Several universities and corporations have pulled out of the Australia India Youth Dialogue event after many groups and activists protested against inviting a BJP MP known for his amplified nationalism on social media.
These protests and petitions have begun to take effect with Global Victoria (an agency of the Victorian government), KPMG, Tata Consultancy Services and Melbourne University disassociating themselves with the AIYD now.
As of today, partners for the 2022 Dialogue are Deakin University, the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and Monash University. Associate partners includes Bluescope, which has established a successful global partnership in India as a joint venture with the Tata group.
A group of concerned academics, global activists from the Indian Diaspora and members of various civil society groups belonging to the Australian Alliance Against Hate (AAAH), have raised serious concerns about the invitation forwarded to BJP leader Tejasvi Surya from the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD).
The Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) is a young leaders’ dialogue between Australia and India. It is held in India and Australia on alternate years; the AIYD claims to host 15 of the “best and brightest young minds from each country at an annual conference”. According to their website, AIYD “enables a rich exchange of ideas between emerging leaders to think creatively about how the Australia-India relationship may be strengthened through their own work and efforts”.
Who is Tejasvi Surya?
Tejasvi Surya is an Indian politician of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a member of Hindu right wing organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He is a Member of Parliament representing the Bangalore South constituency. He is also the current president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of BJP.
The protesting groups have written letters addressed to Australian universities and corporations who were partnering with AIYD in hosting this event in Sydney and Melbourne from 31 May to 4 June.
“As evident in his profile on the AIYD Website, Mr Surya identifies himself as an RSS Swayamsevak,” the letter points out. “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a militant Hindu organisation that borrows from the tactics of European fascism to transform different people’ into ‘enemies’. Groups that have experienced RSS-related discrimination and violence for decades include Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Adivasis (Indigenous), and Dalits (historically positioned at the bottom of the hierarchical caste system),” the letter states.
The letter also draws the institutions’ attention to Tejasvi’s “deeply divisive and exclusionary ideology”. They have also cited examples of Surya’s “deeply problematic history of misogyny, promoting religious intolerance, political violence, and Islamophobia.” The list is as follows:
- In June 2018, Mr Surya called for the BJP to represent only Hindus and for India to abandon its secular constitution and establish a ‘Hindu Rashtra (Hindu state) to counter ‘Muslim consolidation’.
- In April 2015, Mr Surya wrote lewd, misogynistic, and Islamophobic tweets directed at Arab women and Muslims.
- In May 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Surya promoted a flood of Islamophobia targeted at Muslim Covid-19 helpdesk workers.
- In December 2021, Mr Surya called for the conversion of Muslims and Christians into Hindus on a ‘war footing’.
- In March 2022, Mr Surya led a protest outside the residence of the Delhi Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal. The protest against Kejriwal’s views on a BJP-endorsed movie led to violence and vandalism.
A tweet by Mr Surya directed at Arab women allegedly became a ‘national embarrassment’ for the Indian government and the then Indian ambassador to the UAE, Pavan Kapoor took to social media to post a placatory response: “India and UAE share the value of non-discrimination on any grounds. Discrimination is against our moral fabric and the Rule of law. Indian nationals in the UAE should always remember this.”
Mejbel Al Sharika, a Kuwaiti lawyer and head of the Center for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law protested strongly against Surya’s post.
Among the groups who signed the letter protesting against the invitation are the Humanism Project (Australia), Hindus for Human Rights-Australia and New Zealand, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), We are the Mainstream (Australia), South Asian Humanist Association, CARE – Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation, Massey University, New Zealand, Aotearoa Alliance of Progressive Indians (New Zealand), Indian American Muslim Council (US), Boston South Asian Coalition (US), Coalition Against Fascism in India (US), Dalit Solidarity Forum (US), Indian Solidarity Germany (Germany), South Asia Solidarity Group (UK), International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (Insaf India) and Red Dot Revolt (Gadigal Land).
A spokesperson for The Humanism Project told NRI Affairs, “Mr Tejasvi Surya has a well-documented history of bigotry, misogyny and vandalism. And yet he was invited by AIYD events. AIYD lists Australia’s best universities and corporations as its partners. This raises significant questions about whether these universities and corporations were aware of Mr Surya’s deeply problematic history. Mr Surya’s invitation by the AIYD – also raises significant concerns about AIYD’s commitment to our Australian values of multiculturalism, diversity and inclusiveness.”
An online petition has also been launched to stop the controversial BJP leader’s visit in association with the event.
The AIYD has not replied to our email queries regarding the protests or partners pulling out.