In Chicago, Illinois, the stage was set at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Nivedita Raghuram Bhide of Swami Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, India, was invited by the organisers and was scheduled to address the plenary session at the Parliament’s convening at 10 am on August 16, 2023. On August 14, 2023, the organisers informed Ms Bhide that they had cancelled her speech.
Intellectual intolerance is part of a growing trend in America and the rest of the Western world. Academic institutions, think tanks and even corporations are increasingly comfortable with the cancel culture, censorship, de-platforming, disciplinary actions, fines, and even prosecution as the go-to methods to deal with dissidents and plurality of opinions.
“Global warming, climate change, terrorism, and violence are issues that everyone is struggling with. People of different religions, sects, countries, and ideologies can come together to find solutions to these problems. Interfaith harmony is essential for resolving global issues. The Parliament of World Religions in 2023 will prove to be a milestone”
— Acharya Lokesh Muni, at the inauguration ceremony of the Parliament of World Religions 2023, Chicago, US
“The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” wrote Noam Chomsky and over 150 other scholars, artists, and public intellectuals in a signed open letter published (July 7, 2020) in ‘Harper’s Magazine’. In that letter, they argued that constricting the free speech space creates an “intolerant climate” in society. “The stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time,” they wrote.
The Parliament originates from Chicago’s World Columbian Expo of 1893. The historic first World Parliament of Religions took place at this expo. Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous speech at this Parliament’s convening in 1893. The Parliament, according to its website, “was created to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual and foster their engagement with the world and its guiding institutions to achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world.”
Su Shri Nivedita Bhide’s cancelation from Parliament’s plenary session resulted from a vicious campaign. The Left-wing media and academia colluded with Islamist organisations to censor genuine Hindu voices at the Parliament
Swamiji spoke of rampant “sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendants” and how they have “filled the earth with violence… destroyed civilisations, and sent whole nations to despair.” Swamiji also spoke about a religion “which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” He talked about Hinduism. One hundred thirty years later, a devotee of Swamiji was denied the privilege to speak at the Parliament.
Nivedita Bhide is a ‘Jeevanvrati’ and has given her lifetime to Swami Vivekananda Kendra. She has over 15 books to her credit. She holds regular classes in yoga and spiritual camps across the globe. Bhide has presented several papers in national and international seminars and lectured at several reputed educational institutions of the world. Trustee of Vivekananda International Foundation since its inception, Bhide has been a member of Indian Council for Cultural Relations since July 2020.
“A forum like this should really be about faith, spirituality and the uplifting of people Vivekananda’s speech opened a lot of people’s minds to the idea that we are all one family ”— Rakhi Israni, legal director, Hindupact
Bhide’s absence from Parliament’s plenary session resulted from a vicious campaign. The Left-wing media and academia colluded with Islamist organisations to censor genuine Hindu voices at the Parliament. When leaving for Chicago, Bhide saw a post by Rutgers University faculty Audrey Truschke on the microblogging site ‘X’ (Twitter, formerly). In that post, Truschke accused Bhide of being a “Hindu nationalist.”
Disparaging Hindu Gods
Truschke is well-known among the Hindu community for her shoddy scholarship and anti-Hindu bigotry. Truschke has, over time, consistently, deliberately, and systematically exhibited her Hinduphobic tendencies. Jeffery Long, a Professor of Religion and South Asian Studies, defines Hinduphobia as “an intense and deeply rooted aversion — a fear and hatred… of Hindus and Hinduism [which manifests itself] as a set of intellectual claims that portray Hindus and Hinduism in a negative light.”
“Hindus are accepted when they are peaceful and apolitical, but not when they raise their voices about
issues like Hinduphobia˘— Nikunj Trivedi, President, Coalition of Hindus of North America
Almost three years ago, Truschke, in one of her social media feeds, had claimed that during ‘Agnipariksha’, in Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana’, Mata Sita tells Bhagwan Rama that “he is a misogynist pig and uncouth.” She added that during the Mriga Maricha incident, Mata Sita accused Bhagawan Lakshanama “of lusting after her.”
When challenged for original verses and source of her translation, Truschke referenced wrong verses and attributed her “loose” translation to Prof Robert Goldberg of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at The University of California, Berkeley. On his part, Prof Goldberg quickly wrote an email rejoinder: “I find it extremely disturbing… to learn that AT [Audrey Trushcke] has used such inappropriate language and passed it off as coming from Valmiki. Neither the great poet nor we [his co-translator and himself] used anything like such vulgar diction. Certainly, Sita would never have used such language with her husband, even in the midst of emotional distress. Nowhere in our translation of the passage do we use words such as you mention AT as using.”
“Bhide’s cancelation was part of a series of attempts to “target and cancel Hindu voices, even those that speak for spiritualism”
— Richa Gautam, founder of Castefiles.com
The Indian American Muslim Organization (IAMC), one of the event’s sponsors, actively worked to de-platform Bhide. They distributed propaganda booklets against India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the IAMC claims to be “dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos.” However, there is nothing Indian or American about IAMC. It is an organisation rooted in anti-Hindu bigotry. The organisation allegedly has links to several Islamist organisations. “Besides IAMC’s naked anti-Hinduism, there is no denying that the organisation has forged allegiances with Islamists, including extremists with ties to murderous terrorist groups,” writes Benjamin Baird of the Middle East Forum.
The Parliament envisions a world where “Religious and cultural fears and hatred are replaced with understanding and respect.” By de-platforming Nivedita Bhide’s speech at the plenary of Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago, the organisers have violated their own vision.