Over the Labor Day weekend, most signatories of the "Faculty Statement on Narendra Modi's Visit to Silicon Valley" received threats from individuals in South Africa and Canada and email harassment from the Hindu Vivek Kendra, a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a member. Several letter signatories have also been targeted by a board member of the Hindu American Foundation, another Hindu nationalist organization. We wish once again to underscore that this kind of hate mail and malicious distortion of our position is indicative of the deteriorating climate for academic freedom and freedom of expression in India; faculty who become apologists for such abuse and who themselves indulge in ad hominem attacks only reflect the rooting of this hostile climate in the U.S. We find it no accident that attacks on us come from members of U.S. Hindu nationalist organizations, since they play a significant role in organizing Mr.Modi's visit to Silicon Valley. One of the key conveners of the "Indian American Community of the West Coast" which is coordinating Mr. Modi's visit has a longtime association with this RSS.
Instead of debating legitimate questions about the Modi administration's record on issues that impact the "Digital India" initiative, we are being asked by Hindu nationalists and their supporters to explain why we, a mixed group of scholars from the U.S. and South Asia raised in Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish and non-religious secular traditions, are not racists, western imperialist, or anti-Hindu. Such attacks bypass the strong scholarly record of many signatories who are vocal critics of racism, western imperialism, and orientalist depictions of Indian and South Asian cultures, as well as the creed of large numbers of Hindus for whom religious tolerance is an essential expression of their Hindu faith. We emphatically state that we are not anti-Hindu, or against Hinduism. We are however, extremely concerned by the growth of Hindu nationalism which has resulted in well-documented discrimination and attacks against Indian minority communities; Hinduism and Hindu nationalism are not the same thing. The vast scholarly literature on this movement–from social scientists and others– has elaborated on this distinction over the past thirty years, and we urge our larger public to consult some of the academic works cited below. We will provide a more extensive bibliography soon.
S. Gopal ed. The Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India (New Delhi: Penguin, 1991).
Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politic s, 1925 to the 1990s (New Delhi: Penguin, 1999).
Thomas Blom Hansen, The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India(Princeton: Princeton Uiversity Press, 1999).
Paola Bacchetta. Gender in the Hindu Nation: RSS Women as Ideologues (India: Women Ink, 2004)
Chetan Bhatt, Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths (Oxford: Berg, 2001).
Arvind Rajagopal, Politics After Television: Hindu Nationalism and Reshaping of the Public in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Ornit Shani, Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Martha Nussbaum, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future(Harvard UP 2007).
John Mcguire and Ian Copland (eds),Hindu Nationalism and Governance, (OUP, 2008).
Kalyani Devaki Menon. Everyday Nationalism: Women of the Hindu Right in India(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).
Parvis Ghassemi-Fachandi. Pogrom in Gujarat: Hindu Nationalism and anti-Muslim Violence in India (Princeton, 2012).
Amrita Basu. Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India: The Case of Hindu Nationalism(Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Ram Ke Naam, Dir. Anand Patwardhan, 1992 The Brotherhood: The RSS, Dir. Ruchira Gupta, 1993
The Boy in the Branch, Dir. Lalit Vachani, 1993 Final Solution, Dir. Rakesh Sharma, 2003
The World Before Her, Dir. Nisha Pahuja, 2012. Muzaffarnagar Abhi Baaqi Hai, Nakul Singh Sawhney, 2015
7 comments on "Faculty Response to Harassment by Hindu Nationalist Organizations"
Faculty Statement on Narendra Modi's Upcoming Visit to Silicon Valley: A Preliminary Response to Some of Our Critics
September 1, 2015: When we released our letter on August 27, 2015 we had 125 signers. Despite the intimidation and harassment we have received at this blog site and elsewhere, more faculty have written to us asking that their names be included in the list of signatories–we now number 135. We are heartened by our colleagues' willingness to share the burden of unpopular opinion when ad hominem attacks have eclipsed rational discussion. The threats and ugly tone in the comments section of this blog and elsewhere illustrate exactly how academic freedom, and freedom of expression in general, is compromised by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist followers. It is some of these same followers who issued death threats against the eminent Kannada scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Kannada University, M.M. Kalburgi, who was murdered the day before yesterday. We are saddened by Dr. Kalburgi's death and by those who celebrated his murder on social media.
The chilling effect of these attacks makes it difficult to address either the substance of our claims or any legitimate points of contention with our letter. For now, we wish simply to clarify a few points about the letter that have been erroneously reported.
1) We did not send our statement to Silicon Valley CEOs. The statement is addressed to Mr. Modi's audiences in Silicon Valley, which includes Silicon Valley industries. We did not ask Silicon Valley companies not to invest in India; we asked them to consider carefully the terms of partnership with India. The objective of our letter is to raise awareness and debate in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, of Mr. Modi's record on key issues related to "Digital India".
2) We are a diverse group of South Asia and other faculty that includes professional fields, the social sciences, and humanities: anthropologists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, psychologists, historians, and philosophers; literature, law, communications and business/management faculty; as well as scholars in interdisciplinary programs such as science studies, international studies, religious studies, ethnic studies, feminist, gender and queer studies, and film/media studies. Most universities recognize that the problem-solving required for deep social and political issues requires interdisciplinary and collaborative work, and many of us are members of such interdisciplinary programs. We are surprised at the presumption that only science and technology experts pay attention to the effects of technology on society, since the questions of digital society and freedom require attention by scholars in other fields as well. Digital Humanities initiatives, for instance, illustrate the ways some of us actively think about the relationship between technology and society. Historically all technology has social, political, and ethical effects–precisely because technology is so powerful and far-reaching. Perspectives from our varied fields of scholarship offer crucial insights into the nature of this impact.
3) We believe that technology can unleash potent changes in society, many of them positive. Digital initiatives can provide transparency, access to information, and efficiency to communities in need, and indeed have done so. At the same time, such initiatives empower both corporations and governments in many unforeseen ways, and allow them to reach into people's private lives with ever new and, from our perspective, perilous methods. WikiLeaks, for example, has helped to expose the pervasive nature of government spying at the international level. This threat to privacy applies everywhere, including the United States, and is certainly not unique to India. We caution any Digital India plan to be cognizant of these risks, and to take effective, transparent steps to protect against them.
Our initial statement represents a relative and not absolute consensus. There is healthy disagreement among us on the merits of Universal ID (UID) or "Aadhaar," and e-governance generally. For our critics to act as if the recent Supreme Court of India ruling on UID resolves the issues surrounding privacy and constitutional rights in India is dangerous and misleading. These issues are unresolved in the U.S. and other parts of the globe, and we are surprised that commenters highlight the poor record on these issues in the U.S. as a rationale for not critiquing the Modi administration's record. We do not believe India as a democracy needs to be limited in its protection of rights by the failure of such protection in other states. The general discussion around the performance of the Modi government is one where technological achievement or economic development and other rights (human rights, labor rights, free speech rights, minority rights, and religious rights) are posed as mutually exclusive choices. Our point is that they do not have to be, and can in fact, coexist. Our question is this: What does "Digital India" look like given the Modi administration's intolerance of dissent, its poor record on freedom of expression in general, and on freedom of religion in particular?
As American universities start to collaborate more closely with colleges and universities in other countries, ticklish questions are beginning to arise. Oh yes, the questions have been around for a long time, but only now are they beginning to have an impact on American faculties. Few places in the world outside of the US and Europe have any respect at all for the traditions of Academic Freedom that are a bedrock (though much eroded) of European/American education. As American institutions establish campuses elsewhere in the world or develop intimate connections with foreign universities, the question becomes critical: How to we American academics respond to the abrogation of Academic Freedom elsewhere? Particularly, how do we respond when it is abridged?
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globewrites about one case where an American faculty group is trying to respond (hat tip to Diane Ravitch, whose blog first informed me of this). Wellesley College and Peking University have recently formed a partnership:
This important partnership is dedicated to educating women for global leadership, and represents a significant commitment by Wellesley College and Peking University…. It is an invaluable opportunity for Chinese and American women to interact with one another in a setting devoted to better understanding the elements of leadership—an understanding critical to both of our countries and to developing the next generation of leaders.
According to Jacoby, the faculty of Wellesley is certainly taking the implied responsibilities seriously: When Peking University economics professor Xia Yeliang risked his career by signing "Charter 08, a valiant manifesto calling for human rights and an end to one-party rule in China" some 40% of Wellesley faculty "signed an open letter vigorously defending Xia's right to express his political views without fear of retaliation."
This may not sound like much: It takes little to put one's name on a petition, especially in contrast to the risk of imprisonment dissidents in China often face. But it is a step. And it has potential for impact:
"We will follow our faculty's lead," [Wellesley President] H. Kim Bottomly told Inside Higher Ed. If Wellesley's professors rebel at partnering with a university that engineers the punishment of a pro-democracy dissident, the partnership will end.
It is going to take concerted effort–going far beyond petitions–for American faculties to impress upon their institutions, their country, connected foreign institutions, their countries–and institutions and countries far beyond–the importance of Academic Freedom. That effort needs to begin at home: We hardly make the case for Academic Freedom here any longer. We, for the most part, have become docile, easily manipulated by administrations whose agendas include neither shared governance nor Academic Freedom.
Our situation isn't catastrophic, as it can be elsewhere. But we are no longer providing the model we should for the rest of the world. Maybe the lead of the Wellesley faculty can move us to greater activism abroad–and at home. I hope so.