Church in Ridgewood NJ cancels event with Hindu nationalist Rithambara
A fundraising event featuring Hindu nationalist Sadhvi Rithambara will no longer take place at Old Paramus Reformed Church in Ridgewood on Saturday, following public outcry and calls for the event to be canceled .
The Reverend Robert Miller said late Friday that he had revoked permission to use the church building after hearing from opponents and event organizers. Critics say Rithambara, known to followers as Didi Maa, incited hatred against religious minorities, especially Muslims. Her supporters say she is a pious leader and philanthropist.
The church was unaware of the speaker’s background when the booking was made, Miller said. A Native American seniors association, which had previously used the space, contacted the church to book the event, he said.
He said the church had received a flood of messages opposing Rithambara’s appearance, including more than 1,000 emails from across the country since Thursday and at least 100 phone calls on Friday. A protest was also planned outside the church on Saturday during his visit.
Miller also heard from event organizers who felt they were misrepresented and said their event was “about peace and love,” he said.
“We felt ill-equipped to discern what was right in this situation,” Miller said.
It was unclear if the New Jersey chapter of Param Shakti Peeth of America, a charity that organized the fundraiser, would hold the event at a different time or place.
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The Indian American Muslim Council and Hindus for Human Rights had called for the event to be canceled and organized a campaign to send letters to the church via an online action alert titled “Reject Hate, Say No to Nationalism Hindu in New Jersey”.
To her followers, Rithambara is a revered spiritual leader, but controversy is nothing new to her. She was accused of having played a part in the shaving of the 16e century-old Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh in 1992, an event that sparked violence in which more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Thirty-two leaders, including Rithambara, were acquitted in 2020 after a 28-year legal battle over the incident.
In an interview earlier this week, Narsinh Desai of Cresskill, a sponsor of the event, dismissed claims that Rithambara was extremist, calling it “misinformation”. She talks about protecting the Hindu religion but not about violence, he said.
“I don’t hear any kind of hatred,” he said, describing her as peaceful, charitable and holy.
Hannan Adely is a diversity journalist covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, prejudice and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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