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Rutgers students reflect on Understanding Hinduphobia Conference

The Understanding Hinduphobia Conference, hosted virtually by Rutgers Hindu Students Council, had approximately 300 attendees, including students, educators, activists and speakers. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The Rutgers Hindu Students Council (HSC) held its Understanding Hinduphobia Conference on Friday, a day-long event to discuss the meaning of Hinduphobia and its current appearance, patterns and impact, said Simran Bagdiya, a Rutgers Business School junior and HSC publicity chair.

She said the virtual event was the first of its kind, and was attended by more than 300 students, educators, activists and speakers from both Hindu and non-Hindu communities alike. It was led by Indu Viswanathan, a doctoral graduate of Teacher's College, Columbia University, and Parth Parihar, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University.

“Speakers at the conference raised important questions regarding how students can retain their sense of Hindu identity on college campuses and raised awareness about how there are a number of misconceptions spread about our religion and faith,” Bagdiya said.

The event was broken into three sessions, with numerous speakers from various universities and backgrounds in each segment. Some segments also included video featurettes as well as open discussions surrounding the subjects.

Several Rutgers students reflected on their experiences and what they learned from attending the event and the importance of addressing Hinduphobia.

Rajavi Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and co-tech chair for HSC, spoke about her experience engaging with the speakers during the event.

“I really enjoyed listening to the speakers as well as live-tweeting quotes of theirs,” she said. “(Those) quotes stood out to me as they gave me a concise idea of what the issue at hand is and just how prevalent (Hinduphobia) is. They put into words what I was trying to piece together about the topic at hand.”

Bagdiya said that she learned about the global prevalence and recency of Hinduphobia as well as the various ways that Hinduphobia can manifest, such as through microaggressions, ethnic cleansing or hate speech and symbols.

Patel spoke about a similar understanding she had about the methods and actions that constitute Hinduphobia, arising from a collective cherry-picking of what Hinduism offers. She said that many non-Hindus focus on certain aspects of Hinduism, such as the caste system and other negative stereotypes, while simultaneously enjoying things like yoga and manifestation without appreciating their roots in the religion.

“On top of that, Hindus are targeted so often and are made to feel embarrassed about our religion,” she said. “Even with (this appropriation) happening, Hindus experience gaslighting, and this moves Hindus farther away from their religion.”

Vatsal Shah, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and fundraising chair for HSC, said he learned about the scope and definition of Hinduphobia, as well as the role that institutions play in upholding those definitions. He felt that the conference was a good first step in addressing the misconceptions of Hinduism.

“Attending the Understanding Hinduphobia Conference was unequivocally enlightening for me,” Shah said. “It is undeniably true (that) some of my fellow Hindus living in different parts of the world have faced Hinduphobia.”

Patel discussed the role that the conference had in addressing Hinduphobic behaviors and raising awareness of the issue.

“This conference is a call to action, and I believe attending it allowed people to better understand the roots and occurrences of Hinduphobia and also open their eyes to possible solutions and initiatives in the future that can make for a better world for Hindus everywhere,” she said.

Bagdiya said the conference should encourage Hindu college students to correct misconceptions arising from various perspectives non-Hindus hold about the religion by vocalizing their experiences and thoughts.

“In essence, I believe that this conference reinforced how important it is for Hindus to continuously share their stories and experience so that we can shape our own narrative and express solidarity with each other as a community,” she said.

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