NEW DELHI / CHICAGO: The World Hindu Congress, held in Chicago between September 7 and 9, received widespread media attention, in particular for the keynote address by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat. The Congress was organised by fellow Sangh Parivar organisation the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

What barely made headlines, however, was a concerted effort by a small but determined group of protesters, who gathered at the venue in Chicago with banners and chants of ‘Stop Hindu Fascism’. A couple of protesters were arrested and later released, charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing.

One of the protesters, South Asian affairs analyst Pieter Friedrich described the RSS as “the KKK of India”.

“I am not here today to oppose Hinduism. I am not anti-Hindu. I love Hindus, and I am here because I love Hindus. I am here because I love all people. I am here because I am an American citizen and, what is more important to me, I am a Christian. And my faith as a Christian teaches me that it is my moral obligation to raise my voice for the oppressed,” Friedrich said.

“This event this weekend, this WHC in Chicago, is organised by the VHP, which has been declared by the US government as a religious militant organisation. Its keynote speaker was Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS, which the US government has declared as a nationalist organisation. Today it’s featuring the Vice-President of India as its speaker — strangely, at a Hindu conference. The reason he’s speaking is because he belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party — the BJP — and he belongs to the RSS.

“The RSS, the VHP, and the BJP all have one thing in common, which is that they all propagate an ideology of Hindutva, of supremacy, which says that anybody that says ‘I am not a Hindu’ is not welcome in India, and which seeks to establish a Hindu State — a theocratic Hindu State — in India. The organiser himself, Swami Vigyananand, has called for the establishment of a Hindu State, as have other speakers here,” he said.

“What we want to do today is stand in unity, in solidarity, and to answer these people — these militants, these terrorist organisations that are organising this conference — to answer them and say, “No, we’re not a fringe element. We are the majority. You’re a fringe element, and you need to be driven out. And we will have no party with you in the USA, and we will have no party with you in India. And we say that the RSS is the KKK of India, and just like the KKK should be driven out of the United States, the RSS should be driven out of the US and out of India. And out of the free world,” Friedrich concluded.

(Jada Bernard)

Activist Jada Bernard said he was present “to hold the RSS, the BJP, the VHP accountable for their actions” and stand “for those who have been chopped down” by Hindutva.

“I, as a black man, have a specific experience with the KKK in Louisiana, through politics, through ideologies, only one generation removed from Jim Crow. There’s something about melanin. Melanin has a genetic memory to it. So as I stand here with some of my brothers, the Dalits — the blacks of India — and some of them are darker than me, I have to be inspired by some of the light-skinned activists, like Huey P. Newton. So, some of these Dalits are darker than me. This melanin, it has a memory, it won’t allow you to just lay down when your fathers, when your uncles, when your daughters have been abused. There’s something about that melanin that just won’t let you take a submissive posture. In the black community, we used to have this thing, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ but that’s a submissive posture. Then there’s a trend where people are kneeling, but that’s a submissive posture. So I would prefer to stand here with you. So I say, “One Mulnivasi. Black power. We are here with you,” Bernard said.

Members of the Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) visited US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s offices, protesting against his presence at the event.

“The World Hindu Congress is a point of concern for us as citizens, as voters, and also as advocates of those who are underrepresented because the World Hindu Congress, under the guise of a religious event, is actually a partisan political event,” Bernard said.

“The organizers and many keynote speakers are part of a militant religious nationalist movement which, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, ‘holds non-Hindus as foreign to India’. As per reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the US State Department, these groups persecute India’s minorities (especially Muslims and Christians), sponsor pogroms, and are implicated in daily acts of violence against marginalized peoples who do not participate in their supremacist agenda,” read an information packet that the group presented to the Congressman.

(At the venue. Photograph taken by Skanda Kadirgamar, a freelance journalist based in New York)

Along with the OFMI, activists from Chicago South Asians for Justice were also present at the venue in protest. A statement from the group reads: “Last night, we staged a peaceful disruption of the World Hindu Congress... We were viciously attacked by conference attendees. They choked, kicked, and spat on us. Photos and videos do not capture the ferocity of the violence we experienced. The crowd’s reaction tore the mask off the fascism underlying the WHC and the Hindutva ideology. We are young people, mostly women and mostly South Asian. We follow the leadership of marginalized communities who have suffered the brunt of persecution of the Hindutva movement.”

“The WHC is an international body that aims to promote Hindu supremacy in India and across the globe. WHC masks itself as a non-violent moderate organization, simply interested in promoting Hindu values. WHC intentionally obscures its militant, religious fundamentalist principles and ties online, but during the conference, WHC speakers reiterated their disturbing political philosophy, which includes militarist and eugenicist overtones and messages of intolerance.

“More than anything, their brutal actions in response to our peaceful dissent demonstrate how dangerous they truly are. The ruling party in India, the BJP, is the political wing of the RSS. There are clear linkages between the right-wing Hindu nationalist party and the tyranny of Hindu fascists. BJP politicians, including Prime Minister Modi, have given license to mobs and vigilantes to terrorize religious and social minorities at their whim,” the statement adds.

“We thank Illinois State Senator-elect Ram Villivalam and Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar for declining their invitations to the WHC, denouncing the event, and issuing statements of solidarity with our protest.

“The World Hindu Congress is a part of a growing global fascism. We are horrified that they posed as a mainstream religious group, allowed attendees to assault us during peaceful protest, and brought the threat of global militant fascism close to our homes. We resolve to remain a part of the left resistance.”