Protests Mar World Hindu Congress (Courtesy: India Abroad)

Protests Mar World Hindu Congress

A group of people raising anti-RSS and anti-VHP slogans inside the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center sought to disrupt the 2nd World Hindu Congress Sept.7-9 Congress in Chicago last week but the organizers said it caused “nothing more” than a momentary interruption of the proceedings.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat, and  India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu were among those who had come to address the delegatesas the Conference was said to be a commemoration of Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the Parliament of World Religions 125 years ago.

Bhagwat addressed the Congress in English on September 7, elaborating on the theme drawn from the Mahabharat, “Think collectively, Act Valiantly.”

Meanwhile, posters on the walls of the venue denounced interfaith marriages as “love jihad” and other themes of the RSS-VHP combine. One poster questioned actor Sharmila Tagore’s marriage to Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi in 1969 and whether their son Saif Ali Khan will force his wife, Kareena Kapoor to convert to Islam. The posters were mounted under the heading “Interfaith Marriages: Silent Holocaust of Hindus,” The Wire news website reported.

A few hours later in the afternoon after his morning speech, protests erupted inside the conference room when about half a dozen young people, most of them identified as women belonging to Chicago South Asians For Justice, allegedly intruded the venue and raised slogans such as “RSS turn around, we don’t want you in town” and “Stop Hindu fascism” before they were stopped and ejected.

The protesters from CSAJ said they were subjected to violence as they were ejected. “We spoke up in a peaceful protest at the end of the plenary session and as soon as we became vocal, people in the audience began to approach us like a mob and violently pushed out of the conference venue,” one of the protesters who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal, told India Abroad. “Even when we were taken into custody by police, they continue to physically and verbally assault us and one of us was spat upon in the face.”

In response to a question, the CSAJ member said the protest sought to focus attention to the rise of fascist and ultra-nationalist movements around the world, including in India where groups like the RSS and Bharatiya Janata Party, its political wing, are engaged in promoting the idea of supremacy of the Hindutvawadis at the expense of the Muslims and other minority folks in India. “We see that as a part of a broader global movement of rightwing nationalism and fascism in India and the U.S. and state legitimization of fascist culture,” she told this correspondent.

Two protesters were arrested and charged with trespass and disorderly conduct. One conference attendee, Caravan daily said, was charged with battery. They were all released later on after being held briefly.

India’s Hindu newspaper said in a report that a group of attendees tried to assault the protesters. “We should have bashed them up,” senior leader and former BJP lawmaker Vijay Jolly, who was present in the melee, was heard shouting, the report said.

The CSAJ, a coalition resisting the rise of global fascism in the United States, India, and worldwide, denounced the violence against its members as an attempt to mainstream Hindu fascism in the United States.

In fewer than 10 years since a 2008 Pew Survey on the subject, 38 percent of the marriages of U.S.-born Hindus, Jains and Sikhs have been with people of Abrahamic faiths, meaning Christians, Jews and Muslims, according to experts.

Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of New York-based Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, said that the World Hindu Congress was not a celebration of Hinduism but rather a promotion and celebration of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. “We in Sadhana embrace a Hinduism that is grounded in love and the notion of ekatva (oneness of us all),” Viswanath told India Abroad.

“Hindutva is a violent and extremist ideology that discriminates on the basis of religion and caste and seeks to transform India from a secular democracy to a Hindu nation. Sadhana calls on all Hindus of conscience to join us and take a stand against Hindutva: this is not a time to be neutral,” she said.

In a statement CSAJ decried the WHC as an international body that aims to promote Hindu supremacy in India and across the globe, masking itself as a non-violent moderate organization that is “simply interested” in promoting Hindu values. Alleging that WHC intentionally obscures its militant, religious fundamentalist principles and ties online, it said during the conference, WHC speakers reiterated their disturbing political philosophy, which includes “militarist and eugenist” overtones and messages of intolerance. “More than anything, their brutal actions in response to our peaceful dissent demonstrate how dangerous they truly are,” the statement said.

Ricken Patel, CEO of Avaaz said this was “an appeal and not a protest.” The ad featured a picture of Vivekananda and a quote from his Chicago speech: “Sectarianism, bigotry, and fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth… but their time is come.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), attended the conclave, despite being urged by anti-World Hindu Congress activists to dissociate himself. He said he decided to express his mind at the conclave and to reaffirm his faith in Hinduism that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith – including all his constituents. “I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teachings of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said in his address.

Chicago alderman Ameya Pawar condemned the violence that took place, saying that “bigoted” RSS has no place in a discussion about Hinduism. “I’m disgusted that peaceful protestors at the @WHCongress were pushed, kicked, and spat on. The behavior of some attendees confirms that Hindu Nationalists and the bigoted RSS have no place in a discussion about Hinduism. We are better than this,” Pawar tweeted.

Declaring himself as a “proud Hindu” and the first Indian-American elected to Chicago City Council, he said he was extremely disappointed and ashamed the Hindu Congress would invite speakers and organizations that promote discrimination, Islamophobia, and Hindu nationalism. “This is not who we are.”

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