NEW DELHI — The three-day academic conference on the rise of Hindutva fascism titled “Dismantling Global Hindutva” began in the United States on Friday, September 10, despite massive pressure unleashed on the organisers by the supporters of Hindu nationalist groups alleging that it promotes Hinduphobia.

The organisers and speakers have been given death threats leading to some of them backing out of fear of real life harm.

The conference turns the spotlight on Hindutva or the political ideology of Hindu nationalism. A number of experts spoke including Christopher Jeffrolet, poet and Dalit activist Meena Kandasamy and Prof Dr Audrey Truschke.

“For more than 5 years, I have received hate mail from Hindu supremacists every single day. I have been target of so many death and rape threats that I have lost count,” Prof Truschke said.

The conference is co-sponsored by more than 50 universities including Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rutgers.

The organisers denied the accusations of Hinduphobia saying that it focuses on the political ideology of Hindutva.

UK’s Guardian newspaper quoted the statement issued by the organisers amidst the attacks saying “immense pressure has been placed upon universities by fringe groups to back out of the conference”. The organisers said the “massive disinformation campaign” will have  “sinister implications”.

The participants were threatened with dire consequences including against their family members. Posts directed at Kandasamy, one of the participants from India, said  “ur son will face a painful death”.

More than one million emails were sent to the presidents, provosts and officials at universities involved in the conference pressuring them to withdraw and dismiss staff who were participating, pointing to an organised campaign by groups in India and the US, The Guardian report said, adding that Drew University in New Jersey received  more than 30,000 emails within just a few minutes, causing the university server to crash.

“We are deeply concerned that all of these lies, taken together, will be used to incarcerate those who speak at the conference, or worse, inflict bodily harm, up to murder, upon those associated with the conference,” read the statement by the conference’s organisers,. “Due to the variety of the nature of these threats, several speakers have had to withdraw from participating in this conference over the past two to three days.”

“The level of hate has been staggering,” Rohit Chopra, an associate professor at Santa Clara University, who is one of the conference organisers, told The Guardian.

“Organisers and speakers have received death threats, threats of sexual violence, and threats of violence against their families. Women participants have been subjected to the vilest kind of misogynistic threats and abuse and members of religious minorities associated with the conference have been targeted with casteist and sectarian slurs in the ugliest sorts of language.”

Chopra himself was accused of betraying Hindus. “Whether on email or on social media, there has also been a relentless barrage of messages accusing those involved in the conference of being terrorists, Hindu-haters, Hinduphobic, anti-Indian, and the like,” Chopra said.

On Friday, PEN America also issued a statement condemning attacks on the conference saying it is a campaign of “intimidation and retaliation against writers and public intellectuals, and supports their rights to free expression and freedom of academic thought and inquiry”.

“The scale of coordinated harassment that writers and scholars are facing in the lead up to this conference—including severe threats directed at individuals and their families—is clearly meant to silence their perspectives, and to cast a chilling effect on academic inquiry and analysis,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, PEN America’s director of free expression at risk programs.

“Right-wing Hindu nationalist groups have deliberately maligned and mischaracterized the conference’s goals of academic inquiry on a topic central to the current state of Indian politics, as the ruling BJP government advances discriminatory policies and expands the criminalization of dissent, targeting those who disagree with its espousal of Hindu nationalist views. This campaign against the conference, as well as related threats against individual scholars, further demonstrates the urgent need for educational institutions and authorities in the US and around the world to stand firm in defense of the democratic ideals of free expression and academic freedom. We call on academic institutions to support participating writers and scholars receiving harassment and threats, and urge Indian authorities to speak out in defense of India-based speakers’ rights to free expression.”

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