September 16, 2020


Subject: TFA debate topic promotes Hinduphobia and intolerance towards Hindu students

Dear Ms. Adyemi, Mr. Mast, Mr. Mckenzie, Mr. White, Ms. Cuevas, Mr. Perkins, et al:

We trust you are well and safe amidst the COVID-19 lockdown. It is with great consternation and disappointment that we are reaching out to convey our shock and outrage regarding Item 22 on the TFA 2020 Fall 2020 Legislative Docket as an ill informed and Hinduphobic presentation for a debate topic. We urge the TFA and WB Ray High School to remove this topic from the legislative docket. As constituted, the topic is problematic at several levels, especially in furtherance of TFA’s stated goal of “educating the general and professional public to the important educational functions of forensics and theater arts.”

This topic is pejorative and promotes hostility towards Hindu students, a minority community in the US, who are being presented with the idea that their faith is ‘ultra-right-wing’ and hateful towards those who are not Hindus. Billed as a resolution to curb ‘Hindu Nationalism,’ the debate is already framed as a derogatory description of the Hindu religion. By the very nature of having to be curbed, ‘Hindu Nationalism’ is declared to be a bad thing. Debate on these terms is bound to create hostility towards children of the Hindu faith in Texas and in your school. This topic sets them up as representatives of an expansionist, intolerant religion.

There is already widespread Hinduphobia and lack of understanding of Hinduism in schools, and the positioning of Hinduism as an
intolerant religion via such ill-informed debates is certain to make matters worse. A 2019 survey, conducted by Cyber Bullying Research Center, has shown that over 23% of Hindu kids face bullying because of their religion.

Not to mention, the topic is also filled with factual errors. For example, on line 1, the RSS is declared a political party and a
paramilitary organization, which it is not. Similarly, and contrary to what is claimed on lines 3-4, there is no evidence to show that there is a systematic effort to preach violence against those who do not subscribe to Hinduism. Finally, there is blatant misinformation (line 6) about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), an asylum act passed by the government of India. The act does not discriminate against Muslims any more than the Lautenberg Amendment in US Congress discriminates against everyone who is not of Soviet or Southeast Asian origin, and which mainly benefited Jews and Christian minorities escaping persecution. Notably, the amendment was further extended (via the Specter Amendment) to include persecuted minorities from Iran. What’s more, in July of 2020, twenty US senators wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking him to grant emergency refugee status to persecuted Hindu and Sikh minorities in Afghanistan, under the FY20 US Refugee Admission Program, through Priority 1 and Priority 2 embassy referrals.

Even at a fundamental level, the topic of the resolution – ‘rise of Hindu Nationalism’, has no relationship to the Resolution itself – ‘rescind the CAA,’ and has been set up to deliberately inject misinformation and create Hinduphobia.

Furthermore, the topic is discriminatory and violates the Texas RVAA 25.152(a)(2). The RVAA requires that public forums in schools be based on neutral criteria. A study of previous similar debate topics in TFA in comparison shows disparate treatment of Hinduism in this resolution. There have been resolutions seeking statehood for Palestine, terminating aid to Israel, the need to declare war on ISIS (twice), declaring Pakistan as a terrorist state, the need to combat Boko Haram, etc. – without ever mentioning the religion. The resolution on Boko Haram completely avoids mentioning the words Sharia and Islam, both of which are central to their philosophy. Why then, does a resolution on India, focus on Hindu Nationalism, if not to denigrate Hinduism?

As constituted, a debate on this topic is deeply traumatizing to Hindu students, who are being presented with the idea that their faith is ‘ultra-right-wing’ and hateful towards those who are not Hindus. The words ‘ultra-right-wing’ have a specific context and meaning to everyone in the US. They refer to white supremacist groups who have not hesitated to use mass violence towards all in the past. It is deeply traumatizing for a child in the Hindu faith to be told that their faith is the same as that of the Neo-Nazis, for example, who are indeed the ‘ultra-right-wing’ in the US.

It is outrageous that such a charge could be brought against Hinduism, the most inclusive religion in the world, who has welcomed persecuted people of all faiths – Parsis, Jews, Syrian Christians and Muslims – with open arms and without infringing on their right to practice their religion.

We are fully supportive of the freedom of expression and understand that debate essentially involves unpopular positions. But when the positions are based on gross misinformation and are worded in such a way to cause harassment and trauma to a particular group of students based purely on their religion, it crosses the line dividing advocacy from phobia and hate speech.

For all the above reasons, CoHNA, which has members who are parents in Texas, urges the TFA and the WB Ray High School to remove this topic from the legislative docket. We are happy to set up a dialog with the TFA and WB Ray High School
to find neutral ways of debating the situation in India as well as the CAA.

Sincerely,

Nikunj Trivedi
President,
Coalition of Hindus of North America (CoHNA)
www.cohna.org

cc:

Texas Department of Education
Dr. Roland Hernandez, Superintendent CCSID
Dept. of Communications, CCSID