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“Hinduphobia” Petition Is Built On Misinfo Plus Anti-Dalit & Anti-Sikh Sentiments
“We caution that supporting this petition will have a disastrous impact on the safety of religious minorities, caste-oppressed communities, and human rights defenders..."
October 19, 2023 | 5 min. read | Original Reporting
Parliamentary Petition e-4507 on “Hinduphobia,” initiated by Vijaykumar Jain of the Canadian Organization For Hindu Heritage Education (COHHE) and authorized by Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, closed for signatures on October 17, 2023. The next steps include a certification of the signatures by the clerk of petitions before it is eventually presented to the House of Commons and receives a response from the government.
The petition makes various claims worthy of more scrutiny, detractors suggest, including that Hindus “represent the indigenous people of [sic] Indian sub-continent,” that there have been “numerous attacks on Hindu temples,” and that “Hindus [sic] traditions and culture are misrepresented and misunderstood by media and academia.”
When examining the content of the petition, in addition to the background of COHHE and the kind of attacks being made by those who support the petition against other non-Hindu communities, critics argue this “Hinduphobia” petition suffers from misinformation, Anti-Sikh rhetoric, and Anti-Dalit sentiments.
COHHE’s Anti-Dalit Rhetoric
COHHE is an organization with a mandate to “educate, promote and celebrate Hindu heritage,” according to its website. However, COHHE is perhaps best known for its advocacy against the recognition of caste-based discrimination in Canada.
“[T]here is no caste in Canada. This is all being brought in as Hinduphobia,” Dr. Ragini Sharma, president of COHHE, shared with New Canadian Media when asked about the COHHE campaign against Dalits working to have the Toronto District School Board recognize caste discrimination. “It is a political movement, [and] has nothing to do with the upliftment of Dalits here,” she added.
Many in the space found Sharma’s caste apologist and Anti-Dalit quotes abhorrent.
Dalit leaders and organizations have been the most vocal opponents of the “Hinduphobia” petition. The South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network (SADAN) also released a statement raising serious concerns about it.
“Allegations of Hinduphobia will be weaponized to have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression and association of Indian-origin communities in Canada,” they shared.
“We caution that supporting this petition will have a disastrous impact on the safety of religious minorities, caste-oppressed communities, and human rights defenders in Canada, India and beyond,” SADAN wrote, adding that the acceptance of the claims being made in the petition would be threatening to many, “including our children who are at the risk of facing Hindu supremacy and casteist discrimination every day.”
The petition’s additional false claim that Hindus “represent the indigenous people of [sic] Indian sub-continent” also caught many experts by surprise, including those from the Dalit and Adivasi communities, the actual indigenous people of India.
“The [petition] also points out to numerous ahistorical, inaccurate assertions about Hinduphobia,” SADAN stated, “including the blatant cooptation of our Indigeneity.”
COHHE’s Anti-Sikh Record
COHHE executives, Jain and Sharma, have also engaged in Anti-Sikh rhetoric.
Both have gone to Twitter to attack a Sikh high school student contributor to a school newsletter for raising awareness of well-documented Indian state oppression of Sikhs.
Jain went one step further and even called on the Consulate General of India, Toronto, to engage in foreign interference against the Canadian high school.
“@IndiainToronto are you taking some action on this school board which is spreading lies against India and accusing India for [sic] oppressing Sikhs...this is [sic] complete lie,” he tweeted.
In her twitter thread on the issue, Sharma also makes the Anti-Sikh statement that “All the Sikh Gurus were Hindus.” A common Hindu Nationalist claim meant to erase the unique Sikh identity as well as ignore Sikh teachings and history. This type of Anti-Sikh hate has been denounced by Sikh bodies, including the Akal Takht, which is the temporal seat of authority for Sikhs.
Mandir Vandaliams and Anti-Sikh Claims
Various Mandir vandalisms over the past year have been held up as an example of “Hinduphobia” by petition supporters. These vandalisms have been used to push acceptance of the term and feature prominently in the petition itself. It has also been utilized to claim that Sikhs are targeting Hindus, as the graffiti included some pro-Khalistan slogans.
However, both Peel Regional Police and Toronto Police have not ruled out a false flag operation concerning various Mandir vandalisms this year, as investigations are ongoing and no one has taken responsibility.
All vandalisms share similar styles and markings, and the lack of CCTV footage, even where cameras existed, has perplexed many, including investigators.
Pro-India and Hindu Nationalist actors and outlets claim, without evidence, that the graffiti was done at the hands of Sikhs. These false claims have led to increased Anti-Sikh rhetoric and hate from Hindu Nationalists and supporters of Modi’s Indian government.
In February of this year, the Ontario Gurdwara Committee (OGC) offered a $10,000 cash reward for any information leading to arrests on behalf of the Hindu community. The OGC has confirmed with Baaz that they have not had anyone reach out with information yet.
It does not appear any Hindu organization or Mandir matched the OGC reward or offered rewards of their own for further information.
Queensland Police, in Australia, which experienced similar Mandir vandalism at the same time, shared in disclosure documents recently released under a Right to Information request that they believe the vandalisms in Brisbane "may have been done by Hindus themselves" to malign the Sikh community and build up political acceptance of “Hinduphobia.” They also shared suspicion as to why the security cameras did not work during the incident - a similar theme in Canadian examples as well.
“Hinduphobia” Hate Crime Data
All forms of hate crime are deplorable. Fortunately, the data shows that Hindus are some of the least targeted people in Canada.
While national Canadian statistics do not provide specific data points for hate crimes against Hindus, because of the low number of occurrences, large police forces do release hate crime reports. Most Hindus live in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and this is what their police forces have to report in their latest updates:
Toronto Police, which covers the city of Toronto, had zero hate crimes against Hindus in 2021
Peel Regional Police, which covers Brampton, Mississauga, and Caledon, had zero hate crimes against Hindus in 2022
York Regional Police, which covers the cities of Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and multiple towns, reported one hate crime against Hindus in 2022
While Canadian national hate crime data is not broken down for the Hindu and Sikh religions, we do have access to FBI hate crime data in America, which provides an interesting perspective on the scale of the problem. The Sikh diaspora is smaller in America. However, the Hindu diaspora in the US is much larger than in Canada.
In the latest FBI update, from 2022, Sikhs faced 181 hate crimes, the second highest for any religion, while Hindus experienced 25, the second lowest for any religion.
Community Relations, Census Data, and Politics
Many have questioned whether there is rising animosity between Hindu and Sikh communities in Canada, especially after revelations that the Indian government had assassinated Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian leader, at a Gurdwara.
Both Sikhs and Hindus have been quick to counter that this is untrue, as relations remain healthy between the two communities. Activists consistently share that Sikh advocacy has been about rising far-right Hindu Nationalism, long-standing grievances with the Indian government, and the treatment of Sikhs and other minority groups in India - not against the Hindu religion.
Also, while the Sikh community is almost entirely Punjabi, there is a large ethnic diversity amongst Hindus, including communities with no history of note, even politically, with Sikhs. For example, many Hindus in Canada are South Indian, Tamils in particular, or from outside India, such as the West Indies.
As the petition progresses through the next procedural steps, decision-makers are asked to carefully consider the context and history behind using the term “Hinduphobia.”
Any government response to the petition should consider that Dalits, Sikhs, and other groups believe the petition is not based on data or clear evidence but will be used to stifle dissent against Hindu Nationalism instead.
As the authors of a recently published opinion piece in Baaz state, “proponents of ‘Hinduphobia’ in the diaspora claim to be victims of those who speak out against the violence of the Indian state, Hindutva ideology, and casteism.”
Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Strategist at the public affairs and relations agency State Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_
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