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Monday, October 25, 2021

HAF asks for federal probe into Univ. of Pennsylvania’s role in Hinduphobic conference: USA

In a historic first for the Hindu American community, the Hindu American Foundation filed a Title VI complaint with the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights against the University of Pennsylvania for its part in co-sponsoring the Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH) conference which took place September 10–12, 2021 and a pattern of condoning hostility towards Hindu students and faculty. 

Writing to Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Suzanne Goldberg and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement Randolph Wills today, HAF has asked the Office of Civil Rights to:

“Investigate and determine whether the University of Pennsylvania and University of Pennsylvania’s Department of South Asia Studies, South Asia Center (a National Resource Center), and key associated faculty created a hostile environment for students and faculty of Indian and Hindu descent, and whether the same entities and individuals misused any federal funds by 1) planning, sponsoring, hosting, and/or participating in a one sided conference about India and Hindus which promoted negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts; and 2) developing and promoting a “harassment field manual” that promotes negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts about Hindus, denies Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hatred, and specifically targets Hindu students for censure and marginalization in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VI of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.”

Under Title VI, programs and activities receiving any Federal financial assistance from the US Department of Education must operate in a non-discriminatory manner in regards to “race, color, or national origin.” The Department views Hindus as “examples of individuals who may be harassed for being viewed as part of a group that exhibits both ethnic and religious characteristics.” 

“Prior to the DGH conference, thousands of letters of concern, including our own, were received by the University of Pennsylvania, informing the university that despite disclaimers alleging that “dismantling” Hinduism was not an aim of the conference, the featured speakers and their history of anti-Hindu activism, meant that the event would be one-sided and likely endorse negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts about Hindus,” said HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla.

“We asked the University to ensure that it not create a hostile environment for Hindu students and faculty that make them vulnerable to censure, harassment, or retaliation by associating itself with anti-Hindu rhetoric that this event would promote — as it, in fact, did. These calls were ignored, leaving us no choice but to pursue a formal complaint with the Department of Education,” she added. 

Dismantling Global Hindutva conference

This video collates clips of some of the many egregious Hinduphobic and anti-Hindu
statements made during the conference. Here also are select transcribed statements from the event:

● “I take Hindutva as political Hinduism, not a distortion of some inherently benign religion, but a historical expression of it, with continuities in the works of Dayananda Saraswati, Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Savarkar,…even Gandhi…” – Meera Dhanda, Ph.D. – Reader, Philosophy and Cultural Politics, University of Wolverhampton

● “Harboring the idea that Hinduism is harmless and Hindutva is the culprit will not do anything to further democratic ideals.” – P. Sivakami, politician, activist, and writer

● “For us…there is no Hindutva without Hinduism. Hindutva is inextricably linked to and is a form of Hinduism…There is absolutely no way to dismantle it if you are sort of going to ignore the Hinduism of it.” – Shana Sippy, Ph.D. – Faculty Member in the Religion Program, Centre College; Feminist Critical Hindu Studies Collective (FCHS)

● “Caste is fundamental to Hinduism. Take caste out of Hinduism and Hinduism cannot stand. Hinduism is not a religion. Caste is the religion. Scriptures talk about caste. Scriptures don’t talk about religion.” – Bhanwar Meghwan, activist and writer

HAF is seeking the following remedies from the University of Pennsylvania:

1) A public statement condemning the negative stereotypes, slurs, and distorted facts promoted at the conference as well as in the field manual;

2) An acknowledgement of the existence of Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hatred, and expression of zero-tolerance of the same;

3) A public restatement of commitment to open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive engagement with diverging perspectives;

4) Mandatory training on rights and responsibilities under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Higher Education Opportunity Act and greater oversight of the South Asia Center at Penn, and its use of federal assistance;

5) Sharing of support services for Hindu students and faculty facing hostility, harassment, or retaliation.

(To read the full complaint, click here)

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