant to speak out against Hinduphobic acts, perhaps due to several reasons. Even voices from the Mandir community, Hindu advocacy and awareness organizations, and political, academic, and media representatives from the diaspora don’t speak up enough when it matters. This apathy may partly be due to our tendency to keep our heads down and focus on our own goals.

The expression of Hindu identity and connection to India among many in our community often revolves only around wearing traditional attire during festivals, visiting temples, and enjoying Bollywood music and dance. However, beyond these practices, there is a lack of substantial representation in critical spheres such as education, media, and politics. These arenas play a pivotal role in shaping global narratives and influencing public discourse. In contrast, other ethnic and cultural groups demonstrate effective organization and advocacy, actively raising awareness and mobilizing support for issues important to them. In comparison, Hindus often fail to unite and amplify their voices collectively. To address these challenges, there is a pressing need for greater cohesion and proactive engagement within the Hindu community.

Please share your experience about the celebration of Hindu Heritage Month in Canada.

My journey began with school boards, where I became deeply involved in advocating for Hindu heritage after the Ontario government officially declared November as Hindu Heritage Month. This initiative aimed to celebrate and educate about various faith groups throughout the year, fostering an opportunity for cultural exchange and mutual understanding. However, my perspective shifted significantly when I became actively involved and observed that discussions about Hindu heritage often revolved around Bollywood – a representation I find disconnected from the essence of Hindu heritage.

I engaged with key stakeholders in the Peel District School Board in Ontario (PDSB), where I discovered that no Hindus were involved in developing educational resources on Hindu heritage. So, I collaborated with school principals, resource teams, and directors, offering to contribute comprehensive educational materials that authentically represented Hindu heritage to which they were welcoming and supportive. I truly appreciate the DEI team members at PDSB for their consistent partnership. Over the past four years, our efforts have been instrumental in celebration of Hindu Heritage Month within the second-largest school board in Canada. Through initiatives such as poster contests, daily announcements in Sanskrit, and themed events each year, we provide students from diverse backgrounds with firsthand experiences of the richness and diversity of Hindu traditions. Moreover, I successfully advocated for the inclusion of Hinduphobia in the official school board policy, alongside Islamophobia and anti-Semitism which already existed in the policy, marking a significant milestone.

Looking forward, I am thrilled to announce that my newly formed non-profit organization Shaktii Foundation will host Canada’s inaugural Hindu Heritage Festival on November 9, 2024. As the President of Shaktii Foundation, my vision is to promote this festival as an annual celebration, further enhancing awareness and appreciation of Hindu culture among Canadians of all backgrounds. In summary, my journey from advocacy with school boards to organizing a national festival is my commitment to promoting cultural understanding, combating prejudice, and ensuring that Hinduphobia in Canada is tackled effectively using appropriate resources and strategies.

Tell us about your future plans to strengthen Hindu identity and culture in Canada.

Drawing from my academic background in education and psychology, I am dedicated to making a meaningful impact through various avenues such as curating educational resources, volunteering with other non-profits, and leveraging my filmmaking production company, ‘Mettle Films’ to make a positive impact. My goal is to integrate psychology, training, leadership, and education, and connect these disciplines with my deep-rooted indigenous Hindu heritage. My recently established non-profit Shaktii Foundation’ has a vision to celebrate Hindu civilization, philosophy, and well-being for all, through initiatives like book clubs, webinars, speaker engagements, film screenings, podcasts, etc., to promote the positive teachings of Sanatan Dharma, with an emphasis on education, mental health, and environment. I am also putting together a proposal to approach school boards and the education minister to design a training manual on Hinduphobia which can be used as a ready reckoner resource when needed. Future generations of Hindus must take a sense of pride in their cultural identity. Unlike some other communities, I advocate for embracing Canadian values with respect and responsibility rather than entitlement. This approach not only fosters integration but also sets a positive example of engagement and respect. In essence, my multifaceted approach links my educational expertise to my cultural roots, fostering understanding, celebration, and integration within the diverse fabric of Canadian society. Through these efforts, I aim to empower and uplift the Hindu community while promoting broader societal cohesion and mutual respect.

Like-minded people and organizations can support my efforts in diverse ways, including following me on social media.

  • @MettleFilms on Insta/FB/X
  • MettleFilmsOfficial on Youtube
  • @ShaktiiOfficial on Insta and X

[1] News18 (September 08, 2023). “Canada: Second Hindu Temple vandalized in British Columbia in less than a month,”

[2] Joshi, S. (February 16, 2024). “Canada Mandir Vandalism: Indo-Canadian Community distressed by Temple break-ins,” OneIndia,

[3] Live Mint (November 21, 2023). ‘Take Action,’ Canada MP Chandra Arya alleges hate crimes against Hindu-Canadians, says, ‘not acceptable’.

[4] Sarkar, S. (November 07, 2023). ‘Nazi Hakenkreuz isn’t Swastika‘: Indian-origin Canadian MP Arya tells Trudeau, Opposition. News18,

[5] The Quint (November 05, 2022). ‘Historic Beginning’: Canada marks November as National Hindu Heritage Month,

Nidhi Shendurnikar

Dr.Nidhi Shendurnikar is an independent media educator and researcher, and a former Assistant Professor of Journalism & Communication at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.