Hindu At Heart

Indu Viswanathan, Ed.D.
5 min readNov 10, 2023

Dear fellow Hindu Americans,

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview “Keshav,” a young Hindu American who had been coerced into converting to Islam by his friends. A chance encounter with a Hindu American social media influencer led him to reconsider his conversion. (You’ll find links to the interview at the bottom of this post.)

It is important for us to listen carefully to Keshav’s experience to understand the moments that led him down his path. I made sure not to editorialize the interview, not to sensationalize it. His story affected me deeply, as many of you have shared it has impacted you. Since the podcasts were released, I have received messages almost every day from young Hindu Americans sharing that Keshav’s experience is not uncommon along with their thoughtful commentaries. I have been reflecting on my conversation with Keshav and these messages. I’ve come to recognize that at least four things make Hindu American youth vulnerable to coercive religious conversion.

First is the absence of an accessible, practical connection to the larger Hindu landscape of possibilities for the sincere seeker. While many Hindus inherit their sampradaya from their parents, others may seek their own. Hinduism not only allows for this, it encourages it! But a young Hindu American cannot explore the vast landscape of Hindu sampradayas without knowing that these other options exist and welcome seekers. Many Hindu Americans grow up thinking their family’s sampradaya represents the entirety of Hindu options.

Second is hyperfocus on studying (academics, scriptures) rather than on meaningful intragenerational, interpersonal Hindu connection, especially across sampradayas and sanghas. We heard the incredible impact that young Hindu American social media influencer had on Keshav’s experience. Many older Hindu Americans (and older Americans in general) decry the asymmetrical influence social media has on shaping young people’s concepts and worldviews. But the fact is, these are also sites of interruption and exploration, and our youth are better served if we better understand their possibility than if we paint them with a broad, suspicious brush. Of course, this doesn’t replace the value of rich, in-person interactions with a diversity of accessible, realistic, relatable peers and role models.

The third factor is that most Hindus are naive about the intellectual dishonesty of the Western marketplace of religions. The proselytizing religions don’t “play fair.” Their goal is to convert people to their faith, not to support the sincere seeker in finding their genuine path. (This is a foreign idea to Hindus.) Keshav described this during his interview. And we know for a fact that many Christian proselytizers are trained to specifically target Hindus during Diwali with guides on how to manipulate unsuspecting Hindus towards Christian conversion.

Fourth, while we think we are speaking the same language as our children, the words are coded from different social and historical spaces. This creates a gap in mutual understanding. For instance, the term “traditional values is coded as regressive, dogmatic, and antithetical to pluralism in the United States. It does not signal reverence for the rich, inclusive, open inquiry that Hindus may be thinking of when we contemplate our tradition.

The marriage of these four vulnerabilities creates the perfect susceptibility in our youth for conversion. We must ask ourselves what we can do as a community to address these spaces.

I don’t believe Hindus should change our nature and start badmouthing other paths in order to justify ours — whether they are other Hindu sampradayas or other religions. We do need to have honest and brave conversations not only within our community but in interfaith spaces about how the rules of engagement for proselytizing traditions are normed as “freedom of religion” and how those norms are existentially threatening to the rest of us. This threat is especially dangerous if we don’t speak about them openly. This will feel strange at first, as we are not accustomed to articulating this externally in ways that can be received.

We are also not in the habit of discussing other religions, especially in derogatory ways, when we educate our children about Hinduism. How can we hold that respect and integrity while also not being naive or, alternately, fear-mongering? Both of those pathways — ignorance about reality and being excessively fearful — create barriers to effective communication with our children. These real conversations — grounded in the real world and not in abstraction — are of existential importance to the Hindu American community as we envision how to hold our community for future generations. Remember that the goal is to be effective, not just right.

How we can build and communicate the vast landscape of Hindu traditions to our community? How can we do so in ways that are inviting to our American-born youth, and that reflect and respond to their real, integrated lives?

How can we create spaces across sampradayas for young Hindus to discuss Hindu knowledge and ideas, their paths, and their real questions and concerns?

How can we prepare ourselves and our children to face the insidious mechanisms of predatory proselytizing while maintaining the principles and spirit of Sanatana Dharma that encourage genuine exploration and inquiry?

How can we learn to communicate with our children at the level of meaning and context? How can we learn to listen and understand, with humility and empathy, how our children are making meaning of what we teach them?

I believe these are far more generative inquiries than diagnosing and demonizing each other, which I see some folks doing on social media. For the young Hindu Americans watching those discourses, that kind of othering and divisiveness is discouraging and counterproductive and only makes them more susceptible to leaving the community.

We saw this play out in Keshav’s story.

Over the course of the next few months, I am going to continue the Hindu at Heart series, hosted by The Hindu American Foundation’s podcast That’s So Hindu. I invite you to join me as I listen to Hindus raised in America share their journeys, triumphs, and the meaningful struggles that shape their lives. If you or someone you know has a story they’d like to share, please be in touch. Let’s keep talking and thinking as a community.

And even if you are not a Hindu American, I encourage you to listen to these stories! There is so much we can learn by listening with open hearts and minds.

Happy Deepavali!

With love and gratitude,


PS You can listen to Keshav’s interview across these two podcasts:



Indu Viswanathan, Ed.D.

Mother | Daughter | Immigration & Teacher Education | Dharma | Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu