In a unique event, Indian students studying across the United States held a nationwide campaign called Holi Against Hindutva. Standing with placards against the Government of India’s move to amend citizenship laws, protests took place as many as 21 U.S. university campuses, including Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Wellesley, Michigan State, Duke and Rutgers.
According to a report of the protests from Cambridge at Massachusetts, college students said they were seeking to reclaim the spirit of Holi, which around the world, is known as Hinduism’s festival of colors, a joyful celebration of spring in which people take to the streets to shower one another in colorful powders.
Celebrating as symbolising celebration of unity and diversity, the students in Harvard Yard reached the steps of Memorial Church to mark the festival, shouting “Azaadi!” while holding slogans such as “No one is illegal,” “Boycott NRC (National Register for Citizens),” and “Stop genocide in India!”
“The power of Holi is that it is a festival of colors, celebrating unity and diversity,” said Vedant Bahl, who serves as the Harvard coordinator for the group Students Against Hindutva, which arranged the campaign. “Unfortunately, notions of unity and diversity have been stripped away by the Indian government’s recent actions,” he added.
Founded late last year, Students Against Hindutva is led by Shreeya Singh, a junior at Yale University, the report said, adding, last month, the group published an open letter to Congress urging sanctions against Indian government officials, signed by 44 South Asian student groups at a slew of prominent universities.
“We stand in solidarity with those who have faced the brunt of horrific state brutality and police violence, particularly the student protesters at Jamia and Aligarh Muslim University,” the letter states. “… as those in the diaspora or those who may be unaffected by the implications of the NRC and CAA, we believe that it is our responsibility to stand behind those who are fighting for secularism and democracy.”
“The celebrations won’t be the same in India this year,” said Bahl, a senior majoring in economics. “The festival that previously brought together Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people from all castes and backgrounds — or at least was imagined to be such — is not going to be that in these months of communal hatred and open polarization. We are reclaiming Holi from the forces of Hindutva that have broken it down.”
The event has been criticized by pro-Hindutva groups as “Hindu-phobic” and flouting the sanctity of a Hindu religious festival. The Hindu American Foundation’s director, Suhag Shukla, called the campaign an “anti-Hindu project” that demeans religious traditions by “importing caste wars onto our college campuses.”
However, New York City’s Sadhana said that speaking up against injustice in such a way is part of Hinduism’s core teaching and hosted its own Holi satsangh during which they prayed for those who died in Delhi. The U.S.-based organization Hindus for Human Rights applauded the group’s “creative use of Holi to subvert the bigoted and anti-Hindu agenda” of Modi’s party.