This year’s World Hindu Congress in Chicago was marked by violence.
The international meeting for those of Hindu faith took place from September 7 to 9. It was attended by several controversial nationalist groups and Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.
On the first day, a group of six protesters infiltrated a conference room, shouting “RSS turn around, we don’t want you in this town.” “RSS” refers to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization that is accused of encouraging harsh policies and violence against India’s religious minorities. One of the speakers on the panel in the room was RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat.
Immediately, hundreds of conference attendees swarmed the six activists, mostly young South Asian woman. The protesters were members of the Chicago South Asians for Justice and a coalition of South Asian American organizations called the Alliance for Justice and Accountability.
Dozens began to kick, spit, curse and choke them in a surprising bout of violence.
The attendees began to chant in return, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai,” which translated from Hindi means, “Victory to Mother India.”
According to a Medium article by TruthOut, the activists chosen to remain anonymous “due to safety concerns.”
“They called me a ‘dirty Muslim’ and threatened death,” one protester said. “I had people who looked like aunties screaming, ‘Bitch, bitch, bitch,’ over and over again. One lady outside yelled she wished my mother was killed and I was never born.”
“Even when disrupting Donald Trump rallies, I’ve never had anyone put their hands on me like that, or respond with so much aggression, pushing and obscenities,” said one activist who was choked.
One of the attendees was arrested for battery, while two of the protesters were arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct.
This isn’t the first time that the World Hindu Congress has drawn controversy on U.S. soil.
U.S. representative and first Hindu congresswoman, Rep Tulsi Gabbard, (D-Hawaii), stepped down as the organization’s honorary chair due to “ethical concerns and problems that surround my participating in any partisan Indian political event in America,” she said in a statement.
In the state chambers, Ram Villivalam, who will be sworn in as the first South Asian American member of the Illinois legislature this January, released a condemning statement on why he was boycotting the event, despite his Hindu religion: “I do not support any group and/or an event arranged or led by organizations that intimidate minorities, incite discrimination and violence, commit acts of terror based on race or ethnic background, promote hate speech, and/or believe in faith based nationalism.”
After news of the violent episode broke, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar tweeted in support of the protesters:
I’m disgusted that peaceful protestors at the @WHCongress were pushed, kicked, and spat on. The behavior of some attendees confirms that Hindu Nationalists and the bigoted RSS have no place in a discussion about Hinduism. We are better than this. https://t.co/Ihy8U0DSfy
— Ameya Pawar (@Ameya_Pawar_IL) September 8, 2018
However, not all U.S. politicians are in agreement. Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-D), who sits in the House of Representatives, not only attended, but gave a speech at the Congress, which took place in his district.
“We are concerned about the increasing connections between the US anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim movements and those same ideas being manifested with the voices involved with the World Hindu Congress,” said South Asian-Americans Leading Together (SAALT) executive director Suman Raghunathan.
“So many in the Indian diaspora community in the US are anti-Trump and against what he does, but in the same breath, they’re pro-Modi and think that the BJP [India’s majority Hindu political party] have a different set of ideals,” an activist said. “In reality, we need to hold a mirror to ourselves and see that they [Modi and Trump] are cut from the same cloth.”