- Rev. Robert Miller, who took the decision after hearing from both event organizers and opponents, said the venue wasn’t aware of the speaker’s background when the reservation was made. The organizers said they moved the venue to Sheraton Hotel in Mahwah.
Narsinh Desai, one of the sponsors of the event, confirmed to American Kahani that the Ridgewood event was canceled. He said the church decided against providing its premises for the event because of protests from minority groups. He declined to comment on his views on the event or the speaker, but said the venue has been moved to Sheraton Hotel in Mahwah and will be held at 7 pm.
Opposition to Rithambara’s talk came from the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR). The IAMC had planned a protest outside the church on the day of the talk, which was also canceled, leadership from the advocacy group told American Kahani.
Calls made to the Old Paramus Reformed Church by American Kahani were not returned.
The Rev. Robert Miller told northjersey.com that he revoked the approval to use the church building after hearing from both opponents and event organizers. He told a local news portal that the church was not aware of the speaker’s background when the reservation was made. He said that “an Indian American seniors association, which had used the space before, contacted the church to book the event.”
Miller took the decision after the church was inundated with messages opposing Rithambara’s appearance, “including more than 1,000 emails from around the country since Sept. 8 and at least 100 phone calls on Sept. 9,” according to norhtjersey.com. The IAMC and HfHR had organized a letter-writing campaign to the church via an online action alert titled “Reject hate, say no to Hindu Nationalism in New Jersey.”
Miller said he also spoke with event organizers “who felt they were being misrepresented and said their event was “about peace and love.” He told northjersey.com that the church “felt ill-equipped to discern what was right in this situation.”
On a flyer advertising the event, organizers described the speaker as “a pre-eminent saint of Bharat” and “a social reformer who helps underprivileged children and champions women’s rights.”
However, her critics say she has incited hate against religious minorities, especially Muslims. In a statement sent to American Kahani, Khateeb commended the church officials “for taking the right decision by not allowing its space to be used to platform an extremist leader who is well known for anti-Christian and anti-Muslim hate and bigotry in India.”
Mohammed Jawad, IAMC New Jersey chapter President said “Hindu extremist leaders like Sadhvi Rithambara threaten peace in our communities. New Jersey should never provide space and opportunity to people who peddle the hateful ideology of Hindutva that is completely antithetical to the democratic values of the United States.”
However, an Indian American free-speech advocate told American Kahani it is wrong to cancel people from expressing their views, however abhorrent those views may be. Wishing not to be identified, the Indian American who considers himself a liberal who opposes religious nationalism of any kind, nevertheless says protecting the right to express views you don’t agree with is the essence of democracy. “I don’t think much of cancel culture,” he added.
Last month, more than 100 people protested outside a venue at Norcross, Georgia, where Rithambara’s programs were listed for August 30 and 31. The protestors who said they were trying to “stop the Hindutva instigated bigotry and hate from seeping into our communities,” demanded that Rithambara’s visa be revoked, and she be sent back to India.
In 2010, Rithambara’s speech, scheduled at the Hindu Samaj Mandir in Mahwah, New Jersey, from Sept. 2 to 6, was moved to another location, following a protest from the IAMC and NRI’s for Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI).
She was accused of having a role in the razing of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992. During the run-up to the demolition, her speeches calling for a Hindu war against Muslims were made into audio cassettes and sold across the country. Thirty-two leaders including Rithambara were acquitted in 2020 after a 28-year legal battle over the incident.
In an interview with Indo-Asian News Service on the 30th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, she described Dec. 6, 1992, as “a big day which was a victory of the struggle of 500 years to restore the symbol of faith and belief of Hindus in a Hindu-majority nation.” She added that the event “also pulled the curtain on the long struggle which turned the holy land of Ayodhya into a battleground.”
Rithambara also has beef with Indian Christians. Suggesting that the Christian missionaries were attempting to convert people, she once said, “If a single choti or janeu (a Hindu thread) is cut, Christians will be wiped out from the face of India.” As a May 1995 article in India Today noted, Rithambara has said that for her, “Hinduism connotes nationalism. If nationalism is a crime, I shall commit it again.”
This is the second incident to rock New Jersey. Last month, the India Day Parade in Edison, New Jersey, included a bulldozer, which symbolizes the demolition of Muslim properties in India. The bulldozer was decorated with photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. A banner saying “Baba ka Bulldozer” was seen next to Adityanath’s photo. BJP national spokesperson Dr. Sambit Patra was the grand marshal of the parade. The Indian Business Association, the organizer of the parade, later apologized for the inclusion of the bulldozer.