At the Chennai airport on 5th September night, one already got a whiff of the huge attendance that the WHC would witness: hundreds of Hindus, some with orange banners, were boarding flights for Chicago via Europe. In Frankfurt, a few of us were selected for ‘special’ security screening: a policewoman took our passports and called our names one by one: there were many Hindus, Caucasians and a few Jewish sounding names – that’s all…So much for multi cultural security. Is Europe self-suicidal?
At Chicago O’Hare’s airport, it’s the other extreme and this aggressive obtrusive security always makes me feel unsafe and vulnerable in the US. A sewak with a board bearing my name awaits me at the exit and I am lucky to have a driver, another volunteer. Nice Hindu guy, but not very politically savvy – in his rambling conversation, he compares Trump to 9/11! Do all NRI’s vote Democrat, I wonder?
As in most of America, the hotel is in the middle of nowhere,with immense empty parkings, a mall here and there and a few restaurants But the organizers did nevertheless a good choice, as it is confortable and has huge conferences halls. My, my, it’s already full: I have never seen so many Hindus together, except in melas and kumbhs – and talking so loudly and happily! Many famous faces greet us as well: Rajiv Malhotra, who is already busy conducting interviews for his Infinity Foundation to promote and defend Hinduism; Vivek Agnihotri, one of the most remarkable and militant defenders of the Hindus; Mohandas Pai, a big man with a purpose, who is one of the founders of Infosys; Subhash Kak, a quiet and brilliant scholar of Hindu dharma; and a few western ones too: David Frawley, a wonderful Vedic scholar, Koenraad Elst, one of the first to defend Hinduism in the West,or the greying handsome Jeffrey Armstrong…
On 7th morning, the speeches are long, but the energy is good, the huge hall is packed and each speech is cheered wildly, including the opening one by Shri Mohan Bhagwat and a short but strong one by actor Anupam Kher. It’s good when so many Hindus come together. The big names are missing however: the Dalai lama did not turn up because of ill health; Sri Sri Ravi Shankar neither – but he may be forgiven, having one of the busiest schedule of any modern guru; the other obvious absent is the delightful Tulsi Gabbart, an American Congresswoman who converted to Hinduism early in childhood. It’s a pity that Tulsi succumbed to the adverse publicity by some fringe groups against this conference. And believe me, you cannot find milder than a Hindu and this Congress was anything but fundamentalist. It sometimes enrages me that the most peaceful, most tolerant religion of this planet, that accepts that God takes many names and faces, is so much attacked and vilified.
There were many parallel conferences – women, youth, education, media, writers etc. All of them were very interesting: the youth conference featured young NRI’s, but also Indian residents such as the brilliant children of Mohandas Pai and it had a packed audience. In the Hindu Showbiz Forum, Vivek Agnihotri talked passionately about the changes needed in Bollywood and showed a clip of his forthcoming movie on India’s Prime Minister Lalbahadur Shastry. The economic conference was also fascinating with fervent discourses from many, including Mohandas Pai, showing the astonishing economic progresses accomplished during the 4 years of Narendra Modi’s tenure,along with a strong message for the numerous NRI’s present: “work happens in India, this is where you need to reinvest your energies and contribute to the economic growth”. He also emphasized that though India is 14 years behind China, it is fast catching up: 481 million people are now connected to Internet, the Adhaar card is a huge success, you can now transfer money in less than a minute, new jobs have been created, startups mushroom every hour and India has the fastest growing mobile network. I for one fully agreed with his ‘it’s happening in India’ message: the biggest brain drain in the world remains that of the Hindus, who get a decent education in India, in IT or engineering colleges, often free, and then export themselves to the UK, Canada or US, not giving back anything to their country of origin, content to have a photo op with some Congressman, a loss to themselves and their country of immigration, as 90% of them carry no Indian-ness in themselves and are often ashamed to be Hindus.
In the Writers’ session, which had been renamed ‘Hindu identity in the modern world’, Amish Tripathi spoke brilliantly about this Hindu identity. And indeed we are all grateful to him, for before his trilogy on Shiva, every Indian writer, whether Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth or Arundhati Roy, thought English, wrote for an English audience and often ran down the Hindu ethos. Amish is the first one who dared use Hindu roots and on top of that became a bestselling author. Sree Iyer the founder of the P Gurus magazine spoke eloquently about his task to tackle corruption in Media. R. Jagannathan Editorial Director, Swarajya mag, who has also been after corrupt politicians, highlighted the need to think Hindu.
I spoke about Kashmir as I covered it extensively for 12 years and just came out with a new book ‘In Defense of a billion Hindus’ (Har Anand, Delhi), which has an entire chapter devoted to it. I commiserated with the exodus of 400.000 Hindus becoming refugees in their own land which I witnessed firsthand and wondered by not a single shot was fired in self-defense and all went like sheep to the slaughter.
One organizer, himself a Kasmiri Pandit objected and appropriated a mike, to list all kind of reasons why Hindus did not defend themselves. But I stand by my point: did not Shivaji Maharaj fight with a few hundred men the most powerful army in the world then, that if Aurangzeb and because of Shivaji Maharaj, Indian culture and spirituality got better preserved from Mumbai to Kanyakumari? Did not many Indians give their lives in the early 1900 under Sri Aurobindo’s and Tilak clarion calls, when it was a hopeless and losing battle, long before Gandhi came up with his Sathyagra policy? It’s the few who fall on the battlefield against the many, who make way for the majority to become free
This conference made us feel, that in spite if so much Hinduphobia in the Media and academic circles, it is wonderful to be a Hindu today. That Hindu identity remains strong even after centuries of Holocaust on Hindus. Some of us also spoke about the Five pronged attacks that we see on Hindus today: from the Media, from the Marxists, from the Christian missionaries and their unabated conversion, via financial incentives, as witnessed recently during Kerala flood; from Islamic fundamentalism, which stems from so many Indian Muslims going to work in the Gulf countries and coming back radicalized; and from the rampant westernization of rural India, mostly through TV channels, which make innocent women believe that a 60 Rs cream will make them fairer; or boys that wearing a suit will turn them out in real men.
As emphasized by the Vice President of India, in his closing speech, the message of this conference was very clear: Hindus need to forget their differences,unite and stand up for their bothers and sisters,whenever they are attacked. Hindus are one billion worldwide, one in seven persons on this earth, and they hold the last Knowledge which once roamed the world, from Greece to Mesopotamia, from Egypt to the Celts:‘who am I, what is dharma, what is karma, what are the tools to become a better human being (meditation, pranayama, hata-yoga, Ayurveda), why am I reborn again and again’…
Lastly we should thank the organizers for havingbrought 3600 Hindus together, not a mean task, when one knows how Hindus tend to look only after themselves: the quiet Vikas Deshpande, the dignified Abhaya Ashthanaand lastly, swami Vigyananand, a remarkable monk, simple, modest, but with the sharpest of minds and who has been the driving engine for both the Delhi and Chicago WHC.
See you then in Bangkok in 2022 !
François Gautier in Chicago