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From India to Canada: The Global Reach of Hindutva Extremism

Mathew Edassery

September 21, 2023
In a recent addressto the Canadian Parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought attention to the alleged links between the Indian government and the assassination of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. This revelation has placed the Canadian government at a crucial juncture, entangled in a multifaceted issue involving alleged foreign government interference and the presence and activities of Hindutva (Right wing Hindu supremacist ideology) groups within its borders. These groups, most of them purporting to represent Indian culture and Hinduism, present a substantial challenge to democratic values and the cherished secular environment. These concerns have long been voiced by South Asian diaspora communitiesand human rights organizations in Canada.
Debunking Hinduphobia Allegations
First and foremost, it is imperative to dispel the notion of widespread Hinduphobia in Canada. A Hinduphobia petition circulating has garnered 8000 signatures in support. Apart from undermining the anti-oppressive and anti-caste effortsundertaken by Dalit and other social justice groups; allegations of Hinduphobia have been wielded to stifle freedom of speech and artistic expression. For instance, filmmaker Leena Manimekalai's work depicting Goddess Kali triggered a firestorm of backlash. Goddess Kali is revered by various castes and indigenous groups in India, with offerings of tobacco and alcohol as part of this tradition. Yet, a poster depicting Kali smoking a cigarette led to outrage, both in India and Canada. While the Supreme Court of India upheld the artist’s right and granted protection, Hindutva groups in India and Canada continue their protests.

More alarmingly, there was a public backlash against Leena Manimekalai led by the Hindutva groups in Canada along with the Indian High Commission (Ottawa) issuing a press releasereprimanding those who screened Ms. Manimekalai’s film, this was also supported by Liberal MP Chandra Arya, a vocal supporter of Hindutva groups in Canada. This has resulted in ongoing harassment and violent threats, essentially putting this eminent artist into a forced exile. 
In Canada, human rights activists, academicians, journalists, community organizers, and even students in Canadian universities have reported to have faced threats and harassments from the Hindutva groupshere for highlighting the human rights abuses in India and for opposing the Hindutva hate politics being imported to Canada. There have been multiple instances where Canadian Universitiesand Institutions had bowed to such external pressure undermining academic and artistic freedom.
The crux of the issue lies in reducing the diverse identities and traditions of Indian culture and beliefs to a narrow ‘upper-caste Hindu’ narrative. This not only erases the identities of indigenous cultures and traditions but also stifles anti-oppressive and anti-caste efforts undertaken by Dalit and other social justice groups.
Hindusim: A complex tapestry
Appreciating the distinction between Hinduism and Abrahamic religions is essential. Oversimplifying this comparison perpetuates the Hindu supremacist ideology(Hindutva), aiming to homogenize diverse cultures and castes into a uniform identity. Hinduism is a complex tapestry of castes with distinct identities, cultures, and deities. The term 'Hindu' originally served as a geographical identity and attempts to force it into a singular religious mold should be met with skepticism. The voices of Dalit, Adivasis (Indigenous tribes) opposing this classification must be acknowledged.
It should be acknowledged that racism affects Hindus too, much like other racialized immigrant groups; this should be condemned and combatted in solidarity with all other racialized groups using existing anti-discrimination laws. Simultaneously, it is of paramount importance to remain vigilant against Hindutva - a right-wing Hindu supremacist ideology; and to protect human rights in both Canada and India, opposing Hindutva and its supporters is imperative. Hindutva cannot be equatedwith Hinduism.

Global Reach of Hindutva Ideology
In a rather remarkable statement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a member of the far-right Hindutva paramilitary organization RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and a leader of its political wing BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) said in the Indian parliament "…corruption, casteism and communalism will have no place in our national life". Acknowledging that casteism is indeed a very contemporary issue and not a relic of the past as many outside the Indian diaspora believes.
Historical migration patterns influenced by caste and class privileges, have led to a majority of immigrants from so-called 'upper-caste' backgrounds arriving in Canada and other Western countries. Regrettably, some have imported regressive practices under the guise of "Indian Culture". Recent efforts of South Asian groups and Dalit organizationsto challenge this narrative, aiming for a more inclusive representation of Indian and Hindu identity, have challenged the status quo. It is here we must recognize the link between these challenges and the falsified notion of Hinduphobia in Canada.
The influence of extremist Hindutva ideologyextends beyond India. The well documented propaganda against minorities in mainstream media in India, often with direct links to the BJP/RSS, has disseminated regressive and extremist ideas worldwide, coinciding with the growing global Indian diaspora. Reports surfaced of instances of defaced Hindu temples and harassment of individuals in Australia, the UK, and even Canada. An investigation by the security agencies in Australiahas traced these back to Hindutva groups. There have also been deliberate attempts to vilify other communities to garner support for the alleged Hinduphobia in Western countries. The riots in Leicester UKand recent assassinations of similar nature in other countries and now Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar serves as a tragic reminder of the global reach of this divisive ideology, especially after 2014; when the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power in India with a brutish majority.
The Urgent Need for Action
Given these concerns, In a joint statementreleased on Tuesday, several Indian diaspora civil society groups called on the Canadian Government to “stand with the oppressed peoples of India including Muslims, Dalits, Christians, Sikhs, Kashmiris, and others”.
The civil society groups, namely, Canadians for Indian Democracy (CID), CERAS (Centre sur l’asie du sud), Collectif d’action de la diaspora sud-asiatique (SADAC), Hindus for Human Rights Canada, India Civil Watch International (ICWI), Justice pour tous Canada, Punjabi Literary and Cultural Association Winnipeg and SADAN – South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network- Canada urged the Canadian government to take concrete actions: a) publicly condemning the state-backed violence and persecution of those resisting Hindu supremacy and holding the Indian state accountable; b) stand up for the rights of religious minorities and oppressed communities in India; c) banning organizations in Canada that are affiliated to and funding the RSS, and their promotion of hate;  d) ensuring Canadian trade agreements with India are contingent upon respecting human rights and protecting vulnerable communities; e) taking concrete steps in Canada and globally to stop transnational state surveillance and vigilantism.
It is paramount to recognize that Hindutva is a violent and extremist Hindu supremacist ideology. It poses a direct threat to the liberal, democratic, and secular values. 
It is our duty to safeguard these values and protect our citizens from the divisive ideology that threatens to undermine the, even limited democracy, of the Canadian state.

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