Hate speech and death threats: Canadian academics harassed after criticizing Hindu nationalism in India

by Katie Swyers and Judy Trinh at cbc.ca 

Academics receive online hate from local diaspora groups and foreign trolls

Chinnaiah Jangam opened his computer and saw a cartoon of himself cleaning a white person’s boots. 

The history professor at Carleton University in Ottawa said he received thousands of hateful emails like that over the past five years, along with abusive voicemails on his office phone. He said he has also been accosted in person by groups picketing his academic lectures because they disagree with his politics. 

“Imagine every Monday, you get up and see that picture,” said Jangam. “Half your day will go, coming to terms with it.” 

He closed most of his social media accounts in response, in part, he said, to try to shield his family.  

Jangam is one of several Canadian academics whose work relates to India who say they are being harassed and threatened by diaspora groups for being critical of both the country’s politics under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Hindutva, the right-wing political ideology it espouses.

“There is a growing violence against Muslims and Dalits,” said Jangam, who is Dalit — the lowest strata of the Hindu caste system. It’s a group previously called “untouchables” because their low status meant they weren’t even touched by others.  

“I come from that background. I have a social responsibility and also moral responsibility to speak out.”

Steven Zhou, a former researcher with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network who has chronicled far right movements within diaspora groups, said Hindutva is a superficial politicization of Hinduism.

Its aim, said Zhou, is “to cast the Indian society as one that should be for Hindus first and foremost above other religious minorities.” 

Zhou said Hindutva is a modern political ideology that advocates for Hindu supremacy and seeks to transform India, a secular democracy, into an ethno-religious country.

Although the supremacist ideology of Hindutva has its roots in Hinduism, there is debate as to whether the political aspects of the ideology can be separated from its religious and cultural foundation. Many academics argue it is separate. 

Gopala Krishna, director of Dwarapalakas, a self-described Hindu advocacy group in the Greater Toronto Area, said Canadians don’t understand Hinduism and are presently getting their perspectives from “non-Hindu religions talking to and talking down to Hinduism.”