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In 2021, dozens of scholars from more than 53 universities planned an online academic conference, “Dismantling Global Hindutva”. The conference would discuss the impact of Hindu nationalism (or Hindutva ideology) on human rights, science, law, and other areas where Hindu extremism has affected the world.

A month before the conference, thousands of right-wing Hindus attacked organisers and participants with ferocity. They sent death threats that forced some scholars to pull out. Hindu nationalist groups including the Hindu American Foundation, the Coalition of Hindus of North America, and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh mobilised their bases to send hundreds of thousands of emails to universities decrying the conference as Hinduphobic. The attacks started well before the programme and the participants were announced – the conference was targeted simply because of the name, “Dismantling Global Hindutva.”

The campaign rattled many university leaders. Conference organisers were called into meetings to explain themselves and school logos were pulled off from the Dismantling Global Hindutva website. The conference ultimately went on as planned. But by arguing that Hindutva was Hinduism and that the conference would make Hindu students feel unsafe on campus, right-wing Hindus were able to create significant anxiety around sponsorship of the conference.

The weaponisation of “Hinduphobia” to shut down any criticism of the current Indian government and the growth in the term’s purchase reveals the extent to which right-wing Hindus have depended on claims of discrimination to legitimise their own discriminatory agenda. Hinduphobia accusations have gained popularity over the last few years because they are an easy way for Hindu nationalists to silence criticism of Hinduism or Hindu nationalism. Nobody wants to be a racist, and well-meaning non-South Asian liberals too often take the bait of believing that criticism of Hindutva or caste discrimination is out of place and neocolonialist.

Challenging this agenda will require both active condemnation of histrionic efforts by the Hindu right to paint anti-Hindutva sentiment as discriminatory as well as active compassion for Hindus who have been marginalised because of their religion.

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