Several people have contacted Swamiji expressing concern about a few recent articles published by major news sources in addition to several pieces in recent years on NPR which have insinuating that Hinduism is a radical and violent religion posing a threat to the liberty of Americans.
We are disappointed to see several major news sources have recently published insinuations that radical right-wing Hindu organizations are gaining ground in America and posing a threat to the US. These articles either claim or insinuate that radicals are becoming mainstream in Hinduism and that Hinduism poses a threat to Americans' freedom. No fewer than three defamatory articles have been published in the past month by major news outlets with several others published in previous months.
Huff Post Article
The Intersept Article
This comes in the Holy month of Ashvin when the Biden administration received criticism from the Hindu community for doing away with the spiritual observance of the Hindu festival of Diwali at the white house. The White House celebration of Diwali was started by President Obama and continued by President Trump. Though Biden hosted the largest celebration of Diwali in White House history this year, he is the first President not to invite a Hindu priest to offer prayers at the White House as a part of the observance of the religious festival. Many Hindus are asking if the Biden administration was trying to de-Hinduize Diwali. Is the message that Hindu Americans are supposed to take from all these events that they are welcome in America so long as they assimilate and leave behind their Hindu culture and identity? Diwali is one of the most important Hindu religious festivals celebrating the triumph of the light of peace and love and wisdom over the dark forces of selfishness, egoism, ignorance, and hatred.
We find the story written by Rowaida Abdelaziz and published by the Huff Post in particular quite concerning. This article compares Hindu Nationalism to "white national extremism" and implies that violence and hate are the dominant political position of Hindus. The article quotes South Asian historian and outspoken opponent of Hinduism Audrey Truschke “Hindu nationalism is threatening American multicultural values. If you like diversity, if you believe people who are different and who follow different religions should live together and that we are all Americans, Hindutva is a threat to that, and it is growing. It is not going away. It’s likely to get worse.” Hinduism is and always has been a very peaceful and arguably the most tolerant religion on the planet. Hindu scriptures urge people to practice ahimsa (non-injury to living beings) as the highest spiritual ideal, and foster tolerance between faiths by proclaiming "Truth is one. Paths are many." It is the Hindu ideal of nonviolence that inspired Mahatma Gandhi toward the nonviolent resistance of British oppression which led to one of the very few nonviolent revolutions in recorded history. If Hindu Nationalists are working to help return rights to Hindu people to practice their religion that were lost in the time of Colonial rule, this poses no threat to Americans, unless these Americans have a hidden agenda to destroy the Hindu culture and convert the Hindu people to their Christian beliefs and traditions. In practice, the indigenous Hindu people of India have not enjoyed all the same legal rights as members of other faiths for hundreds of years.
These types of fanatical reports may help increase the audience for news outlets, but they also affect the lives of millions of people. It is important that such stories are presented accurately and also delicately with regaurd to the difficult situation of immigrant communities who routinely face a great deal of discrimination and abuse. Hindus in America are an extremely marginalized group, without even considering the numerous challenges faced by Hindus historically in India. Though Hinduism is the fourth largest religion in America today with a population of around 3 million, this is only about 1 percent of the US population. Hinduism as a faith is not generally well understood by the American people. The scholarly writings on Hinduism derive a great deal of inaccuracy from the early Western writings on Hinduism authored by Chrstian missionaries with the intention to demonize the Hindu faith and convert the Hindu people to Christianity. The American education system still tends in many cases to present widely inaccurate and derogatory descriptions of Hinduism. The faith is often inaccurately portrayed in the media in the few cases that it is represented at all. It is shameful to see news outlets publishing stories which will likely serve to increase the many misunderstandings about the Hindu faith without having done their due diligence to evaluate the accuracy of such stories or the hidden agendas of the people they are reporting on. Indian Americans face a great deal of harassment, abuse, and discrimination, for the darker color of their skin, for language and cultural differences, and for their religion.
These articles which warn of the growing threat of violent and intolerant Hindus in America present a very inaccurate picture of Hindu Americans by leaving out many important details. For example, two of the articles cited above refer to cyberbullying and online threats experienced by Audrey Truschke. The articles state that this is indicative of a growing number of Hindu radicals trying to silence critical scholarship and to force others to adopt Hindu views. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hinduism is undeniably one of the most, if not the most, tolerant religion on Earth today with a long history of welcoming members of other faiths. Unlike Mrs. Truschke's Christian faith, Hinduism does not proselytise and has no traditional methods for conversion. True Hindu nationalists are simply seeking to regain the dignity and rights taken away during Colonial rule of India which are still lacking in many ways. There is no agenda to dismantle, harm, or even influence the peaceful coexistence of other religious traditions. Hinduism sees each religious path as true and valid, and so Hindus feel no need to convert others to their ways. After centuries of governance from foriegn powers that have tried to ridicule, outlaw, and destroy the Hindu faith, many Hindus are understandably in favor of a government which protects their right to exist alongside other traditions which are not always so tolerant.
These articles leave out the detail that Mrs. Truschke has a long recorded history of making racist, defamatory, and insulting statements against Hindu people and the Hindu faith. She claims that her attacks are aimed against a fundamentalist element within the Hindu tradition, but turns around and asserts that fundamentalism and violence are becoming predominent in mainsteam Hinduism and insults Hindu people and Hinduism as a faith. Mrs. Truschke's true motives for her attacks on Hinduism become clear in the light of the work of her husband and father-in-law. Mrs. Truschke's father-in-law is the pastor of the First Baptist church in Monterey, California. He and Mrs. Truschke's husband travel to India as missionaries to try to convert Hindus to their Baptist faith. Mrs. Truschke's image also appears on the church's website. This is a textbook example of colonization. Mrs. Truschke's tactics are copied from the playbook of the British colonists: spreading disinformation and insulting the indiginous Hindu people of India in order to demonize their faith so that they can be "civilized" and converted to the superior views of the "enlightened" Christians. When Mrs. Truschke uses insults like referring to Hindus as "cow piss drinkers" she is employing a rhetoric which has been used for centuries by the British colonists in their efforts to denigrate and dismantle the Hindu faith. She makes her own agenda clear to anyone paying careful attention, though the Huff Post clearly did not do their research before publishing this story. Yet Mrs. Truschke presents herself as a liberal and a supporter of religious freedom and many have believed these claims. It does not matter if we favor the Christian views of the colonial era or the modern day liberal political views of American Christians; whenever one culture presumes that their views, customs, and traditions are superior to those of another culture and they try to impose those views upon the indiginous people of a foriegn country, this clearly constitutes attempted colonization. When this is done so through deceptive means and through the denigration of a people's native customs and religion, this is extremely unethical. Mrs. Truschke's actions speak louder than her words and reveal her true identity as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
These sorts of articles which seem to be trying to educate Americans of the threat Hundism poses do not even tend to get the basic facts about Hinduism right. In a piece for NPR from April 22, 2019, Lauren Frayer, NPR correspondent for South Asia, states that Hinduism is a polytheism. This is not true. There are four major denominations of Hinduism today; Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism, and Smartism. All four of these denominations believe in One Supreme Divinity, so are by definition monotheistic. The British Colonists were the first to use terms like "polytheism" to describe Hinduism in an effort to relate the Hindu tradition to the already defamed Pagan traditions of pre-Christian Europe. With critical scholarship on Hinduism and Indian history increasing in America, one would think that such misconcpetions would be quickly identified and eliminated from academic texts. But these sorts of misconceptions remain commonplace, even for Western scholars on Hinduism. The question people should be asking is, how can we trust articles which cannot even seem to get the most basic details correct? The clear answer is that we cannot trust such articles. Unfortunately, the American public does not know enough about Hinduism or Indian history to understand when news outlets are presenting inaccurate or misleading information.
We as Hindu Americans have often experienced ourselves and our loved ones being exposed to all sorts of harassment, bullying, threats, and violent attacks and can understand how difficult it can be to face such adversities. We can understand and empathize with the hardships of cyberbullying Mrs. Truschke has experienced. Unlike Mrs. Truschke who has invited this sort of negative attention by insulting people's indiginous culture and religion, Hindu people in America must face these difficulties, without provocation, simply for being different. We admonish the insulting and anti-Hindu statements of Mrs. Truschke. There are simply more kind, more mature, and more effective ways to communicate. This insensitive, hurtful, and slanderous sort of speech is unacceptable, especially when it comes from a respected educator whose race and religious affiliation put her in a position of privilege and these comments are directed toward a marginalized minority community. We also admonish the actions of those who have sent insults and threats to Mrs Truschke. This is an action which makes the perpetrators no better than her. Receiving threats and insults online does not however have any clear correlation to the growth of a radical and violent Hindu element in the US as these articles assert. Cyber bullying as well as threats against college professors are increasingly common. Students are experiencing a great deal of cyberbullying as well. This is an unfortunate element of American society today which is regrettably experienced by many college professors who do not insult other cultures or religions and who have not commented upon Hinduism at all. The use of these alleged threats and insults as evidence for a radical movement in the mainstream tradition of Hinduism is preposterous at best.
While the assertation that any threats received by Mrs. Truschke are indicative of a growing movement of radical Hindus desiring to strip away the liberty of Americans is ridiculous, the evidence of hate crimes aginast Hindu Americans is clear. The FBI's publication of hate crime statistics shows a general increase in hate crimes against Hindus in America in recent years. The Hindu American Foundation has published a brief history of hate crimes against Hindus in America, listing dozens of documented cases of hate crimes perpetrated against Hindus. The instances of violence against Hindus in America have steadily increased since 9/11. I, myself, was seized by an angry mob in Time Square shortly after 9/11 when I was on my way to a Temple consecration in Pennsylvania and wearing my dhoti (robes) and tilakam (forehead markings). I was physically detained by a large group of angry men yelling death threats and saved by a bus driver who helped me to escape my attackers and hid me in a bus driver's lounge until I could safely depart the city when my bus arrived. I have heard many countless stories from Hindu people I know, many of whom were not so lucky as I. Most of these cases were never reported to the police - or in certain cases were perpetrated by the police themselves - and so these countless stories will go unrecorded. I have personally witnessed many cases of harassment, abuse, and descrimination - including mocking, insulting, physical attacks, denial of rights, imprisonment, and murder. Hindus routinely experience greater difficulty getting jobs, and being approved for loans or rental contracts, and Hindu organizations commonly experience difficulties to get permits to operate legally due to bigotry. We have shared on our facebook page multiple news articles about Hindu Temples facing discrimination. Our own Temple, after acquiring a property, was told by conservative Christian neighbors that "we had no legal rights because we practiced a false religion." The neighbors filed many complaints with the county and subsequently our permit application to enable us to pray there was denied by the county. Meanwhile our Christian neighbors were permitted to hold regular bible study groups and prayer gatherings without permits.
Hindus in India have faced terrible violence, oppression, and persecution at the hand of both Christian and Muslim invaders. They have witnessed the decimation of their cultural identity and the desecration of thousands of their sacred Temples. Today in India, attacks on Hindus by Islamic terrorists are increasingly common. Many Hindus are understandably concerned. There is a small but vocal group of radical Hindus today who speak against Islam and who advocate for violence. Though the frustrations of these people can be understood, their approach is unacceptable. The vast majority of Hindus respect Islam as a valad spiritual path which also teaches peace as their own tradition does. We must be careful not to group a whole religion in with a few radical fundamentalists. We spoke up about this point in defense of the great tradition of Islam after the 9/11 attacks in the US when many Americans became fearful and angry toward Muslims. The refusal of media outlets to be careful to portray Islam as a peaceful religion and to make a clear destinction between radical terrorists and mainstream Islam fueled the ignorance and fear of the American people and helped to increase the anger which lead to many misguided violent acts of rage and retaliation. In the first month after 9/11, 300 instances of discrimination and violence agianst Sikhs were reported by the Sikh Coalition including the murder of two Sikhs in Elk Grove, California whose assailant mistook them for Muslims. This is a good example of the widespread danger inherent to this sort of reporting. In a time when hate crimes against Hindus in the US are increasing, this type of reporting is extremely irresponsible and dangerous. In normal cases, for the most privileged members of society, defamatory remarks can be quite damaging. For underprivileged and marginalized immigrant communities, such remarks can prove deadly. We do not associate mainstream Christianty with radical hate groups like the Nazi Party or the KKK though they were both self-proclaimed Christian organizations. We understand these groups to be radical deviants not representative of the peaceful faith of Christianity as a whole. We must be very careful to make the same distinction when considering the few isolated radicals within the Hindu or Islamic faiths. These radicals are certainly not representative of either faith as a whole. But people are not well educated on these faiths, and the glaring deficiency of the educational system does not help, so reporters must take great care to ensure that the stories they write will not incite hate crimes against innocent and upstanding citizens.
What can we do?
In response to these articles, we will be publishing a series of articles about Hindu beliefs and practices with reference to popular Western criticisms of the Hindu faith along with insight into the historical origins of these criticisms. Though we do not have the platform that the Huff Post has given Mrs. Truschke to reach tens of millions of readers, or even the platform that Rutgers University provides to her to spread her hateful comments against Hindus, it is our humble prayer that these articles may help to increase awareness about Hinduism in America and to help to set straight a few of the most common misconceptions about the Hindu faith. When there is ignorance, often people respond with fear and hatred. When there is knowledge, people can be understanding, tolerant, and accepting of the diversity which makes America great. We hope that getting this information out will help increase acceptance of the great Hindu faith, which has contributed so much to American culture, but also help to inspire tolerance, understanding and promote the acceptance of the Islamic faith, the Sikh faith, the Jain faith, the Buddhist faith and all the religious traditions of all religious minorities and immigrant communities. Each of these communities and many others unmentioned have faced horrible abuse and discrimination and today in America struggle to enjoy the rights that white Americans take for granted. May these communities come together, having experienced similar hardships, to support one another in creating an atmosphere of tolerance and brotherhood for all humanity. We encourage Hindu people not to argue with these radicals intent upon spreading hate but to be tolerant, patient, forgiving, and loving in order to show these people the true meaning of our great Hindu faith. Last year, I was approached by the organizers of the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference and asked to speak against my Hindu faith. I did not respond. However often we are provoked by malicious forces intent upon spreading hate, we must strive not to respond. For us to repay harassment with punishment can only serve to increase the violence and hate in the world. There is too much violence and hate in the world today. We can only balance this by practicing love and compassion.
We should be proud to be Hindu Americans and we must work to educate people about the beauty of our ancient, vast, and influential tradition. We must not be discouraged. The brave Hindus who walked alongside the Great Mahatma Gandhi often faced terrible abuse at the hand of their British oppressors. Yet dharma prevaled. By the grace of God, these fine exemplars of our faith remained calm and peaceful and arose from their beatings free from the chains of colonial rule. Things have improved a great deal for Hindu people since that time, but we are still facing many overwhelming obstacles. I have been insulted, mocked, and physically attacked on numerous occasions for wearing my dhoti and tilakam in public. God gave me strength to alway respond with calmness and compassion toward my attackers. For this reason, and by God's grace, these people were swayed toward a better view of Hinduism. I will happily be beaten many times more if it might help improve conditions for my Hindu brothers and sisters. Because I was born in America to white parents, if I take off my dhoti and tilakam, I enjoy a certain privilege in America which is simply unavailable to most of my Hindu brothers and sisters. I cannot imagine the terror of knowing that such a situation is unavoidable. Yet I implore you all to remain strong and to remain faithful. If we can continue to follow the example of those brave souls who cast off the chains of British rule, and fight to preserve dharma by preserving our own inner peace and spreading peace in the world, understanding of the Hindu faith will increase in America and conditions will assuredly improve.
Peethadhipati (Spiritual Director)
Soma Matha Spiritual Center
Nov. 1st. 2022