Open letter: Protesting symbolism of "Rath Yatra" event in Toronto

Sep 30, 2023

Open letter: Protesting symbolism of "Rath Yatra" event in Toronto

Over 130 people associated with post-secondary institutions urge condemnation of the use of the “rath yatra,” a symbol of hate, for the event

The OCADU & UofT “Rath Yatra” event has troubling symbolism. We call for an alternative approach to celebration.

The Hindu Students Council at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU) and the University of Toronto (UofT) have scheduled an event titled “Rath Yatra & Art Mela” on 30th September at the universities. The event’s choice of the title “Rath Yatra” (literally translating to “chariot procession”) is steeped in the symbolism of Hindu nationalism that is associated with an anti-Muslim and caste-based hate and violence. Hindu nationalists are inspired by a Hindu supremacist ideology, which is Islamophobic, anti-Sikh, and casteist. A joint letter signed by 80+ organizations in Canada delivered to PM Trudeau in the form of a rally in Ottawa this past August details the oppression of religious minorities and oppressed groups in India at the hands of Hindu nationalists.

The "Rath Yatra" is symbolic of mass violence against Muslims and the oppression of Dalits by Hindu nationalists in India and in the diaspora. The rise of India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is active in Canada, is attributed to the 1990 Rath Yatra. This led to the demolition of a historic mosque (Babri Masjid) in 1992, which resulted in mass ethnic violence against Muslims that continues to this day. “Rath Yatras” have since then been the catalyst for instigating violence against Muslims, other religious minorities, and oppressed communities.

The Jagannath temples (located in the Indian state of Odisha), which this event commemorates, have had a particularly long history of casteist discrimination including denying entry to Dr. Ambedkar, the Dalit leader who drafted India’s Constitution, and Mahatma Gandhi who attempted to enter with Dalit compatriots. Despite existing legislation in India banning caste discrimination, a court had to intervene in 2006 to force a Jagannath temple in Odisha to remove the ban on Dalits. Even after legal intervention, Odisha Jagannath temples continue to thwart entry into temples by Dalits  (for example, by designating different entries, casteist slurs, and so on). The "Rath Yatra" terminology is deeply traumatizing and fear-inducing for students who are Muslims or caste-oppressed or from other religious minorities of India. It is associated with incidents of gross violations of human rights.

Through this joint letter, we wish to bring awareness about  the “rath yatra”’s association with incidences of hate and violence against Muslims, caste-oppressed people, and other religious minorities in India. Universities are supposed to create spaces that promote learning for all students and not be a place where symbols of oppression, hostility and hate are celebrated. 

Given the concerns about the event promoting hate, we the undersigned call upon OCADU and UofT to:

  • Condemn the use of the “rath yatra,” a symbol of hate, for the event;

  • Encourage alternative approaches to celebrating Hindu heritage and culture; and 

  • Use the opportunity to educate students, faculty, staff, and the wider public about Hindu nationalism and its hate-filled ideology.


    1.     Vasanthi Venkatesh, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor  

    2.     Aparna Sundar, Independent Scholar 

    3.     Anonymous, Anonymous 

    4.     Anonymous, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Scarborough 

    5.     Anonymous, PhD candidate, York University 

    6.     Anonymous, Anonymous 

    7.     Anonymous, Anonymous 

    8.     Divyani Motla, PhD, University of Toronto  

    9.     Anonymous, PhD researcher, Concordia University 

    10.  Anonymous, Student, Concordia University  

    11.  Gopika Solanki, Carleton University 

    12.  feroz mehdi, General Secretary, Alternatives International

    13.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    14.  Patricia Roy, student UQAM

    15.  Jooneed Jeeroburkhan, Writer, Rights Activist, Retired Journalist 

    16.  Anonymous, CERAS 

    17.  Anne goldenberg, Artist, facilitator and teacher, uqam & uqo

    18.  Shahnaz Khan, Professor Emerita Wilfrid Laurier University 

    19.  Anonymous, Anonymous Anonymous

    20.  Naila Saeed, Vice President- International Council of Indian Muslims  

    21.  Anonymous

    22.  Vinod Mubayi, Insaf Bulletin 

    23.  Leena Manimekalai, Independent Filmmaker 

    24.  South Asian Dalit Adivasi Network, Canada (SADAN), Canada

    25.  Jonathan  McPhedran Waitzer, National Organizer, Resource Movement 

    26.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    27.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    28.  Jillian Rogin, Associate Professor, University of Windsor 

    29.  Cheryl Benson, Benson Visuals 

    30.  tess sheldon, Windsor Law 

    31.  Samantha Anne Chrisanthus, Lawyer 

    32.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    33.  Shubhra Gururani, Director, York Centre for Asian Research,York University  

    34.  Terri Ginsberg, film scholar 

    35.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    36.  Laurie Adkin, Professor, University of Alberta 

    37.  Bhavani Raman, University of Toronto 

    38.  Amina Jamal, Professor, Toronto Metropolitan University 

    39.  Indu Vashist, Executive Director, SAVAC (South Asian Visual Arts Centre)

    40.  Anonymous, AIMS

    41.  Anonymous, Assistant Professor (LTF), Department of Criminology, Toronto Metropolitan University 

    42.  Rita Kaur Dhamoon, Associate Professor, UVIC 

    43.  Sanaa Ali-Mohammed, PhD candidate, Toronto Metropolitan University  

    44.  Naved Bakali, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor 

    45.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    46.  Angel glady J,  Queer Tamil collective 

    47.  Shozab Raza, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto 

    48.  Dia Da Costa, Professor of Social Justice and International Studies in Education, University of Alberta 

    49.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    50.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    51.  Mandeep Mucina, University of Victoria 

    52.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    53.  Anonymous, Co-Founder  Canadians Against Oppression And Persecution(CAOP)

    54.  Mathew Edassery  

    55.  Jeffrey Monaghan, Associate Professor, Carleton University, Criminology 

    56.  Jeff Bale, Associate Professor, University of Toronto  

    57.  Irfana Majumdar, PhD student, York University 

    58.  Marina Seuve, Student 

    59.  Dr. Alicia Turner, Associate Professor, York University, Program Coordinator Religious Studies 

    60.  Shraddha Chatterjee, Visiting Scholar, University of Houston 

    61.  Htet Min Lwin, PhD student, Religious Studies, York University, Toronto 

    62.  Anonymous, Professor of Sociology, University of Alberta 

    63.  Salman Hussain, York University 

    64.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    65.  Sabina Chatterjee, PhD Candidate, York University 

    66.  Dip Kapoor, Professor, University of Alberta, Social Justice & International Education Specialization

    67.  Nilanjan Das, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto 

    68.  Anonymous, Associate Professor, University of Toronto 

    69.  Fahad Ahmad, Assistant Professor, Toronto Metropolitan University 

    70.  Rakesh Sengupta, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto 

    71.  Ahana , International League of Peoples' Struggle in Canada 

    72.  Dolores Chew, Faculty, Marianopolis College, Montreal 

    73.  CERAS (Centre sur l'asie du sud/South Asia Centre)

    74.  Hana Ahmed, PhD Student, York University 

    75.  Gurpreet Singh, Radical Desi 

    76.  Katherine Blouin, Associate Professor, University of Toronto 

    77.  Girish Daswani, Associate Professor, University of Toronto 

    78.  Anonymous, Collective member, Kashmir Gulposh 

    79.  Anonymous, York University / Student 

    80.  Alex Da Costa, Associate Professor, University of Alberta 

    81.  Ali Kazimi, Professor, York University 

    82.  Anonymous, Anonymous 

    83.  Marie Boti, President, Diffusion Multi-Monde Inc.

    84.  Amanda Montgomery, Student/Laurentian University 

    85.  Janet Lumb, Individual 

    86.  Freda Guttman, former teacher Dawson College 

    87.  Kajri Jain, Professor, University of Toronto 

    88.  Anonymous

    89.  Anonymous, Women of Diverse Origins 

    90.  Anonymous, PhD Student, York University 

    91.  Alisha Zaida Ali, Centennial College, Queer Tamil Collective

    92.  Min Sook Lee, Associate Professor, OCAD University  

    93.  Sheryl , Affiliated Scholar, New College, U of T 

    94.  Richard Fung, Professor Emeritus, OCAD University 

    95.  Alan Wong, Teacher, Vanier College

    96.  Anonymous

    97.  Anonymous, Anonymous

    98.  Anonymous, QPIRG Concordia

    99.  Anonymous, University of Toronto

    100.  Anonymous, Professor, University of Toronto

    101.  Critical Diasporic South Asian Feminisms, South Asian Academics at Multiple Canadian and US Institutions 

    102.  Malavika Kasturi, Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto

    103.  Ashique Ali Thuppilikkat, University of Toronto 

    104.  Anonymous

    105.  Siddan Chandra ,  

    106.  Jasmin Zine, Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University 

    107.  Hesser Garcia, Community organizer 

    108.  Baljit Nagra, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa  

    109.  Chinnaiah Jangam, Carleton University  

    110.  Rita Acosta, Directrice  Mouvement contre le viol et l'inceste

    111.  Ilan Kapoor, Professor York University

    112.  Anonymous, PhD student, York University 

    113.  rosalind hampton, Assitant Professor, University of Toronto 

    114.  Anonymous,  Canadians for Indian Democracy (CID)

    115.  Anonymous

    116.  Anonymous, Assistant Professor, OCAD University 

    117.  South Asian Diaspora Action Collective (SADAC)

    118.  Tazeen Hasan, Advocacy manager, Justice For All, Canada

    119.  Anonymous, Student, UofT

    120.  Afzal Rahman

    121.  Muhammed Ahmad, University of Alberta

    122.  Ashar Mumtaz, Concordia University 

    123.  Jyotika Virdi, Associate Professor, University of Windsor

    124.  Atul Jain, Financial advisor

    125.  Anonymous, Parent of a student

    126.  Anonymous

    127. J Sharma, Associate Professor University of Toronto 

    128.  Vinod Bhardwaj, Retired 

    129.  Anonymous, Anonymous

    130.  Vishwas Aggrawal, Consultant - Legal Services

    131.  Anupam Agarwal, CIBC

    132.  John Nathaniel Gertler, Student, Concordia University

Signatures are being updated on the Google Form here:


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