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Friday, March 1, 2024

All Rise For Hinduphobia: Sunita Viswanath And The Progressive ‘Hindus’

Many Hindus are quite gullible. They go above and beyond in accommodating those who hate them, even when doing so brings about their own downfall. Even worse, they embrace anyone who has a ‘Indian’ or ‘Hindu’ name, can put on a nice Saree or a Bharatiya outfit and say ‘Namaste.’

Recently, a group of Hindu chaplains created the North American Hindu Chaplains Association (NAHCA) and hosted the first conference on May 23-24, 2020. Interestingly, no major mainstream Hindu spiritual group, temple or student organization was invited to co-host or speak at this potentially landmark launch with serious long term implications for the Hindu community in North America (something to question these representatives of Hindus on campuses about).

However, more disturbing was the fact that one of their ‘Resources Specialists’ was Sadhana and its co-founder Sunita Viswanath, who also spoke and was featured prominently at the conference. Then, on June 13th, I received a twitter message informing me that Viswanath was appointed as the Hindu chaplain at Columbia University by the Hindu Students Organization there (they are not connected with any national group)!

I cannot begin to say how problematic this decision (made by the uninformed and gullible students of the Columbia group) is for the Hindu community. Did they not do their research on her? How can they expect someone with a long history of anti-Hindu activism and views to be a representative of the Hindu community at Columbia? What makes them think that someone who has started two Hindu sounding groups with the sole job of deprecating Hindus and Bharat in the name of ‘progressive Hinduism,’ will not bring her views to Columbia?

But, more importantly, her appointment as the chaplain essentially legitimizes her bigotry towards the Hindu community rather than providing an authentic representation of the Hindu faith on campus (one reason why no major Hindu organization works with Viswanath and Sadhana). After all, no faith will ever appoint as its representative a person who works persistently with others to demonize that very faith.

Why don’t many Hindus do their due diligence even when our community has such bright people? Are they lazy? Do they have ‘intellectual blinders’ on? Or, are they so naive that they cannot spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Viswanath is a co-founder of ‘Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus’ (“Sadhana”), Hindus for Human Rights (“HFHR”) and the Coalition Against Fascism in India (“CAFI”). The first two lend a ‘Hindu’ voice to a nexus of organizations, groups and individuals who constantly demonize Hindu Dharma via propaganda and blatant misinformation – conjuring up images of Hindu savagery and oppression and calling for an outright dismantling of Hindu Dharma as a religion. The third organization is a nexus of such organizations in itself, and contains groups who have supported jihadists and those who call Hindu Dharma ‘a religion of violence.’

What follows is an overview of Viswanath’s activism as well as that of Sadhana, HFHR and some of the other groups she has co-founded or partners closely with. It illustrates how she works hand in glove with individuals and organizations known for their Hinduphobic and hateful propaganda. Viswanath is a key driving force and intellectual engine in all three groups and is often the sole voice representing them (and hence their views cannot be separated from hers).

Support for Holi Against Hindutva

As illustrated below, Viswanath, Sadhana, HFHR and CAFI, have openly supported and actively donated to a group called Holi Against Hindutva (“HAH,” now called Students Against Hindutva Ideology or “SAHI”).

On March 3, 2020, Viswanath penned a letter of support for HAH on behalf of HFHR, applauding the group’s “creative approach…[and]…the youthful energy.”

On March 12, 2020, Sadhana also published a series of tweets in full support of HAH, with Sadhana board member Nikhil Mandalaparthy going to great pains to show how HAH’s campaign is not anti-Hindu. In his article, Madalaparthy demonized the hundreds of students and groups who opposed this blatant misuse of Holi as ‘Hindutva extremists.’

HAH was started by Shreeya Singh and a few (mostly non-Hindu) students at Yale University. It caused massive controversy by weaponizing the popular Hindu festival of Holi for its political propaganda and spreading Hinduphobia.

In fact, my earlier post provided detailed information on how this group and its supporters have openly denigrated Hindu symbols, festivals and deities to serve their nefarious purposes.

However, in the context of why Viswanath’s and her groups’ endorsements are a huge problem, it is important to reiterate a few relevant points about HAH:

First, the group has declared Holi as a casteist, violent and misogynist festival that celebrates the burning of a lower caste woman – a patently false claim given that the festival actually celebrates victory of good over evil and the ‘woman’ in question here was actually a princess (thus not lower caste, as shown in my post).

Second, the “Open Letter” page of HAH (which is signed by Sadhana, HFHR and CAFI) uses an image from a protest at Jamia Milia Islamia University in New Delhi. The woman at the center of the image is Ladeeda Sakhaloon, one of the most controversial figures of the protests.

On December 11, 2019, Sakhaloon posted a message on her social media page, calling for ‘Jihad’ along the lines of historic battles fought by Muslims with the intervention of Allah. Could you imagine the backlash, had a Hindu organization put an image of a Hindu inciting war against minorities based on some Hindu historical incident? Yet, the South Asian activists get away with such outright display of hatred and have a seal of approval from individuals like Viswanath.

Third, another key supporter of Holi Against Hindutva is Equality Labs. Equality Labs is a South Asian organization (and the brainchild of Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan) whose sole focus has been Hindu baiting and to demonize Hindu Dharma via the lens of race, caste, gender and minority atrocities. It aims to show that Hindu Dharma = Casteism = Racism, a line of thinking popular among many South Asian groups such as Sadhana, HFHR, CAFI and others (in fact, these groups are using such dangerous propaganda on the back of the Black Lives Matter movement).

It projects Hindus in Bharat as angry, casteist mobs, killing minorities on a daily basis, as well as Hindus in the US as supporters of such violence (something that Viswanath also does without any proof). On March 2, 2020, Equality Labs wrote a highly pejorative article about why everyone should reject the popular Holi festival because it endorses casteism and violence against women and other minorities.

Twisting and conflating many things about the Hindu festival, Equality Labs conjured up an image of Hindu savagery where none existed. Among its many explosive claims, the group declared:

“Holi also further reifies Brahmanical Patriarchy by encouraging casteist and sexist slurs that are ritually hurled at Holika’s figure as part of the ritual. This translates into the widespread violence against femmes in cities where Holi is practiced, creating a turbulent and frightening environment where gender based harassment attacks rise during this time. This includes groups of men throwing balloons filled with rocks, water, or even semen at femmes who are walking in the street. We cannot expect more from a festival whose heart is quite literally the burning of an Indigenous woman.” (emphasis mine).

Imagine the gross depiction and dangerous lies here for a moment – rocks and semen being thrown at women? Wow!

This is a perfect example of the types of falsities and outright bigotry peddled by these South Asian groups and supported by Viswanath and others.

Similarly, on January 31, 2020, Sharmin Hossain, who serves as the Political Director of Equality Labs, blasted Hindu Dharma as nothing but casteist, and that any attempt to “salvage Hinduism” is “dominant caste rhetoric.” Thus, Hossain and Equality Labs are clear about their hatred and that Hindu Dharma cannot be separated from caste no matter what. Of course, Hossain, a Bangladeshi Muslim, has no expertise in Hindu Dharma. But, that doesn’t stop her from spewing such venom.

Partnership with Equality Labs

Viswanath has been closely working with Equality Labs for many years, and they often support each other’s works and political propaganda. For example, Sadhana’s syllabus on Hindu Dharma recommends the caste survey by Equality Labs, along with writings by Soundararajan. Viswanath (often the only representative from Sadhana or HFHR) is often seen shoulder to shoulder in many rallies that portray Hindus as savages out to destroy minorities in Bharat (see herehere and here).

In a 2019 article, where the Indian American community celebrated the landslide victory of the Modi government, Soundararajan minced no words when equating Hindu Dharma with fascism. Lamenting on the repeat victory of a democratically elected government, Soundararajan decried with uber hyperbole: “…the fascists of India have now revealed themselves. Hindu Savarna fear has trumped any sense of reality and understanding of the violence that will come against Indian caste and religious minorities. The time now will be to challenge everything.”

Indeed, since then, Viswanath, Sadhana, HFHR, CAFI, Equality Labs and the entire nexus has unleashed loads of Hinduphobic articles, events, blogs, ‘toolkits,’ etc. to bolster their propaganda.

Similarly, as we will see next, Sadhana and Equality Labs worked closely with organizations connected to evangelicals, radical leftists and Islamists to push for continued biased against Hindu Dharma in 6th Grade California textbooks.

Endorsing bias against Hindu Dharma in 6th grade California textbooks

In 2017, Viswanath and Sadhana threw their full support against Hindu parents in California fighting biased portrayals of Hindu Dharma vis-a-vis other major world religions in 6th grade textbooks. Without respecting the sentiments of their own community and caring for the ongoing bullying faced by these children, Viswanath and Sadhana declared these parents and kids as extremists and ‘right wing.’

That is even after the fact that Viswanath and Sadhana admitted that they had not done full research on the issue. The petition was started by a group called South Asian Histories For All, co-founded by none other than Equality Labs’ Soundararajan.

Hinduphobic activism by South Asian Histories For All: How does asking for a fair portrayal of Hindu Dharma translate to ‘Islamophobic edits’? (Picture source: ASATA/South Asian Histories For All)

post from my 2011 website provided details on some of the key players involved in opposing a fair treatment of Hindu Dharma and gagging the voices of Hindu parents and children – all in the name of exposing students to “critically reflect on the complexities that have shaped religious and social life in South Asia.”

One such player is the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), a hardcore evangelical group based out of Colorado. DFN’s objective is to convert Hindus in Bharat using the trope of ‘caste persecution.’ John Gilman, one DFN’s board members has openly declared the following about their plans for Bharat and the Hindus:

“The worship of a hundred million gods will disappear. Idolatry will be cast down. But, what will replace it? National Dalit leaders plead to the Church in India, saying, ‘Come and tell us about your Jesus. Teach us your scriptures.’ They believe this is the only hope for India, a nation that could be on the brink of a bloody civil war – or on the brink of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit unlike any in history. There has never been a better soul-winning opportunity than right now in the nation of India.”

Similarly, court documents retrieved during a 2007 lawsuit by a group called CAPEEM revealed shocking details about how DFN colluded with Harvard Professor Michael Witzel and others to advance inaccurate theories about Hindu Dharma and the caste system. DFN advised the professor to insist on Dalits in his responses to the California Board of Education and falsely emphasize that “only women had worse rights” than Dalits in ancient Bharat.

A 2006 document archived by CAPEEM also laid bare how Michael Witzel, self-styled researcher Steve Farmer and Benjamin Marsh (director of DFN in Washington, D.C.) worked together to ensure that efforts of Hindu groups are challenged vehemently and that this nexus receives political support from Congressman Trent Franks and others.

Another prominent organization fighting against Hindu parents was Friends of South Asia (FOSA). FOSA’s key activists included Angana Chatterji, who has been well-known for her anti-Hindu activism.

In 2003, FOSA, along with Angana Chatterji, organized a discussion on Kashmir at the University of Calfornia, Berkeley. One of the main speakers of the event was Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai from the Kashmiri American Council. On Tuesday, July 19, 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the US arrested Fai on charges of being an agent of the ISI, the Pakistani spy agency. Fai was active in lobbying against Bharat on behalf of the Pakistani government to bring about the separation of Kashmir from Bharat.

Finally, one of HFHR’s other board members is Raju Rajagopal, the founder of another West Coast based leftist subgroup (EKTA/Coalition Against Communalism). Rajagopal and EKTA used to host the websites of other leftist member groups and subgroups that were created by the Forum of Inqualabi Leftists (FOIL).

Rajagopal also actively opposed Hindu parents in the California textbook controversy, arguing that such biased views were important, because “…exposing our children to India’s vibrant pluralistic and ‘argumentative’ traditions, and encouraging classroom discussions on the legacies of racism, caste and gender bias, will serve them better as future citizens, whether of the US or of India.”

That may be true in higher grade classroom or a college-grade classroom; however, such ‘healthy discussions’ do not happen in 6th grade classes in the US. Instead, Hindu kids only sit with their heads down in utter dismay, are subjected to intense bullying and feel embarrassed to be a Hindu. Rajagopal should perhaps avail himself to giggles, snide reactions and outright hate by non-Hindus by sitting in the 6th grade class himself!

Endorsing those who demean Hindu deities, symbols and leaders

June 6th tweet by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), using Trishul (holy symbol of Hindus associated with Lord Shiva) as a symbol of oppression. IAMC also used the death of George Floyd for its own activism, while calling Triple Talaq (a highly misogynistic law against Muslim women) a ‘fascist’ ploy, as seen on the list on the left.

Viswanath is also a founding member of CAFI. I had written significant details about CAFI in my earlier post on Holi Against Hindutva. CAFI is a signatory and major supporter of HAH. CAFI members, among others, include the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC)Alliance for a Democratic and Secular South Asia (ASDSA), Hindus for Human Rights (HFHR), India Civil Watch (ICW), International South Asia Forum (INSAF), etc.

This coalition’s members have a history of attacking Hindus and Hindu Dharma for many years, openly supporting separatism, a bigoted and violent political agenda, and even terrorism. Consider the following to illustrate their dangerous and vitriolic views about Hindu Dharma:

  • The Alliance for Secular and Democratic South Asia (ASDSA) has known ties to individuals who have openly supported the violent Maoist terrorism in Bharat. In 2001, M.V. Ramana, a member of ASDSA, wrote a Hinduphobic article, “The Bomb of the Blue God,” juxtaposing the image of Hindu deity Shri Krishna on a bomb and linking the sacred text Bhagavad Gita to violence.
  • Similarly, India Civil Watch’s (ICW’s) key member and spokesperson, Raja Joseph Swamy (alias Raja Harish Swamy) has extensive links to bigots like Kancha Ilaiah who have called Hindu Dharma a “religion of violence.” In fact, Swamy has personally demonized Hindu Dharma as inherently and necessarily oppressive and violent. According to Swamy:

“Hindu ‘dharma’ is caste-based; Hinduism is casteism; to be Hindu means to belong to a caste, and not as it is in most religions, to merely subscribe to a set body of beliefs. Hinduism has no universal religious requirements; therefore it is sufficiently open to interpretation along lines that are outrageously oppressive.”

In addition to the above examples, in 2010, Viswanath and fellow Sadhana co-founder Rohan Narine were at the center of a controversy around a cartoon called Sita Sings The Blues by Nina Paley.

The cartoon portrays the sacred Hindu text the Ramayana and key Hindu deities in a highly pejorative manner – from belittling Hindu deities, to portraying them as blood thirty, misogynist or simply bizarre. In one instance, Shri Rama, one of the most revered Hindu deities, is shown as walking over and kicking his pregnant wife Sita! In another instance, Sita, who is also a very revered Hindu deity, is portrayed as a blood thirsty woman.

Upon seeing the cartoon in 2010, a senior Hindu community member (and Narine’s own father) expressed deep sadness and remarked: “Having seen this movie for the first time a few days ago I am in a position to make an informed comment. The movie distorts the Ramayana and makes a mockery of what we have held sacred for generations.”

However, Viswanath blasted the Hindu community for raising its voice against such inaccurate and Hinduphobic portrayals, concluding that “…Sita Sings the Blues is a wonderful way to keep Hindu mythology alive.” It is astonishing that Viswanath elevates the cartoon’s stature as a “wonderful way to keep Hindu mythology alive” as if no other TV series, children’s book, animated movie, etc. has ever done justice to the story of the Ramayana at the level of Paley’s story!  And, how many Hindu organizations, temples, spiritual personalities and leaders would concur with Viswanath’s endorsement above?

But, Sadhana’s dislike for Shri Rama and the Ramayana continued. One of the ‘anonymous’ Sadhana members wrote a blog reinterpreting the story of Sita’s Agnipariksha (test by fire) through skewed lens of feminism and marginalization.

In the blog entry, she belittled Shri Rama as “a god king [who] isn’t grown-up enough to simply ignore idle gossip after the first trial…” and then goes on to declare: “Because all the Sitas are also fresh out of fucks, and we want a lot more than a safe space away from sorry kings. We want an end to the slut-shaming. We want the justice system, in its required adherence to evidence to stop policing and punishing women more than it ever upbraids or holds men accountable.” Such egregious comments demonstrate an utter lack of understanding of the Ramayana and a disdain for things Hindu.

In December 2019, Sadhana endorsed a convoluted and Hinduphobic article on “Bharat Mata,” (India depicted as mother), where the author claimed that this symbol, held in high reverence by hundreds of millions of Bharatiyas and Hindus is actually a “…RSS-constructed, savarna [meaning upper caste], North Indian, Aryan vision of the mother” who can only bear sons.

Mouthful indeed! Furthermore, the same author claimed that famous Hindu freedom fighters and spiritual leaders like Sri Aurobindo and Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay were architects of Hindu nationalism and endorsed hatred towards Muslims (both leaders revered Bharat as a female form of the divine).

However, selective history and propaganda can only go so far. Viswanath, Sadhana and this author conveniently hide the fact that the idea of ‘Bharat Mata’ became a uniting factor in Bharat in the early 20th century.

So much so that in 1918, Mahatma Gandhi inaugurated the Bharat Mata Temple in Varanasi (Banaras) in the presence of Sardar Patel and Abdul Gaffar Khan. Looking back on this spectacular phenomenon, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his autobiography: “It is curious how one cannot resist the tendency to give an anthropomorphic form to a country…India becomes Bharat Mata…Some such pictures rouse the emotions of hundreds of thousands.”

Similarly, the great freedom fighter Chandrashekar Azad, who was sentenced to 15 whip lashes by the British, cried “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” at every single lash. Are all these freedom fighters and leaders ‘Hindutva extremists’ because they embraced the idea of Bharat Mata? 

What Viswanath, Sadhana and their cohorts conveniently fail to mention is that Sri Lanka’s national anthem starts with “Sri Lanka Matha….Namo Namo Matha” and is sung by all, including Muslims. Similarly, the national anthem of Bangladesh (a Muslim majority country) is “Amar Sonar Bangla,” and has words that translate to “O Mother mine, the words from your lips are nectar to my ears.” Are these countries endorsing ‘Hindu extremism?’

But, Viswanath, Sadhana and the rest of the ‘progressive Hindu’ gang has perfected the formula of conjuring up Hinduphobia out of thin air.

Supporting those who deny genocide of Kashmiri Hindus

In September of 2019, Viswanath wrote about HFHR’s participation in a rally organized by Stand With Kashmir (“SWK”), a separatist group that has completely whitewashed the documented genocide of Kashmiri Hindu Pandits about 30 years ago and their rights to their ancestral land.

HFHR fully endorsed SWK and participated in the rally, which was conveniently titled “Let Kashmir Speak” (of course, only Kashmiri Muslim voices mattered). HFHR expressed ‘sadness’ for Kashmiri Muslims, who, according to HFHR, have suffered tremendously at the hands of the Indian government (a false claim at best). Yet, not a single tear of sadness fell for the Kashmiri Hindus who were raped, killed, tortured and thrown out by their own Muslim neighbors and the terrorists.

What’s more, Rajagopal saw a counter protest by Kashmiri Hindus across the street and essentially accused them of “…[throwing] in their lot with the brutal actions of India and Hindutva forces…” Thus, Viswanath, Rajagopal and HFHR declared that Kashmiri Hindu voices are not genuine and labeled them as ‘stooges’ of a ‘brutal India and Hindutva forces.’ It is important to that this theme has been pervasive across Viswanath’s groups and activism.

Interestingly, one of the supporters of SWK is none other than Ghulam Nabi Fai, while another one is Angana Chatterji. As mentioned, earlier, Fai was arrested by the FBI for his role as an agent of Pakistan lobbying the US government to take actions against Bharat. Chatterji worked very closely with Fai, as demonstrated earlier.

In summary, the above information sheds light on the Hindu baiting and outright bias of Sunita Viswanath, Sadhana, Hindus For Human Rights and a coterie of South Asian organizations masquerading as champions of human rights, social justice and equality. Their voices only come out for issues faced by non-Hindus while gagging Hindu voices or dismissing them as ‘Hindutva extremists.’

Their disdain for Hindu symbols, festivals, deities and spiritual leaders is prominent in almost every step of their ‘South Asian’ advocacy. Can they dare to accord such treatment to other major religions of South Asia like Islam, or even Christianity, in the name of ‘minority rights,’ ‘caste atrocities,’ ‘social justice,’ ‘feminism,’ and every other buzzword in their toolkit?

The students at Columbia University, the chaplains at NAHCA and all those who may come across these groups should take note. Read, research, expose, repeat.

(This article was first published on the and is being reproduced with permission, after minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide)

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