Delegates at the World Hindu Conference in Chicago, US / Photo: Facebook
Delegates at the World Hindu Conference in Chicago, US / Photo: Facebook

Letter from America: Hindutva in Chicago

The World Hindu Congress in Chicago and the Hindu right’s plans to rebrand their ideology.

Were it not for the statuette of a cow outside the adjoining Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse, it would be impossible to distinguish the Westin Hotel in Lombard from other high-rises across Chicago's suburban sprawl. But between 7 and 9 September 2018, this hotel was a bazaar of people in saffron robes, sarees and suits. The second World Hindu Congress was in town; the Windy City was selected to mark the anniversary of Swami Vivekananda's speech at the 1893 Parliament of World Religions held in downtown Chicago.

In the 125 years since Swami Vivekananda popularised Hindu dharma in the United States, the Indian Hindu community here has seen much prosperity and growth. And yet, misrepresentations of Hinduism – necessitating that passionate introduction to Hindu philosophy – still fuels the angst of many in the community, as it did of the gathered faithful in Chicago. Unflattering portrayals of Hindus and Hinduism as the faith of "caste, cow, and curry" was an often-heard grievance at the Congress, which was organised by the World Hindu Foundation. The major narrative that emerged at the symposium was of the need to collectively respond to an external world, which is hostile to Bharat (using the anglicised variant 'India' was frowned upon), Hindu dharma and Indic culture, despite "digesting" ideas originating from that tradition.

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