Recognizing Hinduphobia – A Canadian Perspective (Part 5)

This is one of the 10-part series of posts is based on the author’s detailed brief for the Human Rights Commission of Ontario highlighting the rising anti-Hindu sentiment in Canada in general, and Ontario in particular.

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Generalized Hinduphobia

The OHR well recognizes the harm caused by hateful words; their content and context are deeply hurtful to the psyche of those who are targeted. While words are tangible and can be reported, much of the stress of Hinduphobia experienced by Hindus is from the unspoken, intangible generalized prejudice and hostility that exists in society. I refer to this overall societal cloud of prejudice as generalized Hinduphobia.[1]

Hindus worldwide face attacks on their religion and culture due to Hinduphobia. At the same time, as mentioned earlier, the existence of individual, systemic, and institutional Hinduphobia and anti-Hindu hatred is not only denied, but Hindus are portrayed as coming from a violent and oppressive civilization. The irony of this paradox is not lost on Hindus in Canada whenever they listen to the mostly negative coverage of news about India/Hindus in the media or read/hear about Hinduism in academia. In the past several years anti-Hindu hate crimes, ranging from temple desecration to acts of physical violence, have been on the rise in Canada.

The Human Rights Code mentions that every person has the right to freedom of harassment in the form of ‘epithets, remarks, jokes or innuendos related to their ‘ancestry, color, race, citizenship, ethnic origin, place of origin and creed’. While Hindus face harassment as individuals, the greatest weight of this harassment is experienced as generalized prejudice towards them in society. Hindus live under a cloud of generalized hostility, prejudice, hate, and discrimination related to the practice of their religion and the conflation of the Hindu religion with the social, political, or economic ills of India, the birthplace of Hindus.

Below are a few examples of hateful terms used against Hindus; some are said openly, while others underlie the overall prejudice they face as followers of a non-Abrahamic faith:

Idol worshipper: In general, Hindus face hostility and/or ridicule because they are seen as idol worshippers. Idol is a term Hindus eschew because the term is used as a slur. The correct terms are the image of a deity, and the Sanskrit terms are vigraha or murti. This is deeply painful to Hindus because Hindus believe in the idea of One God who is omnipresent and omnipotent and therefore present in all forms, including in nature and in subtle forms as deities, which we call devis or devatas (female and male divine energies, respectively). Hindus do not worship the image or physical form of the deities itself. Rather the image or form is used as a reminder of the qualities of the divine. It offers a way for Hindus to experience or connect with God or their personal deity, to whom they can offer prayer rituals and chants for peace and devotion and have a personal relationship with. In temples, the murtis are consecrated in a Vedic ritual of prana pratistha[2] that are understood to be living deities. The Indian constitution recognizes temples are owned by the deities that reside there.

Devil worshipper :- This is a derogatory term to condemn Hindus and to denigrate Hindu rituals and deities. This is again deeply painful because Hindus do not even have the concept of the devil fighting God or a punishing God. Good and evil are seen as forces of one divine consciousness – as two sides or of the same coin.

Heathen, Kaffir, infidel :- These are some other well-known derogatory epithets that most often underlie the Abrahamic view of the Hindu faith. The idea that as ‘non-believers’ Hindus are condemned to go to hell underlies the harassment many Hindus experience based on the general perception of their faith. Many Hindu students in schools are told by their classmates of Abrahamic faiths that they will go to hell because they do not believe in Jesus or Allah and so on. My own children were told that. In recent meetings with the Inclusion and Equity managers of school boards, I have heard parents tell stories about their children being made to chant verses that convert them to an Abrahamic faith, as a way to save their souls and be able to go to heaven. It’s a form of harassment that causes deep harm to the child’s psyche but can come across to the Hindu child as being kind or helpful. Often these hateful messages are given direct but at other times they are innuendos about Hindu faith being intrinsically inferior.

Dothead :- This is a slur often used in the schoolyard to poke fun at the bindi or dot worn on the forehead by females; when worn by males, it is known as a tilak or pottu (in Tamil, for example). In Hinduism, the dot represents the third eye, as a reminder for a Hindu of their divinity and faith. Also, females wear it also as a cultural symbol or decoration. In 2018 TDSB school Trustee, Parthi Kandavel, a Hindu, when initiating a motion to declare November as Hindu Heritage Month, spoke about the pain of being called a “Paki” when he was in school and being teased for wearing a “Paki bindi”. Such name-calling is still a common occurrence for Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim students in schools. Read here to learn about a small micro-minority immigrant group in the US that suffered the brunt of deadly attacks.[3]

Dung worshipper, cow-piss drinkers :- Hindus face these slurs because they are known to love and protect cows; cows are seen as mothers for the life-giving milk it provides. The Hindu tradition of using cow dung and urine for their medicinal purpose in Ayurveda for humans and for organic farming is mocked at using these epithets. Many Hindus do not eat beef due to their seeing of cows as a symbol of peace and love – the ‘holy cow’.

A comprehensive glossary of these Hinduphobic terms has been created by the Hindu American Foundation. [4] The glossary explains “a spectrum of terms and tropes which have lent to a perception of Hindus as grotesque, untrustworthy, bigoted, evil, or violent.”

The generalized prejudice against the Hindu faith sometimes comes out in social media or personal exchanges, often in the form of innuendoes, and they range from inaccuracies in assumptions about Hinduism to false allegations of oppression of others and outright hateful attacks on culture and religion. Often very complex issues are reduced to simple strawmen arguments, which are difficult to address in normal everyday conversations in work environments. Here are a few examples, paraphrased along the lines of.

  • Why do Hindus burn their dead? It’s so barbaric, it smells so bad, and it pollutes the environment
  • Hindu men are so misogynistic; that’s why India is the rape capital of the world
  • India is such a backward country because the Hindu religion is so regressive and superstitious
  • Hindu women are oppressed because they have arranged marriages
  • Hindus don’t help others in need because they believe in fatalism, karma
  • Hindu Supremacy and Brahminical Oppression of Women and Minorities in India

One example of how this generalized prejudice gets revealed is from April 2021 when BAPS, the Swaminarayan Temple in Toronto, offered its premises to open a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.  An ex-Liberal MP tweeted that some people might not go to the clinic at a Hindu temple for religious reasons. When called out for her Hinduphobia, she refused to apologize for her actions and instead tried to justify what she meant.[5]

Another example of Hindus being exposed to generalized Hinduphobia is when non-Hindus, especially important public figures, comment on Hindu traditions, to which Hindus feel a visceral reaction and a possible compulsion to react/respond (or not).

Here is an example: On August 21, 2017, NDP MP Jagmeet Singh tweeted a comment about the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan being “an overt sexist message to women: that they are powerless and need protection.” [6]  Hindus, who were in the midst of celebrating the festival were deeply hurt. The festival is actually a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond of love between brothers and sisters, as symbolized by the sister tying a thread bracelet on her brother’s wrist. Typically, the brother reciprocates by offering his sister some sweets or a gift. The projection of alleged patriarchy on Hindu tradition is deeply Hinduphobic. I discuss more on this in the section on Academic Hinduphobia because attacks on Hindu culture, deities, gurus, rituals, and traditions are deeply disturbing and hurtful.

A further area of generalized Hinduphobia Hindus experience ranges from being randomly confronted with attacks on their holy symbols and deities. For example, in July 2021, the International Hindu Foundation, located in Alberta, registered a formal complaint with Zumiez authorities when they found pictures of Hindu deities on their footwear. The store later removed the footwear both from their online and offline distribution.[7]

Every year, Hindus have to register complaints to Amazon and other retailers for selling underwear, bathroom mats, toilet seats, and so on with images of Hindu deities.

In February 2022, the United Hindu Forum, a coalition of local temples and other Hindu organizations in Vancouver/Surrey, British Columbia, had to lodge a complaint against an adult porn business (Big Dick Energy Coaching) in Canada for using an image of Shri Ganesh. Despite their several requests to take the image down, the website has not yet removed the picture from its portal.

Notes and Citations
  1. It’s a term I have coined
  2. Here is one explanation:

Go directly to specific parts of this series
  1. Part 1: Hinduphobia in Ontario and Canada – Introduction
  2. Part 2: Why HRC does not fully address the problem of Hinduphobia
  3. Part 3: What is Hinduphobia?
  4. Part 4: A Theoretical framework to understand Hinduphobia
  5. Part 5: Generalized Hinduphobia
  6. Part 6: Appropriation and lack of acknowledgment of positive contributions of Hindu civilization
  7. Part 7: Canada’s White Only History policy: overcoming a legacy of Racism
  8. Part 8: Hinduphobia in the Media
  9. Part 9: Hinduphobia in Academia/Universities
  10. Part 10: Examples of Hinduphobic Incidents in Canada

Dr. Ragini Sharma, PhD, has worked for over 25 years with individuals, families and communities of diverse backgrounds to support their human dignity and for their economic, social and political rights. She is a passionate educator of Hinduism and has represented Hindu perspective at numerous interfaith events.

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