October heralds the beginning of the vibrant Hindu festival season. The month begins with the celebration of Navratri (nine nights) celebrating the different forms of the feminine divine and ends with arguably the most popular Hindu festival of Deepavali, the festival of lights. Recognizing this, states of Virginia, Georgia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey besides several cities around the US have proclaimed the month of October as Hindu Heritage Month.
Naperville, a city in the state of Illinois in the midwest has a significant population of Hindus and October brings a buzz to the Hindu community with celebrations and prayers offered at homes and temples.The October of 2023 has however started with gloom and confusion about several unsubstantiated allegations and even blatant hate against the Hindu community.
In recent days, an alleged incident of “Quran burning” by an unnamed high school student in Naperville, Illinois, has garnered significant attention and knee-jerk reactions from various quarters, including the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago), the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) as well as several online ‘influencers’. While CAIR-Chicago and others have raised concerns about a potential connection Hindu organizations, it is crucial to critically examine the facts and avoid jumping to conclusions based on limited information.
The alleged incident in question, which reportedly took place in summer, seems to have been raked up recently, first on an obscure website and then shared widely on social media. First and foremost, there is no actual evidence of the alleged incident and the entire narrative is being built on hearsay and apparent text messages. Thus, creating an echo chamber of anti-Hindu sentiments. It is also Important to note that based on publicly available information, no school-based or public action has seemed warranted.
However, this hasn’t stopped the predictable Hinduphobic and Hindumisia groups to attack Hindu organizations and in some cases the entire Hindu community. The IAMC goes as far as to blame organizations that conduct Hindu cultural and community service programs, food & cloth drives for all, highway cleanups for cities, Diversity and Inclusive programs through Interfaith activities, as well as widely popular yoga groups as being Hindu supremacists! In fact, CJ Werlemen, a so-called influencer, goes so far as to make a video on blaming all Chicago Hindus for the book burning. Making such hateful, misleading connections based purely on Hinduphobia, Hindumisia and anti-Indian bias, can and will exacerbate tensions between communities. Moreover, the targeting of a school-going minor, sets an extremely dangerous, vile and unacceptable precedent. It is therefore essential to maintain a nuanced perspective and avoid assigning blame without even following due process.
Amidst the controversy surrounding this alleged incident, it's essential to consider all facets of the situation. Reportedly, the family connected to the alleged incident may be currently living in fear, facing threats from anti-India and Hinduphobic elements from outside the community. These elements seem to be exploiting the situation, casting a dark cloud on the peaceful Indian American community living in harmony.
Any type of book burnings are undoubtedly reprehensible and must be unequivocally condemned. Such acts are not representative of the views of the broader population but instead reflect the actions of a small, extremist minority. It is crucial to recognize that the overwhelming majority of Indian Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, stand against religious intolerance and bigotry.
Hindu communities in the cities such as Naperville and across the United States are widely acknowledged for being model, law abiding, ethical citizens. Hindu Americans are some of the most affluent in the country with a significant number of them holding professional degrees and occupying roles of doctors, engineers and scientists. They have very low crime rates in the community and are largely known for being excellent neighbors and citizens of society. The Hindu philosophy of acceptance despite variances that was first carried to the shores of the United States by Swami Vivekanananda in 1893 has remained the bedrock of the Hindu community in the US.
However, organizations such as CAIR and IAMC were quick to use this isolated yet unproven incident of the “burning of the Quran” to place the blame on the larger Hindu community.
CAIR-Chicago, has suggested that this incident may be part of a larger trend of Hindutva-inspired Islamophobia playing out in Naperville and other communities
While it is essential to remain vigilant against all forms of extremism, it is equally important to avoid painting entire communities or movements with a broad brush. Accusations of extremism must be substantiated with clear evidence.
The press release also tries to connect a public hearing from two years ago, where legitimate grievances regarding the establishment of large-scale commercial development in a residential area were voiced on public platforms like the Planning & Zoning and City Council meetings. These concerns, rooted in zoning regulations, have been maliciously portrayed as "Islamophobia" by some Islamic organizations, further complicating the situation.
In the midst of these controversies, it is crucial to remember that acts of hatred and intolerance, like the alleged book burning, have no place in a society that values diversity and respect for all faiths, echoing the foundational principles of Hinduism which the Hinduphobes term as Hindutva. As the Upanishad beautifully states, 'Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti,' meaning 'One God Is Worshipped In Different Names,' emphasizing the inclusivity at the core of Hindu philosophy. We must also recognize that allegations made without credible evidence can be harmful, not just to the individuals involved but also to the broader community.
Furthermore, it's worth noting that Hinduism and Indian civilization have faced the brunt of book burning throughout history, with entire universities and libraries being burnt down by Invaders from outside. Despite these painful historical episodes, the Indian American community, which includes Hindus, know better than to indulge in such heinous acts. They have consistently promoted the values of peace, tolerance, and coexistence, even in the face of adversity.
It is therefore during the festive season that Hindus in Naperville as well as in the broader Indian-American community will need to reach out during the Hindu festival season to the divine Goddess Durga to provide courage under duress, Goddess Saraswati for wisdom in conflict and to Goddess Lakshmi to provide prosperity in adversity.