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US Hindu group files complaint against university over 'anti-Hindu' conference

By Lalit K Jha
October 07, 2021 10:14 IST
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A prominent Hindu American group on Wednesday filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against the prestigious University of Pennsylvania for its part in co-sponsoring the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, which it alleged was “anti-Hindu”.

In a complaint to the Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement Randolph Wills, the Hindu American Foundation has asked the Office of Civil Rights to investigate and determine whether the University of Pennsylvania and its Department of South Asia Studies, South Asia Center created a hostile environment for students and faculty of Indian and Hindu descent, and whether the same entities and individuals misused any federal funds.

Organised by several groups, many of whom are known for their anti-India stand, the Dismantling Global Hindutva was held virtually around September 11 and was sponsored and co-sponsored by several American universities, the HAF said.

“Prior to the DGH conference, thousands of letters of concern, including our own, were received by the University of Pennsylvania, informing the university that despite disclaimers alleging that ‘dismantling' Hinduism was not an aim of the conference, the featured speakers and their history of anti-Hindu activism, meant that the event would be one-sided and likely endorse negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts about Hindus,” said HAF executive director Suhag Shukla.


“We asked the university to ensure that it does not create a hostile environment for Hindu students and faculty that make them vulnerable to censure, harassment, or retaliation by associating itself with anti-Hindu rhetoric that this event would promote — as it, in fact, did. These calls were ignored, leaving us no choice but to pursue a formal complaint with the Department of Education,” Shukla said.

The HAF in its complaint has asked if the university misused any federal fund by planning, sponsoring, hosting, and/or participating in a one sided conference about India and Hindus which promoted negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts; and developing and promoting a ‘harassment field manual' that promotes negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts about Hindus, denies Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hatred, and specifically targets Hindu students for censure and marginalisation in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.

The HAF complaint says that two of the speakers featured in the DGH conference previously promoted anti-Semitic tropes, including a denial of Israel's right to exist, calling Israel an “apartheid” state, and calling for the de-recognition of Israel as a legitimate state.

“The conference and accompanying social media posts subjected a global audience, including Hindu students and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, to demonising and dehumanising discussions about Hindus for three entire days in contravention of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” it alleged.

“Event organisers boasted 30,000 plus viewers on the DGH YouTube channel alone and 4.7 million impressions on Twitter. These numbers do not account for the allegedly thousands viewing the event broadcast on Zoom or live streams on other platforms,” it alleged.

The HAF in the complaint notes that the Hindutva Harassment Field Manual, written by faculty from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Georgetown University, Santa Clara University, University of Washington, Yale University, Union Seminary, University of Denver, and Rutgers University-Newark, claims to offer “resources for how to defend those attacked (by Hindus) and how to educate others on campus and the workplace.”

“But in fact, the field manual engages in fear-mongering of only Hindu students. The document warns Muslim, feminist, LGBTQ+ and other students that they are at risk from Hindu students who may espouse, ‘elite Hindu-centric ideas'. No elaboration is provided to explain what ‘elite' or ‘Hindu-centric' actually means,” the HAF alleged.

“The field manual dismisses the existence of Hinduphobia, alleging that Hindus are merely appropriating social justice and anti-racism language, and that discrimination faced by Hindus cannot be religious in nature. The field manual also states that, ‘Hinduphobia' rests on the false notion that Hindus have faced systematic oppression throughout history and in present times,” the HAF alleged.

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Lalit K Jha
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