The Hindu American Foundation sent follow up letters today to the 41 universities initially listed as sponsoring the upcoming Dismantling Global Hindutva conference.
The communication provided key updates and reiterated concerns about the appearance of institutional endorsement of a partisan political event and the impact that could have on Hindu students and faculty.
HAF’s Executive Director, Suhag Shukla Esq. and Managing Director, Samir Kalra, Esq. shared that the event organizers had, due to public outcry and several direct requests from universities, removed the display of logos and replaced it with a list of virtually the same universities with a disclaimer that it was specific departments and centers which were contributing or sponsoring the event. The actual names of the department or centers, however, were not included.
Shukla and Kalra wrote, “We would assume that the legal, tax-exempt limitations on political activities extend from the institutional level to the departmental. The central topic of this partisan event remains the same — to oppose and “dismantle” the Bharatiya Janata Party, a democratically elected party in India…’Dismantling Global Hindutva’ is not only political and partisan. It veers into promoting Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hatred in the activists and politicians it platforms, in the resources it promotes, and in the reductionist definition of Hinduism it presents.”
HAF leaders also provided details about the overwhelming response to the Foundation’s five day online campaign and delivered the final petition letter.
The initial effort to send emails to university presidents delivered slightly more than 928,000 emails in the span of 48 hours. The response was so robust, in fact, that HAF was forced to move to collecting signatures for a petition to be delivered to the same group of university administrators. The final petition count: 10,360 signatures.
HAF leaders lastly reiterated concerns for Hindu students and faculty on the campuses of universities where departments and centers were sponsors.
“We support the rights of academics in their individual capacity to engage in political activism concerning India. But leave universities, and by extension university departments, centers, and institutes out because, aside from potentially violating tax-exempt status, it stifles open inquiry,” said Shukla. “Students and faculty must have the freedom to explore questions, posit ideas, and express opinions without being viewpoint policed or fearing being labeled a “supremacist” or “extremist” by the loudest amongst them and then paying a professional price.”
Four universities responded to HAF’s campaign and confirmed their name and logo was used in an unauthorized manner and that event organizers’ were requested to remove the logos. These include: Boston College, Dalhousie University, Princeton University, and University of Massachusetts, Boston. Only University of Massachusetts, Boston was not included in the updated event sponsor list.
The petition reads in part:
“The DGH organizers trade on the prestige of your institution’s name to host, not an academic conference, but a partisan event related to politics in India. The event platforms activists with extensive histories of amplifying Hinduphobic discourse even while denying the existence of Hinduphobia. Many of these activists equate the whole of Hinduism with caste bigotry and other social ills; deny the subcontinental indigeneity of Hindus and Hinduism; and support or minimize violent extremist and separatist movements and deny the resulting genocides and ethnic cleansings of Hindus.”
The petition requests that universities: 1) ask the event organizers to remove university names and logos from the event website and promotional materials; as well as, 2) ensure the safety and wellbeing of Hindu students, faculty, and staff on campus who may feel targeted, threatened, or face hostility or harassment as a result of the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference.
“Importantly, contrary to what Dismantling Global Hindutva’s organizers claim,” Shukla added, “we are not trying to stop this conference, nor remove individual speakers. HAF entirely supports free speech and the right of academics to express themselves. We are simply adding pro-Hindu voices to a conversation where they seem to be deliberately excluded.”
Full text of the petition letter sent to university presidents:
Dear University President,
As a supporter of the Hindu American Foundation, I am writing to you to express my serious concern regarding an event to be held September 10-12, 2021, entitled “Dismantling Global Hindutva” (DGH). This event is being promoted as co-sponsored by your institution with your institution’s name and logo appearing on the DGH website, promotional materials, and social media posts. If this event is not endorsed by your institution, or if the logo is being utilized in contravention of university policy, I respectfully request that you:
- Ask the event organizers to remove your university’s name and logo from its website, promotional materials, and social media posts; and
- Ensure the safety and wellbeing of Hindu students, faculty, and staff on your campus who may feel targeted, threatened, or face hostility or harassment as a result of this partisan, anti-Hindu event.
As a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma, also known as Hinduism, or friend of Hinduism and its values, you should know that free speech and academic freedom are intrinsic to this ancient faith, as followers are guided by the Hindu precepts of satya (truthfulness), vda and savda (debate and discussion), and viveka (discernment). We ask that institutions of higher learning such as yours support the same pluralistic values and also privilege academic integrity by promoting open inquiry, encouraging a diversity of viewpoints, and modeling constructive disagreement.
This event, however, is the antithesis of all of these values.
The DGH organizers trade on the prestige of your institution’s name to host, not an academic conference, but a partisan event related to politics in India. The event platforms activists with extensive histories of amplifying Hinduphobic discourse even while denying the existence of Hinduphobia. Many of these activists equate the whole of Hinduism with caste bigotry and other social ills; deny the subcontinental indigeneity of Hindus and Hinduism; and support or minimize violent extremist and separatist movements and deny the resulting genocides and ethnic cleansings of Hindus.
DGH organizers describe Hindutva as a “political philosophy” in an attempt to distinguish the participants’ critique of it from criticism of Hinduism and Hindus. But then they go on to deny the existence of Hinduism by reducing it to being only “heterodox, continuously under contestation, and often contradictory,” rather than the coherent and diverse living tradition it is for its 1.2 billion adherents.
They do not acknowledge spiritual teachings and practices such as Oneness of existence, yoga, non-violence, loving devotion of God, and selfless service, all of which inform the shared values and spiritual lives of Hindus around the world and millions of seekers of all backgrounds. Instead, they problematize Hinduism, against any conceptual and emic understandings of Hindu teachings, writing that: “Hinduism has rightly been critiqued for the deep inequities in Indian society, most importantly for the caste system.”
Holding Hindus to double standards, defaming or falsely alleging dual loyalty against Indian and Hindu Americans, or dehumanizing Hindus by portraying them as inherently bigoted or dangerous crosses the fine line between legitimate criticism of policies of the Indian government and anti- Hindu hatred.
While academics at your institution may choose to personally engage in political partisan activism concerning India, we hope you would agree that your institution should not. In fact, strict neutrality and independence are critical to the integrity of academic institutions. The use of your university’s name and logo, in this regard, implies overt institutional partisanship and endorsement of the event’s political and discriminatory motives.
As such, I respectfully request you to ask for the removal of your university’s name and logo from the DGH website, promotional materials, and social media posts.
I also ask that you ensure the safety and wellbeing of Hindu students, faculty, and staff on your campus leading up to the DGH event, and provide support and protection to those who may feel targeted, threatened, or face hostility or harassment as a result of this divisive event.
Hindu students are targeted and report feeling under attack for opposing Hinduphobic depictions of their religion in the classroom and for opposing anti-Hindu hate on college campuses.
Thank you for your attention and for urgently addressing this distressing matter.