hy has the United States provided the most nurturing space for the spread of Hindu fundamentalist activities? Geographically far from its Indian 'home', the policies and actions of the US Hindutva brigade take on a particularly warped personality, creating new networks, disseminating new ideological programmes, and simultaneously compounding the intolerance and bigotry of political and cultural Hindu fundamentalism in India.
Because of the particular history of the diasporic community in the United States, and the quality of mainstream media and political opinion, the networks and ideological forces by which Hindu fundamentalism has crept into and multiplied itself in the United States remains beyond the usual reprisal that can be levied against fascist sentiments. Connecting to the vastly influential Zionist lobby, spreading across college campuses, and conducting various fundraising activities in the name of development, Hindutva agencies have built on existing networks of right- wing sentiment, but also strengthened their presence in seemingly innocent spaces like youth culture and charitable organizations. Together these networks work to manufacture consent even as they continuously reach out and incorporate new constituencies in their production.
One of the most vicious of the symbiotic relationships that US Hindutva has forged in the past year has been with influential Zionists. For instance in this very issue, the articles USINPAC: Buying Zionist Influence, Selling Indian Interests and Zionism and Hindutva in the U.S. reveal how the global consensus building machinery on the 'war on terror' has contributed to cementing these ties. Just recently, this past May 2004, the Hindu American Foundation featured prominently in the Annual Policy Conference of the AIPAC [http://www.aipac.org/], alongside George W Bush and other luminaries. . In their press statement, the HAF 'discussed the scourge of terror faced by the United States, India and Israel and conveyed the security issues facing Hindus globally to AIPAC leaders. HAF emphasized the many values shared by Hindu Americans and Jewish Americans: a determined work ethic, family values, a non proselytizing tolerant religion, and a respect for life and religious freedom.'
Establishing the historic roots for the common impetus behind global Islamophobia and a capitalist work ethic is a particularly innovative strategy. Other than such corporate activities, US Hindutva has worked its way into more 'liberal' spaces by deploying the rhetoric of 'fun' and youth outreach. At the University of Illinois for instance, the Hindu Students council organized a seemingly innocuous celebration of 'holi' this past April. Described as an enjoyable 'festival of colours', the home page of the UIUC Council then went on to explain that the larger purpose of the organsation is to raise awareness about Hindu religious and cultural activities for the youth on college campuses in a fun way. Hence the celebration of activities like Holi and Diwali.
But a slightly deeper investigation of the 'Hindu Students' Council' leaves a noxious trail. The US home page presents (among other things) a detailed refutation of the 'Aryan Invasion theory', thereby arguing that 'Hinduism' - defined as the beliefs contained in the Vedas - was indigenous to the geographical territory now named India. Another section virulently lambasts the work of US academics Jeffrey Kirpal, Wendy Doniger and Paul Courtwright, thus establishing that free speech, even in the name of intellectual pursuits remains antithetical to the dogma of Hindu fundamentalism. The 'Hindu Women Project' emphasizes the power of Hindu women lies in their ability to embrace tradition, itself conceived of as a brahmanical, heternormative and unquestioning ethos.
Who are the donors to the HSC? The home page lists the activities of the Global Dharma Conference of 2003, where 'most of the main Hindu and Indian organizations like Arya Samaj of Greater Houston, Meenakshi Temple Society, VHP of America, India Cultural Centre etc pledged generous donations'. This Global Dharma conference brought together the youth and college kids on campuses through the HSC and thus served as an interface between the seemingly fun and cultural activities of the council and the venomous face of a corporate American Hindutva.
Indeed the Hindutva brigade has successfully manipulated fundraising channels towards its own ends. As brilliantly demonstrated by the 'Campaign to Stop Funding Hate [CSFH]', website seemingly well meaning donations to aid development and welfare activities in India, made by wealthy Indians in American locations was cleverly siphoned off towards the political activities of the Sangh Parivar in India. This is certainly not limited to the United States, for similar activities have now been identified in the United Kingdom as well. The basic point is that without necessarily being aware of the eventual end point for their funds, unsuspecting people of Indian origin have regularly donated small and large sums of money to 'charitable' and development oriented activities.
When this conduit was discovered and disputed by CSFH in November 2002, the Sangh Parivar denied it had any connection to the IDRF [India Development Relief Fund] which was the conduit through which these donations were channeled towards Indian Sangh activities. This February however, the RSS finally conceded that the IDRF was a 'Hindu Organisation' closely related to the Sangh Parivar. As reiterated in CSFH's latest press release , the IDRF has spent considerable amounts of its finances in proselytizing especially amongst tribals and adivasis and in supporting other violent activities in India.
If US Hindu fundamentalist groups rely on existing networks amongst Zionist, youth college, and NRI communities, then the ideologies supported by these activities bear equally close scrutiny. The basic assumptions embedded in the rhetoric of the Hindu right actually finds close resemblance to some liberal and even left of center sentiments. This makes it difficult, but for that very reason especially urgent, to separate out and forge a sustained campaign of vigilance. The examples listed above demonstrate that the various wings of the Hindu right have been promoting a narrow, brahminical version of Hinduism, one that erases any mention - and often condones - the revolting history of Hindu casteism. These views reinforce the view that this form of Hinduism is the only authentic cultural and religious force in the subcontinent. For example the Hindu American Foundation [hinduamericanfoundation.com/campaigns_denverpost_letter.htm], itself headed by a renowned Sanghi, Mihir Meghani regularly disputes questions on the rights of other minorities in India and seamlessly refers to a bounded, static, regressive 'Hinduism' in making its arguments. Compounding this unitary and static version of brahmanical Hinduism is the intolerance of other religions, and the furtherance of the belief that Islam and Christianity are both antithetical to the tolerant, secular fabric of India (by which Hindutva ideologues mean the entire subcontinent) as well as continuing remnants of brutal foreign invasions. This is how the perceived threat of a heightened globalisation can be deployed to condone violence against minorities within India.
If the intolerance bred of a chauvinistic and unitary notion of Hinduism can be exacerbated in diasporic communities, so too can be the sense of a 'diasporic guilt'. The conviction that non resident Indians are somehow 'cut off' from their roots, and need to teach their children the 'fundamentals' of Hindu civilisation supports this rigid view of Hinduism and makes the cultural activities of organizations like the HSC seem necessary. The sense of a beleaguered, isolated middle class is often stoked by abstractly referring to the threat posed by other South Asian communities, rather than against dominant forms of imperialism.
So the networks - both physical as well as ideological that support the march of Hindutva in the United States -- must be seriously documented. Because of the absence of a live critical press, they are not being interrogated on a day to day basis, and critiques such as this one will not find themselves into the normative homes of suburban Chicago and San Francisco. Secondly, like all effective ideologies, Hindutva has formed links with and amidst other indigenous networks - Zionism, corporate culture, college campuses. The networks are both varied as well as deeply entrenched, existing in some of the most powerful and easily reproducible sites of US society and culture. These ideologies and networks are difficult to identify, often appearing to do one thing (development work, or introducing kids to Hindu culture in a fun way) while actually fomenting religious fundamentalism. Finally, the decentralized nature of the Hindutva leadership in the United States (as opposed to in India, where ultimate connections to political parties can be easily unearthed) also makes it difficult to identify the purpose of these activities.
This is how the United States provides a fertile space for the dissemination of fundamentalist ideas and processes. The local and mainstream media in the US disinterested in and unable to dispel these myths, and the insular nature of the South Asian community in the US also encourages these ideas to remain largely uninterrogated. For many reasons then, and in so many myriad ways, immigrant spaces provide generous support for the widening reach of volatile hatred.
And it is precisely for that reason that the insidious forces of Hindutva have seeped into the nooks and crevices of everyday life in the United States. The roots are strong, and have made up for a historical absence of support by spreading through the widest and most powerful channels of culture and communication. The Campaign to Stop Consenting to Hate has to start with the ability to demystify the structural, ideological and covert operations of Hindutva. We must be completely vigilant and in the process, reach an understanding of how to enter into those very spaces and change both minds as well as structures.