CARE: Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation stands in solidarity with its research team members Richa Sharma, Balamohan Shingade, and others (Indigenous women and women of colour) not mentioned in this report for their courage in documenting extremist #Hindutva nationalism and in building culture-centered preventive interventions rooted in dialogue, peace, and voice.
Richa Sharma was doing research on religious extremism in Aotearoa when she got a call from her mother. Her aunties and uncles, close family friends who have known her since she was born, were convinced she was a terrorist.
For a few months last year, Richa Sharma did not go out after dark, always making sure she had safe ways to get around for work and meetings.
The 18-year-old was interning at Care, a Massey University research centre that was copping online abuse for publishing a white paper about the far-right nationalist ideology known as Hindutva and its creeping presence in Aotearoa.
There were calls for centre director Professor Mohan Dutta to be sacked, even burned alive. Police said the trolls were overseas, but an Auckland-based Indian news site published a piece calling Dutta a “left-leaning bigot under the garb of an academician”, and part of “a gang of some smelly rats”.
The Hindu Council and Hindu Youth New Zealand chimed in with nearly identical statements, condemning the paper for “accusatory and unsubstantiated assertions” that made the Hindu community look bad. Hindu Youth said it was “outright Hindu hatred”.
Most of the vitriol was directed at Dutta but his team, some of them South Asian and female, were not spared. Their profiles were public on the Care website and social media pages.
“We had to watch our steps carefully,” said Sharma, now 19. “I really didn’t feel safe. We had a police file open.”
Shortly after, an auntie and uncle reached out to Sharma’s mother back home in Palmerston North. They were not related by blood but it was custom in the community to address close family friends as auntie and uncle.
Over tea, Sharma’s mother was told her daughter worked for an anti-Hindu outfit and was urged to intervene. Auntie and uncle were convinced Sharma was a “left-wing, radical terrorist”.
Another auntie sent text messages condemning the white paper, including a petition against Massey University to take it down.
Source: NZ Herald
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