The Hindu Students Council chapter at Boston University hosted the Understanding Hinduphobia Conference, to raise awareness about Hinduphobia.
May 16, 2022 — Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
On Sunday, April 3, Hindu Students Council (HSC) hosted the second annual “Understanding Hinduphobia” conference at the HSC chapter at Boston University. The conference is an ongoing collaboration with the Understanding Hinduphobia initiative, a first-of-its-kind academic endeavor to recognize, define, and explore Hinduphobia as a form of bigotry faced by the Hindu American community. Hundreds registered for the conference, which was attended by students, scholars, university administrators, community members, and allies. Notably, former New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer, who combated the anti-Hindu “Dotbuster” gang during his tenure, powerfully exemplified allyship towards the Hindu community, during the final conference session.
The Understanding Hinduphobia (UH) initiative was founded by Co-Directors Dr. Indu Viswanathan (Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University), and Dr. Parth Parihar (Ph.D., Economics, Princeton University), who built the conference framework around their working definition of Hinduphobia (the definition is available at https://understandinghinduphobia.org). The co-directors opened the conference by reviewing this definition, outlining some of the activities the initiative has organized with HSC chapters, and presenting the conference theme— “Documented and Documenting Hinduphobia.”
Through the conference, both Hindu Students Council and UH’s co-directors tried to zero in on the conversation around Hinduphobia on North American campuses. This year’s sessions incorporated presentations and panels from Hindu American students, exploring how Hinduism’s pedagogy can be more accurate inside and outside of academic spaces, statistical and economic analyses of Hinduphobia in textbooks and on social media platforms, and the religious persecution of indigenous Kashmiri Hindus, Bangladeshi Hindus, and Sindhi Hindus. Boston University’s Hindu Chaplain Pandit Sanjay Saxena also attended and delivered remarks in support of Hindu students at Boston University.
HSC students both contributed towards and were deeply impacted by the conference. Those who presented were thrilled by the opportunity to produce research that delved into a topic they cared deeply about. “I was excited to present our latest report on anti-Hindu disinformation using machine learning,” intimated Rutgers HSC External President and current Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) analyst Prasiddha Sudhakar. “We leveraged computational social science research with historical hatred to better understand its modern-day manifestations.” Many were also seeing a thoughtful, cohesive analysis of Hinduphobia for the first time. “It was incredibly impactful for HSC students to listen to solid scholarship and research conducted by academics and their peers on the topic of Hinduphobia,” opined Sohini Sircar, Chairperson of Hindu Students Council’s Board of Trustees. “The conference lifted up the voices of those who have been silenced, and brought awareness to Hinduphobia.”
The conference has certainly set the stage for further work to be done within the Hindu community to combat Hinduphobia, but also provided a valuable framework that can be used by scholars and community activists alike. “It is humbling to see how much Understanding Hinduphobia has evolved in just one year,” remarked UH co-director Dr. Indu Viswanathan. “What began as a collaboration between Hindu American scholars and students on one campus [Rutgers] has grown into an ongoing initiative on campuses across the nation, rooted in a shared understanding of Hinduphobia.” “I’m excited to see our community— especially young people— seriously interested in studying and analyzing Hinduphobia,” added Dr. Parth Parihar, also a co-director and a member of HSC’s Board of Trustees. “When young people go from consumers to producers of knowledge, that signals a major shift— and I can’t wait to see the results.”
The full video of the Understanding Hinduphobia Conference is now available at Hindu Students Council’s YouTube Channel! Below are some highlights from the conference.
- The day began with the presentation on the Understanding Hinduphobia initiative, which reviewed the working definition of Hinduphobia. The working definition is based on scholarship and was co-developed by the conference scholars prior to last year’s conference.
- Next, Hindu Students at Rutgers University presented their lived experiences as Hindus at Rutgers and discussed how Hinduphobia escalates when academics and organizations politicize Hindu symbols and festivals. It was a re-enactment of a presentation to Rutgers administrators delivered in conjunction with Understanding Hinduphobia.
- This was followed by a presentation by HAF’s Director of Education, Dr. Shereen Bhalla, who shared results from a preliminary survey. The survey aimed to highlight the need for promoting a culturally responsive pedagogy when teaching about Hinduism.
- These insights were enlivened in a high school students panel moderated by HSC President, Arnav Kejriwal. Leaders of HSC’s High School Leadership Board shared their encounters with Hinduphobia at school. Students shared how portraying our community using generalized stereotypes erases the identity of the Hindu community.
- The conversation about Hinduphobia in K-12 education continued with Dr. Raman Khanna’s Quantitative Analysis of Scholarly Hinduphobia from the 2016 Contested California Frameworks Process. Dr. Khanna discussed academic Hinduphobia and how to evaluate it using data science.
- Sindhu Banerjee concluded the morning session of the conference with the effects of Hinduphobia on Hindu college students. He shared his interactions with students as HSC’s VP of chapter relations on how “Hinduphobia damages Hindu students’ mental health.”
- Following a lunch break, the afternoon session was kicked off with remarks from Pandit Sanjay Saxena ji, the Hindu chaplain at Boston University. He shared wisdom from Hindu texts describing Hinduphobia as “nirmul bhaya”– unfounded prejudices.
- Mukta Matta ji then presented on the persecution of Hindus in Sindh, Pakistan, and talked about the erasure of the Sindh identity and shared interviews of victims who have lost their temples, language and had been subjected to non-stop attacks.
- The discussion on Hindu persecution continued with a panel discussion led by Deepali Kulkarni on the Bangladeshi Hindu Genocide.
- Dr. Mohit Ray, a human rights activist based on Kolkata, spoke about the refugees that migrated to India as a result of the genocide.
- Panelist Sraboni Chowdhury shared her harrowing account of the personal tragedy and inhuman suffering she experienced. “We didn’t know back then what a war was like… before we left, I wiped the sindhoor from the forehead of my mother so she wouldn’t be identified as a Hindu.” Chowdhury shared that, during the war, she kept a box of kerosene and matches next to her bed, waiting to immolate herself to escape the fate of being captured by a Pakistani soldier.
- Prof. Sachi Dastidar of SUNY Old Westbury shared insightful books on the matter such as The Blood Telegram, Bengal’s Hindu Holocaust to name a few.
- The panel’s moderator, HAF’s Director of Human Rights Deepali Kulkarni ji, presented a short talk called “The Epistemic Injustice of anti-Hindu Persecution,” that encapsulated many of the panel’s insights, through the lens of another persecuted community— the Kashmiri Hindus.
Late Afternoon Session
- Following a brief chai break, John Farmer, who leads the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, began our closing session by stating, “As you all know there is nothing really new about Hinduphobia.” Joel Finkelstein of the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) at Rutgers and Rutgers University Student Prasiddha Sudhakar then led a fascinating presentation on their data science approach to identifying common tropes within anti-Hindu biases. They discussed how disinformation targeting Hindus disseminates on social media and the negative stereotypes that Hindus are often subjected to.
- Dr. Parth Parihar continued the research-based discussion on Hinduphobia by presenting on the political economy of anti-Hindu violence, stating “the most enduring, constant feature of anti-Hindu violence is the essential denial of its existence or salience.”
- Sneha Rao discussed the pedagogy of yoga from the indigenous Hindu knowledge systems. She compared indigenous yoga traditions to those found in Western yoga studios, outlining how the latter’s “pedagogy is to maximize profits.” Dr. Viswanathan continued the discussion by stating how yoga is often misrepresented in the education system.
- This thread on decolonizing our ways of thinking was continued by Neha Srivastava, who detailed the ways in which unsubstantiated claims— for example, suggesting all inequality in South Asia stems from Hinduism— actually erase Hindu women’s voices.
- After a day filled with insightful presentations and panels, Dr. Indu Viswanathan shared insights from her manual “Navigating Hinduphobia.” She pointed to Arvind Sharma’s work in which he discussed the fundamental right of religious freedom and the right of someone not to be made the object of proselytization.