Increasingly we’re hearing from Hindu parents across the US that when their children go to college they come back ‘doing a 180,’ having adopted anti-Hindu sentiments that have become mainstream in academia and much media.  

What follows are some tips and ways of stimulating conversation around the contentious topics college students are bringing back to parents. 

General tips for discussing contentious issues

  1. Aim for conversation not convincing. This means responding calmly and thoughtfully to questions or comments, and more importantly, asking questions and actively listening.
  2. Be humble. Admit when you don’t know something and be open to learning more, together maybe even from your child.
  3. Encourage media literacy. Families should diversify sources of news and information, and not rely on just one, no matter how prestigious or well known, or how well they report on other issues or regions of the world. At a given publication, coverage of certain places, communities, or issues may be excellent, but biased and subpar when it comes to Hinduism, Hindus, or India — and vice versa. 

“What I’m being taught about Hinduism at school is nothing like what I’ve been told at home”

In academia and journalism, colonial-era tropes and missionary rhetoric about Hindus, Hinduism, and India still dominate the global discussion. Often when Hindus express their own understanding or viewpoints, they’re sidelined as “too subjective”, superstitious or backwards, or pejoratively dismissed as evidence of “Hindu supremacist”. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

It’s important to take notice of who’s talking about us because their frame and biases will absolutely have an impact on what’s being said. 

Some of the leading voices reporting on Hindus and Hinduism are not Hindu, so it’s natural for them to bring in their lack of context, misunderstandings, and biases about our teachings and traditions into their reporting. And sometimes they may actually be Indian or Hindu, yet are unknowingly or inadvertently perpetuating the same false and racist tropes that they’re Western colleagues are perpetuating about us.

Even the basic facts of our history are still plagued with outdated or biased frameworks. As a colonized people coming from traditions the colonizer viewed as heathen and backwards, for decades and even centuries we didn’t have the power or access to write our own story, at least the ones told in the West. Your ancestors’ focus was on surviving.

Plus, history is usually written by and from the view of those in power. Simple example: have you noticed how in textbooks here, you learn about the “Mutiny of 1857” but from the view of Indians, it was one of the first acts of resistance to British rule and push for independence?

The reasons for why our voices are discounted are complex. 

In academia, views sometimes change very slowly, even when new theories are proposed and proven correct. 

Among journalists in the West, stereotypes about India and Hinduism are no less common than in the general population, and basic knowledge of Hinduism, even amongst religion journalists, is often lacking. 

And while the British may have left India 75 years ago, their education systems continue and perpetuate their ways of understanding Hinduism and India.

“Hindu scriptures justify violence”

Some twenty years ago, professor Wendy Doniger wrote “The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think. Throughout the Mahabharata… Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war…The Gita is a dishonest book; it justifies war.” 

Sadly such misinformed accusations still get leveled at Hindus. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

Regardless of what anyone says, Hindu scriptures do not promote violence — not the Ramayana, not the Mahabharata, not the Gita.

Yes, many of our sacred stories take place in the context of battles and wars, like the conversation between Sri Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, but it’s not the primary message nor main point. You can see this in what the overwhelming majority of Hindus and virtually every spiritual tradition and our gurus derive from these teachings. And you can see that in several millennia of recorded history, it has never been interpreted by Hindu rulers as justification to attack a land in the name of religion or with the goal of conversion.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us that upholding our dharma, our duty, can be challenging, especially in situations where there is not a clear right or wrong. And it gives us simple solutions:

  1. All beings on Earth share an inherent divinity that must be honored
  2. Focus on your actions, not the results, and do your best
  3. Know your sacred duty, which is to be good and do what’s good for your mind and body, your family, your community, and ultimately all people and the planet
  4. Happiness comes from within, not in other people or things
  5. Controlling your thoughts and emotions is a key to inner peace

This is why Hindus and non-Hindus alike read the Gita and draw inspiration and guidance from it. 

“Hinduism is steeped in caste and caste-based discrimination”

From middle school textbooks to mainstream media, caste, a caste system, and caste-based discrimination are falsely conflated with Hinduism. In recent years, the false and negative rhetoric around this has reached fever pitches with anti-Hindu activists pushing a narrative that caste-discrimination is rampant on college campuses (it’s not) and pushing policies that would single out and apply only to Indian and Hindu students to address it. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

If you listen to some of the most vocal anti-caste activists today, they place the blame for all caste discimination on Hindu teachings and our sacred texts. They insist that a core part of Hinduism is that we are born into immutable socio-religious categories that are arranged in a pyramid-shaped hierarchy. Furthermore this hierarchy was created, they claim, so that a small group of immoral and power-hungry priests or brahmins could retain control over the vast majority of the population of India. All of this is also divinely mandated, they allege, and has been maintained for thousands of years.

This perception is absolutely false. 

Yes, our sacred texts do talk about four social functions and people who fulfill them, as well as the planets, natural world, and animal kingdom, which came into being out of the Primordial Being. 

The key teachings from these references are, first and foremost, that we are all united by our divine origin and should therefore honor and treat everyone and everything with respect. 

This doesn’t mean though that prejudice and discrimination didn’t and doesn’t exist in Indian society despite Hindu teachings and all leading Hindu spiritual teachers from the past to today denouncing social divisions and prejudices, and emphasizing the oneness of all beings. 

We also must remember the countless Hindu spiritual leaders and institutions, and the Indian government, and their efforts to promote our shared humanity and uplift those who are being mistreated. As in every society, efforts in promote equality and prevent social discrimination are an ongoing project in India. 

When it comes to the four social functions or the personality types discussed in sacred texts like the Bhagavad Gita, the core teaching is that we all must look within to see what our own inclinations and skills are to best serve society within the four primary functions identified as necessary for a well functioning society — 1) Knowledge Production and Dissemination; 2) Governance; 3) Economy and Commerce; 4) Labor, Production and Arts. 

In the olden days, one likely took on the work of one’s father, rather than what one may have been better inclined for. Now that’s obviously changed — people are generally able to pursue work that is better suited for them both in terms of interests and skills. Figure out whether you’re inclined to study and teach; manage, protect or govern; grow and support prosperity; or work with your hands. Based on this, we must engage in work that is best suited to our skills and liking and try to serve a greater good through that work. What we’re suited for can also change over our lifetime.

Bottom line is that Hindu spiritual teachings are clear in saying that we are all part of the same divinity. Blaming Hindus or Hinduism for social discrimination in India or in the diaspora is inaccurate both historically and philosophically. 


Hindu teachings about spiritual equality and mutual respect
The influence of Hinduism on personality assessments

“Saying the British created the caste system is whitewashing history”

While the indigenous social identities like varna and jati, as well as social divisions and prejudices, predate the colonial period, modern conceptions of caste do in fact have much to do with how the Portuguese and British tried to make sense of Indian society from the 15th and 19th centuries. Pointing this out is not whitewashing history, but exploring what most of us don’t know about India’s colonial history.

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

“Caste” is complicated because there isn’t a single universally accepted definition of what is being discussed. There is a false and negative stereotype entrenched in the public imagination, however, of a reductive pyramid that divides what in reality is a highly complex society into four or five groups that is controlled by a supposedly evil and immoral priestly class.

The word ‘caste’ itself comes from the Portuguese word ‘casta,’ meaning race or breed. It was used by Portuguese colonizers in India during the 15th century to describe the various ways Indians identified or socialized, which included things like jāti, varna, kula, or birādhāri.

When the British colonized India they conducted censuses of the people they ruled. In these they tried to determine which caste different people and communities belonged to. In doing this, though, they didn’t find Indian society to be as rigidly ordered as they assumed it to be, nor ordered in the same way across the whole of India. When asking about peoples’ ‘caste’ sometimes people would answer with a varna, sometimes with their jati, sometimes with their job (for example: fisherman), and sometimes the person didn’t know what caste they belonged to (in which case the British assigned them one). In short, it was a mess. 

As the British censuses of the 19th century showed, social identities were and are deeply complex, and generally no single identity is the only thing one sees themselves. We identify along regional, religious, occupational, sampradaya in all religious communities in the nations that make up modern South Asia. This is a reality for more than just the Hindu community — Sikhs, Muslims, Christians all have social distinctions and perceptions, good and bad, about others, the latter of which can result in prejudice, bias, and conflict from time to time. 

Today caste is an administrative category or designation under Indian law largely based on British censuses. The designation provides one of the most comprehensive affirmative action benefits on the planet. If a community/caste has a designation as “depressed,” then members are eligible for reserved seats in public sector education, employment, and government at both the national and state levels.

The legacy of colonialism very much informs not only the understanding of India to date, but also impacts contemporary caste and religious dynamics in the subcontinent.


The Racist History of the Caste System
The Caste Conundrum

“Hinduism oppresses women”

Passages in Manusmriti are sometimes used as proof that Hinduism treats women poorly — and in this text there are passages that to a modern ear seem decidedly negative about women. One can also find passages in other texts that portray women in a negative way, as you can in the scriptures of every other religion. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

Hindu women are respected as pillars of religious life. Hinduism has always always had a profound tradition of worshiping the Divine in feminine form. Hinduism today is the single example among the world’s largest traditions where the Divine Feminine (Shakti) is revered and has an entire denomination focused on the worship of Shakti. 

And women found in our texts and throughout our history are also richly complex, just like women today are. They’re strong and fierce, as well as vulnerable. They’re upholders of dharma, but may also succumb to vices. Many have accepted societal norms, while others have sought their calling outside of them. 

Portraying Hinduism and Hindu women as uniquely oppressed is ill-informed and untruthful. 


The Shakti Initiative
Short Answers to Real Questions About Hinduism

“India has a rape culture that rooted in Hinduism”

When there is a high profile incident of sexual violence that occurs, India is often portrayed as a place that is egregiously bad for women. Sometimes Hindu men are singled out as perpetrators, with Hinduism being a motivating factor. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

Yes, violence against women happens in India. It also happens everywhere around the world. Hindu teachings ask us to venerate women — as daughters, mothers, sisters, and wives.

Even accounting for a great deal of under-reporting of incidents of rape or sexual assault, India has a far lower rate of these sort of crimes compared to nearly every Western nation. This certainly doesn’t make the incident being reported on less heinous in itself, but the extrapolation from that to a negative characterization of the nation or predominant culture is lacking in context.

“Saying Jai Shri Ram is a violent statement”

Recently there have been a slew of articles highlighting the fact that in some incidents of communal violence involving Hindus the phrase ‘Jai Shri Ram’ was chanted. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

These incidents happened, yes, but any assertion that ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is inherently a call to violence is the equivalent of asserting that Muslims saying ‘Allahu Akbar’ or any similar aphorism from other religions is a call to violence. 

Can they be used in a threatening way? Yes. 

Are they always threatening? Absolutely not. 

This is a classic case of biased and disparate treatment, where Hinduism is being treated differently than other faiths, where the specific motivations and facts of an incident of violence are being wrongly extrapolated to be the norm for an entire community. 

“There was no ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Kashmir and those people saying otherwise are Islamophobic”

Kashmiri Hindus faced numerous injustices from the ethnic cleansing in 1989-1990, the continued displacement outside of Kashmir, as well as the targeted killings. Even in recent years, the killings of Hindus, migrant Muslims, and Sikhs in Afghanistan, provide a clear window into the past and present day Kashmir.

Hindus and especially Hindu victims of violence are, however, consistently subject to testimonial injustice, where their realities of cleansing or genocide are denied, and merely speaking about such atrocities are accused as violence against (or promoting violence against) Muslims. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

In 1989-90, the indigenous Hindu population of Kashmir, the Kashmiri Pandits, faced ethnic cleansing. Thousands upon thousands were forced from their ancestral homes by violence or threat of violence. 

This violence and these threats were carried out by the majority Muslim community of Kashmir, with the backing and encouragement of groups materially and financially supported by Pakistan which want to take all of Kashmir from India. 

This is a historical fact and neutral geopolitical analysis. Pointing this out, encouraging it to be discussed more by the media, and encouraging justice for the Pandit community is not Islamophobia; and in fact, portraying this as Islamophobia  is a form of atrocities denial which paves the path to future atrocities, cleansings, and genocides.


Kashmir: The Struggle for Peace

“India revoking Article 370/35A is denying Kashmiris their rights”

The Government of India, through a parliamentary vote, repealed  Articles 370 and 35A in 2019. The measure garnered tremendous media attention world over, and since then, many Pakistan-backed organizations and scholars have been promoting a false narrative of what it means as well as obscuring the destablizing and destructive impact of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in the region.

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

Prior to the abrogation of Article 370/35A of the Indian Constitution — both of which were intended to be temporary provisions — the residents of the former state of Jammu & Kashmir (now the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir, and Ladakh) didn’t have the same rights as the rest of Indian citizens. 

Kashmiri women who married non-Kashmiris lost rights, they had lesser protections against domestic violence, Muslim women in Kashmir were still able to be divorced simply by their husband declaring so three times, and the affirmative action programs that communities designated “depressed” in India have had available to them were not available to Kashmiris. 

Furthermore, the abrogation of these articles was done in a fully democratic manner, through a comprehensive parliamentary process. It was not done unilaterally. In fact, a survey done shortly after the decision showed 84% of residents in Jammu & Kashmir supported it. Residents in Ladakh had been advocating for a split from the rest of the former state for some time. 


FAQs About Kashmir and Articles 370/35A

“India’s Citizenship Amendment Act is anti-Muslim”

Often India’s Citizenship Amendment Act — which fast-tracks citizenship for members of minority religious communities fleeing religious persecution from adjacent nations who entered India prior to 2015 — is presented as anti-Muslim bigotry. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

That minority religious communities in nearby Muslim majority nations have and continue to face serious persecution and discriminatory legal codes is a factual description of the geopolitical and human rights situation. 

Hindus, Chrisitians, Sikhs, and minority Muslim groups in Pakistan all face institutional discrimination and attacks. In Bangladesh, Hindu temples are regularly attacked, and every year Durga Puja celebrations are disrupted. The Hindu and Sikh population of Afghanistan has been dwindling for some time due to institutional discrimination, a process which has only accelerated since the recent Taliban take over. 

As it only applies to refugees in India already in the country, what CAA does is try to right historic injustices faced by minority communities who fled injustice.


US lawmakers should read the Lautenberg Amendment before censuring India’s Citizenship Amendment Act

“Hindutva is all about Hindu supremacy. It’s an oppressive ideology.”

In the past few years there has been a rising chorus of voices claiming that Hindutva, a political philosophy a bit more than a century old that allegedly threatens India’s minority religions, is spreading throughout the world, including the United States. Hindutva is used interchangeably with Hindu nationalism and Hindu supremacy and is often equated with Christian nationalism and white supremacy by these same voices. 

Here’s a way to start the conversation:

This is a complicated situation to respond to as it is filled with hyperbole and vague terminology — but there are a few primary things to focus on:

Accusations of Hindutva harm Hindu Americans

Accusations of supporting Hindutva are frequently leveled against Hindus in America, regardless of their political views, simply because they express pride about being Hindu or being Indian. 

Hindu Americans advocating for human rights, pushing against problems like Hinduphobia and entrenched stereotypes, or even running for elected office, are also labeled as Hindutva, aka “Hindu fascists” or “Hindu supremacists,” regardless of their actual beliefs or actions or the fact that they are micro-minorities in places like the United States. 

Such characterizations are made regardless of US political party or policy stances in the US. Democrats such as Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni have been targeted just as much or sometimes more, as have Republican Hindus like Ohio State Senator Niraj Antani. 

Accusations of Hindutva or Hindu supremacy can be harmful. They’re often intended to intimidate Hindu Americans into silence by demonizing Hindus as un-American and dangerous because they are loyal not to their local communities or the United States, but violent foreign forces.

Hindutva means different things to different people

Make sure your children are aware that the word ‘Hindutva’ is used in many ways by people who self-identify with it.

At its most basic, Hindutva is a combination of two words, ‘Hindu’ and the Sanskrit suffix –tva  (‘-ness’). Based on this, Hindutva is popularly translated as ‘Hindu-ness’ and a good many Hindus simply think of Hindutva as the idea and practice of living a life according to Hindu teachings or even just a descriptor of being Hindu. 

The Supreme Court of India says, “Hindutva is understood as a way of life of state of mind and is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism…it is a fallacy and error of law to proceed on the assumption…that the use of words Hindutva or Hinduism per se depicts an attitude hostile to all persons practicing any religion other than the Hindu religion.” 

It’s worth noting, that for all the attempts to use the word as a smear, the originator of the term and an avowed atheist, VD Savarkar, had an understanding of Hindutva that was broader than the world religion Hinduism. It encompasses the cultural, linguistic, political, and social aspects of Hindu people. 

In this conceptualisation of Hindutva, Sarvarkar defined the word Hindu in geographic terms — people living within the historical boundaries of India, not only those who follow the religion Hinduism. 

He also specifically said, writing prior to India gaining its independence from Britain, “All citizens [of an independent India] should have equal rights and obligations irrespective of caste or creed, race or religion… The fundamental rights of liberty of speech, liberty of conscience, of worship, of association, etc., will be enjoyed by all citizens alike.” 

As with all of these questions, encourage your children to think critically and specifically: 

Is someone being said to support Hindutva because of specific political views they have expressed or simply because someone is expressing a sense of pride in Hindu culture or India?

If it is because of specific political views, examine exactly what those views are. 

Simply because someone identifies as a supporter of Hindutva doesn’t automatically indicate animosity towards non-Hindus, still less a belief that Hindus are superior to other religious or ethnic groups.