The Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme (SRP) held a webinar on 21 March 2023 titled “Understanding the Globalisation of Hindu Nationalism.” Moderated by the President of Hindu Centre (Singapore), Dr N. Varaprasad, the panel featured two experts on the subject: Dr Deepa S. Reddy, Faculty member of Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Houston-Clear Lake; and Dr Dheepa Sundaram, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver.
Dr Reddy gave a broad yet nuanced sharing on Hindu nationalism within Hindu diasporic contexts. She presciently highlighted how multiculturalism can be exploited by diasporic Hindutva organisations, figures, and supporters who form “communities of outrage.” While such developments suggest a dense network of Hindutva-aligned organisations, thinking of them as a loose conglomerate of opportunistic, fragile and issue-based alliances is arguably more accurate. Finally, Dr Reddy cautioned against reducing affinity with everyday Hinduism to identification with assertive forms of Hindu nationalism.
Dr Sundaram focused on Hindutva hate campaigns in the US, UK, and Canada. In these episodes, threats via social media, email, and massive letter-writing campaigns were levelled at those perceived to be critical towards Hindutva. Dr Sundaram noted two striking features. The first feature has to do with their co-optation of liberatory language. Conflating Hinduism with Hindutva, Hindutva-aligned voices often cry Hindu-phobia whenever their narrow understanding of Hinduism is criticised. The second feature has to do with hate alliances with White supremacist groups who converge on areas such as Islamophobia. Taken together, these two features contribute to a discourse of Hindu vulnerability that props up support for Hindutva globally.
The webinar concluded with a lively Q&A session. Agreeing that Hindutva’s appeal in diasporic settings is complicated by other dynamics such as regional affiliation and language, both speakers acknowledged more apolitical Hindus in these spaces. Dr Reddy described how many diaspora Hindus avoid divisive Hindu nationalist discourses while Dr Sundaram recounted how they nevertheless get inundated by social media messages relaying Hindutva ideas. To resist these influences, Dr Reddy urged diaspora Hindus to find common ground with the “other” through interfaith activities. Similarly, Dr Sundaram encouraged diaspora Hindus to join social justice movements to help them towards that end.