We at the Academe Blog have been hosting posts on a conflict between scholars sparked by Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley. While we encourage and promote open debate and discussion, some of the comments on some of the posts have been anything but civil. Heated discussion can be positive and all of us feel passionate about certain issues. But we don’t need to turn that into attack. Please keep this in mind in your comments. Also, we welcome other guest posts with other views, hoping to present all points-of-view in the words of the holders. Please also remember that none of these posts represent the views of the AAUP. Each future post on these issues will carry this statement at its start.
This post was prepared by members of the group of scholars responsible for the post that has sparked the debate. Their names are listed there.
South Asia Faculty Response to HAF Statement
1) The posting is not anonymous. It was drafted and approved by faculty signatories over a period of several days to allow feedback and revision.
2) The harassing communications and veiled threats we describe have been published in India Abroad, the Huffington Post, and Outlook India. They are also to be found in large numbers on the AcademeBlog website. It is rather surprising that the HAF board members who posted the statement have not managed to see any of them yet.
3) The faculty statement does not say it received harassing emails from an HAF board member. It does not say that the HAF ever tried to contact faculty. It states that several signatories were targeted by an HAF board member. This is indeed the case: http://swarajyamag.com/politics/the-illiberal-indian-left-an-anatomy-of-the-petition/ In this article, Dr. Aseem Shukla seeks to cast aspersions on the scholarship and activities of some letter signatories without actually engaging any of it.
4) There was no ad hominem attack on the HAF. “Ad hominem” as per the OED is “an argument directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining.” Our faculty statement makes no comment on Dr. Shukla’s character. Dr. Shukla clearly identifies himself as an HAF Board member, and has also done so while organizing a faculty letter to welcome Mr. Modi to Silicon Valley. The HAF acknowledges that one of its statement authors, Dr. Asseem Shukla as “A member of the HAF board did, in an individual capacity with an explicit disclosure stating that his views were personal, offer his own experience with the faculty statement and its evolution.”
5) The HAF objects to being labeled a “Hindu nationalist organization,” but despite its rejection of the “counterfactual insinuation that HAF is an ideological bedfellow of any organization with existential ties to the political landscape in India, nationalist or otherwise,” HAF former president, current board member and statement co-author Mihir Meghani was identified on the (Hindu nationalist) Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America website as a former VHPA National Governing Council member (and on another occasion, as a member of the RSS sister organization, the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh: http://www.letindiadevelop.org/thereport/authors.shtml. See also pp. 28 and p.31 of this report http://www.sacw.net/article9057.html for a list of the HAF’s other Hindu nationalist connections). The presence of Hindu nationalists in key leadership positions of mainstream religious and cultural advocacy organizations is part of a general pattern of how Hindu nationalist ideology has spread in the U.S.
6) The HAF statement in its description of activities does not say that it has lost on all substantive grounds, an important case against the California Board of Education in 2006 which attempted to include ideologically-driven Hindu nationalist edits into California textbooks http://www.hafsite.org/sites/default/files/HAF%20Public%20Comment%20Submission.pdf. Indeed, the court found “nothing in the way of derogatory language or examples from sacred texts or other religious literature that could be classified as derogatory, accusatory or that would instill prejudice against the Hindu religion or its faithful.” (See HINDU AMERICAN FOUNDATION, et al., v. CALIFORNIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Case No. 06 CS 00386).
7) Textbooks are in need of periodic updating, and better approaches for the teaching and representation of Hinduism need to be incorporated into the current round of state-mandated textbook review. Yet,the HAF also does not disclose that it is presently involved in advocating several edits to California textbooks which the Sikh Coalition has protested. In addition, troubling edits on at least one central issue are inconsistent with scholarly consensus, but consistent with Hindu nationalistideology that holds “Aryans” to be the original inhabitants of South Asia (see list of proposed edits at: http://sikhcoalition.org/images/documents/hss_public_comments_list.pdf). The theory of Aryan indigeneity and superiority is central to the Hindu nationalist viewpoint that Indian minority Muslims or Christians are guests in their own country, and that Dalits (former Untouchables) belong at the bottom of the social scale, and is used to justify violence and discrimination against them.