On “India vs. Hinduphobia”

Mr. Juluri (“India v. Hinduphobia: What Narendra Modi’s Election as Prime Minister Really Means”),

Firstly, let me congratulate you for analysing the most recent elections in India and figuring out what the “youth” really want – a unified India, as opposed to Hinduphobia – which would apparently mean Mr. Modi losing. According to you, it seems to be a rather black and white issue – a divided India or Hinduphobia (the proof being “orientalist” articles in The Economic Times, The New York Times and The Guardian?).

I would like to disagree with you. I’ll admit it – when I read your article, it made me angry (we’ll come to that later) but then, it seemed ridiculous. I’m not going to lie, I laughed. I laughed at the utopian Hindu world you’ve experienced and lived (perhaps even live) in and I’m angry that this does not reflect my experience of Hinduism and “Hindu worldviews”, even though I was born in a Hindu household and bombarded with those worldviews whether I liked it or not. I laughed because my experience of these worldviews in Hindustan has been shockingly different. So you will understand, I think, if I try to put forward my perspective in response to yours.

We disagree on many points, but foremost amongst them has to be your assertion that respect needs to be accorded to the very little intellectual, emotional or moral purchase the “anointed” secular position has in “large sections of India’s young today”. Your belief seems to be that it is not really secular (“sickular”, perhaps) and has been anointed (but by whom?) and that a large majority of the voters (by association, youth) voted for Narendra Modi, secular criticisms against him have little influence or endorsement. Here, I want to point out that only 31% of the voters voted for him and no party has ever before won more than half the seats with a vote share of just 31%, which emphasises how fragmented the vote actually was this election. But I won’t go into figures and all that jazz now, since it seems that doing so only makes us hold on to our positions with renewed determination.

Apart from that, even if it were true that a large majority of “young people” (or is it young Hindus? Never mind) disregarded secular criticisms and viewpoints in the last general elections, does that automatically make it something which should be respected?

The “new way of being Hindu” which is being equated with everything nice, starting from tolerance to universal good – I don’t see that, I have never seen that.

What I have seen, however, is a resurgence of ideas which talk of how India is “finally” becoming the country it was “meant” to be – the Prime Ministerial candidate goes to temples, offers pujas and respects the Ganges. Have you ever seen anybody do that? No, sir. You haven’t. Here is a true Hindu, a real man who will finally show Muslims their place in the country and get rid of those bloody immigrants (only Muslim ones, mind you).

Yes, India will belong to the Hindus, to us. That seems to be the overriding sentiment when they talk. I don’t know how Hindus practice their worldviews in your (seemingly) utopian world, but these are their worldviews in mine.

And no, this does not exclude “young people”. Yes, most of us are not overt about it, but there is still an “us” versus “them” mentality. Very much so, we would like to hide it, hide from it, deny it – and we do. But that does not mean it is not present. It is everywhere. No, we are not what you think we are, at least not in my (admittedly not utopian) world. And this does not refer clear cut lines based only on religion. It extends to ethnicity, language, caste and class. In a country where you have a multitude of identities, you are bound to have a multitude of loyalties – especially since most social life still revolves around the identities assigned to us with our birth in a particular family.

Allow me to point out yet another assertion of yours I majorly disagree with and which is perhaps the whole premise on which your article is built. I don’t think this election can be as simple as “India vs. Hinduphobia”. Among the 31% voters for Modi, “Hinduphobia” was the least important worry on the minds of at least one camp. Incidentally, this is the “camp” that has the greatest number of “young people”. This camp has taken into account the accusations against him but satisfy themselves with clean chits and speeches where development is mentioned more than the Ram Temple, and how can Modi win without Muslim support (the number of Muslim MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha will be the lowest in 15 years. The BJP has fielded only 5 Muslim candidates but none of them have won) and the Gujarat model of development. We lust after jobs, security, no reservations and the Indian rupee. Many of us seem to have found in Modi a charismatic, interactive leader who portrays himself as being poles apart from Dr. Manmohan Singh, who has often been the butt of jokes due to the silent and formal nature of his interaction with the public. Hinduphobia is so far removed from the truth for them, it’s absurd.

However, to another camp, this election means something else. They are glad that there are only 23 Muslim MPs. They are against anything which does not fit in with their idea of “traditional, Hindu” values (read: gay rights, etc).

You state that different faiths divided by language, custom etc still share a land and history due to Hinduism’s “ancient legacy” of respecting all faiths more than the secular constitution India has. Do you not believe that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains have a legacy of respecting all faiths? Even if we assume your statement to be true, peace and coexistence cannot be achieved if only one religion is doing all the “respecting” and “tolerating”. Taali ek hath se nahi bajti [you can't clap with one hand] as we like to say, you know, as Indians.

The government which is to preside over us for the next five years has just been formed, and trust me, all of us who have voted want nothing but the best for India, even though our ideas about what “the best” really is might vary. Let’s see the direction India takes in the next five years. Acche din? For everybody, I hope.

 

On Not Having a Good Hindu Name

I met up with a friend yesterday, who, like me, is an atheist but has a Christian last name. As often happens these days, the conversation drifted to the possibility of having Modi as prime minister. She told me about a friend of hers, who has a mixed background – Muslim father, and Christan mother. Her friend said that she was apprehensive about having a Muslim name in an India where Modi is in charge. There would be a sense of fear lurking in one’s mind. What if.

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Sangh may not make a debut in Kerala, but…

Video: Audience at ViBGYOR protest vandalism by RSS workers

400 and more. All shouting in unison “RSS GO BACK! GO BACK! GO BACK! GO BACK!”.

So proud to be a Malayali, right now (I can’t believe I missed out on this video for so long). The video shows the reason why the Sangh will never crack into the state, any time soon. The following is a quote from a friend.

“I do not believe in banning the RSS. It has a place. It has a place in the shadows, the last benches, the corners which the broom has missed, the gutter left neglected over the years. It is a badge of shame we didn’t clear out with the other bric a brac from the dusty attic of our past, a rabid cur we skirt past on the road, a lunatic’s abuse heard from afar and immediately forgotten. Such is the place of the RSS. And I believe it should continue to occupy its place as a constant reminder of the darkness that can envelope us if there are no lights kept burning, those of tolerance, pluralism, free speech and ever widening knowledge. No, I certainly do not believe in bans. But they should know their place and know it well. 400 people in the audience during the screening shouted “RSS go back” and back they went. Because, those 400 voices represent the true voice of this great nation.”

~ Gautam Benegal

“RSS workers stop screening of ‘Ocean of Tears’ at film festival”

But there is still much to be concerned about. The police did not arrest the vandals even though they assaulted some of the audience members. Almost a week later, we hear about police brutality against some of the ViBGYOR activists, a female filmmaker AND their female lawyer and her children, for staging “Vagina Monologues”. So while we revel at the unanimous rejection of the fascists by the audience, we should not forget that Kerala is not exactly the vacation spot for progressives and liberals. If anything it’s getting worse.

These incidents seem unusual in Kerala, a state known more for its liberal values, high literacy rates and excellent social indices. Historian J Devika believes that the attacks are a fallout of the success of Sangh Parivar members in getting Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism pulped, and are a sign of the national assertion of what she calls “Moditva”.

“These are goons, and what we see is not a rise in their intellectual confidence, but in their brazen determination to inflict violence and terrorise others,” said Devika. “Interestingly, their supporters in the police have also found it easier to hit out now, and the most vulnerable sections they can target are precisely young people who identify with the non-mainstream left.”

According to Devika and Sasi, extremist elements – with the help of the police and the media – have been trying to whip up “Islamophobia” in Kerala. Said human rights activist BRP Bhaskar, “The Modi factor is giving them more encouragement.”

Weeping for the Modern Caste-Hindu?

Jakob de Roover

Outlook recently published, on their website, Jakob de Roover’s reaction to “l’affaire Doniger”. In the article, de Roover cooks up a story to explain how the “deeply flawed” narrative of the caste system and the Hindu religion is responsible for the creation of Hindu fundamentalism.

What brings Hindu organizations to filing petitions that make them the butt of ridicule and contempt? Whence the frustration among so many Indians about the way their culture is depicted? Why is this battle not fought out in the free intellectual debate so typical of India in the past?

S. N. Balagangadhara

Nevermind the fact that the inspiration of this story is S. N. Balagangadhara, the Ghent University professor and beacon of caste-Hindu privilege blindness and arrogance (“how can we conclude from just 38 murders that caste discrimination exists in India?”), the story even in its isolation stands as a shining example of caste privilege apologia.

What comforts me is the prompt responses it received from Nivedita Menon (first published by Kafila and later by Outlook) and Prashant Keshavmurthy of McGill University.

The following is from Nivedita Menon’s article,

So let us imagine another growing child— not De Roover’s boy, but his sister. She hears (and retains) some other stories that the boy chooses to forget or ignores —the cruel slashing of Surpanakha’s nose for her merely expressing desire for a young handsome man, the even more cruel abandonment of pregnant Sita, the Lakshman Rekha that she is called upon to observe every single day of her twentieth century life—imagine her excitement when on growing up and entering the world of scholarship, she comes across Indian feminist scholarship that attacks both Western Orientalist critiques of Hinduism as well as nationalist responses that reconstruct a Golden Age before “Muslim invasions”—for instance, Uma Chakravarty’s critique of the ‘Altekerian Paradigm’. Or Iravati Karve’s Yuganta. Or Nabaneeta Deb Sen’s account of women’s Ramayanas in which Rama is a far cry from the ideal man. Village women sing “Ram, tomar buddhi hoilo nash’. Oh Ram, you have lost your mind. Molla, a Shudra woman in the 16th century wrote a perfect classical Ramayana, which the Brahmins did not allow to be read in the royal court. Chandrabati’s version that told the Ramayana from Sita’s point of view was criticized as a weak and incomplete text by the same arbiters of taste and morality.

Imagine this young woman trying to engage her sulky brother in dialogue as he rants about the denigration of Hinduism. Imagine the absolute lack of empathy from his side as he fulminates…

Imagine after this, the daughter of the Dalit woman who cleans the toilets of that young Hindu boy’s home. Imagine her excitement at learning, if she ever reached school, that one BR Ambedkar had torn apart the entire foundation of the religion so celebrated by the boy and his family. Or that Ranganayakamma had written a book called Ramayana The Poisonous Tree, saying we should reject it because it supports the powerful against the powerless. Or that EV Ramasami had deconstructed the story of the killing of Shambuka by Rama for daring to recite the Scriptures despite being a Shudra.

Imagine the fact that this girl would literally have been invisible to the sulky boy as the household spun silently around him on the labour of women and lower castes, as he prepared to go to America ‘for a few years.’

For De Roover and his ‘Hindu gentleman’, sexuality is not the problem, mention of caste discrimination is. By putting Christian distaste for both sexuality and caste in the same basket, De Roover is able to suggest that both critiques are tainted. But of course, some of us may want to take a more nuanced position, celebrating sexuality and attacking caste oppression, even if critique of the latter comes exclusively from ‘the West’, which of course, it does not.

And this one is by Prashant Keshavmurthy,

One doesn’t have to have read the theorist of post-colonial identity, Edward Said, to expect a modicum of reflexivity in the use of such categories of identity. Nor does one have to be familiar with the English poetry (that adapted an American Modernist minimalism by discovering its elective affinities with ancient Tamil poetry) and scholarship (bringing European Folklore Studies and semiotics to bear on pre-modern Tamil and Kannada literatures) of the founder of South Asian Studies in the University of Chicago, A.K. Ramanujan, to expect a minimum of intellectual sophistication in not simplistically equating ethnicity with scholarly identity. So much for shallowness and theoretical poverty.

In the end I’d like to say that, de Roover’s Hindu Boy is not a fictional character, but a real one. I see him in my family, in my father, my cousins, neighbours, roommates, friends, on the social network, everywhere. He definitely exists and he is someone to be wary of, since avoiding him is not an option in India right now.

Controversy Over Prevention of Caste Atrocities and Equality Act in the UK (Part 3)

(Previous parts: Part 1, Part 2.)

Now to protect their own fair skin (which they are really proud of), the AHO are suggesting that the government and the members of House of Lords themselves are being racist. They are claiming,

In April of this year there was no AHO but after Lord Harries and his racist colleagues publically(sic) denigrated our Community, discriminating against us in the most despicable manner, the British Hindu Community turned its attention to this task and the AHO was born…

It wouldn’t be surprising to observe how they want to distract the UK media’s attention from the real issue at hand. By suggesting that the members of House of Lords who included Caste in the Equality act, as committing racism and continuing a colonial legacy, they wish to hide centuries old barbaric traditions. Such is their brazenness.

The current population of those of exterior caste descent is said to be somewhere between 50,000[i] to 400,000[ii]. While the population of Hindus in England and Wales is more than 800,000 according to the 2011 census. Most of the migrants coming from India who now have settled down in western countries are obviously from upper castes as their socio-economic privilege accumulated in India over generations could afford them such a living. They have accumulated wealth and created social capital of their own to be able to keep the exterior castes socially excluded. Harassment in school, employment, provision of goods and services, and even religious places still continues. They are a minority among minority. The atrocities are being conducted for last few decades and such law cannot be delayed any further considering that even children of exterior caste descent are bullied in UK schools.

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Controversy Over Prevention of Caste Atrocities and Equality Act in the UK (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1. Link to Part 3.)

Now let us take a look at the newly formed ‘Alliance of Hindu Organisations’ (AHO). It was formed in April 2013, only when it seemed like the upper caste or savarnas will be facing the wrath of the law for continuing discrimination. The domain name of their website is, ironically, ‘my caste is hindu.org’. Can there be anything such as society made of only one caste? Caste as a division of labourers organized individuals in different groups and closed them through endogamy. Every caste was assigned different functions and occupations in village socio-economy. Every caste had to depend on the other. The AHO wants to hide this exact hideous reality that the UK Hindus are divided in many castes. Even the names of the groups which are part of AHO give away the fact that they are exclusive for certain castes. One simply can’t be a casteless Hindu. In urban India, when people introduce themselves to each other, they are curious to know the surname of a person. Just knowing the given name does not satisfy them. They want to figure out religion and caste through family name. Many times even by observing physical features, they assume caste  of a person. Fair skin is usually attached to being born in ‘pure’ upper caste, while having darker skin doesn’t hold any social status and is usually connected to being born in ‘unclean’ castes. It wouldn’t be surprising to find the migrants in UK following this tradition.

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Is Being a Hindu Nationalist Important for Women Too?

A national political party puts up “I am a Hindu nationalist” posters across the city of Mumbai. I see complacency in the privileged Hindu men and women.  The men are not ruffled as they benefit from patriarchy and the women conditioned to exist within the construct.

I ponder over what this emphasis on religion as the primary identity marker by political parties, yes parties as almost all of them make cynical use of religious issues, means for Indian women. Will it hinder the movement towards women being regarded as individual citizens by the state? Secular women and men want civil laws for marriage, inheritance, guardianship.

While the culturally Hindu women accept obscure rituals like “kanyadaan” in traditional marriage ceremonies as part of their religion, they should take a moment to reflect that despite opposition from orthodoxy, religious personal laws like women not having the right to choose who to marry had been abolished. In fact, until Section 6 regarding guardianship was repealed in 1978 by the Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, persons entitled to consent included amongst others even the girl/woman’s ‘brother by full blood; the brother by half blood; etc.’. Laws are amended by progressive thought, but the insidious nature of culture is such that notions of family honour are linked to masculine identities and women still bear the burden of maintaining this. It’s not just the family and extended family that tries to control women, but the caste group to which they belong to from the Hindu community as well.  In northern parts of India, there are the barbaric diktats of the Khap panchayats and ‘honour killings’ and in southern Tamil Nadu, there are educated Hindu men lobbying against inter-caste marriages and this in the only Indian State that legally recognizes “self-respect” marriages.

Hindu nationalism is just patriarchy in disguise duping women to take pride in a culture that harms their interests.  We see it in its extreme form in militant hindutva organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that launched the Ayodhya temple agitation, and trains young persons in and for protecting Hindu culture. Its youth wing for women, the Durga Vahini (DV) (Durga – legend of a warrior goddess) founded by Sadhvi Rithambara, enrolls young girls from ages 15 to 35. The DV says it instills Hindu sanskaars in young women:

A peek into one of DV’s training sessions gives a glimpse of how teenagers are being taught that women are the weaker sex, education and a career are not important and they should be married by age 18. They’re being coached to fit into the Hindu patriarchal construct of a heterosexual family. The DV inculcates and promotes a regressive society wherein a young woman’s growth is stymied, she will be denied the opportunity and the right to think or choose her lifestyle, and be dependant on the men in her life.

As if that was not bad enough, it goes on to give them a false sense of empowerment of being battle-ready to take on irrelevant issues:

I watch with shock and anguish as a young trainee from the DV camp says she is willing to kill anyone for her religion.  She’s being brainwashed to hate, enrolled by her father, too young to realize that she’s being used as a foot soldier for religious fundamentalism.  She is a victim.

The dichotomy between Hindu women being expected to be docile and obedient within their families and the aggression of the right-wing women leaders and activists is exemplified in the political party Shiv Sena (SS). The Shiv Sena Mahila Aghadi, the women’s front was the cultural wing of the SS.  During the 1992-93 riots these women had actively encouraged men from their families to take part in the violence by castigating them for not being ‘man enough’, implying and reinforcing the stereotype that women are weak and cowardly. The personal gains that might accrue made the SS women insensitive to the ‘other’ women brutalized in riots. (References: Shiv Sena Women: Violence and Communalism in a Bombay Slum by Atreyee Sen, and Empowering Women? Feminist Responses to Hindutva by Elen Turner.)

Not only do the SS women not acknowledge the rights and choices of other women who want to be liberated, they go on to actively oppose and harass whom they see as ‘westernized women’. Women corporators of the Shiv Sena (SS) have been known to physically assault women political rivals in the civic house, BMC.

Why did these women become collaborators and perpetrators of misogyny? They had to learn to behave just like the SS men do, to fit in. They can go ‘thus far, and no further’.  These women have been co-opted into the very masculine Hindu nationalist fold that seeks to preserve the gender hierarchies and caste hierarchies inherent in Hindu patriarchy.  Violence against women from other religious communities and castes is brushed off as collateral damage.  When women of less dominant communities become targets just by belonging to the “other” and the state does very little to protect them, what choice do they have except to retreat within their own communities and bear the gender inequalities very much existent there too.

 

Is Atheism Accepted In Hinduism?

There is a trope that we ex-Hindus come across very frequently when we tell people that we are atheists – “Atheism is accepted in Hinduism”. The implication is that us atheists should just shut up about tolerant Hinduism already and concentrate on the intolerant Abrahamic religions. However trope is only partially true. Atheism is accepted but in the sense that you aren’t going to be socially ostracized for professing a non-belief in god. But that is all. Try to go beyond dictionary atheism and practice the values that are derived from your atheism, and you’ll see why.

If you say that you don’t want to accompany your family on the trip to that temple, you’ll be asked why you’re being such a spoilsport. You’ll be asked “what’s the big deal”?

You want to marry out of caste, especially from a lower caste? “You are going to bring disgrace upon this family”. Cue the sulking and refusal to talk for weeks, months or even years.

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