The “Dismantling Global Hindutva: Multidisciplinary Perspectives” conference shed light on the fight against Hindutva ideology  

Bidisha Biswas-

Bidisha Biswas

[Bidisha Biswas is a board member of Hindus for Human Rights]

 

Last week, an academic conference on the dangers posed by the ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, caught the attention of many academics and activists around the world. The event, which had 44 speakers from prominent universities, including Princeton, Stanford, and Sciences Po, had drawn the ire of Hindu nationalists activists in the US, India, and beyond. Supporters of Hindutva called the event Hinduphobic, even though the event organizers had reiterated that the conference’s goal was to critique the political ideology of Hindutva; not to spread hate against the religion of Hinduism. Disturbingly, many of the speakers faced trolling, intimidation, and threats of violence against themselves and their families.

Despite the onslaught, all participating department and universities maintained their support, and over 1,100 academics and scholars signed a statement of solidarity with the conference. The speakers at the event presented rigorous research and thought-provoking analysis.  While there was healthy debate among the panelists, almost all of them expressed deep concern about the ways in which Hindutva threatens the core of Indian democracy and pluralism. While supporters of Hindutva accused the conference of wanting to dismantle Hinduism; in fact, most panelists spoke of the need to dismantle the anti-democratic and repressive forces that Hindutva has unleashed.

 

The conference began with a panel of distinguished scholars who attempted to define global Hindutva. One of the world’s leading experts on the sangh parivar, Dr. Christophe Jaffrelot, discussed the ways in which the RSS and its allied organization have, for decades, sought the support of the Indian diaspora. Incidentally, Dr. Jaffrelot also noted that he had filed a defamation case against those who had attacked him for participating in the conference. A session on the political economy of Hindutva critiqued the missteps of the BJP government on issues such as demonetization and the farm reform laws.  In a forum on caste and Hindutva, former RSS member , Bhanwar Meghwansi gave a powerful testimony on the casteist practices of the sangh parivar.

A panel on Hinduism and Hindutva had opening remarks by artist TM Krishna, who asked the panelists and the audience to consider, seriously, the complicated ways in which Hindutva and Hinduism are linked.  Sunita Vishwanath of Hindus for Human Rights provided a moving testimony of her activism, noting that as a practicing Hindu, she has been deeply disturbed by the hate that Hindutva represents. She concluded her statement by noting that “our liberation is bound up with each other. We all rise or fall together.”

 

The goal of the conference was to have serious, fact-based conversations about the complex and multi-faceted phenomenon of Hindutva. Despite all the intimidating faced by the organizers and the participants, the event did, in fact, succeed in having a valuable dialogue on  what the BJP government has meant for the social, political, and economic health of India.