“They called me a ‘dirty Muslim’ and threatened death,” another protester said. “I had people who looked like aunties screaming, ‘Bitch, bitch, bitch,’ over and over again. One lady outside yelled she wished my mother was killed and I was never born.”
“Even when disrupting Donald Trump rallies, I’ve never had anyone put their hands on me like that, or respond with so much aggression, pushing and obscenities,” said one activist who was choked.
Two of the protesters were arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. One of the conference attendees was also arrested for battery.
The activists were protesting this year’s World Hindu Congress, a global gathering of Hindus. On the surface, the event appeared to be a fairly civil cultural and religious event, but the facade of peace and dialogue quickly unraveled. The violent response in the room mirrored the broader patterns of violence that the Hindu nationalist groups attending and organizing the conference perpetuate in India — one of the most diverse countries in the world — against Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits (Hindus in the lower part of India’s caste system) and other religious minorities. Also in attendance at the conference was Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.
The groups’ ideology, known as Hindutva, believes that India should be a Hindu nation, and adherents often resort to violence to enact this vision. One of the largest organizations pushing this ideology is the RSS.
According to a report by the Coalition Against Genocide, the RSS was founded in 1925, and over the next several decades, produced several hundred affiliated organizations that are together referred to as the Sangh Parivar (or the Sangh family of organizations). “These include the Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP), its parliamentary front; the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, its cultural wing, and the Bajrang Dal, its goon squad, to name just a few,” the report notes. The BJP currently has a majority in the Indian government.
Many of these Indian organizations have counterparts in the US which helped organize the 2018 World Hindu Congress, such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, whose members fund Hindutva activities in India.
Collectively, the Sangh Parivar have been responsible for the world’s largest military occupation in Kashmir, the desecration of mosques in India, discrimination against Sikhs, mobilizing mobs to beat and kill Muslims and Dalits, and recently, stripped the citizenship of 4 million Bengalis, most of whom are Muslims in the state of Assam.
Current Indian Prime Minister and RSS member Narendra Modi has also been accused of being complicit in the massacre of more than 1,000 Muslims in riots when he was chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002.
As the activists were removed from the ballroom by police, senior leader and former BJP lawmaker Vijay Jolly shouted, “We should have bashed them up,” according to The Hindu.
The World Hindu Congress denied this reporter a press pass to attend the conference and officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The six activists were members of Chicago South Asians for Justice and part of a coalition of South Asian-American organizations named the Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), which coordinated several actions in addition to the disruption.
Avaaz, an online activist network, paid for an ad in the Chicago Tribune against the event and had a mobile advertisement van which read “Boycott World Hindu Congress” that drove around the hotel.
Sikhs, Muslims, Kashmiris and Hindus also mobilized their various communities for a protest outside the conference.
“The different groups of people coming together and having a recognition and compassion for everyone as well as a shared horror … I thought it was really amazing,” said an organizer with AJA who wished to remain anonymous due to harassment following the protest.
In addition, the coalition also pressured several US politicians to withdraw their participation in the event prior to the Congress.
Tulsi Gabbard, representative for Hawaii and first Hindu member of the US Congress, stepped down as honorary chair of the World Hindu Congress due to “ethical concerns and problems that surround my participating in any partisan Indian political event in America,” she said in a statement.
Ram Villivalam, who in January 2019 will be sworn in as the first South Asian-American member of the Illinois General Assembly, also refused to attend the Congress. “I do not support any group and/or an event arranged or led by organizations that intimidate minorities, incite discrimination and violence, commit acts of terror based on race or ethnic background, promote hate speech, and/or believe in faith based nationalism,” reads his statement. “As a Hindu American, I stand with my brothers and sisters in the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and other religious and ethnic minority communities against hate, discrimination, and persecution.”
Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar also declined his invitation and tweeted: “I’m a proud Hindu and the first Indian-American elected to Chicago City Council. I’m extremely disappointed and ashamed @WHCongress would invite speakers and organizations that promote discrimination, Islamaphobia, and Hindu nationalism. This is not who we are.” Pawar also expressed support for the protesters and tweeted that he was “disgusted” by the violent behavior of attendees.
A statement released by Chicago South Asians for Justice expressed gratefulness for the support from Pawar and other politicians, but also included in their demands that Pawar come out against the “Cop Academy” that has been proposed on Chicago’s West side. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been pushing for a $95 million police training compound in the majority-Black neighborhood of West Garfield Park that has been criticized by Black-led organizations, which argue that the area needs investment in education and mental health services instead. In May 2018, the Chicago City Council voted 39-2 to approve the purchase of land for the academy for $20 million. Pawar voted yes.
“If he [Pawar] claims to be a progressive Hindu, then that requires him to be in solidarity with other communities and challenge anti-Black violence as well,” one activist told Truthout.
Notably, despite the emails, meetings, calls and social media blasts from organizers, Raja Krishnamoorthi, who represents Illinois in the US House of Representatives, did not withdraw participation and gave a speech at the Congress, which took place in his district…
This story was originally published in truthout.org. Read the full story here