Do you remember the dread of watching Neo-Nazis brazenly marching in Charlottesville? The shouts of angry white men in polo shirts and khaki emboldened by the current occupant of the White House, their hateful message ringing through living rooms across the United States.
It was a moment that symbolized the new normal for Black people, Indigenous peoples, Jewish people, Muslim people, and all people of color in the country. We watched centuries of white supremacy and months of white nationalist organizing culminate in one disturbing, tragic event.
The tragedy of Heather Heyer’s death and the assault on DeAndre Harris, among other acts of violence, are inseparable from the legacy of Charlottesville, and deserve to be held on their own.
But the hateful and violent spirit of what white nationalists perpetrated in Charlottesville is far from contained, and is part of the rise of fascism all across the world.
Caste-oppressed communities in India have been surviving centuries of violence under Brahmanism, and with the rise of Hindu fascism/Hindutva, we have experienced a surge of fascist violence that is utterly terrifying and viciously emboldened in this particular historical moment.
Our campaign coalesced around the 2018 World Hindu Congress in Chicago that was held September 7–9, 2018. On the surface, the marketing materials might fool some into seeing the World Hindu Congress as a faith-based gathering, or even a networking opportunity for Hindus in the US. But make no mistake, this conference was built to create a platform for mainstream Hindu fascism to take the global stage. The WHC has been organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the American branch of India-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), as well as other Hindu American groups such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), that are tied to fascist Hindu ethno-nationalist organizations in India.
“But make no mistake, this conference was built to create a platform for mainstream Hindu fascism to take the global stage.”
As the World Hindu Congress comes to an end, the #StopHinduFascism campaign continues, an urgent call for Indian Americans who have not experienced caste oppression to remove their blinders and learn more about Hindu fascism, Brahmanism/Brahminical supremacy, and how networks of caste-privileged power have been complicit in their rise in India and around the globe.
Our campaign conducted three days of protest against this conference, in addition to pressuring American leaders to cancel their attendance, as many did. Our work culminated in the disruption of the plenary session with RSS Chief Mohanrao Bhagwat, and also included pressure on Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who spoke at the conference despite our informing him of the its nature. Our protestors did what Raja Krishnamoorthi did not. As people of conscience, we spoke truth to power and disrupted this attempt to normalize Hindu fascism in America.
“We spoke truth to power and disrupted this attempt to normalize Hindu fascism in America.”
So What is Hindu Fascism?
The key to understanding why the VHP is so dangerous lies in understanding Hindu fascism itself. Many Desis, especially in the US, have never been taught about the ways in which caste and religion in India work as systems of oppression, similar to the way race does in the United States and globally.
Hindu fascism, or Hindutva, is an ethno-nationalist movement that uses religion as a justification for atrocities against Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Ravidassias, and Buddhists. While characterized as a religious movement, Hindutva uses the claim of faith to distract from its economic agenda to concentrate power, land, and resources in the hands of the upper oppressor castes.
Hindutva is Hindu fascism, rooted in a tradition of Brahmanism, which operates as a hierarchical system of oppression under the guise of apolitical Hindu ideologies in various forms. Hindutva/Hindu fascism is not about religious difference; it is about the weaponization of Hinduism to dominate caste-oppressed groups and forcibly retain them with the Hindu fold. Members of the Hindutva movement, who see a stake in maintaining Brahmanism and their position in its hierarchy, have been using their moment of political power to push their oppressive and usually violent agenda in politics, the economy, and culture.
It may seem overwhelming to dismiss an entire political and cultural movement as fascist, especially to those who have grown up within it, but Hindutva has but a tiny veneer of political acceptability covering a consistent, decades-old history of Brahminical violence against Indian indigenous peoples, and caste-oppressed religious minorities. They suppress voices of dissent, and those who seek to expose the impact of Hindu fascism often face violent retribution.
Hindutva forces have rewritten history to erase marginalized peoples and paint themselves and their perception of Hindu ideals as the heroes of all narratives. They present a formidable front of cultural and political warfare, and can be found at every level of government in India, but also in positions of power abroad. The World Hindu Congress is an example of the power they wield internationally, and clearly illustrates the dangers of normalizing their disturbing views and actions.
Who Runs the WHC?
The leading hosts of this conference include the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) — Chicago — one of many American chapters that have developed from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India (VHP). The VHP has a well-documented history of perpetrating attacks against religious minorities. VHP leaders have openly advocated for violence against Dalits, Muslims, and Christians. In 2018, the World Factbook published by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) listed the VHP as a “militant religious outfit.”
The VHP is one of many Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) organizational branches that make up the Hindu fascist front. From burning bibles, mob lynchings, destroying places of worship for Christians and Muslims, forced religious conversions of Indian religious minorities, to the prevention of interfaith marriages, the VHP and RSS have instigated a volatile cultural war. They also were crucial leaders in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition and the infamous Gujarat riots which led to the murders and rapes of scores of Muslims.
The VHP are responsible for chaos and violence in communities all over India. The former secretary general of the VHP, Pravin Togadia, deployed disturbing hate speech against religious minorities in India, at a time when atrocities against these groups are rising alarmingly. Togadia has called for violence against Indians who choose to follow Christianity or other religions besides Hinduism, blatantly stating that people seeking conversion (and the pursuit of religious freedom through it) should be decapitated.
Who is Speaking?
As South Asian scholars Rohit Chopra and Maia Ramnath write, “Speakers at the WHC include Mohan Rao Bhagwat and ideologue Rajiv Malhotra, who represent two fronts of Hindu fascism, one catering to a fringe anti-government audience, and one with a more politically relevant lens connected to mainstream political powers.
RSS chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat has openly called for violence, boasted that he could raise a militia in three days, and promoted extralegal violent tactics for “cow-protectors” that assault people they accuse of consuming beef. Furthermore, he has disparaged women by suggesting they should stay home and be housewives, and directly enabled the rape crisis in India by claiming that rape happens only in cities, not in rural India, because of Western culture’s corrupting influence.
Rajiv Malhotra is a US-based Hindutva ideologue who continuously disparages American congressional institutions like the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, claiming that it exists to protect “the freedom of Christian evangelists to convert internationally,” which, while it seems to fall into the realm of legitimate criticism of American overreach, is a part of the Hindu fascists’ discriminatory agenda to endanger the rights of minority religious groups in India. More recently, he urged his followers to direct disaster relief only to Hindus in the flood-devastated state of Kerala.”
“In this context, the World Hindu Congress is not an innocuous gathering of the faithful. Its organizers, speakers, and participants are part of a larger constellation of groups and individuals who wish to build a Hindu nation, by any means necessary.”
The Violence of This Conference is Complicity
The World Hindu Congress is an act of arrogance, carried out by the global propaganda arm of the Hindu fascist movement based in India. In doing so, the VHP flaunts its power on the international stage while its affiliates in India perpetrate violence against marginalized groups with virtually no consequences. This conferences poses a direct threat to caste-oppressed immigrants, especially considering the crisis of democracy taking place in India.
The BJP, or Bharatiya Janata Party, is currently in power in India, and is the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is the mainstream political arm of Hindutva, and has facilitated large-scale attacks on Indian civil liberties. Dalit leaders have been arrested on trumped-up charges, and the Dalit resistance has been targeted by state violence, especially before elections. The government telecommunications ministry has even directly attempted to erase Dalit peoples’ reclaimed community identity by advising against even using the word “Dalit.”
The level of violence endorsed and promoted by all offshoots of Hindutva is staggering. A political leader offered to kidnap women for his supporters in front of thousands of people. A member of the RSS in Kerala intimidated his opposition by citing the disturbing violence perpetrated by Hindutva forces during the Gujarat riots against thousands of Muslims as a threat. Hordes of violent Hindu militia groups have burned churches, lynched and raped Muslims and Dalits to assert caste and religious domination, and operated with no expectation of retribution or accountability.
India has never been a truly safe place for caste-oppressed and religious minority groups, but India under Hindutva is worse than we possibly could have imagined. At this time more than ever, it is absolutely integral that members of the diaspora take a stand and reject the Hindutva agenda, following the leadership of caste-oppressed and religious minority organizers in achieving dignity and building power.
Call to Action
As members of the Indian or South Asian diaspora with a commitment to justice, we have to speak up and disrupt the attempt to normalize such violent actors. We also have to step up and accept collective responsibility for ending this oppression. Too often, when the issue of Hindu fascism comes up, it is only fought by those that are caste-oppressed or directly otherwise victimized. Our actions this weekend showed how an inter-caste and inter-faith coalition motivated by love and justice can have real power against fascists.
“As members of the Indian or South Asian diaspora with a commitment to justice, we have to speak up and disrupt the attempt to normalize such violent actors.”
Progressive Savarna (caste-privileged) Americans often have a better-developed understanding of issues related to white supremacy, like immigration and police brutality, and are starting to have difficult conversations unpacking and addressing anti-Blackness and racism in South Asian communities. This (admittedly in-progress) foundational lens of structural injustice needs to be applied further, and participation in this fight needs to cross borders and specifically address all the ways in which Savarna Americans are complicit. When it comes to their own identity-based community advocacy, Savarna Americans focus instead on issues of representation like colorism and appropriation, which are politically convenient and culturally appealing but fail to address the deep-rooted issues that they perpetuate, including caste oppression and religious violence carried out in the name of Hinduism.
But Savarna Americans must now, more than ever, take up the fight against Hindu fascism, following the leadership of and remaining accountable to Dalit Bahujan (Bahujan, meaning “the majority of the people,” includes all caste-oppressed peoples) Americans. Savarna Americans have, sometimes unknowingly but frequently knowingly, funded the growth of Hindu fascism in India. For example, the second largest donor to the BJP was an Indian American from Orange County, California. Savarnas continue to benefit from generations of exploitation of Dalit Bahujans, and have used it to build networks of power all over the world. The responsibility to stop the weaponization of this power by Hindu fascism lies with Savarna Americans.
Brahmanism lies at the heart of Hindu fascism, which is its worst iteration. Its political philosophy, its imperial ambitions, and its ruthlessness in consolidating power on the backs of caste-oppressed Dalits, Muslims, Ravidassias, Sikhs, Buddhism, and Christians is relentless. Such a force requires that we all take on the burden of fighting Hindu fascism. The battle must be led by Dalit Bahujan Americans, but the time has long since come for Savarna Americans from the South Asian diaspora to take responsibility for their past complicity in this violence and join the fight to end it. There is a clear choice here: to passively stay silent and allow the continued entrenchment of Brahmanism and fascism, or to actively learn about and work towards justice. As caste-oppressed people in America and in South Asia risk violence to stand up for our rights in a united struggle, we ask that you stand shoulder to shoulder with us until we end Hindu fascism and dismantle its political and economic power once and for all. This is your opportunity to join the movement.
1. LEARN: Read and listen to caste-oppressed peoples of South Asia and the diaspora about how the structure of caste apartheid continues to affect their lives.
2. EXPOSE THE WHC AND ITS SUPPORTERS: Follow @stophindutva on Twitter and use the hashtag #StopHinduFascism to show the danger of the World Hindu Congress, and diminish its legitimacy as a community space. Uplift the work of local organizers who are putting their bodies on the line to protest its violent agenda.
3. SUPPORT: Donate to provide resources for Dalit Bahujan American organizers working to advocate and build power for marginalized South Asians and South Asian Americans.
4. JAM THE NARRATIVE: Share writing (like this article!) by Dalit Bahujan organizers who share stories and frameworks for unlearning and dismantling caste and Brahmanism.
5. JOIN THE CAMPAIGN: We will be holding Representative Krishnamoorthi accountable for platforming fascists. To join our campaign or learn more, please e-mail us at [email protected]
This essay was originally shared online by the Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA) on September 10. AJA describes itself as “standing together for justice, accountability, and human rights in India and the United States.”
Democratic Nominee for Illinois State Senator Ram Villivalam’s Statement on the World Hindu Congress 2018
Statement on violence at Hindu nationalist conference, by Chicago South Asians for Justice