Take Action - Remove Sunita Viswanath as Columbia Religious Life Advisor
Granting the official position of religious advisor at a world renowned university to a person who is better known for political activism than religious education and advocacy is dangerous. Sunita Viswanath has a history of supporting anti-Hindu organizations and movements, and she should not be put in a position of trust at any place, much less a university where she will influence many young minds.
University students rely on chaplains for moral support, and guidance in trying times. Student organizations rely on chaplains to advise them on tough decisions, and the same chaplains are highly visible on campus as authority figures of the religions they represent.
You can read more in depth information about Sunita Viswanath at A House of Cards.
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Please consider reading the following email template, and then sending copies of your own to the Columbia University Religious Life department and North American Hindu Chaplains Association (NAHCA) at:
I recently came to know that the Hindu Religious Life Advisor at Columbia is Sunita Viswanath. I am opposed to her appointment to this position of trust and influence at the university, and call for her immediate removal.
Viswanath has a history of promoting anti-Hindu organizations, and has personally co-founded organizations which harbor hate against Hindus under the guise of activism against Hindutva.
In 2011, Viswanath voiced her support for Sita Sings the Blues. This movie presents a severely twisted reinterpretation of the Ramayana, and features Ram kicking, throwing, and walking over Sita, his wife. Sita and Ram are considered as avatars of Lakshmi and Narayan, two of the most prominent deities in the Hindu belief system.
Rohan Narine tried to screen the movie in two different venues and faced overwhelming protest from the Hindu community. Narine’s own father expressed regret at the initial support he had offered to the movie. Failing to find a large venue, Rohan Narine finally screened the movie in his home. Viswanath said that the crude reframing of the revered Ramayana was “a wonderful way to keep Hindu mythology alive.” This is troubling because Viswanath presented no opposition or criticism to the movie put forth by the larger Hindu community, and she refers to sacred scripture as mere mythology. Viswanath partnered with Rohan Narine to start Sadhana.
Viswanath wrote a letter in support of the divisive “Holi Against Hindutva” campaign which desecrated the sacred Hindu holiday of Holi for their own political purposes, again something which attacked Hinduism under the guise of attacking Hindutva. Holi Against Hindutva had no support from prominent Hindu student organizations. Those organizations organized Holi for Unity to encourage the proper celebration and values of Holi.
Holi Against Hindutva has since changed its name to Students Against Hindutva Ideology, and includes known Hindu haters like Audrey Truschke (professor at Rutgers University) on it’s board of advisors. Three of of the four board of advisors are not Hindus, and all are well known political activist. This change shows that Holi, a revered Hindu festival, was used by opportunists to further their political agenda. The fact that Vishwanath supported it once again shows that she prioritizes political activism over advocacy of Hindu culture. It also confirms that she only uses her Hindu identity to further her career as an activist. For her, Hindu culture is something to use to advance her standing in her political circles.
Viswanath has also supported Equality Labs, who is in the habit of not only attempting to push their own reinterpretation of Holi but also of attacking Holi as casteist, misogynistic, violent, and patriarchal. There is a point by point rebuttal of this article at The American Hindu’s website. Holi is none of those things and has traditionally been a holiday which allows for all parts of society to come together in celebration. Sharmin Hossain, the political director of Equality Labs has tweeted that “Arguing to salvage Hinduism is dominant caste rhetoric. Caste is rooted in the Hindu scriptures. It is not a theological debate.” in an attempt to claim that Hinduism as a culture needs to be destroyed in order to eradicate caste and caste discrimination.
Interestingly enough Sharmin Hossain is not Hindu, but a Bangladeshi-American Muslim, a country where genocide of Hindus have been going on since 1971. According to official figures Hindu population in Bangladesh has dropped from 22% in 1947 to roughly about 9% in 2011. Yet we have never seen Sharmin Hossain, Equality Labs or Suita Vishwanath speak on these atrocities.
CAFI has relegated the communal rioting and violence that took place in in early 2020 as the “#DelhiPogrom,” and thus ignores the multitude of Hindus who were also hurt and killed during that violence. CAFI also call these riots “state sponsored violence” despite evidence to the contrary. CAFI and HFHR are two of many Hindu hating groups which perpetually highlights the Indian military presence on the India/Pakistan border in the Indian state of Kashmir, but has continued to ignore the forced exodus and mass murder of Kashmiri Pandits.
CAFI and Sadhana were also prominent in protesting celebrations by Hindus of the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. After many decades in litigation, the Supreme Court of India agreed that the disputed site in the Indian city of Ayodhya did indeed have remains of a temple dedicated to Ram, and that the Babri Masjid was built on the destroyed ruins of the same temple. When Hindus planned to gather in NYC Times Square and celebrate this occasion, CAFI and other groups protested it as a celebration of fascism and bigotry.
Viswanath is a political activist, and is not a Hindu religious leader. She does not hold any training or education in religion and all her life has been political activism adhering to a particular ideology. As has also been claimed on her organization's website “Sadhana is seeking to strengthen the liberal voice in the Hindu population and become a flag-bearer for social justice and social action”. The display reinforces that the primary concern of Ms Vishwanath is and always has been political activism and not Hinduism.
With this severe lack of qualification, she is not fit to serve as religious advisor to Columbia students who may rely on her for moral support, guidance in trying times, and religious advice. Parents entrust Columbia to help their children to have a fruitful academic experience, and Viswanath betrays this trust. In any of these scenarios she is unfit to provide any advice and guidance based on scriptures and their meanings.
Further, student organizations will ask Viswanath to advise them in decisions that will have long term effects. These student groups will be subject to Viswanath's extremely partisan political views and will stifle free political thought and discourse in these groups. Chaplains are visible on university campuses as authority figures of the religions they represent.
While political activism is Viswanath’s choice, she is not fit to represent the Hindu voice as a religious authority on campus or anywhere else. It is for this same reason she has never been accepted in the community as an authority on Hindu culture, scripture, and practice.
A House of Cards has covered Sunita Viswanath extensively in an article titled “All Rise for Hinduphobia: Sunita Viswanath and The Progressive ‘Hindus.’ "
We request that you remove Sunita Viswanath as the Hindu Religious Life Advisor at Columbia University. Please see the links below for the articles mentioned in this email, as well as a Change petition urging for Viswanath's removal.
The American Hindu’s rebuttal of Equality Labs’ “Why Do We Say No to Holi?”
A House of Cards’ “All Rise For Hinduphobia: Sunita Viswanath And The Progressive ‘Hindus’
Change Petition: Sunita Viswanath Should Not Be Columbia’s Hindu Religious Life Advisor