What is Hinduphobia?

Contra to popular opinion, Hinduphobia is not a new term, was not coined by anyone from India and it existed before other similar terms in the English lexicon. A comprehensive literature review was made in 2020 by HHR, ‘Use of the term Hinduphobia: 1866-1997‘. The word itself only denotes something that was then evident to the author, Sir James Sullivan — that British colonist James Mill had erased the economic wealth of Hindu civilisation prior to Indian invasion by Islamic Imperialists.

The term historically largely concerns bias, prejudice and persecution against Hindus by past and present colonial classes and laterally by missionaries and proselytisers of two Abrahamic traditions: Islam and Christianity.

As notions of European civilisational superiority flourished during european colonisations, the same issues that impacted on all indigenous cultures are often shared by indigenous Hindus. The notion of savage, barbarians, uncivilised, dirty, polluted, superstitious, worshippers of arbitrary objects and entities like cows and demons proliferated. The role of eugenicism, phrenology, biological determinism and other forms of scientific racism have impacted on all ethnicities that were relationally defined as ‘the other’, or ‘not’ the master identity. Tracing anti-Hindu sentiment across the centuries, it manifests within India and abroad differently although primarily due to common factors of racism, religious vilification and anti-indigenous, anti-pagan othering.

Hinduphobia is a subclass of xenophobia, and for Hindus this can mean different things to different people, in different societies. For example, Hindus have substantive populations outside India and Nepal where they are around 80% of the population. Hindus belong to sizable minorities in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, around 6% in Malaysia and under 2% in Burma, United Kingdom, Indonesia and Pakistan. In the USA they are les than 1%.

Adding to the complexity and nuance, Hindu culture is intrinsically pluralistic. Although Hindus may [or may not] worship one universal deity in many forms, each one of the deities appears differently across countless traditions. For example, Hindus may hold ancestral, familial traditions. There are temple traditions, village, town or city customs and some celebrations are universal.

Due to this infinite variation of Hindu cultures and customs occurring within mixed demographics, Hindus will experience bias and prejudice or persecution according to their own unique conditions differently. The definition and scope therefore has to encompass a broad range of circumstances. The recent anti Hindu pogrom for example in Bangladesh is very unlikely to repeat in Australia or America because the demographic and law and order dynamics are not the same.

Hindu Human Rights has conducted a survey on Hinduphobia which received 500 responses. It also ran a petition campaign with around 1000 responses. The comments within these documents provide subjective reports on the experiences of Hindus on the ground and in the real world. The magnitude of those experiences ranges from genocide and ethnic cleansing to microaggressions.

It is therefore not possible to accept generalisations on Hinduphobia such as it does not exist or isn’t present in any given country. This attempt to deny and erase issues impacting on minority Hindus in western diasporas on one hand, whilst redefining crimes against Hindus where they are the majority too, relies on faulty criteria clearly constructed to fit an agenda and confirmation bias.

We live in a global society and recognition is growing that xenophobic prejudice harms not only those directly victimised, but all of society. It harms especially others of that same class who are impacted vicariously. For example NSW education department finds that students experience vicarious abuse, such as the fact that taunts against persons that ‘look or think like them’ also harm passive observers. Anti-Hindu sentiment can include fear that pervades an entire community due to terrorist acts against a few. Violence fuelled by religious bigotry and racism in multicultural societies is roundly rejected under a new paradigm of inclusivity and diversity.

More research on Hinduphobia is required and the recognition of the term, and what it signifies is long overdue. Therefore, we created an online parliamentary petition in Australia to ban terms that increase stigmatisation of Hindus and to recognise Hinduphobia and asked the Australian government to apply this terminology across official documents that use similar terms for other Australian groups.

Hindu Human Rights endorses the Oxford Lexico definition of Hinduphobia which is ‘Dislike of or prejudice against Hinduism or Hindus’. The reason for this is that is simple and can easily be applied in a critical, legal or policy setting. It covers all angles of anti-Hindu sentiment including othering, inferiorisation, disdain, contempt, hatred, fear, disgust, bias, discrimination, prejudice, hate speech and hate crimes. It is also useful in case studies on ethnic cleansing, genocide, terrorism and atrocities against Hindus due to the fact that such incidents do not require anything like ‘hate or fear’ to manifest in the offender and the offender’s emotional or psychological states are irrelevant to definitions of crimes, judicial arbitration and sentencing. Dislike of or prejudice can also incorporate readings of colonial, geo-political and neocolonial power dynamics as it is a prejudice, irrespective of either hate or fear, against one class that enables the dominating one to perpetrate. More reading on Hinduphobia here.