Following public outrage and appeals to cancel the event, a fundraising event featuring Hindu nationalist Sadhvi Rithambara did not take place on Saturday at the Old Paramus Reformed Church in Ridgewood.
After hearing from both opponents and event organisers, the Rev. Robert Miller said late Friday that he cancelled permission to use the church building. Critics claim Rithambara, also known as “Didi Maa” among her followers, incites hatred towards religious minorities, particularly Muslims. Her followers describe her as a devout leader and philanthropist.
Miller stated that the church was unaware of the speaker’s history when the reservation was made. According to him, an Indian American seniors’ society, which had previously utilised the area, approached the church to arrange the event.
He claimed the church received a rush of anti-Rithambara sentiments, including more than 1,000 emails from around the country since Thursday and around 100 phone calls on Friday.
A protest scheduled for Saturday outside the church by local advocacy organisations has also been cancelled. The Indian American Muslim Council’s founder and former president, Shaheen Khateeb, claimed he chose not to conduct the protest after communicating with Miller and local police to guarantee the event would not take place. Khateeb explained, “I didn’t want this to be misunderstood as a protest against the church.”
Miller also heard from event organisers who felt deceived and stated that their event was “about peace and love,” he added. Miller said that in this scenario, the church felt ill-equipped to determine what was appropriate. It was unclear if the New Jersey chapter of Param Shakti Peeth of America, the charitable organisation that planned the fundraiser, would reschedule it.
The Indian American Muslim Council and Hindus for Human Rights had both called for the event to be cancelled and had coordinated a letter-writing campaign to the church through an online action alert headed “Reject Hate, Say No to Hindu Nationalism in New Jersey.”
Rithambara is regarded as a venerated spiritual leader by her followers, yet she is no stranger to controversy. She was accused of playing a role in the 1992, razing of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh, which provoked unrest that killed over 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. After a 28-year court fight, thirty-two leaders, including Rithambara, were acquitted in 2020. A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Lucknow exonerated her in the case in 2020.
The Hindu supremacist, who created the women’s section of the Vishva Hindu Parishad‘s Durga Vahini in 1991, has frequently made controversial remarks regarding minority groups, particularly Muslims. PTI reported in April that she had requested Hindu couples to have four children, two of whom would be dedicated to creating India a “Hindu Rashtra.”
Narsinh Desai of Cresskill, a sponsor of the event, denied charges that Rithambara was extremist as “misinformation” in an interview earlier this week. He claims she talks about defending Hinduism without resorting to violence. “I don’t hear any hatred,” he remarked, characterising her as calm, charitable, and holy. Desai declined to comment on the cancellation when reached Saturday morning.
Rithambara’s travel to the United States comes amid escalating tensions in India, where Hindu nationalism has risen alongside discriminatory laws and violence against religious minorities, according to organisations such as Human Rights Watch.
These tensions have spread to New Jersey, where a nationalist emblem shown during the India Independence Day Parade in Edison last month provoked outrage, censure, and, ultimately, an apology. The march included a bulldozer, which has become a symbol of anti-Muslim prejudice in India after being used to demolish Muslim houses and businesses. The parade’s organiser, the Indian Business Association, eventually apologised for the incident.