Audrey Truschke’s ideological siblings know how to camouflage their Hinduphobia. WHC has proved that beyond doubt.
Hinduphobics and Hindu-baiters were out in force over the last fortnight, even as the World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago was held from 7-9 September. Those considering accepting the invite to address the event (Tulsi Gabbard, US Congresswoman from Hawaii for example) were frightened off with suggestions that they were supporting violent Hindutva, and those who accepted (Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi) were made to feel guilty for having attended an event to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech at the World Parliament of Religions.
The Congress this year, the second in a series held once every four years, allowed Hindus of all stripes to bond, discuss their common concerns, and celebrate their unique civilisation and culture that has withstood many, many onslaughts. Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) kept its distance from the WHC (ex-BJP minister and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu was the only significant official attendee), the Congress was an unmitigated success, with delegate registrations having to be stopped well in advance of the deadline due to excess interest, and overflows at meeting venues during those three days being accommodated in other rooms.
In a sense, it was only to be expected that an event organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh of the US, and addressed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, would bring out the usual killjoys and anti-Hindu activists out of the woodwork. Hinduphobia is alive and kicking among large sections of the “Left-(ill)Liberal” establishment and media in India (see how an isolated event at the WHC is reported by sections of Lutyens media here, here and here, and how those outside this charmed circle reported the event – read here, here, here and here). This Hinduphobic network is given its financial and media oxygen in the West by an unusual combination of the American Christian Right (which will oppose any Hindu assertion or effort to restrain religious conversions) and the Left (which likes to demonise Hinduism, but never any Abrahamic religion).
It speaks much for the pusillanimity of the WHC organisers that they took it all lying down. So much for the alleged “violent” nature of the standard-bearers of Hindutva.
Among the Hinduphobics leading the attack on the WHC was usual suspect Audrey Truschke, who has devoted her academic career to washing the bloodstains off Aurangzeb’s hands, never mind that even strong acids do not help her, given the weight of historical evidence. Her attempted whitewash of this Islamic bigot’s anti-Hindu rule has been matched by equal efforts to demonise those whom the Hindus revere. Truschke’s major contribution to Hindu-bashing was her attempt to “loosely” translate Sita’s reproach of Rama during her “agnipariksha”. Truschke claimed that in the Valmiki Ramayana, “during the agnipariksha, Sita basically tells Rama he’s a misogynist pig and uncouth”. Commonsense alone would suggest that such language was unlikely from a spirited woman of that era, even given her anger with Rama over his decision. Truschke was trashed by the very scholar she quoted to support her loose translation. Quite clearly, her anti-Hindu bigotry got the better of her alleged scholarship, which has not been much in evidence lately.
When the WHC happened, thus, Truschke rushed to shoot first before asking questions. On Twitter, she applauded those who chickened out of the event, and labelled those who attended it as “hate-mongerers” (sic). She said the scholars who did attend ought to have been “ashamed of themselves”. To support her bigotry, she made the usual claim made by Hinduphobics that Hinduism is not Hindutva. Really? Political Hinduism is not Hinduism, when political Islam and political Christianity can be legitimate and mainstreamed everywhere? Truschke’s bigoted tweet got her some murderous endorsements, including one by a Pakistani handle (@devigoes4Alpha). “Shameful that some Indian Americans support these events. I hope they and their kids get killed by a majoritarian nativist wearing a #MAGA hat in a #Olathe #KansasCity bar.”
One of the scholars who Truschke was trying to shame was Venkat Dhulipala, who wrote a brilliantly-researched book, Creating a New Medina, which gave the lie to the post-1947 “secular” narrative that Muhammad Ali Jinnah did not want an Islamic Pakistan. Dhulipala disproved the hypothesis that Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan was ill-thought-out, and quotes the narratives peddled by influential Islamic clerics from Deoband and other prominent Muslim politicians of that time to emphasise that the idea of Pakistan was well articulated even before Partition, and it was always about Islamic theocracy. The state was carved out as an Islamic redoubt in pre-Independence India using the same logic that led the Prophet to flee to Medina: to build his strengths and bide his time before retaking Mecca. Truschke’s indirect trashing of Dhulipala is thus part of her Hinduphobia.
A key feature of 21st century Hinduphobics is to paint oneself as a defender of “real Hinduism”, thus allowing giving themselves leeway to paint Hindutva as the “other” that can be abused and reviled. This Truschke strategy was followed by two other WHC bashers, including Avaaz, an advocacy forum, which brought out a huge paid advertisement in the Chicago Tribune with Swami Vivekananda’s picture dominating the page. The ad made tendentious references to the Supreme Court-monitored National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and quoted the Swami on bigotry to make its essentially anti-Hindu point. It quotes him in a limited way: “Sectarianism, bigotry, and… fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. But their time is come…”.
The quote seems directed at the alleged bigotry of those espousing violent Hindutva (the WHC certainly was not doing so, but why let truth interfere with your favoured false narrative?), but it is meaningless without being seen in its full context. The Swami who rejuvenated Hinduism was actually talking about the right of every religious belief system to find its own pathways to truth and god. He was indirectly giving the lie to the exclusivist Abrahamic versions of god and truth.
Here is the full context of what he said, and excerpts from what he said at the concluding session of the Parliament, which amount to countering the need for religious conversions.
“The present convention”, said Swami Vivekananda in his electrifying speech of 11 September, 1893, “which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.’ Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
The reference to the sword and pen is obvious: it is about conversion through coercion, and the pen is about not speaking ill of other religions, in particular Hinduism. Swami Vivekananda would, in fact, have trashed the Truschke-an version of the truth. He would have attended the WHC, even if he had disagreed with the organisers on some points.
In case there is any doubt about what the Swami meant, he underlined it in doubly clear terms when he spoke again on 27 September 1893: “Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, ‘Brother, yours is an impossible hope.’ Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.”
In short, the sectarianism that the Swami spoke about was the sectarianism prompted by the Abrahamic need to rubbish rival faiths and indulge in mindless conversions. This is the line that the VHP and the RSS take today, and they are certainly not out of line with the thinking of Swami Vivekananda.
The Avaaz ad clearly misused the Swami’s quote to delegitimise the WHC, and its focus on the Assam NRC further validates this thesis. The ad text reads: “Millions in Assam state in India, particularly Muslims, have been labelled “foreigners” even though they have lived and worked in India for decades, even generations. If PM Modi and his supporters don’t change course, 4 million people will lose their citizenship and basic rights because of the sectarianism and bigotry Vivekananda warned about a century ago…”.
The ad ends with the exhortation: “Don’t leave 4 million people citizens of nowhere.” And more ominously, “The World is Watching”.
This ad is a wonderful example of ‘Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi’. Suppress or obfuscate the truth, and then suggest something that is an outright lie.
The claim that of the 4 million people left out of the NRC in its final draft (actually the Supreme Court will have to ratify any ‘final draft’) is “mostly Muslims” is questionable, for the NRC has not given details of the religious composition of the exclusions. In fact, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has gone on record to claim that 25 lakh people among the exclusions are Hindu Bengalis, and 13 lakh Muslim Bengalis.
If she is right, then the Avaaz ad claim is patently false. The exclusions are mostly Bengali Hindu, not Muslim.
The second point to note is the ad’s claim that it is the Modi government’s work to exclude 4 million people from the NRC. While it is certainly the party’s position that all illegal migrants from Bangladesh must be identified and, if possible, deported (which won’t happen anyway since Bangladesh is not about to accept them back), the ad makes no mention of the fact that the NRC list in Assam is being compiled under the law, and monitored by the Supreme Court itself. So, no legal remedy available to the illegals so identified will be denied to them just because the Modi government wants to deport illegals. Again, this crucial fact is left out to make the NRC sound anti-Muslim. Worse, there is no attempt to differentiate between Hindu illegals who may be fleeing persecution in Islamist Bangladesh, and Muslim immigrants, who may be crossing over purely to chase better livelihoods. Little surprise, these uncomfortable truths are glossed over, and the NRC becomes an ideal stick to beat the WHC with. After all, it is a “Hindu” gathering and responsible for all “Hindu” crimes, even if what they are demanding nothing more than demanding the enforcement of laws on illegal immigration. Why not misuse the Vivekananda quote if it helps the good cause of Hindu-bashing in Chicago?
A third strand of Hinduphobia was witnessed at the event itself, when a handful of trouble-makers managed to sneak in (illegally, one may add, since the conference was open only to registered delegates) and raise a ruckus over RSS “fascism” towards the end of the opening plenary session. The group, which claimed to belong to an outfit called Chicago South Asians For Justice, shouted slogans and raised banners before being bundled out by the security staff at the hotel with police help.
That the trouble-makers clearly were anti-Hindu, if not anti-India, was clear: no Indian group will call itself South Asian unless the majority, or a significant chunk of the members, are non-Indians. Secondly, the group gave an entirely spurious reason for not saying who they were. In a victimhood statement put out after they were ousted by security at Hotel Westin Lombard, where the WHC was held, they had this to say: “We spent a long time deciding whether to include our names alongside our testimonies, and ultimately decided against it in order to protect ourselves against imminent backlash from people who would like to attack, hurt, and even possibly kill us. We wanted to reiterate however, that many of us are from Hindu families with caste privilege who recognise and reject Hindutva’s militant nationalism.”
What a pathetic attempt to hide the fact that the bulk of the protesters were either not Hindu, or Hindus ashamed of their heritage. And to pretend that Hindus in America will attack them means they don’t have faith even in US law.
Audrey Truschke’s ideological siblings know how to camouflage their Hinduphobia. WHC has proved that beyond doubt.