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World Hindu Congress in Chicago Witnesses Protests

Swami Vigyanananda & Dr. Bharat Baria present a statue of Swami Vivekananda to Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu at World Hindu Congress in Chicago.

The World Hindu Congress (WHC) at Chicago, United States, was disrupted for a brief while on Sept.7, following which two women protesters were taken into custody by the police. One man was also arrested for spitting on the face of a woman protester in front of the police.

The protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. They were released later in the night.

The fracas began when some protesters started shouting slogans against “Hindu fascism” at the venue. They were then subjected to violence like kicking, punching, grabbing and spitting by some of the attendees of the conference.

Six protesters, including five women, were sitting at two different places in the hall, where the plenary session was going on. A video posted on Facebook by Alliance for Justice and Accountability shows that during the program, protesters begin to shout the slogans such as “RSS turn around, we don’t want you in town” and “Stop Hindu fascism.”

The slogans prompted a group of people in the hall to gather around the protesters, and counter them by raising slogans like “Bharat mata ki jai” and “Vande mataram.” The protesters were reportedly manhandled by the group.

The organizers alleged that the protesters intruded the venue showing fake identity cards.

Chicago South Asians For Justice, the organization behind the protest, issued a statement the next day about the violent behavior that the protesters were subjected to. The organization said it protests against the rise of global fascism in the United States, India, and worldwide.

“We were pushed into our seats and surrounded by a hoard of screaming men. I was punched in the face, kicked in the back, and grabbed. They called me a ‘dirty Muslim’ and threatened death. When I was outside in handcuffs, a man walked up to me and spat in my face in front of the police,” one of the protesters said in the statement.

Another protester added: “Someone actually started to choke me, and one of the other protesters had to get them off of me. Even when disrupting Donald Trump rallies, I’ve never had anyone put their hands on me like that, or respond with so much aggression, pushing, and obscenities. I can’t imagine how bad it would have gotten if there were not press cameras.”

Indian American politician and Chicago alderman Amey Pawar condemned the violence, saying that “bigoted” RSS has “no place in a discussion about Hinduism.’’

He also criticized WHC, saying that it invited speakers and organizations that promote discrimination, Islamophobia and Hindu nationalism.

Addressing the WHC, Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu had said that India believes in universal toleration and that Indians “accept all religions as true.” He also said, “If you live in America, you must be an ideal American citizen, but don’t forget your mother-tongue and culture.”

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and the organization’s joint secretary Dattatreya Hosbale were present on the stage with six other top Hindu religious leaders when the protest took place, PTI reported. Urging Hindus across the world to come together, Bhagwat said, “In initial days of our work, when our karkyakartas (workers) used to talk to the Hindus about organizing them, they used to say ‘sher kabhi jhund mein nahi chalta‘ (a lion never walks in a group). But even that lion or a royal Bengal tiger who is the king of the jungle, if he is alone, wild dogs can invade and destroy him.”

Bhagwat’s comments drew criticism from opposition leaders in India.

The second World Hindu Congress, held from Sept. 7 to 9, marked the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s historic speech at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 in Chicago. More than 2,500 delegates and 250 speakers from over 60 countries participated in the three-day event.