The Parliament of the World’s Religions has quietly removed Hindu religious leader Nivedita Bhide from its list of speakers at this week’s conference in Chicago after activists raised concerns over her links to Hindu nationalism.
MEE first reported last week that anger was growing over Bhide’s inclusion at the event over her links with the far right, but also her history of spreading Islamophobic disinformation about minorities in India, including Muslims and Christians.
A source familiar with the issue at the parliament confirmed to MEE on Wednesday that Bhide, the vice president of Vivekananda Kendra, a Hindu nationalist social service and “nation-building” organisation, had been removed due to her affiliations and her Islamophobic social media posts.
Earlier this week, Bhide, who was scheduled to address a plenary session at the conference on 16 August, was no longer listed as a featured luminary on the Parliament of the World’s Religions program.
Vivekananda Kendra also did not respond to MEE’s requests for comment.
Rasheed Ahmed, the executive director of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), welcomed the decision, but said it was worrying that Bhide had been invited in the first place.
“It raises a concern if there are other speakers who similarly profess or normalise Hindu supremacist ideologies while invoking diversity and other seemingly progressive and cultural symbolism,” Ahmed told MEE.
A history of Islamophobia
In 2017, Bhide was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian award by the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Activists said that she has routinely shared the rhetoric of right-wing Hindu nationalists who demonise prominent Indian activists.
Bhide has also been seen participating in events either hosted or endorsed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu paramilitary organisation that aims to turn India into a Hindu state. She actively reposts disinformation, conspiracy theories and Islamophobia on social media.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions describes itself as “cultivating harmony among the world’s spiritual traditions and fosters their engagement with guiding institutions in order to achieve a more peaceful, just and sustainable world”.
Ahead of this year’s convention, titled A Call to Conscience: Defending Freedom & Human Rights, programme director Phyllis Curott said the parliament was “uniting in a collective, courageous and clear reply to the most dangerous crisis confronting us today – authoritarianism”.