• Hindu Supremacists in America: Stars, Stripes and Saffron

    Bharathy Singaravel

    October 14, 2019


    Image Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

    On October 10, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), D.C. conducted a “Kashmir 101 teach-in Webinar”.  It aimed to correct the “biased reporting of the New York Times” on Kashmir.

    This is not the first-time HAF has sought to “correct” perception regarding the Kashmir issue. A keyword search on the website leads to a series of articles, videos and events that emphasise the same narrative given by the BJP government in India. The most worrying of these is a “Senate Briefing” held on September 15, 2019, with specific regard to the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A. Even as Kashmir remained under lockdown, HAF hosted staff from the US Senate and the House of Representatives in the Russell Senate Office Building. The supposed briefing was given under the title “Locked Down or Liberated? The Future of Kashmir Post-Articles 370/35A”. On the HAF website, they thank Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) for his support in providing Congressional staff “the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from religious minorities in the region, to get a thorough understanding of the historical facts … and to see the devastating impact that Pakistan-based terrorism has had on the people of Jammu & Kashmir who continue to live under threat of terrorism today.” Cornyn is the co-chair of the Senate Indian Caucus. When PM Modi visited the US recently, Cornyn and he met in Houston. The video of their meeting is on Modi’s official YouTube channel.

    Screengrab of the invite to Kashmir 101 Webinar

    This much-celebrated “Howdy, Modi” event organised by the Texas India Forum, has plain connections to HAF that describes itself as a “non-partisan organisation”. The event chair, Jugal Malani, The Intercept reports, advises the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA. The Indian counterpart of Ekal Vidyalaya is affiliated to the RSS according to The Intercept. The head event spokesperson of “Howdy, Modi”, Rishi Bhutada, is a board member of HAF. The article also mentions that Bhutada is Jugal Malani’s nephew. The Prime Minister used the “Howdy, Modi” event to repeat the government rhetoric on the crisis in Kashmir to a massive audience. The added benefit of Donald Trump’s presence amplified that rhetoric.

    The extent of HAF’s influence ought to be worrying. HAF functions as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organisation. They appear to be comfortably funded, going by Form 990 filed in 2018 by them. Donors to HAF can deduct contributions under Section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). There are other such organisations that are tax-exempt in the US, two of which are direct counterparts of the RSS and VHP, namely The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) according to Scroll.in.

    The Scroll.in overview of “Hindu Nationalism in the US: A Report of non-Profit Organisations, 2014” throws up even murkier details. This report by South Asia Citizens Web revealed how many millions of dollars flow into Sangh Parivar affiliated non-profit groups. As highlighted in the Scroll article, between the years 2001-2012 the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA and VHPA in total allocated $30.9 million to projects most of which are in India.

    The report amongst other issues, also studies the incursion of Hindutva into academic spaces. “In academic disciplines that focus on India and Hinduism, especially religious studies and history, Hindu nationalist discourses are aided by an already-prevalent Western Orientalist tendency to establish [the upper-caste tradition of] Advaita [Vedanta] as the ‘central theology of Hinduism.’ ” It further adds that, “this manoeuvre downplays the complex histories of resistance to caste oppression and non-Vedic lives”. The Hindu University of America prioritises such an education. One of the university’s notable donors, according to the report is Vivek Welfare Educational Foundation (VWEF), also a Sangh-affiliate. Suhag Shukla the co-founder of HAF and the current Executive Director served on the board of VWEF from 2006-2008. A current National Leadership Council member of HAF, Nikhil Joshi was on the VWEF board from 2009-2012, the report reveals.

    As per the same report, HAF has become a “voice for Hindu Nationalist interests to US politicians”. Education is one of the areas that HAF focuses on. They claim to educate the public on Hinduism such as its representation in K-12 textbooks.

    A controversy that began in 2005, involved HAF suing the California State Board of Education in 2006 over the inclusion of the caste-system, the Aryan Invasion Theory and other instances of “Hinduphobia” in sixth-grade textbooks. The full list of which can be read here. The issue erupted again in 2017. The South Asian Histories for All (SAHFA) founded by anti-caste activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan were on one side, HAF and the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF), an affiliate of the HSS were on the other.

    Given that HAF is dead set on disbelieving ground reports by NYT (and other international newsmedia), it seems pointless to counter the statements on the invite using reproduced information. In an age of deliberate obfuscation, falsehoods and propaganda, the facts are there for anyone who cares to look for verified news. What is essential though is to look closer at the Hindu-right in America as well as the range of their influence.

    The webinar has to be seen in this context. Organisations such as HAF help forge alliances between authoritarian politicians. It corrodes at the idea of pluralistic international solidarity. National hierarchical systems are being reproduced on a global scale instead. Such a situation poses a direct threat to political accountability amongst world leaders. If they are to be countered, international solidarity networks need to stand for the exact opposite of what HAF does: diversity.


     

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