It all started when Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) announced a hybrid webinar on Nov. 12 on the topic of India’s citizenship laws, titled, “Manufacturing Statelessness – What Next for India’s Citizenship Laws?”
With the Indian government promising to start implementing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) next year, we felt that this was the right time to refresh everyone’s memory of the double-talk by the government about the intent and scope of the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), whose inhuman consequences in the state of Assam have been well documented.
We had gathered a stellar panel to speak on the topic, with Aman Wadud, a practicing lawyer, on his personal experience with the NRC in Assam; Prashant Bhushan, a well-known Supreme Court lawyer, on a legal perspective on the CAA and the raft of petitions challenging it; T.M. Krishna, musician, author, activist, on the broader implications of the CAA/NRC on Indian democracy; Anuradha Bhasin, of The Kashmir Times, on the impact of the NRC on women and marginalized communities; and Prof. Rohit Chopra, Santa Clara University, on the deep fissures within the Indian diaspora on the policies of the Modi government. The webinar was co-sponsored by our ally, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).
Within days of announcing the webinar, the India Community Center (ICC), Milpitas, CA, where the event was to be held, started receiving hundreds of identical-looking e-mails and phone calls demanding that they cancel our event, which was described as “anti-India” and “Hinduphobic.” Judging from the nature of those messages, it was clear that the campaign to intimidate HfHR and our guest speakers was being orchestrated centrally.
To its credit, the ICC board refused to cancel our event and reiterated that ICC has been a safe space for all kinds of community groups to hold their meetings there, as long as they adhered to basic rules of civility and inclusion.
Despite ICC’s pushback, however, several unregistered persons gained entry into our event on November 12th, with the express intent of disrupting it. This became clear as Prof. Rohit Chopra started speaking when some people started shouting and would not let him get on with his remarks. The worst came when a few members of the audience left their seats and walked menacingly toward Prof. Chopra. They retreated only after he announced that he was videoing their actions and we threatened to call security to eject them.
Regrettably, by their rowdy behaviour, the disruptors posed a personal threat to the safety of Prof. Chopra. For the record, their menacing advance towards him qualifies as assault under California law (see highlighted text) and Prof. Chopra would be well within his rights to file charges against them if he so chose.
By their rowdy behavior, the disruptors posed a personal threat to the safety of Prof. Chopra. For the record, their menacing advance towards him qualifies as assault under California law.
“Assault in California is an intentional attempt to physically injure another, or a menacing or threatening act or statement that causes the other person to believe they are about to be attacked. This crime doesn’t involve actual physical contact.’
HfHR has carefully considered what further action we should take to send a clear message to the disruptors that their behavior will not go unchallenged and that in the future we will observe a zero-tolerance policy towards such uncivil behavior, which has no place in our community.
· We will be informing the worst offenders at the November 12th webinar that they will be barred from our future events at the ICC.
· Our events in the future will require all registrants to agree to a code of conduct, with the understanding that any violators will be promptly escorted out.
· We will have an in-room security officer to ensure that the events go smoothly.
HfHR firmly believes that the time has come for the Indian American community to forthrightly discuss and debate issues that have divided us over the last few years and that face-to-face dialogue is extremely important in initiating that process. At the same time, we believe that all conversations must take place in a civil and non-violent manner where we are respectful of our guest speakers as well as our fellow attendees.
The disruptors at our event reminded me of the behavior of Dr. K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), as described in an RSS booklet for children (see image below): “Keshav Rao never tolerated any insult either to the nation or to national leaders. Once a public meeting was held under the chairmanship of Deshbhakta Moulvi Liyaqat Hussain. One of the speakers passed some disparaging remarks about Lokmanya Tilak. This was enough for Keshavrao to burst forth with indignation. He rushed to the stage and slapped the errant speaker in full public view.”
I have often wondered why the RSS would highlight their founder’s violent behavior in a story meant for children. Did they not find other inspiring or uplifting stories about him?
Part of the answer came to me in Hedgewar’s extraordinary statement normalizing violence, as cited in his biography:
“One may outwardly carry out certain acts which appear to involve physical violence, but if it is done in a spirit of detachment and without any selfish motive or hatred, then the act can no longer be termed violent.”
A more complete answer came to me decades later in 2002 in the wake of the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, when we started hearing the rationale for normalizing violent behavior by Hindu nationalist groups, which have resulted in the death and maiming of thousands of innocent people. Many of the leaders of the BJP and VHP who led that violence were clearly acting upon what was drilled into their minds in RSS shakas when they were young: Hedgewar’s call to wake up the “dormant manliness” of Hindus and to rectify the “pitiable state of Hindus.”
What we are witnessing in India today – constant provocation of minority communities; open calls to mass violence; intimidation of journalists, historians, activists, and even comedians — are the direct result of such mass indoctrination by the RSS.
As a diaspora organization, HfHR may not be able to significantly alter the ground situation in India, but it is our duty to stop the infiltration of such incitement and violent behavior in the Indian American community.
You can help us in this endeavour by joining us in large numbers at our future events designed to build bridges across the seeming divide.
Originally published in American Kahani.