As noted earlier this week, South Asia Citizens Web is carrying a new report entitled “Hindu Nationalism in the United States” (pdf). This report provides a 2014 snapshot of the sangh parivar‘s activities in the American diaspora. Unfortunately, useful as it is, the document lacks a compelling narrative that runs through it. It doesn’t tell a story; rather, it takes a clinical approach to outline the organizational structure of the Hindu right in the Untied States.
“Hindu Nationalism in the United States” builds off of previous reports (pdfs) on the Hindu right in the United States. The report looks at four categories of groups: Youth and Family Programs”; “Charitable Organizations”; “Academic and associated sites”; and “Sangh Leadership in Indo-American Communities”. The report provides figures for the amount of money spent by groups over the past 15 years in each of the first three categories, coming to $2.5 million, $55 million, and $1.9 million respectively.
Youth and Family Programs” covers activities aimed at indoctrinating young people and generating a diasporic community that is broadly sympathetic to the sangh and includes groups like Hindu Students Council and Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA). “Charitable funding” involves spending on service work in India and includes organizations like Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA and, again, the VHPA. “Academic and associated sites” frequently involves the funding of university-level research in a Hinduized framework such as through the “Hindu University of America”. “Public Campaigns” cover everything from the effort to sanitize California textbooks to fit Hindutva sensibilities to the work of Hindu American Foundation, which we have written about before.
Unfortunately, in reading the report, it is only infrequently that one feels like one is getting insight into what the sangh parivar is actually doing in the U.S. and what the impact of those actions are in South Asia and elsewhere. In one instance, the report points out that Hindu right educational activities in the U.S. are different in nature than those in India in a number of ways such as not including knife and stick fighting. As a result, says the report, “What remains…is that while attendees and their families may not be fully devoted to the Sangh’s supremacist politics, they ‘end up with a strong sympathy for the Sangh'”. These hints at an anthropological or psychological approach toward the sangh and the diaspora are important and tantalize the reader, but ultimately, the report leaves them hanging. In place of compelling storytelling, one gets lists and charts of organizations and little emphasis on what might appeal to a second generation reader. There is very little that is sexy about the report.
Now one might argue that I am asking too much of this report, that it is not designed to be a novel, but a tool for analysis, and that my critique is predominantly of style. However, given the report’s purpose, which is to combat sangh work, I would argue it needs to engage more directly with an audience that is in the diaspora- it is, after all, up to that diaspora whether to accept or reject the sangh’s work. As a lengthy analysis of how people in the diaspora are being manipulated to support sangh politics in India, the report doesn’t give someone in the diaspora enough reasons to care enough to read it. This is particularly the case since it is the third or fourth such lengthy analysis to be written in the past decade or so; at some point, these sorts of document have got to be made compelling to an audience that doesn’t already agree with them.
There are other issues that could be raised with the report, but I will cut myself off here. At the end of the day, we are better off for having access to “Hindu Nationalism in the United States”, but one wishes for a different kind of literature about the sangh and its activities in the global North than what we have been privy to over the past 15 years.