Tufts University: South Asian Groups must be held accountable for Hinduphobia

Tufts University’s South Asian groups have a Hinduphobia problem.

A while ago, we came across a piece from The Tufts Daily:

The Tufts South Asian Regional Committee, South Asian Political Action Community and Fletcher South Asia Society released a joint statement on April 2 accusing Hindu Adviser Preeta Banerjee of spreading misinformation regarding Hinduphobia in the United States and the Hindu caste system.

Curious to see what this was about, we launched an investigation into the matter and fact-checked the claims made. Here’s a full breakdown of what we found.

We used the two documents obtained (Statement by South Asian Groups and Hindu Chaplain Emails) for our independent investigation.

Claim #1

What the Hindu Chaplain said: As you might have heard there has been recent evidence of hate towards Hindus at Harvard including awarding journalism efforts that are clearly anti-Hindu.

How South Asian groups responded: The email condemns the awarding of journalism efforts that are “clearly anti-Hindu.” We believe that this refers to The Caravan, a news platform in India that holds the Indian government accountable and was prominent in covering the Islamophobic Delhi pogrom in February 2020. The email’s description of this situation conflates criticism of the Indian government with Hinduphobia.

  • Caravan India has published pieces by notorious Hinduphobes like Audrey Truschke and Pieter Friedrich.
  • Pieter Fredrich has referred to Hindus as “Cow Piss” drinkers

Disinfo Lab has reported extensively on Friedrich and his activities. In addition, his archived blog found numerous instances of Antisemitism, including pushing Antisemitic conspiracy theories and Anti LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

  • A “journalistic” outlet should not promote this. So yes, it is Anti-Hindu bigotry.

This is not “Criticism of the Indian government”

Claim #2

What the Hindu Chaplain said: In California, there is a terrible case trying to define Hinduism as part and parcel with Casteism- it is a terrible issue but is a social construct introduced by colonialism- it is not Hinduism. I personally don’t understand how many claim yoga and have separated yoga from Hinduism but continue to equate casteism (clearly a Portuguese word) to Hinduism. (This also pertains to the harmful portrayal of Hinduism in the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson).

How South Asian groups responded: Caste is a social reality rooted in Hindu texts, first mentioned in the Rig Veda and specifically elaborated on in the Manusmriti. While it is important to acknowledge that the word “caste” is based in Portuguese and that the Indian caste system did indeed undergo a number of changes under British colonialism, the claim that caste is a colonial invention is blatantly false and ahistorical.

Also from Tufts Daily Student, Riya Matta, stated:

The students cite a World History article as evidence that the ‘caste system’ existed in Ancient India. Citing this is equivalent to referencing Wikipedia as a reputable resource. The article itself contradicts the claim of casteism being rooted in Hinduism:

Varnas, in principle, are not lineages, considered as pure and indisputable, but categories, thus inferring the precedence of conduct in determining a Varna instead of birth.

As for the Manusmriti, using it as a representation of Hindu society is a complete exaggeration. Quotes from the text are used selectively. It is a standard trope about this once-obscure text which was elevated to the level of ‘Hindu Laws’ and applied across Hindu society by the British in the 1800s.

Claim #3

What the Hindu Chaplain said: We’ve been receiving an increasing number of reports of Hindu Americans being targeted for harassment in person and on social media platforms for exercising their right to express opinions on events taking place in India. In one recent incident, a community member was targeted because he expressed support for the recent farm bills introduced by the Government of India. Someone published their private home address on social media; Protesters surrounded their home, blocking their ability to leave; And a social media influencer encouraged people to post fake, negative online reviews about the community member’s business to hurt him professionally

TLDR: The Hindu chaplain says that Hindu Americans should not be harassed for opinions on political issues in India

How South Asian groups responded: Regardless of Dr. Banerjee’s intent in sending this message, the impact of her words is severe and not to be underestimated. We want to emphasize that the false claims and overall message of this email, especially coming from an individual in a position of authority, were extremely damaging to members within and outside the South Asian community, particularly to those with Muslim, Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi, or other marginalized identities. After having a conversation with us about the email, Dr. Banerjee sent a second email in which she apologized for not providing “clearer context” in her initial email, but there is no acknowledgement of or accountability taken for the blatant misinformation, Islamophobia, and casteism within the email or the harm that it caused. We acknowledge that the role of the Hindu Chaplain is a newly constructed one and we hope to continue to support the Chaplaincy in order to ensure incidents like this do not reoccur

Fact Check: False

  • Hindu Americans are allowed to have different opinions on Indian politics
  • Hindu Americans should not be subject to harassment for their identities
  • Hindu Americans (+ Chaplains) cannot be called “casteist” or “Islamophobic” for Hindu advocacy
  • Denying Hindu Americans the right to support their own community & using Indian politics as a dog whistle is Hinduphobia

Where do these South Asian organizations get their information from?

Let’s see:

From Caste Privilege 101:

This was an article written by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, who was the founder of Equality Labs. Their members have made disturbing statements about Hinduism, including calling for its complete eradication. Many sources have claimed the group is “Grounded in Hate”

This similar rhetoric is continued in the article that SAPAC Tufts shared:

It is very clear that such organizations have an inherent disdain for Hinduism. So, can they be trusted to be fair and objective?

  1. Issue a public apology to the Hindu community
  2. Reevaluate the resources they share for prejudice
  3. Educate themselves on Hinduism, Hindu Persecution, and Hinduphobia before making harmful statements

Tufts South Asian Regional Committee, South Asian Political Action Community, and Fletcher South Asia Society must be held accountable for the harm they have caused.

Speak up now. Satyameva Jayate.