“Religious freedom is a fundamental value for any pluralistic, diverse society.”
Nikhil Mandalaparthy discusses the importance of religious pluralism with the threats of rising religious nationalism both in India and the US.
Nikhil is the Advocacy Director with Hindus for Human Rights, a human rights non-profit that advocates for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America. Their work speaks out against the caste system, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), Islamophobia, racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. These are under threat in India right now under a Hindu nationalist government.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Thank you for joining the First Amendment Museum again for the next entry of our One on 1 series. Today I’m joined by our special guest Nikhil Mandalaparthy who is be going to be talking about his organization Hindus for Human Rights. Thank you for joining us.
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: Thank you Maxwell for inviting me to this series. My name is Nikhil and I’m the advocacy director with Hindus for Human Rights. I’m based in Washington DC and I work on issues around human rights, civil rights, and religious pluralism in South Asia and North America.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Why do you think the First Amendment is important?
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: You know the First Amendment and its freedoms resonates a lot with our own values as a faith-based organization.
One of the religious leaders that we look up to at Hindus for Human Rights, Swami Agnivesh, was one of the few Hindu leaders to speak out against religious nationalism and caste. One of his core messages was to always ensure the freedom to doubt, the freedom to debate, and also if necessary, the freedom to dissent.
And so I see these as very much in alignment with, you know, our fundamental freedoms from the First Amendment.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: What is the purpose and goal of Hindus for Human Rights?
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: Hindus for Human Rights is a two-year-old non-profit human rights advocacy organization. The core of our mission is to advocate for pluralism, civil rights, and human rights in South Asia and in North America.
And doing so sort of motivated and rooted in the values of our faith which are peace, justice, and truth.
And so we provide a Hindu voice of resistance against caste and caste-based discrimination, against Hindu nationalism, violence against minorities, racism, Islamophobia, all forms of bigotry and hate.
And so our vision is working towards a world where there’s peace among all people and the planet also is honored and protected.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: So why do you think average Americans should care about the work that Hindus for Human Rights does?
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: So most Americans know something about yoga and Bollywood and like these different aspects of South Asian cultures which have become very global.
And most Americans also know something about religious nationalism especially seeing what’s happened in this country in the US over the last few years. Hindu nationalism has been ravaging India’s pluralistic secular democracy. This same country is being threatened by really violent extremist ideas of who belongs, who is a true Indian, and all this is being decided through a lens of hard extremist religious nationalism.
And so many of the freedoms that we in the US hold dear, you know, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, these are under threat in India right now under a Hindu nationalist government.
This ideology of Hindu nationalism isn’t just threatening Indian democracy but also here in the US. We know that on January 6th, that the insurrection at the US Capital, Hindu nationalists were present along with Christian nationalists.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: So what are some of the challenges Hindus for Human Rights faces?
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: I think one of the major challenges that we face is very much connected to actually the First Amendment. We’re the only Hindu organization in the US that
speaks out against Hindu nationalism, against caste, against Islamophobia, and we received a lot of backlash from some of the more mainstream Hindu organizations here in this country.
And so we see that here in the United States, speaking out on these issues is very tense and very contested, and we believe that it’s important to exercise our freedom of speech to raise these important issues that are being threatened in India as well as the United States.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: How do you use your First Amendment freedoms in your everyday life?
NIKHIL MANDALAPARTHY: As a religious minority working for a Hindu organization I think
freedom of religion is kind of essential for us to do our work. And so we believe in religious freedom as a really fundamental value for any pluralistic diverse society.
And also freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government. As an advocacy organization, these are freedoms that we are engaging every single day. Through petitions and rallies and protests and holding our government, elected officials accountable.
And as I mentioned, these same freedoms are very much under threat in India where the Indian constitution also guarantees freedom of speech and religion and assembly and all of that,
but just as you know in India and in any other country across the world there’s this rise in right-wing authoritarian movements which are challenging these fundamental freedoms.
Having the freedom that we have in the US, we believe it’s our responsibility to speak up as much as we can and raise our voice when those in other countries may not be able to do as much.
So thank you again for this opportunity to share a little bit about our work. I really appreciate it.
MAXWELL NOSBISCH: Yeah great. Thank you so much.