Letters / On “The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook”

I wish to thank Aparna Gopalan for writing this very timely piece on the Hindu right’s use and abuse of the term “Hinduphobia.” I’m a practicing Hindu of the non-Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] sort, and I’m writing this letter anonymously because of safety concerns. (Like many members of the diaspora, my family and I frequently travel back to India, and retribution by the Modi government and its allies is not out of the question.) I’d like to add to Gopalan’s critical reporting by noting that the Hindu right’s so-called defense of Hinduism, which blends the religion with a rabid ethnonationalism, is an extremely destructive force between and among Hindus as well, violently flattening the diversity of a religion practiced by more than a billion people and driving communities apart.

Like any faith, Hindu custom can vary from nation to nation, state to state, and even village to village. Yet, in the name of defending what anti-Hinduphobia activists deem the “real Hindu culture,” these more local practices are shunned and attacked. Hindus in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, for instance, have a long tradition of worshipping in the regional language rather than the more usual Sanskrit; recently, those who keep this custom were assaulted by allies of the BJP [Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party]. Similarly, plenty of women and non-savarna [upper-caste] folks who have traditionally performed religious rites are now being intimidated out of their roles by self-proclaimed “caste-blind” Hindus who sympathize with Hindutva. This attack on the diversity of Hindu traditions is part and parcel of a BJP playbook designed to create a homogeneous Hindu culture, which has been conflated with Indian culture as a whole—a useful cudgel to be used against not just religious minorities, but any of the regime’s dissenters.

On a much more personal level, I can attest that Hindutva as an ideology destroys relationships and lives. I’ve had to cut off friends because of the vile things they’ve said about minorities under the guise of “Hindu morality” or “fighting Hinduphobia.” I’ve had my faith attacked and been called a self-hater and a fake Hindu by members of my own family for connecting the dots between Hindutva and fascism, as well as speaking out against the Modi government’s racism, casteism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism masked as philosemitism. These dynamics play out on the institutional level as well, with many anti-Hindutva young people being pushed out of temples and congregations as they chafe against the old guard’s uncritical embrace of such a toxic ideology.

When I see groups like Hindu on Campus or the Hindu American Foundation or the Coalition of Hindus of North America claiming to speak for young people like me, I am disheartened by how ill-equipped the American public sphere is to push back on them. I’m so pleased that there is now some critical reporting on this important issue.

Columbus, OH