A New Zealand academic has expressed concerns that a social media post by the Indian High Commission could be construed as an endorsement of the attack on his academic freedom.
The Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians has slammed the High Commission of India in New Zealand (HCI) for sharing ”misinformation’ about Professor Mohan Dutta on its social media channel. The New Zealand based Indian diaspora group has accused HCI of sharing misinformation, false reporting, and propaganda video aired by a private channel.
Prof Dutta, a communications professor and chair of Massey’s Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), has come under attack on social media for his work on Hindutva, a political movement of Hindu nationalism which is often described by critics as a form of right-wing extremism or fascism. This follows the publication of a paper titled ‘Cultural Hindutva and Islamophobia’ earlier this year on the CARE website. Attacks on Dutta intensified after his endorsement of the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva‘ on-line conference held in September.
The three-day virtual Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, co-sponsored by more than 60 departments and centres from more than 45 universities, according to the conference organisers, sought to “convene panels on a variety of interlinked topics that address the threat and power of Hindutva. Scholars, journalists, and activists will examine the historical development of Hindutva, the fascist dimensions of the ideology, its alignment with other supremacist movements and define all that is at stake across a range of political, socio-cultural, and economic issues.”
CARE was one of the supporting sponsors of the conference, drawing on the Center’s work on “marginalisation, social justice, and human health.”
On August 21, the Twitter handle of CARE posted about a talk by Prof Dutta, the Center Director, on, what he called, “the false narrative of Hinduphobia that is being crafted by Hindutva forces to silence critiques”.
Soon after, Prof Dutta says, Hindutva trolls started flooding his social media accounts with abusive comments.
“A number of Twitter accounts started targeting me, CARE and the university and started spreading disinformation, and before I knew it, my paper became from one specifically about Hindutva, to me attacking all Hindus and Hindu religion.”
In a series of tweets many people called Prof Dutta names such as “grade A twat”, “stinking a**hole” and “boot licker”.
Prof Dutta, who had to seek police protection following threats of violence, said the attacks appeared to come from online accounts both in New Zealand and other parts of the world, and CARE staff became concerned about their safety.
A number of Indian diaspora media outlets lent their voice to Professor Dutta’s criticism, including Apna Television host Roy Kaunds, who said in a video that these comments were “disparaging remarks about the Hindu community”.
Indian High Commission’s Facebook page shared the Apna video without comment, which Dutta says gave legitimacy to the falsehood being spread about his paper.
HCI’s post also drew criticism from the Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians (AAPI), who, in an open letter accused that the official Facebook page of the High Commission of India in New Zealand (HCI) had shared misinformation, false reporting, and propaganda video aired by the Apna Network.
“Apna’s journalist Roy Kaunds has been regularly scrutinised for the spread of fake news as well as questioned for content that is bigoted, hate mongering, Islamophobic, and misogynistic.”, according to the AAPI statement.
“Primary among the insidious narratives Kaunds employs is the false conflation of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism) with Hinduism, Hindu peoples, and Indian New Zealanders in order to obfuscate, distort the matter of facts, and ultimately aims to silence the critique of Hindutva.”
When NRI Affairs approached Kaunds, he denied the accusation saying,
“I would like to make the following observations.
- I have been scrutinised by whom?
- How regularly?
- On which platform?
- Please provide evidence of any fake news I have circulated and any evidence of the other charges like Islamiphobia etc.”
On the charge of conflation of Hindutva with Hinduism, Roy said it was, “Laughable since I have made that distinction clear. Please provide evidence to the contrary.”
Dr Sapna Samant, one of the founders of AAPI, said that the high commission sharing the Apna video appears to endorse the Hindutva perspective was disappointing and appeared to endorse the Hindutva perspective.
Calling Hinduism a “pluralistic, inclusive religion”, Samant said that Hindutva was an “ethno-nationalist extremist ideology which came from an upper-caste belief of supremacy.”
AAPI, in their open letter, asked HCI, “before sharing the misinformation, false reporting, and propaganda aired by the Apna Network, did you communicate with Professor Dutta to solicit his views and to understand the white paper and its purpose? And did you communicate with the NZ Police to obtain the facts of Hindutva-aligned groups and individuals in Aotearoa New Zealand?”.
“The specific form of falsehood at work here seeded first by the online trolls and then picked up by Hindu Youth and Hindu Council here in Aotearoa falsely equates Hindutva with Hinduism. The forces spreading this disinformation seek to intentionally create confusion to recruit support for their Hindutva agenda and simultaneously silence the necessary critique of Hindutva.”, Professor Dutta told NRI Affairs.
We approached Indian High Commission in New Zealand for comments and their response is awaited.