It was the weekend of 12th-13th May 2007. The weekend of the 1st Hindu Conference of New Zealand to talk about “The contribution of Hindu community to the national life of New Zealand”.
My bullshit radar had been beeping non-stop since I came to know about it.
I grew up in Girgaon in old, conservative Mumbai. My maternal grandfather participated in the freedom struggle against the British and my paternal grandfather, a GP and a socialist, had been elected as a councillor in the first municipal elections of Mumbai held after independence. My father was part of the Samyukta Maharashtra Chalwal, a resistance movement to carve out the linguistic state of Maharashtra that included Bombay. The centre and business investors at that time wanted Bombay in Gujarat. It was a movement of working class, Marathi speaking people. My ancestors are from the west coast of the state, the paternal side from Bondiyal gaon (village), Tendoli, district Sindhudurg, Maharashtra, to be precise. The Samant surname is very specific and found only in two communities in India. Maharashtra and Bengal. We are fish eating, meat consuming Hindus. Even when we go visiting the temples of our village deity and the clan deity, we’ll eat the delicious fresh fish cooked the way only us Konkanis know. The only time my side of the Samant whānau becomes vegetarian is five days of the Ganpati festival when we bring home the idol. Although my grandmother was casteist (and I think my mother has some casteist practices in the kitchen), my grandfather did not believe in rigid religious practices, and instead regaled us with the vastness and diversity of Hinduism. It was about accepting and including.
We did not think Hindu fundamentalism could even exist. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) practiced their daily drill behind our building and VD Savarkar, the founder of Hindutva, the fascist ideology, was omnipresent. We did not see the rigidity, the dormant idea of a Hindu nation, the toxicity, the patriarchy, the indoctrination of youth or the deep hatred towards non-Hindu and caste oppressed Indians. My India was a society where all religions, castes and communities co-existed without needing to explain themselves. We all believed in this India.
Until LK Advani, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started his Rath Yatra (Chariot Rally) in October 1990 with the intention of agitating Hindus across India to build a Ram temple in place of the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya. The rally left a trail of violence everywhere it went. Being an avid newspaper reader, a habit encouraged by my grandfather, the meaning of Hindutva seeped into my consciousness. I remember Lalu Prasad Yadav, the chief minister of the state of Bihar denying them into his state. Lalu, who was treated like a village buffoon by the Indian English media. Then on 6th December 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished by angry Hindu mobs setting off violent Hindu-Muslim riots across India. Even Mumbai, then known as Bombay, was badly affected. Innocent labourers were killed, pregnant women set alight in cars, shops looted, stripped bare of electric wires even. Our patients would come into the clinic and tell us stories about how they took weapons into Muslim localities at night and how Muslims ‘have violence in their blood’, the maha-aartis (very loud and crowded version of a devotional singing ritual) began in the smallest temples to assert Hindu identity, people started greeting each other with ‘Jai Shri Ram’, wearing marks on their foreheads symbolising their upper caste identities. One day rioters gathered around a friend’s building. Her Muslim father alone at home. I remember frantically calling my social networks on the old black dial telephone trying to get a contact high up to just send the bloody army that was patrolling the streets to her locality and scare off the Hindu men.
Then on 12th March 1993 a series of 12 bomb blasts exploded across Bombay a retaliation by mafia don Dawood Ibrahim. My sister was working at the Sea Rock Hotel at when a bomb went off there. She was/is fine. A cousin was working in the Air India building at Nariman Point and hit by shattering glass. He came into our clinic bleeding from his head and arm. I remember removing the shards meticulously and calmly.
All this for a Hindu nation?
In his book The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru describes India as a palimpsest. Hinduism is just one small part of a rich culture and society. Even the word Hindu isn’t from the land these extremists want to turn into a Hindu nation. It was given to us by those from the West of the Sindhu (Indus) river.
So when I saw an invitation for the 1st Hindu Conference of New Zealand, my radar went on high alert. That Aum, the saffron, the coded language. It was very familiar. I needed to confirm. Maybe I was wrong? No I was right. The saffron flags, the Aum, the scarves, the prayers, the salute, the clothes…this was Hindu extremist territory. What the heck were they doing in New Zealand?
I wrote about it. Here is an extract.
‘It is a pity. In the sixtieth anniversary of India’s independence when the Western world had not given her democracy one chance in hell she has lived through external and internal problems. Multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural India can lead the world in understanding pluralism and tolerance. Instead these Hindu fundamentalists constantly hark back to a mythical golden land and with their blinkered view are stuck in a 5000-year-old time zone. How does that help with living in present day New Zealand? When concepts like national identity and national life are problematic in themselves and require critical discussion, projections of a singular Hindu Indian identity in New Zealand is harmful to the Indian and mainstream community. It does not help with creating intercultural spaces and harmony nor does it assist policy-makers and government officials in any way. And politicians either don’t seem to understand or prefer to fudge contexts. Sir Barry Curtis called Manukau City the ‘Hindu capital of New Zealand’ at the opening ceremony. What did he mean by that? Did the Prime Minister mix up the ‘Hindoos’, the old Indian immigrants with the fundamentalist Hindus or was it deliberate to please Labour constituents? No wonder the stereotypes keep perpetuating.’
Michael Field of Fairfax was the only mainstream journalist who picked up my concerns about the presence of Hindu extremists in New Zealand and asked questions of Asia New Zealand Foundation, Helen Clark’s office and megarich businessman Vinod Kumar of the Hindu Council of New Zealand (the Indian businessman who is Managing Director of Nido according to his LinkedIn account and was previously the owner of a number of Mitre10 chains).
Darpan, a show on Triangle TV interviewed me.
That is when the intimidation began.
Hindu extremists have several techniques of intimidation.
1:- They get personal and demean you.
I was doxed, called a failed doctor, asked to change my religion. I was a single woman hence generally ‘insignificant’ plus an easy target for misogynist upper caste Hindu men.
2:- They entangle you in legal paperwork misusing democracic processes set up to maintain transparency. (Here is a recent example of how they inundated Massey University and Professor Mohan Dutta.) The vasudhaiva kutumbakam (the world is a family) spouting Vinod Kumar of the Hindu Council of New Zealand complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority that the interview ‘has seriously breached the broadcasting standards and in turn have caused a very serious damage to Hindu Council of New Zealand, the organisers and Hindus at large.’
Same upright charming citizen called me a rapist at a meeting where he, the former New Zealand First Member of Parliament with ties to the Hindutva outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Mahesh Bindra and few other ‘real Hindus’ had gathered to object to my input as a Hindu to a religious diversity organisation.
For all their denying,the Hindu Council of New Zealand IS the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), declared a militant organisation by the CIA. Here is a Twitter thread from Dr Audrey Truschke explaining more about the violence of VHP-America.
Look carefully at the definition of Hindu ‘developed in Bharat (i.e. India)’ is code for Islam and Christianity as coming from outside of India. Plus ‘a person calling himself Hindu’ is code for white supremacist converts to Hinduism; those that perpetuate Hindutva.
In August 2019 Narendra Modi was elected for his second term as the Prime Minister of India and he abrogated article 370 removing the special status of Kashmir, a long-disputed land on the subcontinent. A Muslim majority state that had been promised plebiscite which never materialised. There was a troubled period in the history of Kashmir where Kashmiri Hindus were killed by militants and that hurt needs to be addressed. Instead, by abrogating article 370, the Hindu extremists began their settler-colonial land grab. Kashmir is the most militarised region of the world. It also has had the longest internet blackout in a democracy.
Kashmiris in Auckland gathered that August to protest this move by the government of India and I spoke at the event.
Veer Khar, an ‘important’ Kashmiri Hindu man demanded to talk to me after and warned that I was ‘being watched’ by the Indian High Commission for hobnobbing with the ‘enemy’. He also called for a Muslim genocide a few months later in response to a protest some of us organised to highlight the Citizenship Amendment Act. Veer Khar has received up to $820, 000 of Crown funding towards a Diversity Centre in Papatoetoe! The irony.
Other techniques of intimidation Hindutva style are:
3:- To threaten reporting activities of Indians in the diaspora to the diplomatic mission so they fear
never being able to visit India.
4:- To label Indians protesting Hindutva as “fringe,” “anti-national,” “Hinduphobic,” “jihadist,”
5:- Keep saying their opponents ‘have not read/don’t understand’
6:- To insist Indians that are critical of Modi and Hindutva are creating fake news
7:- To use sexual and other forms of violent abuse.
Finally, there is the threat of violence towards you on a global scale by ‘criminalising’ you within the Hindutva ecosystem. They call you anti-Hindu or Hinduphobic a made up word the equivalent of White Lives Matter; they dehumanise, belittle and decontextualise everything you do or say. They stalk you online.
Early this year a Hindu extremist website operating anonymously and linked to the Hindutva network in India and across the diaspora that has been deemed a hate site targeting critical voices posted my face and information on their home page with images of almost 200 tweets, the violent subtext of which is very clear.
They tweeted about it generating the standard reaction one gets from all kinds of supremacists.
Note the similarity of language across these Hindu extremists.
We also of course have this Australian white supremacist Hindutva adherent with no stake in India who is also an online stalker and incites violence globally.
The kind brown Hindutva elevates because brown Hindutva is still mentally enslaved by the British Raj just like VD Savarkar was. A recent tweet from the Australian white supremacist Hindutva adherent about Professor Mohan Dutta generated a death threat to him by a Hindu extremist. It is in Hindi and says ‘Should we kill Datta sister? You only have to command.’
I have never engaged with any of the above except to draw attention to the hate and speak out about it, especially amidst the continual gaslighting by the various Crown ministries. My mahi is to highlight the presence of Hindutva in Aotearoa, how it is a danger to our democracy and how it disrupts social cohesion. (That the minister whose job it is to develop the social cohesion policy has never publicly acknowledged the presence of Hindutva in Aotearoa the topic of another blog.)
Below are screenshots of the article published on the SHHAN site. Notice how my critique about Hindutva is turned into a generic ‘against all Hindus’ argument. Notice the erasures of diversity and the rich history of intellectual debate within Hinduism, notice the singularity.
Notice the stalking again. As if there is a person/team dedicated to taking screenshots of my tweets and pressing the ‘generate outrage’ button. Notice the self-aggrandisement of Hindu extremists and inability to think about our society, our world, our universe and co-existence.
The disinformation and hate generated by Hindutva is very much present here in Aotearoa New Zealand and has been present here for over a decade. By being present at events of Hindutva aligned organisations, by funding these organisations, and by lending credibility to the upper caste Hindutva supporting Indian men with economic power, the Crown has been a key player in enabling the Hindutva ecosystem here.