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Hindudvesha in the Guise of Pluralism, Secularism and Social Justice

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Hindudvesha in the Guise of Pluralism, Secularism and Social Justice

This article has been reprinted with the author’s permission from Hindudvesha.org. It can be found at this link

In December 2019, the Government of India enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (“CAA”), which provides a pathway to citizenship for religiously persecuted non-Muslim refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The CAA is a compassionate legislation designed to protect non-Muslim refugees who have been ethnically cleansed from Islamic countries neighbouring India. Critics of the current Indian government and anti-Hindu groups and individuals have spread false propaganda about this act and used it as a tool to attack Hinduism and perpetuate hatred for Hindus (i.e., Hindudvesha) under the cover of promoting the human rights of minorities.

Some attacks were explicit and unpolished, whereas others were cleverly disguised and required a close reading to explicate the underlying Hindudvesha. Attacks of the latter form are more dangerous because the hatred for Hindus is concealed by a veneer of pluralism, secularism, and social justice or some combination of the three. Therefore, I will analyze one such article entitled, “Tensions in the Hindu Family: The Challenges of Interreligious Divisions, “ written by Anantanand Rambachan.

Rambachan, who claims to be an academic and an activist, begins his article by labeling the CAA and the National Registry of Citizens (“NRC”), a loosely affiliated act, as Islamophobic. Instead of making this statement on his own, he cleverly attributes the labeling of these two acts to the City Council of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He defends the council’s resolution against these acts by noting that it was a rebuke of the government of India and not the Hindu community. Rambachan claims [Footnote 1] that “both organizations and individuals did not critically separate nation-state and religion; but, rather, assumed their identity. They moved uncritically from one to the other.” This tenuous but crafty claim is designed to designate Hindu Americans who disagree with Rambachan as uncritical nationalist zealots. This claim is also used to stereotype and denigrate all Hindu Americans who have displayed pride in their heritage and dared to challenge the falsehoods about Hinduism and India peddled by media, academia, politicians, and aligned anti-Hindu hate groups.  It is clear that Rambachan, the activist, does not have any qualms about making exaggerated claims, twisting evidence, and consciously omitting relevant facts to promote his ideology. I will illustrate this throughout the rest of the article.

Rambachan begins his article with an unsanctioned reference to a private Facebook conversation between friends about the City Council of Saint Paul’s anti-India and anti-Hindu resolution; therefore, I begin my analysis of his article with an assessment of Rambachan’s affirmation of the city council’s resolution. Rambachan references CAIR as the organization behind the anti-CAA and anti-NRC resolution passed by the City Council of Saint Paul but deliberately avoids mentioning anything about the track record of the dubious organization. As noted by a Jerusalem Post article, CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, a case relating to the financing of Islamic militant groups by an Islamic charity called the Holy Land Foundation. The post also notes that one of the founding members of the organization’s Texas chapter was sentenced to a prison term for raising more than $12m for Hamas, a well-known Islamic terrorist organization. More recently, Hassan Shibly, a long-time leader of CAIR’s Florida chapter, has been accused of sexual harassment and other misconduct by his estranged wife and nearly half a dozen other women. Rambachan’s conscious omission of these facts is necessary as a reasonable and open-minded reader who learns of CAIR’s background is unlikely to readily agree with his affirmation of the Saint Paul city council’s designation of the CAA and NRC as Islamophobic legislation.

Likewise, Rambachan consciously withholds information regarding the tragic and horrific events that gave rise to the CAA and NRC. The genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh began when Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. Richard Benkin, an American human rights activist, journalist, and lecturer, has detailed the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Bangladesh in a book titled The Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: The Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus and a companion video. He notes that the Pakistan army and affiliated Islamic militias massacred 2.4 million Hindus. He also explains that millions of Hindus in Bangladesh have continued to be ethnically cleansed since that time. One can readily see this in the demographic data for the area representing present-day Bangladesh. This data shows that the Hindu population dropped dramatically from 22% of the overall population to 8% in 2011. Ethnic cleansing of Hindus has also taken place in Pakistan. The forcible conversion and marriage of adolescent Hindu girls to Muslim men is a common event in Pakistan. A recent report produced by the European Union Parliament has documented the religious apartheid system under which non-Muslims of Pakistan have to exist. Lastly, with respect to Afghanistan, the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs is almost complete; according to the Hindu American Foundation there are only a few hundred Hindus and Sikhs left in Afghanistan.  

It is these non-Muslim refugees that the CAA caters to and provides an expedited process for obtaining Indian citizenship. However, Rambachan does not mention any of this in his article since this background information summarily invalidates his affirmation for the Saint Paul city council’s designation of the CAA as Islamophobic. In the face of such background information, a reasonable and open-minded reader is likely to wonder about the motivations of Rambachan and the City Council of Saint Paul. Such a reader may ask the following questions. Why are they chastising the Indian government for granting citizenship and shelter to non-Muslim minorities who have been terrorized and ethnically cleansed from their native countries when no other country, including the United States, is willing to accept these refugees? Why are they not holding the governments of Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan responsible for failing to protect their minorities from ethnic cleansing? The reader may also wonder how the CAA is different from U.S. statutes such as the Lautenberg Amendment and the Specter Amendment, which provide expedited refugee status to certain persecuted Christians and Jews from the former Soviet Union and Baha’i, Christians, and Jews from Iran.   

The Saint Paul city council’s resolution also referenced the NRC. However, this reference is dubious since India’s current government has not created a country-wide NRC. The NRC, which outlines a process for identifying Indian citizens so that they can be distinguished from illegal migrants‒economic migrants as well as refugees who fled to India due to ethnic cleansing of non-Muslims in Bangladesh‒has only been conducted in the Indian state of Assam. The Assam NRC was necessitated by the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Bangladesh and the unchecked illegal migration of Bangladeshis into the state of Assam encouraged by unscrupulous politicians. In fact, as noted in an article published by Carnegie India, the antecedent of the NRC, the Assam Accord, was actually sanctioned by Rajeev Gandhi, a Prime Minister from the left-leaning Congress Party of India. This accord contemplated identifying illegal immigrants, removing their names from election roles, and eventual deportation or repatriation to Bangladesh. 

Using the fallacious Islamophobic designation of these laws as a basis, Rambachan has attacked members of the Hindu community that have dared to question or challenge the baseless Saint Paul city council resolution. Rambachan argues that the current government and its supporters in India and the US are dangerous supremacists. To support his argument, he references a quote from Savarkar, a prominent member of the Indian freedom movement. He uses the quote to explain why Savarkar and the Hindus who support the current Indian government seek to exclude Muslims and Christians from India’s shared ancient cultural heritage. However, his interpretation of the quote is a misrepresentation of Savarkar’s views and the views of the political party that governs India today and its proponents in India and America. Savarkar wanted an inclusive India, but it is the Muslim leaders of pre-Independence India who rejected the shared heritage and opted for a separate nation based on religion. Specifically, Syed Ahmed Khan’s two-nation theory was the catalyst for the creation of an independent nation for Muslims.

Contrary to Rambachan’s claim, the political party that is currently governing India is inclusive and has appointed non-Hindus to prominent positions in its government. For instance, Abdul Kalam, a Muslim who openly shared his admiration for ancient Hindu culture, was elected President in 2002 by the political party that is governing India today. In fact, as Rambachan himself noted, Hindu culture is naturally pluralistic; however, Rambachan would like others to believe that it only Hindus who subscribe to his point of view that can absorb the pluralistic ethos of Hinduism, whereas the plethora of Hindus who disagree with his viewpoint are zealots and supremacists.

Rambachan has also attacked members of the Hindu community that have raised valid objections to the unethical and false Saint Paul city council resolution by implying that they are casteists [Footnote 2]. He provides no direct evidence, however, to support this defamatory implication. In this respect, it is worth delving into Rambachan’s current activist affiliations. Rambachan is a member of the advisory board of an organization called Sadhana, which has dubious associations of its own. A member of the Executive Board and a founder of the organization, Sunita Viswanath, has recently been sued in U.S. district court by the Hindu American Foundation for defamation and conspiracy to defame the organization. Sunita Viswanath is no stranger to controversy. Previously her husband’s company, Unemployed Philosophers Guild, had marketed and sold puppets of Hindu deities at her urging. An act that was indeed motivated to hurt the sentiments of Hindu Americans. Similarly, she had actively worked against the Hindu American parents when they were trying to fight against the biased portrayal of the Hindu religion in California’s school textbooks.

Sadhana is also closely affiliated with Equality Labs, an anti-Hindu hate group. The proximity of Sadhana to Equality can be gleaned by the fact that the recently invalidated [Footnote 3] Equality Labs caste report is part of the organization’s recommended syllabus. Equality labs uses social media as a platform for spreading its hate for the Hindu community. The organization’s hate and utter contempt for Hindus, particularly the Brahmin sect, and the nation of India, can be gleaned from its artwork and its various publications. Even more alarming is the fact that the organization’s founder refers to Periyar Ramasamy as one of her sources of inspiration [Footnote 4]. Ramasamy is one of the founders of the anti-Brahmin movement in India. His hateful speeches and rhetoric, which called for using intimidation and violence to expel Brahmins from the state of Tamil Nadu in India, are still a source of inspiration for Brahmin hatred in Tamil Nadu and in America today. 

Although Rambachan cannot be held responsible for the actions of his affiliates, it would not be unreasonable to question his continued association with Sadhana, especially when its founder has been accused of making defamatory statements and engaging in other unethical acts. One can also reasonably wonder what role Rambachan played in Sadhana’s adoption of Equality Labs caste-related propaganda as a formal syllabus. Rambachan’s humble and harmonious practice of Hinduism does not seem to align with his affiliations with people and organizations of dubious character.               

Rambachan substantiates his attack on Hindu-Americans by using the promotion of pluralism and social justice as justification.  However, exaggerated claims, scant evidence, conspicuous omissions, and Rambachan’s direct and indirect affiliations with dubious organizations combine to discredit his thesis that Hindu Americans who disagree with his viewpoint are uncritical nationalists and casteists. Hindu Americans need to increase their awareness and understanding of academic activists like Rambachan. They should also not hesitate to call out Rambachan and other such activist academics for providing cover to people and organizations that actively promote hatred for Hindu-Americans in order to make them second-class citizens in the United States of America.

Footnotes:

1. This is a direct quote from Rambachan’s article “Tensions in the Hindu Family: The Challenges of Interreligious Divisions “, which can be downloaded from Academia.edu.

2. Rambachan uses Hindutva as a pejorative label to group all those who disagree with his viewpoints. Therefore, by designating Hindutva as a casteist ideology, he is also designating those Hindu-Americans that he views as proponents of Hindutva as casteists.

3. The Equality Labs’ caste report and its findings were officially invalidated by a report published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 

4. The tweet identifying Periyar as a source of inspiration is no longer available, but it was available at the time the referenced article was written. A screenshot of this tweet, however, has been preserved.

Venkat Nagarajan

Venkat Nagarajan is an economist with a deep interest in Indian philosophy and Hindu Studies. He is currently a student at the Hindu University of America.