Indu Viswanathan, Ed.D., has worked in the field of education for 20 years as a teacher, curriculum developer, teacher educator, and nonprofit research director. Her research focuses on immigration, education, and the transnational consciousness of second-generation Indian American teachers. She examines how American education and media reinscribe colonial-era biases about Hinduism, often actively silencing indigenous Dharmic perspectives and expression. Indu is concerned by how this impacts the lives and identities of Hindu American youth and is committed to generative inter-community engagement. A part of this work is calling the educational community into conversation and self-study through the Understanding Hinduphobia Initiative.
Understanding Hinduphobia began as a public conference co-hosted by Hindu American scholars and the Rutgers University Hindu Students Council in April 2021. The event was co-sponsored by Hindu Students Council and the Rutgers University Student Assembly, in the wake of a significant upswing in Hinduphobia across US campuses, in the media, and in activist spaces. Understanding Hinduphobia 2021 was a landmark event. It was the first time that scholars, activists, students, and allies convened to explore Hinduphobia with the depth, rigor, and cross-disciplinary examination that the phenomenon demands. Nearly a thousand people registered for the online conference from across the globe, including allies, yoga asana students and instructors, public school principals, educators, guidance counselors, and university administrators.
The conference was designed to animate the robust working definition of Hinduphobia that was developed by Understanding Hinduphobia’s founding scholars. Throughout the eight-hour conference, scholars and allies presented rich scholarship, data, and testimonials across the disciplines and spaces that undergird our academic work. The timely historical announcement of the Rutgers University Student Assembly’s unanimous vote to recognize our working definition was a pinnacle moment, not because this was a symbolic gesture, but because it provided a solid foundation for Rutgers’ Hindu students and faculty to utilize the University’s existing grievance process for redressal of Hinduphobic incidents. In this way, UH 2021 was also a powerful statement about Hindu scholars and students working together to effect positive change for our community.
As we began writing the Call for Proposals for UH 2022, it became clear that Understanding Hinduphobia is more than an annual conference. It is a year-long initiative that embraces connection, communication, and community, including resources and tools to engage in brave and sometimes difficult conversations. Navigating Hinduphobia is one such resource, an offering for and from the Hindu American community to our allies within the broader educational community.