August, 2021An announcement from HCRC
A virtual conference titled "Dismantling Global Hindutva," scheduled for September 10–12, 2021, has caused major concerns and fear among the local Hindu community, according to the Hindu Community Relations Council of Michigan. Hindus across the state are connecting with others across the country to ensure that the universities and colleges listed as sponsors for the event are not only aware of the damage to the social fabric of local communities and its negative impact on Hindu students, staff and faculty, but actively disengaging and dissociating from the event. Under the facade of an academic conference, the activists are using the platform in order to promote xenophobia and increase anti-Hindu hate on college campuses. “Institutions of higher education should support free speech and open discourse to aid in academic scholarship, but this event has a negative focus, ranging from denigrating a religious tradition rooted in nonviolence and justice (dharma) to denying ethnic cleansing of Hindus,” said Nasy Sankagiri, President of the HCRC.
The depiction of Hinduphobic materials, linking India’s social problems to Hinduism and focusing on partisan politics in India, are all part of an aggressive campaign to create a hostile environment that impacts Hindus on campus and beyond. A number of students and their parents have come to the organization with concerns about the bias and misrepresentation generated by events like this. Hate speech or threatening speech should not be supported by academic institutions, even when it is marketed as simple “free speech.” The essential message of a slogan like “dismantle global hindutva” is “dismantle/silence Hindu voices when they speak up for their heritage or are politically vocal (when we disagree with them)” and that is not a message that should be promoted by academic institutions, even if individual faculty members choose to engage in such behavior. The title of the conference, as well as the violent and menacing imagery of the poster, has a high likelihood of being perceived as targeting the Hindu community and encouraging discrimination, harassment and even violence. Academic institutions are obligated to preserve the safety and dignity of all students, not only the ones who agree with them ideologically or politically. “With mental health already a major post-pandemic issue for students, identity-based targeting and discrimination can only worsen the situation,” said HCRC Board member Dr. Anil Kumar, who serves on the Board of Governors of Wayne State University.
The newly launched organization’s leaders are reaching out to other community groups, including interfaith organizations and campus officials to ensure that Michigan Hindus feel safe on campus and in the communities surrounding them and are part of constructive conversations on these issues, especially to eradicate Hinduphobia, in line with America’s ideals of pluralism and inclusion.
Many of the event’s listed speakers have a history of bigoted comments on Hindu worship and calls to ‘end Hinduism.’ Several universities billed by conference organizers on their website as “sponsors” have asked that their logos be removed from the conference materials since they were neither consulted nor approved their inclusion in this conference. The University of Michigan, which is home to a large Hindu population, in both the student body and the faculty population, as well as many notable Hindu alumni, is listed as one of the co-sponsors.
The university’s Standard Practice Guide states:
“It is the policy of the University of Michigan to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination and harassment for all students, faculty, and staff. Discrimination and harassment are contrary to the standards of the University community. They diminish individual dignity and impede educational opportunities, equal access to freedom of academic inquiry, and equal employment. Discrimination and harassment are barriers to fulfilling the University’s scholarly, research, educational, patient care, and service missions. Discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, disability, religion, height, weight or veteran’s status as set forth in S PG 201.35, Nondiscrimination Policy Notice will not be tolerated at the University of Michigan.”
However, thus far, the university does not appear to have responded to the growing concern. Parents are reporting to HCRC that their emails on this topic are being blocked.