HOBOKEN, N.J. — Audrey Truschke, a professor of South Asian historical past at Rutgers University, by no means thought her work might lead to dying threats and cruel vitriol.
Yet Truschke, a scholar, mother, spouse and creator of three books, now typically wants armed safety at public occasions.
The publication of her first e-book, in 2016, difficult the predominant notion of Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century Mughal kings — Muslim rulers who’re broadly vilified by Hindu nationalists — put a goal on her again. Her e mail was bombarded with hate mail. Her Twitter account was inundated with threats. People wrote letters to information retailers about her.
“It felt like the world exploded at me,” mentioned Truschke, pushing again her darkish hair to disclose the salt and pepper streaks that body her face. “This was my first brush with hate email. I’m sure it would seem like nothing to me now.”
Far-right Hindu nationalism, additionally known as Hindutva, is a political and extremist ideology that advocates for Hindu supremacy and seeks to remodel a secular and various India into an ethnoreligious Hindu state. Hindu nationalism has been round for over 100 years and was initially impressed by ethnonationalism actions in early Twentieth-century Europe, together with these in Germany and Italy. Champions of Hindutva have viciously focused non secular minorities together with Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, and have sought to silence critics reminiscent of lecturers and activists.
Hinduism, the religion, just isn’t Hindutva the far-right motion. But the label Hindu will be categorized as a non secular, political or racial identifier relying on who’s utilizing it, defined Manan Ahmed, a professor and historian of South Asia at Columbia University. Hindu nationalists, he mentioned, are morphing the non secular, political and racial into one identification so as to advance a supremacist, majoritarian agenda.
People impacted by Hindutva within the U.S. say the motion has crept into their hometowns and workplaces, making life extra harmful for them and threatening to make their communities much less various and tolerant. The ideology has deep ties to white nationalist actions throughout the globe, and the targets of nationalist teams warn that the impression could possibly be lethal if Hindutva just isn’t addressed and defeated.
“We see Hindu nationalism as an ideology which seeks to transform India from a pluralistic secular democracy to a Hindu state in which non-Hindus are seen at best as second-class citizens and at worst targets for extermination and disenfranchisement of all sorts,” mentioned Nikhil Mandalaparthy, the deputy govt director of Hindus for Human Rights, a nonprofit group devoted to selling pluralism and human rights in South Asia and within the U.S.
“It’s a vision that we think is in direct opposition to a lot of the values of Hindu religious traditions,” he added.
A Different Kind Of Extremism
In India, Hindu nationalism will be traced back to the 1920s. The formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, in 1925 fortified the core perception in a Hindu state for Hindus, regardless of India’s secular structure and the lengthy historical past of ethnic and spiritual minorities within the nation. The RSS has been banned three times because it was established, together with after a former party member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
It was out of the RSS that India’s ruling political occasion, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, emerged. It has held energy since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected in 2014.
Since then, the crackdown on India’s minorities, notably Muslims, has intensified with little to no accountability.
In April, bulldozers razed homes in majority-Muslim neighborhoods underneath doubtful pretenses. Schools have banned Muslim college students from wearing a hijab. Courts and authorities our bodies have overturned convictions or withdrawn circumstances that accused Hindus of involvement in violence in opposition to Muslims. Hindu mobs routinely attack Muslims with little to no condemnation from the federal government.
“Hindu nationalism has redefined the Indian mainstream,” Truschke mentioned. “It’s an incredible success story. Fifty years ago, no respectable Indian wanted to touch it. It was just completely verboten due to the Hindutva embrace of violence and hate, and now it’s the dominant political position in India.”
Other elements of the world, together with the U.S., haven’t been resistant to rising assist for Hindutva.
Indian Americans make up the second-largest immigrant group within the United States, with practically 4.2 million folks of Indian origin residing within the nation, based on knowledge from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The neighborhood is a various one, comprising each immigrants and American-born residents who come from a wide range of non secular and socioeconomic backgrounds. The Carnegie ballot signifies that not less than 54% of Indian Americans report belonging to the Hindu religion, one of many largest and oldest religions on the earth. There are about 1 billion Hindus world wide, and practically 94% dwell in India. Around 2.5 million Hindus reside within the U.S. alone.
Indian Americans maintain blended opinions on the current trajectory of India’s democracy, however practically half — notably Republicans, Hindus and people not born within the U.S. — approve of Modi’s efficiency as India’s prime minister. In Texas, greater than 50,000 folks gathered to see him throughout a 2019 event referred to as “Howdy Modi.”
In some ways, the rise of Hindu nationalism mirrors the rise of white nationalist extremism.
Anders Behring, the far-right Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 folks, lots of them youngsters, in 2011, reportedly praised Hindu nationalist groups who attacked Muslims in his manifesto.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, an Indian politician who grew to become the face of Hindu nationalism within the Twenties, as soon as applauded Hitler and mentioned that India ought to deal with Muslims the same way Nazis treated Jews.
Like white supremacists, Hindu nationalists have propagated a revisionist historical past constructed on the concept India, regardless of its secular structure, as soon as was and may nonetheless be a Hindu state and that members of different non secular teams are usually not true natives of the nation.
“When we talk about threats to democracy and threats to multicultural, pluralist, way of life, of course, here in the U.S., our concern is white supremacy and Christian nationalism,” Mandalaparthy mentioned. “But there are so many ways in which the Hindu nationalist movement here is trying to ally itself with white supremacist groups and with groups who are seeking to destroy democracy here in this country.”
Many Indian Americans, together with those that are Hindu, have confronted hate crimes and discrimination as minorities within the U.S. But Hindu nationalists typically use “Hinduphobia” as a disingenuous declare to close down legitimate criticism of Hindu nationalist political ideology, Mandalaparthy mentioned.
“It’s dangerous to contribute to this narrative of rising anti-Hindu sentiments because the people who are using this language the most are then turning back on members of our own communities and those who speak out against Hindu nationalism or caste or Islamophobia,” he mentioned.
“There are so many ways in which the Hindu nationalist movement here is trying to ally itself with white supremacist groups and with groups who are seeking to destroy democracy here in this country.””
– Nikhil Mandalaparthy, deputy govt director of Hindus for Human Rights
Support of Hindutva can take numerous types, whether or not it’s applauding the violence happening in India on social media or funneling donations to political figures who reward Hindu nationalism. At least 5 American organizations with ties to Hindu nationalist teams obtain federal funding, based on a report by Al Jazeera.
It also can imply threatening individuals who elevate consciousness in regards to the ideology.
In March 2021, two months after Truschke started researching U.S.-based Hindu nationalism, she started to obtain an onslaught of assaults. She had obtained hate mail earlier than, notably after her e-book revisiting the legacy of Aurangzeb, a contentious emperor who dominated India for practically 50 years.
But the severity of the brand new assaults, which Truschke mentioned felt unprovoked, was unprecedented. She obtained a staggering quantity of hate mail and tweets, with about one tweet coming in each minute, she mentioned. People made memes out of her images and laced their messages with antisemitism and misogyny. They threatened her and her youngsters, promising they’d discover her household if she continued to talk out.
She reported a number of threats to the police, and one was even forwarded to Homeland Security final July. After receiving a number of credible threats, venues that hosted Truschke employed armed safety to be by her aspect at public occasions.
“Keep loving Mughals and we’ll keep loving Hitler you stupid jew,” learn one tweet.
“I wouldn’t mind if this female bitch is beheaded,” learn one other remark.
“Be in your home, you don’t know from where you will be kidnapped,” learn a message despatched to her on Facebook.
“I will chop ur head if I get a chance,” learn one other.
In September 2021, organizers of an internet educational convention on Hindutva had been additionally bombarded with thousands of threats of rape, violence and dying. Several members withdrew from the convention out of concern. Dozens of organizers and audio system mentioned violent threats had been made in opposition to their households. More than 30,000 threats had been despatched to 1 college, inflicting the server to crash.
Data collected by Columbia University’s Ahmed and different researchers point out that almost all of tweets deployed in opposition to the convention organizers and members had been generated by individuals, not bots.
It’s not simply on-line threats. Tensions have manifested into bitter communal rigidity and bodily clashes throughout the nation. In New Jersey in August, organizers of the native India Day parade got here underneath fireplace for bringing bulldozers — symbolic of the bulldozers that have targeted Muslims in India — adorned with the faces of Modi and the hard-line Hindutva BJP minister Yogi Adityanath.
That identical month in Anaheim, California, an Indian Independence Day parade turned bodily when videos captured men shoving a bunch of protesters whereas shouting Islamophobic slurs and nationalists chants.
The alignment between Hindu nationalism and right-wing nationalist teams is flourishing within the U.S., which “doesn’t bode well for any marginalized groups,” Mandalaparthy mentioned. “This is very much a domestic issue now and it’s very much a local issue.”
In many circumstances, these finishing up violence in opposition to religious minorities — Muslims, however different non secular teams as properly, together with Christians, Sikhs and Dalits — really feel direct assist from India’s governing occasion. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a authorities company, recommended this year that India be placed on its pink listing for “severe violations of religious freedom.”
“The government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities,” the fee mentioned in its report.
Holding Onto Their Identity
For greater than 30 years, Minhaj Khan, a 48-year-old software engineer from South Brunswick, New Jersey, has prioritized giving again to his Indian neighborhood. At first, it was within the type of charity, particularly proper after transferring to the U.S. within the late Nineteen Nineties. He visited India typically, particularly since his prolonged household and sister nonetheless resided there.
But quickly that charity grew to become advocacy, and advocacy grew to become a personal duty. As an American, an Indian, and a Muslim, Khan couldn’t look away from the human rights violations occurring in his dwelling state.
“When we use our free speech here, it makes a difference on the other side of the world,” Khan mentioned. “Nobody is better than us presenting these issues to the American people.”
Khan and Mohammed Jawad, the president of the Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy group, led a marketing campaign in opposition to the bulldozer that was paraded in Edison, New Jersey, this summer season. In the times after the parade, members of IMAC and different organizations met with members of the state’s Department of Justice and its Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, in addition to with the state legal professional basic’s office. The group additionally raised considerations after an area church invited a Hindu nationalist to talk. The church later canceled the occasion.
The group’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The IAMC obtained a summons from one among India’s decrease courts due to its activism, although it has no authorized grounds within the U.S.
“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.”
– Audrey Truschke, professor of South Asian historical past at Rutgers University
Khan remembers concord between his household and his Hindu neighbors when he was rising up in India.
“Muslims and Hindus, we were always together, side by side. They came to our place, we went to their place,” he mentioned. “We never differentiated among ourselves. We lived comfortably.”
But with Hindu nationalism on the rise, these relationships are being strained, notably in New Jersey, which has the biggest South Asian inhabitants of any state within the U.S. In some cities within the state, South Asians make up round 40% of the population.
Khan adjusts the sleeves of his brown button-down that’s cuffed at his elbows, revealing a inexperienced sample that matches the colour of his eyes. He is especially involved about how Hindu extremism will impression his youngsters.
“I am incredibly proud to be an American Muslim. This is the land of freedom. This is the land of justice. I am a free Muslim. I can practice my faith here in America perhaps best as compared to anywhere on the planet. I am equally proud of my Indian origin, the land of my birth,” Khan mentioned. “That is why it pains us to witness the current regime in India trying to take away the most beautiful aspect of the land — its richness, diversity and inclusivity — and now export it even to America.”
For Truschke, the assaults on her life and on her work have solely emboldened her to pursue her work head-on. Instead of focusing solely on historical past, she is presently dedicating a analysis project to the current and the way forward for Hindu nationalism within the U.S.
Academic freedom, an uptick in violence, and more and more polarized communities are all main considerations, she mentioned. Truschke and her colleagues labored with a bunch referred to as the South Asia Scholar Activist Collective to publish the Hindutva Harassment Field Manual, a useful resource for lecturers and others whose work could make them targets of the Hindu nationalist motion.
“Hindu nationalism is threatening American multicultural values,” Truschke mentioned. “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.”
Hindu nationalists have focused Truschke’s employer and colleagues over her work. Rutgers University instructed HuffPost in an emailed assertion that it stood by Truschke’s work, saying “scholarship is sometimes controversial, perhaps especially when it is at the interface of history and religion, but the freedom to pursue such scholarship, as Professor Truschke does rigorously, is at the heart of the academic enterprise.”
“Just as strongly, Rutgers-Newark emphatically affirms its support for all members of the Hindu community to study and live in an environment in which they not only feel safe, but also fully supported in their religious identity,” the assertion continued.
Truschke’s eldest daughter is beginning to discover that her mom is getting consideration, and it was a dialog Truschke by no means imagined having.
Still, Truschke mentioned, she doesn’t have plans to cease researching and talking out about Hindutva. She doesn’t know what the longer term holds — as a tutorial, she a lot prefers learning the previous to predicting the longer term, however for now, she is aware of her scholarship will stay.
“They want me to not do my job. But how can I possibly do that? How can I possibly change my research interests, or God forbid, soft-peddle things?” she mentioned. “Academics have to tell the truth.”