A year ago, far-right Hindu extremists, driven by their ideology of Hindutva, launched a vicious disinformation campaign targeting academics, a large majority of them Hindu, who had come together for a conference titled “Dismantling Global Hindutva.” The far-right Hindu extremists labelled these academics as “Hinduphobic” (a made up term equivalent to White Lives Matter), and targeted them with threats to their jobs, threat of rape and violence including murder. Mirroring the strategies of the white extremist far-right, Hindutva-related organisations launched letter-writing campaigns targeting the academics and the institutions that employed them.
Professor Vinayak Chaturvedi, Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine wrote about these attacks on academia:
“In the United States, “Hinduphobia” has become a term deployed to denounce anyone who is concerned about inequality based on class, caste, race, religion, gender, and sexuality in India. Any less-than-celebratory study of the history and politics of India is branded as “Hinduphobic.” Academic research that provides a critique of Hindutva is often condemned for “hurting the sentiments of Hindus”—a clarion call dating back to the early 20th century.”
That Aotearoa New Zealand is not immune to the disinformation and hate ecosystem of Hindutva became amply evident when Professor Mohan Dutta, Dean’s Chair Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at Massey University came under attack. These attacks were led by a white Australian Hindu supremacist Twitter account over a white paper Professor Dutta wrote titled Cultural Hindutva And Islamophobia and CARE’s participation as a sponsor of the “Dismantling Global Hindutva” conference.
The Twitter assault as well as a petition organised by the white Australian Hindutva supremacist were picked up by the global Hindutva hate ecosystem including in India and was weaponised here in Aotearoa New Zealand by organisations like Hindu Youth and the Hindu Council of New Zealand (or, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of New Zealand, a militant organisation. See link towards the end of this post.). Professor Dutta was and still is the target of rape threats, death threats, and disinformation campaigns run from anonymous websites.
We note here with deep alarm that the same white Australian Hindu supremacist hate account as well as the anonymous twitter accounts and websites were connected to the recent Hindutva-led violence in Leicester.
Here’s an analysis by Professor Dutta of how the disinformation was mobilized by co-opting democratic and institutional processes in Aotearoa New Zealand.
At the crux of the disinformation campaign was the framing of Professor Dutta, a practicing Hindu, as Hinduphobic. (We would like to remind here that Hinduism is a pantheist, pluralistic religion where practices, rituals and prayers are vast and varied. There is no monolith, no singularity. Therefore, one person’s practice may not be the same as another’s).
As part of the disinformation campaign here in Aotearoa, the Indian media platform Indian Newslink put up a press release from Hindu Youth. It says at the top of the article "Editor’s Note: The following is a Press Release. Indian Newslink is contacting Professor Mohan J Dutta of Massey University for an interview." There is no follow up to that statement. At the time of writing this post we asked Professor Dutta if Indian Newslink had asked him to comment. Professor Dutta said that the editor did a lengthy video interview with him that was never published! We, as members of AAPI, had written a counter response to the Hindu Youth press release that was also never published. We point out here that in carrying a propaganda piece by Hindutva, Indian Newslink ditched even their usual façade of journalistic ethics and note with grave concern that it has continued to carry the disinformation piece even a year after its propaganda has been thoroughly debunked.
The original post of the press release tagged Dr. Pushpa Wood, a Massey academic and community leader who positions herself as representing the Hindu community.
In an earlier analysis by AAPI activist Oscar Romero of the disinformation spread by Hindu Youth that we published on our platform, Romero argued,
“In conflating Hindutva with Hinduism, the Hindu Youth press release mirrors the strategy of Hindutva organizations in India and in other parts of the world, producing the smokescreen of Hinduphobia to silence the criticism of a fascist ideology. They even throw in a term Hindumisia that is in vogue in the Hindutva twitter sphere.”
Hindumisia is another false construct; a neologism derived from Greek mȋsos or hatred. Consider the direct cut-and-paste of the Hindutva propaganda targeting the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, by the Hindu Youth press release:
“What is more shocking is that Massey University is co-sponsoring a highly controversial and Hinduphobic Conference ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva,’ a Conference aimed at vilifying the global Hindu community. Many reputable University’s names have been tarnished because of the association of their department’s participation in this Conference. There have been numerous requests from various Universities globally to take down their logos, multiple edits to the ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ website as universities withdraw, a legal challenge from Harvard University for using its name to scam people. This is the kind of Conference that Massey University is co-sponsoring. Seeing Massey University endorse a Conference such as this is a blot on the legacy of the University and demonstrates the University’s endorsement of Hindumisia.”
Observe the disinformation spread by the Hindu Youth. For instance, contrary to their claim, the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University continued to remain a sponsor of the conference despite an aggressive hate campaign targeting it.
But returning to Dr. Wood, we wondered, why would someone that offers much rhetoric about interfaith and occupies spaces of interfaith in Aotearoa let themselves be tagged through their Facebook page to a Hindutva disinformation campaign and not decry it? Instead, Dr. Wood made a public Facebook post ( not currently publicly accessible so, it’s either deleted or turned to a private setting) about feeling aggrieved by Professor Dutta’s white paper, further sharing the disinformation-based propaganda posted by Hindu Youth. In her post referring to the white paper, Wood writes:
“Feeling under attack for being a Hindu…But for the first time in 40 years, I feel under attack for following my traditions, continuing with my cultural practices, which I feel are integral part of me!”
We point out here the fabrication that conflates Professor Dutta’s criticism of Cultural Hindutva with her personal expression of Hinduism.
So, we ask:
- Does she think the Hindu religion and the fascist Hindutva ideology critiqued in the white paper are the same?
- Does Dr. Wood identify herself and her religious traditions and cultural practices that she depicts as being attacked as Hindutva or Hinduism?
We wish to note here that some Hindus often describe Hinduism as a ‘way of life’, also conflated into Hindutva, which is Savarna (Hindu upper caste) code to kill any discussion about the caste system, about the misogyny, the patriarchy, and proto-fascist thinking denying reform. A topic for another blog.
Dr. Wood’s obfuscation is what Professor Dutta describes as communicative inversion in his academic work; the process of turning the truth on its head. If Dr. Pushpa Wood does not identify as being part of Hindutva or the proto fascist ‘way of life’ inversion, then she had nothing to feel attacked about.
Dr. Wood then refers directly to the white paper and the New Zealand Herald article that outlined the hate Professor Dutta was receiving. She goes on to suggest that the Herald coverage of the hate targeting Professor Dutta was somehow leading her faith to be questioned.
Once again, both the Herald article and Professor Dutta’s white paper were explicitly discussing the far-right extremist ideology of Hindutva. So, unless Dr. Wood subscribes to the Hindutva ideology, she had nothing to be concerned about. It was the Islamophobia of Hindutva that was and should be questioned, and not Hinduism. In fact, Professor Dutta and the Herald article (including the subsequent articles and media interviews) go to great lengths to make this distinction. In his white papers and in his several media interviews, Professor Dutta painstakingly delineates the difference between the two concepts and states that Hindutva is a threat to the pluralism of Hinduism.
When this distinction is pointed out to Dr. Wood on her Facebook post, she ignores and disengages the comments posted.
In fact, the interfaith activist Joseph Thomas goes to great lengths to point out the targeting of Professor Dutta, himself a Hindu and the Hindutva strategy of conflating Hindutva with Hinduism. At this point, if we assume that she is still disavowing Hindutva, then as an academic at least she would have gone on to look at the links Joseph Thomas posted. Instead, she pressed on with the propaganda.
We note with alarm that in the public setting, the post played a key part in bringing in trolls, including the white Australian Hindu supremacist. (The Facebook account Malini Sara who takes credit for raising the issue is the same person as the white Australian Hindu supremacist Twitter account @SarahLGates1] that started the campaign targeting Professor Dutta and propagated Islamophobia after the Leicester violence. In this instance, the account directly engages with the New Zealand politician and community leader Dr. Ashraf Choudhary, demonstrating how foreign interference works. It concerns us that someone actively spreading disinformation in this instance was invited to the Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism conference that directly emerged in response to the Christchurch terrorist attack driven by Islamophobic hate.
It is surprising that as an academic she did not:
- publicly distance herself from disinformation or
- show concern towards a fellow academic when over 100 world renowned academics were writing in support of Professor Dutta and CARE. We at AAPI created and circulated a petition in support of Professor Dutta that was signed by over 300 people. A number of Indian organisations including Bhagat Singh Charitable Trust, Hindus for Human Rights and Indian Association of Minorities of New Zealand, Guru Ravidass Sabha, Bombay Hill, New Zealand; Dr Ambedkar Sports and Culture Association, New Zealand; Dr Ambedkar Mission Society, New Zealand; and Begampura Sikh Temple, New Zealand. (It is powerful to witness the strong presence of Dalit and minority organisations in the support for Professor Dutta. Communities excluded by Hindu organisations.)
- question comments by the white Australian Hindu supremacist who openly propagates violence and Islamophobia.
Later in an interview to Stuff in October 2021, Dr. Wood along with Manjit Grewal, each representing themselves as interfaith leaders, are witnessed stating:
“Both say no-one has ever raised concerns about Hindutva with them. They say New Zealand shouldn’t be importing other countries’ problems.”
The Stuff article notes,
“But, at the same time, they imply there is nothing to discuss.”
We find these claims by two community leaders presenting themselves to be leaders in the interfaith space (and by appearance, placing themselves to be experts in the space related to South Asia), disingenuous. One of AAPI’s activists Dr. Sapna Samant, a Hindu herself, raised concerns about Hindutva in 2007, which Dr. Wood should have been aware of as an interfaith leader and a Hindu. Indian Muslims, including Muslim community leaders, have been raising concerns about Hindutva and the Islamophobia attached to Hindutva in Aotearoa New Zealand for some time too.
Dr. Wood then goes on to offer the following criticism of Professor Dutta’s white paper:
“When we sit down to speak, along with Wellington Interfaith Council chairman Manjit Grewal, Wood has a list of points she wants to make about Dutta’s paper: it’s too short, it doesn’t give enough historical context, it does not delineate Hindutva from Hinduism, and the academic hasn’t been in the country long enough to be an expert.”
Two points to note here:
- Her criticism that the paper does not delineate Hindutva from Hinduism is patently incorrect, with the paper offering detailed references to the literature on Hindutva.
- For someone who draws on their credentials as an academic, saying “ the academic hasn’t been in the country long enough to be an expert” shine a light on her own lack of understanding about how academic expertise works. If this is Dr. Wood’s criterion of expertise then it is surprising that she feigns no knowledge of Hindutva after having lived in Aotearoa New Zealand for forty years and presented herself as a Crown expert on Indian culture! Not even after the Combined Threat Assessment Group identified Hindutva as Identity Motivated Violent Extremism (IMVE)!
We are concerned that Dr. Pushpa Wood continues to represent herself as voice in interfaith, countering violent extremism, and other spaces such as expert witness for the Crown on Indian culture while conflating Hinduism and Hindutva, while sharing a disinformation campaign led by Hindutva, while denying the presence of the fascist extreme right wing Hindu ideology in Aotearoa New Zealand in spite of clear evidence. We are concerned she associates with a white Australian Hindu supremacist figure who freely pushes violence and Islamophobia in the name of Hinduism. We are concerned that after a year since the campaign began and has been thoroughly debunked by academic experts globally, that she has not publicly removed herself from the disinformation campaign of Hindu Youth and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of New Zealand also known as the Hindu Council of New Zealand (the VHP was earlier named by the Central Intelligence Agency as religious militant organisation]).
As a collective of diverse Indians, we thus question her fitness in interfaith and countering violent extremism settings, and the lack of safety her presence creates, particularly for Indians of minority gender and faith identities.
We invite Dr. Wood to respond to this blog by writing to us on our page that AAPI will post verbatim on our website:
- What is her current state of knowledge about Hindutva in India, globally and in Aotearoa New Zealand?
- Does she have a relationship with Hindutva organisations in India, globally and in Aotearoa New Zealand?
- Does she agree with or reject her association with the extremist Hindu propaganda piece from Hindu Youth that Indian Newslink published without any semblance of journalistic ethics and balance?
- Why did she write the Facebook post spreading the disinformation targeting a fellow academic critical of Hindutva while conflating Hinduism and Hindutva?
- If this was a mistake, will she apologise to Professor Dutta and to those Hindus who are critical of Hindutva?
- What does she propose is needed to counter Hindutva in Aotearoa New Zealand while working in the interfaith and countering violent extremism spaces now that the evidence about its presence is clear?
- Given that it is now well established that the disinformation campaign targeting Professor Dutta had imprints of foreign interference into academic freedom, will she publicly reject such interference?
- What safety does she guarantee those minority Indians in interfaith and counter terrorism spaces she associates herself with and condones the violent white Australian Hindu supremacist?