Oppose Princeton University's Misrepresentation of CAA & Hurting Hindu Americans & Indian

Oppose Princeton University's Misrepresentation of CAA & Hurting Hindu Americans & Indian

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Dev Karlekar started this petition to Princeton University

Oppose Princeton University's misrepresentation of CAA, & Hurting Hindu Americans and India

At a Princeton University event (“Borders and Citizens in South Asia”) held on February 11, 2020, serious misinformation, bias and hostility towards the Hindu American diaspora was demonstrated by the organizer, moderator, panelists, and other audience members.

The content of the panel linked bio-politics in the Indian subcontinent to the Citizenship Amendment Act (“CAA”) recently passed by the Indian Parliament. The content as presented supported sweeping narratives about ‘Hindu India’ along with interpretations of historical violence that are not recognized by many Indians and Hindus themselves, or are not directly applicable in the Indian context.  Presented as public information without any context, without disclosure of the political affinity of the researchers, and without the subject community’s consent, these ‘expert messages’ effectively demonized Hindu American communities as ‘Fascist,’ ‘Supremacist,’ ‘Fundamentalist,’ and Guilty of Discrimination against Muslims globally by virtue of their Religion.

We reject this political and moral reframing of Hindus in the U.S.  We also reject the exceptionalism of this messaging. Academics and activists may not appropriate the definition of who and what a Hindu and American is and who has the right to speak for them, and at the same time refuse to engage with the diaspora when their intention is to guide public opinion outside India. We are deeply concerned that the errors of emphasis and omission in the presentation, together with the advocacy agenda of the presenters, amount to misinformation about targeted violence against minorities outside India.

The panel was introduced by Associate Professor Gyan Prakash of Princeton’s program in South Asian Studies (SAS), which also sponsored the panel, and was moderated by Associate Professor Rohit De of Yale University.  The panelists were Postdoctoral Fellow Sahana Ghosh from Brown University, Clinical Associate Professor Dina Siddiqui from New York University, and Executive Director of The Polis Project Ms. Suchitra Vijayan. In the audience were various Princeton University students, Mrs. Sadaf Jaffer, Mayor of Montgomery County, and members of the Indian diaspora.   

Team India NJ were disappointed to see students’ and professors’ refusal to respectfully engage with a section of their audience who represented communities that were the subject of the panel.  We had gone to listen and observe, but faced a Hostile discursive climate, derision from other attendees, and an attitude of intimidation that, if directed to any other group in the U.S. today, would qualify as aggression.

Associate Professor Gyan Prakash imputed Team India NJ had arrived prepared to disrupt.  This is false. Team India NJ respected protocol and panelists’ requests and reserved questions till the end.  They asked for clarifications on the conditions of Hindu emigration from Bangladesh and questioned blanket characterizations of Hindu organizations as fascist.  However, they were told to be silent in various ways. The panelists refused to engage with our group’s queries, citing our lack of specialized knowledge. It was when Mrs. Sadaf Jaffer, Mayor of Montgomery County, brought back three security guards to the venue that the attempt to intimidate became overt and dialogue was made impossible.  These actions clearly contradict Princeton University’s commitment to civic engagement.

The attempt to discredit Team India NJ attendees and to ‘cancel’ their presence from a conversation open to the public was continued on social media after the event.  Prof. Gyan Parkash and several Princeton students engaged disrespectfully with Team India and accused them of falsifying what had happened. They also imposed group attributes (‘bhakts’ and ‘nationalists’) that impute bad faith and political complicity, to silence and misrepresent a non-specialist public.  These ad hominem attacks by Princeton faculty and students on audience members at the event and on social media after the event reduced the gravity of a policy question to petty opposition between academic privilege and diaspora identity.

At this panel, a courtesy expected and extended to other ‘subject’ groups was refused to us. Team India NJ is concerned about the hostile opinion climate being created by academic, nonprofit and media voices around India’s CAA and Hindus at Princeton that ultimately excludes our voices from civic exchange.  This is occurring against a backdrop of discourse among academics and activists that draws parallels between Hinduism and Nazism. If Rep. Kshama Sawant of Seattle has compared the NRC & CAA with early Nuremberg Laws enacted by Nazis, Princeton’s panel has mimicked that fear-mongering.

In this opinion climate, it is irresponsible of scholars to ascribe hostile politics to non-specialist audiences, use pejorative identifiers on social media, and contribute to negative representations that may have real-life consequences.  When any community is shown as the ‘wrong’ interest group and their arguments ipso facto wrong, academics and activists embolden the public to silence that community.

Hindus in America have the right to query narratives about their politics and identity, like every other minority, diaspora, faith, and émigré community.  While Hindus are speaking for those whose voices need support on international platforms, it is deeply offensive that their effort to counter partial information about India is misrepresented as a partisan political effort.  The cause of one oppressed group is not necessarily antagonistic to another.

This Princeton University event has shown a Political Bias in its Asian Studies department along with a sharp hostility to the Hindu voice and, above all, hostility to destitute refugees who sought asylum in India before 2015.  The panel’s opposition to the framing of CAA does not remove the reality that non-Muslim minorities often face persecution and violations of their human rights in the countries named in the Act. Our community is confused and angered by academic efforts to make research projects from such specialists into standard public knowledge about India without public debate.  The American public is being misled when the differences between global and local contexts are not made clear by those who oppose the CAA.

We will request Princeton University to honor its expressed commitment to civic engagement by refusing to privilege voices and statements that support public amnesia and intolerance under the guise ofDiversity.

Support us as we ask Princeton University to (1) clarify if it endorses these speakers’ claims and (2) to respond to our calls for action:

We demand an apology for staff’s defamation of individual community members in the audience
We ask for a statement on the panelists’ historical denialism of the Bangladesh genocide
We request a reassessment of Princeton’s anti-bias efforts; there must be evidence of efforts to increase information accuracy in the public interest.
Princeton University must continue to allow the public to address the bases on which Princeton researchers and their guests justify advocacy for international political interventions.



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