NY Desis Protest Hindu Right
Killers of Gandhi! Shame, shame!
Sadhvi Rithambara! Shame, shame!
Pandit Jasraj! Shame, shame!
Saffron Nazis! Shame, shame!
These were some of the slogans that could be heard outside the Ganesh Temple on Holly Avenue in Flushing where 60 to 70 Indians and Indian-Americans from the New York metro area, both Hindus and Muslims, were protesting the meeting and reception being held there for Sadhvi Rithambara on July 26, 2002. Sadhvi Rithambara, a Hindu religious figure is also a demagogue for the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu right-wing umbrella organization under which fall the ruling political party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), and militant Hindu organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sabha (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal. Accompanying her speech was a performance by the classical Indian vocalist, Pandit Jasraj.
The groups protesting Rithambara's visit included the International South Asia Forum (INSAF), Forum of Indian Leftists (FOIL), NRIs for a Secular and Harmonious India and Indian Muslim Action Network (IMAN). These groups contend that Rithambara's visit to New York is aimed at collecting funds for her right-wing Hindu organizations back home that are directly responsible for the murder, rape and destruction unleashed against minority Muslims in Gujarat since February 27, 2002; a massacre funded, abetted and assisted by the BJP state government in Gujarat and the central government in New Delhi. They assert that not only is Rithambara responsible for spreading anti-Muslim hate speech, but also for advocating the torture, rape and murder of Muslim women, men and children.
On December 6, 1992, Rithambara incited armed, Hindu right-wing masses to break down the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in violation of the order of the Indian Supreme Court. As a symbolic gesture to regain from "Muslim invaders" the lost Hindu Rashtra or nation, this act led to riots all over the nation which cost the lives of 3,000 people, mostly Muslim. Her visit to New York is an attempt to raise funds for what seem like innocuous Hindu cultural organizations in India, the groups state, and to funnel money collected from Indians in the US directly into violent activities of the Hindu Right.
Among the protestors was Aditi Desai, a sociologist and former UN consultant, who said, "The bottom line of this event is to fundraise for the violent activities of the Hindu Right in India." Desai stated that Rithambara, who has a captive audience among the Hindu Indians in the US, manipulates Indian history in her speeches to reveal the dichotomies of good and evil. While the Hindu Indian is depicted as good, the Muslim Indian is depicted as the evil Other, therefore justifying and disseminating the "Hindutva" ideology of the BJP-led government and actively supporting anti-Muslim sentiment. She also stated that she was ashamed to be a Hindu in light of the massacres committed in the name of Hinduism in Gujarat in the months following February 27.
IMAN's Shaik Ubaid handed out flyers that compared "Hindutva-Fascism" with Nazism. It stated: "It is a matter of deep concern that the US administration as well as ordinary citizens are completely incognizant of Fascist fund-raising activities openly taking place in our midst. How would we have reacted if Joseph Goebbels had descended on New York to collect funds for the Holocaust?"
There seemed to be a consensus among the protestors that Hindus in the US were often ignorant of the egregious acts of violence being committed in the name of their religion in India. The Hindus, gathered to watch Rithambara speak, paid between one hundred and one thousand dollars for tickets.
An individual affiliated with the Hindu Right, who was attending the event, came out to speak to the protestors. When the protestors reminded him of the massacres of Gujarat, he reiterated the Newtonian discourses propagated by the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi. Modi stated after the first few days of the massacre that every action had an equal and opposite reaction. The individual pointed to the train burning at Godhra as an action that asked for the resultant Hindu backlash.
Chandana Mathur of INSAF and SAMAR refuted his argument by pointing to the mass scale of the massacre, something that India has not witnessed since partition and something that could not have been executed without the assistance of the government. When asked about the strategic importance of the protest, she said, " I think the protest was useful because it has affected the cozy relationship between the Ganesh temple and the Sangh Parivar people. The head of the Ganesh Temple Society told a reporter that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America misled and manipulated them into holding the event, and that she'd never have agreed to it if she'd known that the Sadhvi was an RSS militant. By extension, other Hindu spaces in the US may begin to think twice before letting the Sangh Parivar hold events on their premises."
Satish Kolluri, an avid fan of Pandit Jasraj exclaimed that his appearance at this event revealed his Hindu right-wing political stance. Gripped with an acute sense of betrayal, he shouted out, "Pandit Jasraj, what are you doing here? How can you sing for the Sadhvi?" The classical musician's true colors had been revealed, he said, on his way home to dispose Jasraj's CDs.