The unprecedented conference ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ held from 10-12 September 2021 is a game-changer. The purpose of the conference was to bring together leading scholars in South Asian Studies and public commentators on Indian society and politics around the world to discuss the global phenomenon of Hindutva. It aimed to protect the rights of minorities, dissidents, and ordinary people whose very existence is under attack by Hindutva’s proponents. The conference promoted the ideology that universities are designed to foster and protect the principle of academic freedom. The massive campaign of intimidation carried out by Hindutva affiliates was not allowed by the conference organizers to take root in the academia in the US, Europe, or around the world.
The conference was backed by 45 plus departments and centers from 41 universities including Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, University of Chicago, Berkeley, North-Western, etc. They had more than 70 co-sponsoring entities from 53 universities and received a letter of support from over 900 academics across the world. Most of the panelists were Indian academics serving in the elite universities and think tanks in the western world. The organizers received life threats to themselves and their families therefore they decided to remain anonymous. The harassment and intimidation against speakers by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were reported by all top-notch newspapers. The presenters shared how they received life threats, suspension of their passports and other serious threats to their families by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and RSS supports across the globe to suppress their voice and stay away from the conference. While listening to the speakers’ experiences of revealing threats it was shocking and surprising that India that claims to be a democratic country does not care about academic freedom and basic fundamental rights for its citizens.
Despite a massive campaign of disinformation, threats, torture and attacks the conference was held online. According to the organizers, when the attack began, the conference media department prepared to counter the Hindutva attack. Hence, Vinay Lal (UCLA), Martha Nussbaum (Uni of Chicago) and David Ludden (NYU) came to the front and extended support to address the media concerns regarding the event.
The question is what is Hindutva and where it emerged from? The term Hindutva came in the 19th century. Its narrative is deeply rooted in Brahmanism and is the offspring of Hindusim. Its strategy is based on violence, hatred, terrorism and is an enemy to democracy. Existing Hindutva is resistant to castism. The supporters of Hindutva ideology use different means to achieve the objectives.
Hindutva has emerged from the RSS that is an Indian right-wing Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organization founded in 1925 by K.B Hedgewar. In 2020, RSS had almost 585,000 members and over 57,000 branches, including a trade union wing (Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh), women’s wing (Rashtriya Sevika Samiti), student wing (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), and economic wing (Swadeshi Jagaran Manch). The Print, which is a well reputed Indian news outlet estimates that 3 out of the 4 ministers in the ruling BJP are members of the RSS, including the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
Here the issue is why is India under Modi scared from such an academic venture like DGH? Also, what were the biggest fears of BJP and RSS from the DGH conference? The conference was comprised of scholars, journalists, and activists from around the world who examined the historical development of Hindutva, the fascist dimensions of its ideology, its alignment with other supremacist movements and defined all that is at stake across a range of political, socio-cultural, and economic issues. The presenters unveiled the atrocities and pain caused by RSS both within and outside India.
At the DGH conference, the speaker Gyan Prakash, Christophe Jaffrelot, Meena Kandasamy, Anand Patwardhan talked about what is global Hindutva and how it poses threats to minorities, women and Muslims. The political economy of Hindutva was uncovered by Jens Lerche, Pritam Singh and Vamsi Vakulbharnaman. How Hindutva exploits castism was discussed by Gajendran Ayyathurani, Meena Dhanda and Bhanwar Megawanshi. The way Hindutva use rape as a weapon to exploit politics was examined by Leena Manimekalai, Akansha and P. Sivakami. The contours of the nation were explored by Mohammad Junaid, Arkotong Longkumer, Yasmin Saika and Nandini Sundar. How Hindutva under Modi mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic and posed a serious threat to Indian people, science and healthcare were discussed by Meera Nanda, Kavita Sivaramakrishnan and Banu Subramanian. The infamous Hindutva fake news propaganda campaign was unveiled by Cyril Sam and Salil Tripathi. The difference between Hindusim and violent Hindutva were explored by Raja Bhattar, Brij Maharaj and Sunita Vishwanath. Last but not the least Islamophobia, White supremacy and Hindutva were brought to light by Anjali Arondekar, Demetrius Eudell and Deepa Kumari. The members from the Feminist Critical Studies Collective had a good representation at the conference.
It is worth mentioning that all speakers came from the top twenty most elite universities in the world. They were on high profile designations and well known in their respective field of expertise. From Hindutva extremist ideology to ill-treatment of the women, transgender issues, minority exploitation, extreme policies towards Muslims both within and outside India, violation of the rights of Kashmiris and overall violation of the basic fundamental rights of Indian academics, medical practitioners and so on. The list is quite huge to be shared here.
In a nutshell, the conference highlighted that RSS under Modi is the largest organized extremist hate group in the world. It draws its inspiration from Nazi ideology and Italian fascism. Its guiding principle is to transform India from a secular democracy to a religious state where Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities are relegated to a second-class citizenship. In the name of Hindutva, the current government of India has instituted discriminatory policies including beef bans, restrictions on religious conversion and interfaith weddings and the introduction of religious discrimination into India’s citizenship laws. These measures led to a horrifying rise in religious and caste-based violence, including hate crimes, lynching and rapes directed against Muslims, non-confirming Dalits, Sikhs, Christians, Adivasis and other dissident Hindus. Women of these communities are specially targeted. Modi government has used every tool of harassment and intimidation to muzzle dissent. Dozens of student activists and human rights defenders are currently languishing in jail indefinitely without due process under the repressive anti-terrorism law.
In response to DGH, the RSS launched ‘Dismantling Global Islamic Jihad’ on 11 September 2021. That shows the RSS cunningness, intolerance and hatred towards Muslims, minorities, human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of academics. The DGH conference has rightly concluded that India has moved away from a secular state that it inherited to a purely Hindutva state where only Hindutva decides whom India will love or hate! Hence Indian democracy is designed to serve only Hindutva, not the common Indian citizens!