Anti-Christian Acts: Myth and Reality – Vivek Gumaste

VG Icon“When the BJP first came to power in the late 1990s we heard of anti-Christian incidents perpetrated by members of the Sangh Parivar, the majority of which proved to be blatant falsehoods. We need to recall those events to give a reality check to a similar campaign of unsubstantiated calumny that is raising its head again to discredit the BJP government.” – Vivek Gumaste.

Cardinal Baselios CleemisIt stands out as a master-stroke of ideological gamesmanship; a Machiavellian exercise par excellence; a deceptive, cruel phantasma specifically conjured up to mislead the public, hijack the moral discourse in the nation and embarrass the government on the international front.

It is a ditto replay — the same suffocating hysteria, the same unsubstantiated hype and the same haste to condemnation.

When the Bharatiya Janata Party first came to power in the late 1990s we heard of anti-Christian incidents allegedly perpetrated by members of the Sangh Parivar, the majority of which proved to be blatant falsehoods deliberately blown out of proportion and distorted to gain political and religious mileage.

We need to recall those events to give a reality check to a similar campaign of unsubstantiated calumny (church attacks in Delhi) that is raising its head again to discredit the current BJP government.

Rewind to 1998 to review a much publicised incident involving the rape of four Christian nuns in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Even before any details of this crime were available, major newspapers had conducted a trial, established the criminal guilt of Hindu organisations, and communicated this message to the country and the world at large by splashing this news across their front pages — a clear case of the press playing the part of accuser, judge and jury rolled into one.

Francois GautierIt was left to Francois Gautier, the correspondent in South Asia for Le Figaro, France’s largest-circulated newspaper, who went to Jhabua to unearth the truth. This is what he wrote in the Hindustan Times (February 1, 1999):

“This massive outcry on the ‘atrocities against the minorities’ raises also doubts about the quality and integrity of Indian journalism. Take, for instance, the rape of the four nuns in Jhabua. Today the Indian press (and the foreign correspondents — witness Tony Clifton’s piece in the last issue of Newsweek) are still reporting that it was a ‘religious’ rape.

“Yet I went to Jhabua and met the four adorable nuns, who themselves admitted, along with their Bishop George Anatil, that it had nothing to do with religion. It was the doing of a gang of Bhil tribals, known to perpetrate this kind of hateful acts on their own women.

“Yet today, the Indian press, the Christian hierarchy and the politicians continue to include the Jhabua rape in the list of atrocities against Christians.”

A few days later, the home minister released a list of the criminals, a list forwarded to him by the Congress government (whose leader happens to be Christian) of Madhya Pradesh at that time: 12 of the accused were Christians!

Christian groups initially questioned this finding, but when confronted with irrefutable proof chose to ignore it. And the newspapers?

Deendar AnjumanYes, they reported it in some hidden corner of their papers following what has become an accepted strategy for some: Create hype, discredit your adversaries and finally when the truth comes out, report it in small print.

Other similar incidents confirm my view-point. In 2000, a series of bomb blasts occurred in churches across Karnataka, Andhra and Goa. Again, without evidence Hindu groups were promptly indicted for these attacks. Eventually, it turned out to be the handiwork of a Muslim organisation, Deendar Anjuman with Pakistani links.

The group was caught red-handed with Om symbols in their possession meant to frame Hindu groups (Centre to consider banning Deendar Anjuman).

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and glaring proof of a frame-up, our media continued to blame Hindu groups invoking a bizarre logic: “But it is clear that such organisations have become active in an environment of intolerance and bigotry that the Hindu Right is squarely responsible for creating” (Frontline, July 22, 2000).

St Sebastian's Church, DelhiAnother series of church attacks in Karnataka in 2008 were investigated by the Justice B. K. Somasekara Commission of Inquiry which categorically stated: “There is no basis to the apprehension of Christian petitioners that politicians, the BJP, mainstream Sangh Parivar and the state government are directly or indirectly involved in the attacks” (Clean chit for BJP, Parivar).

While not denying the occurrence of some isolated anti-Christian hate attacks, an objective assessment indicates that the broader anti-Christian narrative was wilfully orchestrated with an ulterior motive in mind.

With this past scenario as the backdrop, let us focus on the current spate of church attacks. In a hard-hitting article, Rupa Subramanya (Crying Wolf: Narrative of ‘Delhi church attacks’ Flies in the Face of Facts) after examining each individual ‘incident in detail and taking into account the facts available concludes: “There’s no evidence whatever that these six incidents in Dilshad Garden, Jasola, Rohini, Vikaspuri, Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar are related or part of a pattern of attacks on minority institutions.”

She rightfully avers: “It’s also necessary to keep the nature and quantum of these incidents in the proper perspective. Crucially, it’s not just churches that are periodically vandalised alone, according to the Delhi police, 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras and three churches and 14 mosques were burgled in 2014.”

Finally, she poses the million dollar question: “Why exactly are church leaders and their friends in the media so eager to establish there’s a communal angle to these recent incidents when the facts say the opposite? What are they hoping to gain? It’s irresponsible and downright dangerous if they promote their agenda in the face of the facts.”

George Alencherry, Kuriakose Bharanikulangara & Narendra ModiThe rights of every Indian, regardless of her/his religious denomination, must be safeguarded. Genuine atrocities must be brought to the fore and addressed suitably to ensure a climate devoid of fear for that is what our country and our age-old tradition is about.

But any campaign must be backed by the strength of truth and honesty. It cannot be a ploy to gain ideological advantage or a camouflage to pursue illicit conversions unhindered. We need to look through these old shenanigans. – Rediff, 25 February 2015

» Vivek Gumaste lives in New York City and writes for the Hindustan Times and Rediff.com.

Abusing the RSS is creative secularism – Rakesh Sinha

Prof Rakesh Sinha“A class of intellectuals, including a large part of the media, habitually blames RSS for everything and anything. Following the Modi government’s advent, secularist intellectuals and the media have left no stone unturned to create an anti-government atmosphere by using events and undesirable statements, none of which are due to any responsible leader of the RSS.” – Prof Rakesh Sinha

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)Not a single newspaper or TV channel lets go of news and  views about the RSS and its affiliates. Not surprising, since India today is governed by the saffron party. Concomitantly, the opinions and statements of the fraternal organisation definitely attract media attention; the Parivar’s behaviour, acts and influence on the government are matters of interest. One can’t blame the media for microscopic attention-seeking.

But sadly, a class of intellectuals, including a large part of the media, habitually blames RSS for everything and anything. Following the Modi government’s advent, secularist intellectuals and the media have left no stone unturned to create an anti-government atmosphere by using events and undesirable statements, none of which are due to any responsible leader of the RSS.

Rashtra Sevika SamitiOn population, two or three leaders have appealed to Hindus to produce more children. The statement was deliberately misconstrued as an RSS attempt to revert the population policy. None tried to know the RSS’s perspective on women. Most critics are ignorant of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the RSS’s women wing, formed in 1936. It has been doing outstanding work in empowering women. Unlike the Left’s slogan-shouting women wings, it works silently. This instance alone exposes Indian academics’ and intellectuals’—predominantly left-Nehruvian—non-serious approach to dialogue with and discourse on RSS.

Their anti-RSS approach has remained consistent, whenever the Jana Sangh or BJP is in power. In 1967, coalition governments were formed in seven states with the Jana Sangh as a partner. The Left raised howls about the existence of minorities being under threat. After 1977, much credit for the deconstruction of the Janata Party government must go to the same intellectuals who poisoned the political environs. In the 90s, the Vajpayee government endured the same hostility. The repetition of the same abuse, allegations and modus operandi can be seen in their actions.

Indira Gandhi & Sanjay GandhiDisagreements with the RSS can in no way obscure the fact that it is a reality of India’s social and political life. The Sangh is a force with an alternative ideology with huge organised following. Neither can any serious student deny that the RSS stood for democracy and suffered the most when Indira Gandhi’s regime turned totalitarian.

Abusing the RSS has become creative secularism of Nehruites and Marxists. They have dealt with it polemically. There has been not even subtle difference between propagandist literature of the CPI/CPI(M) on the RSS and those written by pseudo-secular social scientists.

Moreover, they’ve gone to the extent of alleging that the RSS is funded by the CIA in one of their works, CIA interests in RSS. American writings on RSS are Commies are only base for this, which betrays slanderous intellectualism.

The first work on RSS was published 25 years after its formation in 1951, Militant Hinduism in Indian Politics: A Study of RSS by J. A. Curran. It was published by the International Secretariat, Institute of Public Relations of the US. Another important work was again by a foreigner, Craig Baxter, on the Jana Sangh, also dealing with the RSS, and The Vice President, Shri Mohd. Hamid Ansari, releasing the book entitled “Muslims in Indian Cities”, edited by Laurent Gayer and Christophe Jaffrelot, in New Delhi on September 10, 2012.two other important works, by Walter Anderson in the 80s and later by Christophe Jaffrelot in 90s. All of them are critical but serious study.

Pseudo-secularists are masters in manipulating and distorting facts. One such hilarious allegation is that the RSS was inspired by Mussolini, in proof of which they quote an Italian scholar, Marzia Casolari. This was enough for a secularist journal’s cover story, its only basis being Hindu Mahasabha leader Dr B. S. Moonje’s personal meeting with Mussolini. No RSS leader in the pre-Independence era travelled overseas, or ever praised Hitler or Mussolini. And a March 7, 1934, debate in the Central Provinces Legislative Council on the RSS demolished the myth of Moonje being one of the founders of the RSS. The Sangh itself had voiced serious displeasure with Moonje’s approach to imperialism and the Muslim question, and he was even pulled up by RSS leader Martand Jog for his irresponsible statements in Dr Hedgewar’s presence in 1932. Moonje later wrote in his diary that he would not use the RSS platform in future. But secularist lies and deceit have no regard for historical facts and archival records. They are the real hybrids of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels. – The New Indian Express, 22 February 2015

» Prof Rakesh Sinha is Hony Director of India Policy Foundation. Contact him at  rakeshsinha46@gmail.com.

Sri Guruji (M. S. Golwalkar)

 

Irish Catholic priest condemns yoga as ‘work of the devil’ – Steven Alexander

Roland ColhounFr Roland Colhoun made headlines around the world when he said that practising yoga or receiving Indian head massages will lead to the “Kingdom of Darkness.” – Steven Alexander

Hindus are urging Pope Francis to discipline a Catholic priest from Northern Ireland after he suggested yoga was the work of the devil.

Fr Roland Colhoun made headlines around the world when he said that practising yoga or receiving Indian head massages will lead to the “Kingdom of Darkness”.

The priest from the Glendermott parish in Londonderry said yoga had its origins in paganism, and would draw practitioners into the “bad spiritual domain”.

There, he said, lurks “Satan and the Fallen Angels, the Kingdom of Darkness”.

Yesterday, Hindus hit back in the form of Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism.

Rajan ZedHe said that he would be “urging His Holiness Pope Francis to discipline a Derry Catholic priest who linked yoga to Satan”.

The Hindu spiritual leader also claimed that the Vatican library itself held various yoga-related books, and he would be contacting the Bishop of Derry Bishop, Donal McKeown, to let him know about them [Refer Bishop not commenting on global yoga storm].

In a statement from Nevada in the US, he called for yoga to be introduced in every school.

“Seeing the proven benefits of yoga, it should be introduced in all the schools of the world,” he said. “Incorporating yoga in the lives of the students would be a step in the positive direction.”

He said that the ancient discipline can help users to feel more relaxed, be more flexible, improve posture, breathe deeply and get rid of stress.

Mr Zed said that yoga, “although introduced and nourished by Hinduism”, was a “world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilised by all”. 

And he claimed yoga was an “effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical”.

Fr Calhoun was thrust into the spotlight after he told the Derry Journal that yoga was essentially Satanic.

“Pope Francis said ‘do not seek spiritual answers in yoga classes’. Yoga is certainly a risk. There’s the spiritual health risk,” he said.

“When you take up those practices from other cultures, which are outside our Christian domain, you don’t know what you are opening yourself up to.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth“The bad spirit can be communicated in a variety of ways. I’m not saying everyone gets it, or that it happens every time, and people may well be doing yoga harmlessly. But there’s always a risk and that’s why the Pope mentioned it and that’s why we talk about that in terms of the danger of the new age movement and the danger of the occult today. That’s the fear.”

Fr Colhoun is not alone in the Catholic Church. In 2011, the Vatican’s own chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, told The Telegraph that it leads to a belief in Hinduism, and that “all eastern religions are based on false belief in reincarnation.”

And former Pope Benedict XVI, when he leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warned that yoga, Zen, and other transcendental meditation could “degenerate into a cult of the body” that devalues prayer.

Background

In 1989, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog warned that Eastern meditation practices such as Zen and yoga can “degenerate into a cult of the body” that debases Christian prayer. Attempts to combine Christian and non-Christian meditation are “not free from dangers and errors,” it said. The 23-page document was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and approved by Pope John Paul II. – Belfast Telegraph, 23 February 2015

See also

  1. “Yoga and Harry Potter are evil,” says Vatican’s chief exorcist – ANI
  2. Fr. Gabriele Amorth on Yoga: A Passport to Hell? – Virendra Parekh
  3. Chief exorcist says Devil is in the Vatican – Nick Squires
  4. American pastor says yoga is ‘demonic’ – Dean Nelson

How Mother Teresa became a saint – Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens“Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women. … She was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go?” – Christopher Hitchens

I think it was Macaulay who said that the Roman Catholic Church deserved great credit for, and owed its longevity to, its ability to handle and contain fanaticism. This rather oblique compliment belongs to a more serious age. What is so striking about the “beatification” of the woman who styled herself “Mother” Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the Church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism.

Fr Donald McGuire SJ & Mother Teresa MCIt’s the sheer tawdriness that strikes the eye first of all. It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for “beatification,” the first step to “sainthood,” until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997. It also used to be that an apparatus of inquiry was set in train, including the scrutiny of an advocatus diaboli or “devil’s advocate,” to test any extraordinary claims. The pope has abolished this office and has created more instant saints than all his predecessors combined as far back as the 16th century.

As for the “miracle” that had to be attested, what can one say? Surely any respectable Catholic cringes with shame at the obviousness of the fakery. A Bengali woman named Monica Besra claims that a beam of light emerged from a picture of MT, which she happened to have in her home, and relieved her of a cancerous tumor. Her physician, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, says that she didn’t have a cancerous tumor in the first place and that the tubercular cyst she did have was cured by a course of prescription medicine. Was he interviewed by the Vatican’s investigators? No. (As it happens, I myself was interviewed by them but only in the most perfunctory way. The procedure still does demand a show of consultation with doubters, and a show of consultation was what, in this case, it got.)

John Paul II & Mother TeresaAccording to an uncontradicted report in the Italian paper L’Eco di Bergamo, the Vatican’s secretary of state sent a letter to senior cardinals in June, asking on behalf of the pope whether they favoured making MT a saint right away. The pope’s clear intention has been to speed the process up in order to perform the ceremony in his own lifetime. The response was in the negative, according to Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian priest who has acted as postulator or advocate for the “canonization.” But the damage, to such integrity as the process possesses, has already been done.

During the deliberations over the Second Vatican Council, under the stewardship of Pope John XXIII, MT was to the fore in opposing all suggestions of reform. What was needed, she maintained, was more work and more faith, not doctrinal revision. Her position was ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms. Believers are indeed enjoined to abhor and eschew abortion, but they are not required to affirm that abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace,” as MT fantastically asserted to a dumbfounded audience when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Believers are likewise enjoined to abhor and eschew divorce, but they are not required to insist that a ban on divorce and remarriage be a part of the state constitution, as MT demanded in a referendum in Ireland (which her side narrowly lost) in 1996. Later in that same year, she told Ladies Home Journal that she was pleased by the divorce of her friend Princess Diana, because the marriage had so obviously been an unhappy one …

Mother Teresa & Michele Duvalier of HaitiThis returns us to the medieval corruption of the Church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for “the poorest of the poor.” People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the “Missionaries of Charity,” but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell’s admonition in his essay on Gandhi—that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent—was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda.

Mother Teresa & Pope John Paul IIOne of the curses of India, as of other poor countries, is the quack medicine man, who fleeces the sufferer by promises of miraculous healing. Sunday was a great day for these parasites, who saw their crummy methods endorsed by his holiness and given a more or less free ride in the international press. Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. More than that, we witnessed the elevation and consecration of extreme dogmatism, blinkered faith, and the cult of a mediocre human personality. Many more people are poor and sick because of the life of MT: Even more will be poor and sick if her example is followed. She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a Church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions. – Slate, 20 October 2003

» Christopher Hitchens, now deceased, was a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of the book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.

Mother Teresa on the cover of SF Weekly.

 See also

Vamsee Juluri: Plurality in Hinduism shouldn’t be used to deny its integrity – Ramesh N. Rao

Prof Vamsee Krishna Juluri

Dr Ramesh Nagaraj RaoVamsee Krishna Juluri, Professor of Media Studies and Asian Studies at the University of San Francisco, discusses his new book, “Rearming Hinduism”, and takes to task academics and media commentators for their concerted campaign against Hindus and Hinduism – Dr Ramesh N. Rao

Prof. Juluri’s earlier work has focused on media and media influences, especially in the Indian context. His two books, “Becoming a Global Audience: Longing and Belonging in Indian Music Television” (Peter Lang, 2003/Orient Longman, 2005), and “Bollywood Nation: India through its Cinema” (Penguin India, 2013), establish his reputation and standing as a media scholar.  However, Prof. Juluri is also a raconteur of tales, and his novel, “The Mythologist: A Novel” (Penguin India, 2010) has been well-received in India and the US.  His commentaries and op-ed articles have appeared regularly in the Huffington Post, Times of India, Open, and other newspapers and magazines, and his latest foray is into India and Hinduism studies, and his book “Rearming Hinduism” (Westland Press), already published as an e-book, will be out in print in early February 2015.

In this book — a passionate, inspired, and even lyrical account of the nature of Hindu beliefs, practices, and faith – Prof. Juluri focuses his ire and his disapprobation on Western academics and media for a calculated campaign of calumny against Hinduism and Hindus.  He does not spare the Indian Left/liberal elite for their participation in this demonization and marginalization campaign, and argues that only with a celebration of the timeless values enshrined in Hinduism can the world discover afresh the essence of life and love.  

Prof. Juluri is the son of the well-known Telugu actress, Jamuna, who acted in more than 200 films, in four languages, and who also served as a Member of Parliament representing the Rajahmundry Lok Sabha constituency from the Congress Party.  Vamsee’s father, J. V. Ramana Rao, a professor of zoology at Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupathi, and later Osmania University, Hyderabad, passed away recently at the age of 86. Vamsee has also written about growing up as the son of a famous film star , and of his other big influence, Sri Sathya Sai Baba  His memoir about Baba, “The Guru Within,” will be published by Westland Press later this year.

It seems the immediate trigger for your book was Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History”.  Is that so, and if so, what is it about her book that set you off on this reverie, this response?

▪ The media storm that erupted over the withdrawal of The Hindus: An Alternative History in early 2014 silenced any kind of reasonable and informed discussion of the book.  It turned into a grotesquery of what free speech and debate really ought to be about. In a way, the silencing of debate about this book was more harmful than the lawsuit and actual withdrawal of the book in India.  At least the latter was seen by the world as an assault on free speech and intellectual freedom, even if it was done within the scope of the law of the land. But the sweeping way in which elite commentators in New York and London, and even New Delhi, rushed to dismiss even measured and informed criticism of the book as Hindu fundamentalism was monumentally ignorant.  I suspect that some of the book’s supporters did not even read the book, and blindly bought into its heroic “alternative” subaltern reading premise—something I think was fundamentally questionable.

Your criticism of Doniger is not in the form of a point-by-point rebuttal of the claims she makes in her book but more in terms of the overall tone and approach of hers to Hindu matters.  Were you more angered by the mocking tone of hers than the specific historical details which she presents to build her “alternative history”?  

▪ My criticism comes from a somewhat different place than that of Hindutva activists, or purists.  I understand why they are offended by her mocking tone though.  To a large extent, I too don’t find the tone intelligent or mature. But if that were the only issue, then probably one could have tolerated it. The real problem is not that it offends extremist sensitivities, as her supporters have made it out to be, but that it perpetuates a much bigger and more serious tendency in academia and media, the total denial of Hindu thought and self-understanding.  Worse, this systemic denial is backed by serious national, class, and racial privilege.  An “alternative” viewpoint is one that lacks privilege.  In the global context, the self-styled “alternative” is actually the dominant viewpoint.  It denies Hinduism its validity (it says Hinduism was a 19th century invention, Yoga isn’t Hindu and such, but also insists every social injustice in South Asia is rooted in Hindu notions of caste for millennia), and it denies devout, educated, and reasonable Hindus a stand in the debate, let alone even a letter of disagreement in the papers (check out Stephen Prothero’s piece in USA Today for example, where he portrays Doniger as a latter-day Sojourner Truth, and the voice of liberal Hindus).  What we have today is a bizarre travesty of the goals of secular progressive activism and scholarship.  A totally dated racist, orientalist and colonial fantasy that would have been named and condemned in any other context gets celebrated instead because it seemingly represents liberal thought against religious fundamentalism.

You are upfront in your assertion that there is something rotten in academia and in the media in the way Hindus and Hinduism are portrayed, and that the challenge to Hinduism comes not from armies and governments but from academics and journalists.  You call this Hinduphobia, and some may take umbrage at that.  What fuels and sustains this Hinduphobia, and could you give us a couple of examples to support your claim?

Slumdog Millionaire changing the name of its protagonist from a religious everyman to a victim of Hindu oppressors; the Economist describing the sacred Amarnath Lingam as “a penis shaped lump of ice”; The New York Times blaming Hinduism for sanitation problems in India.  These examples are just the surface.  Think of how the media and experts responded to the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, blaming India and Hindus for Kashmir and Ayodhya rather than admitting there was a serious problem elsewhere.

What you term “Hinduphobia” is not something new, is it?  We saw the rise of a shrill campaign against Hindus and Hinduism in conflation with Hindutva, by many of the Indian Left/liberal academics and their Western collaborators who have made it a career venting their ire on Hindus and Hinduism, didn’t we?

▪ One of the biggest consequences of centuries of misrepresentation is the fact that we lose the ability to even recognize it. For lack of a better word, I use the term “Hinduphobia”. I know it seems to offend a bunch of otherwise socially sensitive commentators, perhaps because many of them are drawn from very privileged social and economic strata, true transnational elites whose passports and credentials place them above the struggles most average middle class Hindus and Indians face in a global world, including the disdain and biases they face in school and work because of the nasty stereotypes that exist about them. They argue that there is no Hinduphobia, maybe on the strength of the narcissistic certainty that they never faced it. But the fact remains that objectively speaking there is a systematic distortion and misrepresentation of Hinduism and Hindus in the media that has never been challenged by activists or academia in the way they have challenged misrepresentation of other groups.

You write that Hinduphobia comes at Hindus in America from both the Left and the Right. How do the Left/liberals end up as bedfellows with Right/conservatives in their critique of Hindus and Hinduism?

▪ This is one of the strangest follies of our intellectual climate. There is perhaps no other issue on which you find Left and Right making common cause than in denigrating Hinduism.  The Right might be hostile say to Islam and Hinduism. But the Left often comes to the defense of other immigrant and minority communities when they are attacked by the Right. Islamophobia, for example, is a recognized concern for the US Left.  However, when it comes to Hinduism, we find the Left strangely silent, even denying that there is such a thing as Hinduphobia, or a bias against Hindus.

It is interesting that while American universities have faculty and graduate students who write passionately in support of Islam and Muslims, and that mainstream American media have their Fareed Zakarias and Aasif Mandvis to showcase benign Islam, there seem to be none who are called to speak for Hindus and Hinduism. How come?

▪ I talk about some of this in a chapter called The Academic Mayasabha. The problem is that a lot of the academic discourse today has got caught up in a calculus of identity-based posturing. Some identities are expected to confer authority to scholars automatically, while others have been deemed suspect. You are right in noting that this has led to a near complete exclusion of Hindu voices in the media. It will change only when the community starts taking an interest in fields beyond engineering and business, and takes the world of culture and politics seriously as well.

These critics claim that they have nothing against Hinduism but are against political Hinduism or Hindutva. Do you buy their argument?

▪ I wrote about this in some length in my review essay Hinduism and its Culture Wars: How Secularism Lost its Way to Hinduphobia (now available as an e-single from Westland Books).  The secular argument against Hindutva, at least as it exists in the form that has gained global visibility through the writings of Doniger, Mishra, Nussbaum, Sen and others, suffers from a lack of understanding and respect for Hinduism. I don’t think many of us would have disagreed with them had their critique been precisely against the excesses and follies of Hindutva (and with things like flying chariot fantasies they are not hard to find or critique). But what they have done instead is to propose and present a normative fantasy about what a secular-liberal is supposed to be like (you will notice I didn’t say “secular-liberal Hindu” because the word itself seems anathema to them). Their response to Islamic extremism is to say let’s not make it hard for Islamic liberals by being too harsh on terrorism. Their response to Hindu extremism such as it is, is not to offer the same courtesy to Hindu liberals but to savage Hinduism altogether, as we saw with Doniger. This is all part of the same flawed “alternative” premise which presumes that Hindus are elites and oppressors and is at the core of much of their preposterous posturing—after all, who would describe the Vedic-age Hindus as forerunners of Nazism and their “invasion” of ancient India as being not unlike the conquest of the Americas by colonial Europeans? There was no holocaust or genocide in India done by ancient Hindus, as far as we know. And yet, this is the kind of comparison Doniger makes. Such is their resistance to respecting mainstream, rational Hindu self-perception, let alone Hindutva.

In a recent interview with India Abroad (January 9, 2015), Prof. Vinay Lal says that there is a lot of support for Hindutva among Indian-Americans, and he labels these Indian-Americans “Vanguards of Post Industrial Vedic Civilizations” stereotyping them as well-to-do simpletons who think they can influence politics and culture in India.  Lal also says that many Hindus in the US are more Hindu than Hindus in India, and to support that claim he points out to the many pujas listed in the temple bulletins and on temple websites, and performed in the temples. Would you not say that these identity issues are the same for any ethnic, religious or national group – Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Bangladeshis or Italians, to pick a small set of them?  And finally, Prof. Lal says that Hindus in the US are arrogant about their religion, that they think theirs is a tolerant religion, and that their religion is superior to other religions. Is that so, and what do you have to say in response to such an assertion?

▪ These assertions seem to be skewed and decontextualized, as you point out in your questions. Many of the identity-claims that Hindus in North America make are no different from the claims made by other immigrant groups.  Yet, the secular criticism asserts that to even speak as a Hindu-American is a mere front for some fascistic Hindu nationalist fantasy back home. The Hindu-American community includes not just a few prosperous first-generation doctors and engineers but the children of less privileged immigrants from India and the whole global diaspora as well. There are Hindus in America who are the descendants of families taken as indentured laborers to island plantations. There are Hindus in America who have faced very similar racism and marginalization as other minority communities in school. To paint them all out to be oppressive elites is inaccurate.  It is partly true that many Hindus may think of themselves in simplistic civilizational terms and end up appearing arrogant about their religion (though I would prefer a religion being “arrogant” about tolerance over intolerance and violence any day). But what Lal appears to have not noticed is that this whole idea of “my religion (or culture) is better than yours” is not something innate to Hindu thought or philosophy; we have not typically gone around labeling non-Hindus as “unbelievers” in the past.  So where has this identitarian discourse come from? We need to recognize that there is a lack of intellectual capital in the community that leads to this kind of superficial chauvinism.  Liberal scholars should seek to speak to the community and elevate the discourse, rather than condescendingly throw a cut-and-paste simulacrum of critique at them (I’m thinking of Doniger’s pet phrase “Dead Male Brahmins” for example, or Lal’s bizarre dig at the twice stateless Telugu Brahmin community which he alleges is a powerful force). As for the claim that Hindus here are more Hindu than in India, the examples Lal gives are frankly quite inane, if not rather rudely normative. So, is there something wrong if temples in the US offer a lot of puja services? We go to our temples not just to make deals with God but to restore our attention to the divine in the midst and in the forms of our very real, human, and social obligations. We are serving our parents, our children, and our communities when we go to our temples.  The “people” are not just revolutionary fantasies we have about them in some far corner of the earth, they are right here too. And the struggling and less privileged among them are coming to the temples for food, for healthcare, and many of the good things that a devout community also does in God’s name.  If his criticism is addressed to second-generation Hindu Americans who don’t understand the complexities of Indian pluralism, frankly that kind of misunderstanding has also played out in the perception of some second-generation Hinduphobic secular journalists and academics too!

Tell me about your interest in Hinduism and what early experience growing up in India gave you the wherewithal to pursue that interest and commitment to a “Hindu way of life”?

▪ I am drawn to Hindu thought because it helps me confront injustice and pain in this world, helps me believe that we can leave this world with a little less violence and untruth in it than when we came in. Can one do all these things without religion? Sure. But given the accident, privilege or destiny of my birth in the Hindu culture, I have found these resources in the idioms of Hindu art, thought, customs, and most of all in our popular culture and media. I was born into a fairly traditional and devout South Indian Hindu family.  I grew up in a world of gods and festivals (and of course Amar Chitra Kathas) but my view of religion was fairly simple and instrumental.  You prayed to God to get stuff, that’s all. I lost interest in much of the customs as a teenager. I was not necessarily skeptical or atheistic, because those things take commitment. I became somewhat indifferent, that was all. I was also quite indifferent to the identity politics that exploded in the 1980s. I honestly did not feel anything strongly about the Ram temple, perhaps because I thought we had a lot of temples already and the past was past. I did, however, recognize that it was not just fanatics but many devout Hindus too who became supporters of the movement. I chose to learn more, much more, before I made a claim on what it all meant. But more importantly though, my parents became devotees of Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the late 1980s. My plans to escape from home and parents coincided, if not collided, with a powerful and new sort of religiosity in our lives. It took many years, but I think I gained a much more respectful understanding of religion and history through the teachings of Baba. Throughout the 1990s, even as I read Marxism passionately in grad school, I also read Hindu philosophy, and could see that it did not have to be one or the other. We had incredibly influential religious figures in India like Baba who had come from poverty, from lower castes, and were able to connect spiritual yearning and social understanding in millions of people around the world. Baba was not just promising a better afterlife or mystical notion of happiness to devotees for praising him. He was inspiring millions of people to volunteer, bring water to the dried villages of Rayalaseema, the homeless in U.S. inner cities, simply serve and love, just as many other spiritual movements have done.  And his teachings are far more radical and critical of dominant economic and political structures than cynics would give credit for too.

Was there a particular point/moment in the recent past that forced you to take up cudgels on behalf of Hindus and Hinduism? What was that moment?

▪ I think I was heading towards understanding Hinduism seriously ever since I started reading Gandhi for a class I taught on media and violence, especially in the anxious days after 9/11. However, it was only during the California textbooks controversy in 2006 that I felt it was time to disagree, however respectful I might have felt towards some of them, with the academic community’s rather sweeping dismissal of Hindu concerns as Hindutva campaigns to saffronize history books in America.

You say in your book that a billion or so Hindus still call God by the same names that people did thousands of years ago, and while Hinduism could have been wiped out a long time ago, it was not.  What do you mean when you say that “your (Hindu) culture’s existence is a triumph of survival” and that “we came from a world of wisdom we can barely fathom in today’s terms”?

▪ Colonialism wiped out most other worldviews.  Ours has still survived. It is amazing that a set of ideas, values, stories and symbols have been coming down for several centuries now, across generations, not unchanging, but somehow using change to restore what is important to our sense of self. It is a stunning accomplishment as far as Hinduism is concerned. Why did so many of us somehow hold on to these things, these poems, images, feelings most of all, even against great odds? In that sense, we are a survivor religion.  The important thing is that the way we survived was not through brute force but through a particular kind of intelligence, a way of knowing the world that is beyond mere doctrines. I think the challenge now is that modern educated Hindus are highly self-aware and assertive, but are not yet fully intellectually equipped to flesh out what a modern Hindu global worldview might look like. We are grasping at fantasies at the moment. We get excited, for instance, about things like Vedic aviation. I do not know why it is important to believe we had missiles and planes in the past. Why would we need planes in a pre-modern society when most trade was local, when most people lived with families in the same village or area? We are merely projecting present day biases into our vision of the past. It is a distraction from real intellectual imagination.  But I think in a few years we will see Hindu historiography maturing, and we will begin to appreciate the real wisdom that lies in our philosophy and heritage.

You say that the basic premise of your book is that Hinduism is “about intelligence, more than anything else”.  How is Hinduism different from other religions and faiths, and if your claims about Hinduism are to be taken seriously would it not affirm Lal’s assertion that Hindus think of their religion as superior to other religions?

▪ My book is a celebration of what I think is good, noble, and indeed “eternal” about Hinduism.  I use the term “intelligence” to describe it, because I approach Hinduism in the book as simply as a cultural resource for living smartly with others, people and nature. I don’t know enough about other religions to compare them with Hinduism, but I am Hindu enough to respectfully believe that such intelligence is not exclusive to Hinduism. I suppose I think of all religions as essentially cultural resources for ethical and meaningful living. The question is who gets to speak for and speak up for each religion at a time and place in history, the philosophers and the saints, or the ideologues and the assassins?

“When Hindu thought truly informs the social sciences and humanities, it will revolutionize knowledge, humanity, and indeed the future of the world itself”, you say. Can you elaborate?

▪ My book is a beginner’s attempt to look at the world, or more precisely, look at the dominant worldview today, as a Hindu trained in the social sciences, and see what is wrong with it.  The problem with Hinduism being misrepresented is not the only problem here. What we have to recognize is that the world, and not just India, is confronted by an incomplete decolonization. For several centuries, European colonialism profoundly reshaped the way we think about ourselves, nature, and life itself. Since the end of colonialism, a bunch of nationalist and transnationalist fantasies have come to the fore. We have a world as Samuel Huntington described, of competing civilizations armed with technology and very modern attitudes towards identity and power. In some places, this is tempered with a respect for modern democratic institutions. In others, it is raw and ruthless fundamentalism. But Hindu civilizational thought, and Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj in my view is the best introduction to it, rejects even this. We need to name what is wrong with the world itself, and not just with its attitude towards Hinduism, though both are interrelated. Today, we have decolonized our views about gender, race, sexuality and so on, but not quite our views about nature, animals, and life in general. That’s what we could do if the next generation of writers, scholars and artists take Hindu thought seriously.

You take issue with the “Aryans from Central Europe” version of history and Hindu beginnings still being proffered as authentic history.  You call this an “absurdly false story” of Hindus.  What has been the political, social, and cultural fallout from this version of Indian/Hindu history?

▪ The fallout has been ridiculous, and not in the good way the word “ridiculous” is used these days!  We have Hinduism experts like Doniger still making Hindus and Nazis comparisons on the basis of that strange old relic. Different groups of people seem to have an entrenched interest in imagining some kind of ancient European lineage for Hinduism and Hindus.  We just need to acknowledge that tall claims about origins like this are at best debatable. I do not engage directly with the politics of the Aryan Invasion Theory, but I do raise some questions about biases in how history is narrated more broadly, and how all sorts of assumptions and projections are made in asserting that Hinduism is alien to India thus. The defenders of Aryan Invasion Theory view any questioning of it as Hindu nativism, and I think that’s a disservice.  Scholars must accept that we must begin to discuss a better way of presenting these “origin” stories than what colonial Indologists gave to us, especially at the school level. Hinduism has constantly changed, absorbed, influenced, and been polycentric in ways that elude easy categorization like other religions. But that innate plurality in Hinduism shouldn’t be used to deny it its integrity, and its deep connection to places in the Indian subcontinent.

Your book seems inspired by a passion, by some kind of a deep response within you to what you thought were affronts to your way of worship and life. Was this something that you had been mulling over, and how much time did it take you to complete the manuscript?

▪ That is a very perceptive way of putting it. Yes, the book is indeed a response to a sense of affront to a way of worship and life.  That sense of affront however is not simply that my identity or my community is being misrepresented, for that would be merely narcissistic. The book is born out of perhaps many years of wondering about the question of why there is so much unnecessary suffering and pain in the world. It is not a metaphysical question at all, but a social, historical and political question. I think that the world as it exists today is profoundly violent, cruel and unjust to life. I think that we barely manage to even recognize this, given our distraction by media, given the modern global culture’s inability to understand life on its terms.  I do think though that a better understanding of Hindu thought will help us confront these questions, and that is why I wrote this book. It is not a conventional academic book, and while it reflects years of reading in Hinduism, Gandhian thought, nature and animal studies, it is in the end a short, direct expression of pain, anger and hope, all written in a matter of a few weeks last April.  As the epigraph from the Sri Rudra Prashna Laghunyasa says, it is about righteous anger, anger born not out of self-concern but out of outrage against whatever is wrong in the world.

You take issue with philologists’ interpretation of the term “yagna” or sacrifice.  You say that these academics have made killing the prime meaning of the term “yagna”, especially Doniger who you say declares her intent to “confront violence in the Vedas”. She is a Sanskritist (though other Sanskritists have taken issue with her command over the language), whereas you are not. What would you tell your critics about violence in the Vedas that they don’t know or have not cared to acknowledge? You also say that violence is prime and center in Western thought and myth, and that is the reason why Western academics seek to see analogies in Indian/Hindu thought and myth.  Can you throw some more light on this claim of yours?

▪ I think that the biggest myth that still remains entrenched as much in academia as popular culture and everyday commonsense is that of nature and violence. I examine these in the book in the light of some of Doniger’s claims about Vedic violence. I am not a Sanskritist and cannot argue over what certain words mean or meant. But as someone who critiques the way stories are told in the world for a living, I can see how a lot of Hinduphobic historiography suffers from certain normative assumptions about violence and human nature. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the popular Hindu response to Hinduphobic history too suffers from a lack of self-reflexivity about violence and nature. I argue in the book that we need to learn to recognize that what we have been taught in our schools and popular culture about nature, human nature, pre-history and early civilizations all need to be reexamined carefully on this count

“There is no denial of the consequence of violence in our stories. There is no pornography around pain in our stories”, you say. What do you mean?

▪ I make this point in reference to the vague and inexact way in which recent critiques of violence and terror in the name of other religions have been transposed onto the Hindu context by poorly informed critics (“But Ram carries weapons!”) I agree that there has been a general decline in the aesthetics of popular Hindu representation with the proliferation of digital technologies (Rama, and even Sri Raghavendra are more muscular for example). However, in spite of how much our TV and comic book stories obsess about bows and arrows and fights, our stories are rooted in a foundational concern about the enormity of violence. Our narratives do not portray our gods killing whimsically or unjustly. Some of our popular media forms may play it up, but in general, our aesthetic traditions don’t.

Doniger, you say, describes “the violence that followed India’s partition as similar to the Vedic culture of revering violence”.  How does one rebut such a provocative/vulgar generalization?

▪ This statement is on par with The New York Times piece blaming the Manu Smriti for where Hindus go to defecate. I think that there is such a vested interest in Hinduphobic discourse in equating the place of violence in Hinduism with that of other religions that all respect to facticity and balance are forgotten. I do not suggest that Hindus are literally non-violent. Hindus, like Muslims, Christians, Stalinists, others, are not above committing acts of violence, deplorably so. And religious identity politics sometimes do play a role in them. But to somehow pretend that Hindu thought is rooted in prescriptions for violence and mutilation seems a very far-fetched claim to make.

By challenging the Western/modern analyses of Hindu thought and myth, are you not aligning yourself with Hindu “fundamentalists”?

▪ It would be an outrageous cop-out to dismiss a reasonable intellectual challenge in that manner!  I am not aligned remotely with any kind of fundamentalism for the simple reason that I do not believe there is such a thing as one authentic, originary or literal scriptural injunction that Hindus have to follow. I have several versions of the Bhagavad Gita simply because I enjoy the flavor of the same noble ideas being expressed in different ways. But I think I do share with devout Hindus a sense that whatever the plurality of forms we may use to describe the divine, affection and reverence are important. I do differ from the modern academic insistence on bestowing an equal and relativistic status to all forms of mythological expression. Insisting that a version of the Ramayana where Rama is mocked or villainized, for example, be taken as seriously as a version where readers feel love for Rama, is itself a kind of academic literalism, if not fundamentalism.

You say that Hindus believe God is one, but do not insist that there is only one God.  What is the difference in meaning and consequence?

▪ Saying God is one is an elegant way of recognizing that the divine can be known by many names and paths. Saying there is only one god can also mean the same thing, but more often than not is used to imply that “my god” and “your god” are somehow different. The former makes it possible for different groups of people to live together in peace.  The latter has often led to unending disasters.

You say that academics are “hell-bent” on proving that our god stories are fiction, and in response some of us have claimed that our gods too are historical.  But you say the stories are neither fiction nor history but are altogether something else.  What?

▪ I think we have seen some really puerile misrepresentations of our god stories by well-meaning critics from the Left and the Right.  The Left insists that they are all myths, and presumes that we ought to be thinking about Rama and Krishna the same way we think about Hercules or Batman. The Right tries to clumsily defend Hindu sentiments by insisting that we speak about Rama and Krishna the same way we speak about say Ashoka or Shivaji, and then leaping ahead to insist that every bit of what we have seen or heard is literally true, notwithstanding whether these magic boxes, airplanes and arrows were imagined by Doordarshan in the 1980s or someone else over the centuries. There is, I think a better way, but we do not quite have the intellectual capital yet to assert a suitable language about it (read Chaturvedi Badrinath’s study of The Mahabharatha for a great insight into this).  To begin with, we might simply recognize that our god stories are essentially a civilizational investment of great exquisiteness in ensuring we think rightly about ourselves and the world.  They are only as good as the artists and writers who breathe them into form. But whether the gods that live at the center of these stories are mere “fictions,” it would be too presumptuous of us to answer.

You say that “even the terms on which we argue about history need to change”.  How so?  

▪ When I was in school, I used to think of history as a set of dates and names that happened in the past. But now I see it, perhaps in a Hindu social scientific way, as something more karmic, immediate, consequential. I see history as a living thing, as all the forces and events that have brought each of us to exist in this moment in time, in this place, in this particular experience of pleasures and pains.  Think of why all of us are here, say in America. We might think we made choices, as individuals. But we were also part of a great displacement, the aftermath of colonialism.  Some of us came in desperation, some us less so. But we are all but ants before the hurricane of time.  It is an enormously disparate situation, our minds and our place in the world. We need to think, speak, and act urgently, and we need to know what to say to the future, to our children and grandchildren.  Can we tell them where we came from, and where we are going?  We are trying, for sure. But at best, we tell them we come from an ancient civilization that was very advanced and had flying chariots. But that is not enough. We can’t simply go on thinking history is just kings and wars and gadgets and stuff, though that’s about all we are taught. We need to also start thinking about the history of worldviews.

How did our ancestors see the world? What did they feel when they chanted the mantras we still chant? How did they balance their duties between their own elders and towards their children?  What did water and food mean to them? How did they see the living world, the world of ants, birds, plants, monkeys, snakes, and elephants? One of the biggest challenges with Hindu historiography today is the fact that neither the Left nor the Right have woken up to the limits of their own perceptions of history. What I try to do in Rearming Hinduism (and there’s an animal god on the cover for that reason) is get us to think more about how the past few centuries of colonization (and Macaulayization) have warped not just our identity, but the way we look at nature itself. When Hindu history is decolonized, we will also begin to decolonize natural history, the way we narrate the story of life itself (see my article in the Huffington Post on Big History).

You are both a social scientist and a novelist/writer. So, you have a way with words but you also bring the rigor and attention necessary to unpack academic theses.  How difficult was it to balance the two in the writing of “Rearming Hinduism”?

▪ The writing came first, borne out of a sense of pain and urgency. I care about how I write because I see writing as an aesthetic, if not always sacred, experience. Words are seldom a mere tool for me, I feel a presence in them the same way I feel when I see, say a picture of Shiva, or a word from a Sanskrit hymn. But having said that the book also reflected several years of reading on a range of topics, and I have shared many of these sources in the endnotes so the academically inclined can enjoy reading them too.

There is some wonderfully lyrical prose, writing that makes “one’s hair stand on end”, to use a typical Hindu expression, in your book.  It is as if you were on some kind of spiritual trip, a psychedelic journey as you wrote this book.  What and where did you seek and get the inspiration for such writing?  I give an example here, though there are very many in your book: “Sons and daughters.  Mothers and Fathers.  Brothers.  Cousins.  Friends. Between them, sometimes, also burns all the folly of hate in the universe. Eviscerating Hate. Body-eating hate.  Hiranyakasipu hate.  Kamsa hate. Kaurava hate. Kingdom-scorching hate…”  Also, “For us, God is always someone’s someone. Rama is not just Rama; but Hanuman’s master, Sita’s husband, Ayodhya’s king, and most of all, that moment where it all started, Dasaratha’s, and even Kaikeyi’s son…”  And about Krishna: “And he stands, in life, disguised as rock. He lives, in Udupi. He lives, in Pandharapur.  He lives, in Tirumala.  He doles out food. He doles out music.  He doles out wealth. He is a giver. He is our god”.

▪ These excerpts from Part II are perhaps the heart of the book. I wrote it to share how I feel about our gods, about our culture. I don’t fall in worship at the feet of our gods because I think our culture is superior. I do so because I cannot think of any other way to be. I cannot think of how else to find something like love again because in this world and in this life we do see from time to time and from close quarters what it is like to be loveless.  It’s the poetic, less “scholarly” part of the book. But I hope it will prove educational too.

“What if sanatana dharma really was the primeval and universal way of knowing the world?”, you ask.  What if?

▪ Unanswerable, for me at least. I have to wonder now what it will come to mean in the words and hearts of those still to come.

What do you tell readers who expected a support for or explication of “Hindutva” but instead found little or no mention of Hindutva?

▪ I do not offer an explicit engagement with Hindutva because my love is for Hinduism more broadly, rather than with the issue of nationalism.  At the same time, I acknowledge that Hindutva has become an important part of Hindu life and aspiration today. I do not offer an endorsement of it because I know where it’s been. I do not offer a condemnation of it because we cannot preclude the possibility, or hope, that it will outgrow the less intelligent and uncivil aspects of its past. In either case my sense is that the present moment of civilizational awakening and renewal among Hindus is way bigger than what the usual debates about secularism and Hindutva have framed it as.  The challenge is whether the Hindutva movement which has clearly gained from this civilizational energy will rise above the more petty aspects of identity politics and avoid becoming a pseudo-Hindu mirror of what used to be called pseudo-secularism or prove more worthy of the causes and ideals they wish to represent.  Civilization cannot be won any other way.

What did you want to accomplish with this book?  What is your goal, your aim in dismantling Hinduphobia?

▪ I just want to suggest that there is a better way to talk about Hinduism and the Indian civilizational vision than what we have been offered so far. We have an intellectual establishment that denies the place of Hindu thought and culture in India’s past, except to say it’s responsible for all social evils in the subcontinent. We have a rising counter-narrative in the Hindutva movement which rightly recognizes the mistakes in this view, but is simply incapable of articulating critique in an educated manner, choosing to offer slogans and clichés instead of hard intellectual work. My hope is that readers will get a feel of what it means to look at the world today in the best spirit of Hinduism, to understand that we must reject not just Hinduphobia in the form of media misrepresentations of us, but that we must reject the violent and exploitative foundations of modernity’s rapacious view of nature altogether.

It is also my hope that Rearming Hinduism will open up a better conversation between Hinduism and the social sciences. Because of the general absence of social and historical training in our school curricula, many of us think of Hindu philosophical ideas like karma only in metaphysical or even superstitious terms. But I think it’s not just metaphysics and afterlife concerns when we talk about things like karma. We can also see the ethical imperative in such concepts rationally. When we live in the kind of cultural and social order that we do today in the world, we are accumulating the karmic debt if you will, of being a part of a way of life today that is profoundly destructive and systematically unjust. Conversely, the social sciences, and especially those of us in critical or progressive intellectual and activist traditions, need to get over Hinduphobic biases and recognize that what Hindu, and Indian spirituality broadly, is saying is profoundly revolutionary: control your senses.  Control your senses, and you begin to cut loose from the predatory way of life that rules the world today. Imagine a billion people deeply content within themselves, deeply at peace within and with others, seeing pain and untruth clearly, resisting it. Hinduism can fuel social change in ways none of the progressive icons or ideologues have even dreamed of. – Swarajya, 4 February 2015

Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence

New Item Numbers: Delightful but unreal – Virendra Parekh

Virendra Parekh“Things remain what they were and are now. But we are told that, if numbers are computed properly, the Indian economy did not do as badly as we all thought.” – Virendra Parekh

Once upon a time, Indian Railways had three classes: first, second and third. Unable to bear the plight of the hapless passengers in the third class, a bleeding heart minister abolished the second class one fine morning and renamed the third class as second class. Everything else remained the same, but at one stroke of pen he upgraded millions of passengers at no cost to them.

StatisticsSomething similar is happening about our economy. Things remain what they were and are now. But we are told that, if numbers are computed properly, the Indian economy did not do as badly as we all thought. So, cheer up!

The economy watchers are a baffled lot these days. The latest GDP series has caught them completely off-guard. They believed for years that the Indian economy entered a prolonged slowdown in 2011-12. This was indicated by the gross domestic product (GDP) numbers and what almost everyone small or big found in his particular business or livelihood pattern.

But the new official numbers have changed the dismal picture radically. Till now, we were told that GDP growth was 4.7 per cent in 2012-13 and 5 per cent in 2013-14, a toxic decline from the heady years of near-double-digit growth. The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) now says that GDP growth in India was 5.1 per cent in 2012-13 and a miracle growth rate of 6.9 per cent in 2013-14. In the current year we are growing at an enviable 7.4 per cent (not the modest 5.5 per cent expected earlier), surpassing even the dragon next door. Another cheerful news is that, having become richer, Indians now spend a smaller part of their income on food. This gives rise to the question: Is the Indian economy as badly off as we assumed?

The revision is based on change in the base year from 2004-05 to 2011-12, the movement to market prices from factor cost, new data for manufacturing, segregation of crop and livestock production, estimation of value addition from the extraction of sand, the inclusion of accounts of stock brokers etc.

Arun JaitleyIf the new figures present a correct picture then both the finance minister and the RBI governor can take their jobs a little easy. RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan can take his time to cut interest rates since the economy is doing quite well even without his help. And Arun Jaitley need not burn midnight oil over any fiscal stimulus for growth through additional public investment, since growth is already quickening.

These numbers are no doubt delightful and the UPA spokesmen have been quick to claim credit. But there is an uneasy air of unreality around them. To be sure, data and methodological revisions are undertaken by all countries, and developing countries like India do undertake these revisions on a larger and more frequent scale.

Raghuram RajanBut the fundamental problem with the new numbers is that the macro data have little connect with indicators on the ground such as the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), credit growth, company earnings, the level of non-performing loans, car sales and so on. Each of these presents a dim and grim picture of the economy.

Take, for example, the manufacturing sector. The new series shows a growth rate of six per cent for 2013-14 compared with -0.7 per cent in the old series, after a 6.2 per cent growth in 2012-13 (the old series shows 1.1 per cent). However, this is not reflected in the top-line growth or the margins (a proxy for the value addition) of the bigger companies. If productivity has improved leading to a higher gross value addition, surely it should be reflected in corporate profits and tax collections. In a policy paralysis year, with bank balance sheets broken, and ease of doing business worse, was there surge in investment activity? As to the current year, when there is a complete decimation of pricing power (core Wholesale Price Index inflation is at around one per cent) and industry capacity utilisation languishes at around 70 per cent, how can we believe that the industry is surging ahead?

The CSO argues that the “unincorporated” sector introduced the swing factor. However, this does not tally with the fact that the small scale industry (the closest cousin of the unincorporated sector) continues to be one of the key contributors to bank non-performing loans. RBI data for 2011 and 2012 show that NPAs of micro and small enterprises grew sharply at 24 per cent. The rate of slippage has slowed down since then, but if CSO is right, why have banks not seen it in their loan service patterns?

StatisticsThere seems to be a similar error with regard to the government consumption expenditure i.e. expenditure for teachers, hospitals, government workers’ salaries etc. When the finance minister P. Chidambaram went on an expenditure cutting spree in 2013-14, it was precisely these expenditures that he was reducing. Yet the new CSO data suggest that real government expenditures accelerated from only a 1.7 per cent growth in 2012-13 to an 8.2 per cent growth rate in 2013-14. The earlier data showing a deceleration in real government consumption expenditure from 6.2 per cent growth in 2012-13 to 3.8 per cent growth in 2013-14 appear to be more credible.

We need a longer series (say 2001-11 or 2011-20) before we can use these numbers in policy formulation. Such a long series will permit comparisons over a period, establish linkages among variables and determine where the economy currently is in the business cycle—at the crest, trough or in an upturn or downturn. Without this, all that can be said is that the economy is recovering.

A man does not become taller by measuring his height in centimeters instead of inches. The same goes for economy, too. Both the finance minister and the RBI governor should remember this while formulating their policies. – Vijayvaani, 15 February 2015

» Virendra Parekh is the Executive Editor of Corporate India. He lives in Mumbai.

Do Hindutvavadis understand state power? – Ashok Chowgule

Ashok Chowgule“A clear message was sent to the Hindutvavadis that now that they have voted in a new group of people in power, they should go back to their homes and allow the new group to play the same type of politics that was being played earlier. … The Hindutvavadis found they had to … defend the actions of those controlling the state power. And since they could not defend the indefensible, they said that perhaps it is better to have the opponents back in power than one who were pretending to be their supporters.” – Ashok Chowgule

Kanchan GuptaThe Right in India, namely the Hindutvavadis, are used to being called all sorts of names by their opponents. (I am personally a very proud Hinduvavadi, and a senior office bearer in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.)  The opponents intention of using names that they consider to be derogatory conforms to the tactics suggested by Lenin a long time ago. Arun Shourie pointed this out when he quoted Nikolai Valentinov recounting what the Marxist dictator, Lenin, told him, namely: “Plekhanov once said to me about a critic of Marxism (I’ve forgotten his name), ‘First let us stick the convict’s badge on him, and then after that we will examine his case.’ And I think that we must ‘stick the convict’s badge’ on anyone and everyone who tries to undermine Marxism, even if we do not go on to examine his case. That’s how every sound revolutionary should react.” (Eminent Historians, Delhi, 1998, p 209.) 

A milder form of the disease seems to have now spread to those who would like to think that they are actually well-wishers of Hindutva.  One such person is Kanchan Gupta, who tweeted on January 19, 2015: “A huge problem with the preachy Right in India is that they do not understand or are clueless about the importance of state power.” 

Let me assure Kanchanji that the Hindutvavadis do know everything about state power.  We know that it has been used for the following purposes: 

  • Ban Hindu organisations for no valid reason, or threaten them with a ban.
  • Be extremely reluctant to ban non-Hindu organisations.
  • Harass, or threaten to harass, Hindutvavadis who are open supporters of Hindutva, particularly those outside the electoral political arena.
  • Involve Hindu organisations in various types of litigation for no reason at all.
  • Patronise those who are ideologically opposed to Hindutva.
  • Patronise those who are willing to offer their services to the cause of opposing Hindutva.
  • Offer the people belonging to the above two categories monetary support through state institutions which are funded by the tax payers money.
  • Give them all sorts of state awards for the service they render to those who control the government machinery.
  • Declare an Emergency to negate court decision which would have meant that the then prime minister would have to resign.
  • To create an extra-constitutional power, superseding the elected representatives, and one without any accountability. 

India ShiningThese are, of course, some of the examples, and I am sure my reader gets the trend.  But the Hindutvavadis have had the physical and moral courage to stand up to this abuse of state power and hold on to their conviction with full force. And they have succeeded in defeating these abusers and their supporters in all aspects – intellectual, organisational and now political. 

The Hindutvavadis have not voted for a political dispensation to misuse the state power to harass their opponents.  They have voted for a new dispensation to see a system where there is no state power to be misused.  The Hindutvavdis know that the state power is a very corrosive instrument, adversely affecting everyone who has an opportunity to use it, save the rare person who has a saintly character.  Anyone lesser will get intellectually, and monetarily, corrupted and start behaving in the same manner as those who were earlier controlling the state power. 

And sometimes the state power could be used against the Hindutvavadis, as had happened the last time there was a NDA government in place. The Hindutvavadis realised the new people in power were not conducting themselves in a manner that was expected of them – namely, in the interest of the nation, and not of oneself. They expressed their opinion in an open manner, sometimes having to undertake agitation to remind the people in the government why they were voted in power. Instead of introspecting, the new dispensation used state power to act exactly in the same way that the earlier dispensation did against the Hindutvavadis. 

A clear message was sent to the Hindutvavadis that now that they have voted in a new group of people in power, they should go back to their homes and allow the new group to play the same type of politics that was being played earlier.  The Hindutvavadis saw that while the old dispensation was bad they were at least an open opponent.  As part of their regular programmes, when the Hindutvavadis interacted with the people, they found they had to try and defend the actions of those controlling the state power.  And since they could not defend the indefensible, they said that perhaps it is better to have the opponents back  in power than one who were pretending to be their supporters. 

Something similar had happened in the 1980 elections.  The people threw out the government of Indira Gandhi in 1977 because of the gross misuse of state power during the Emergency.  But since many in the new set of people turned out to have little inclination to provide good governance, the people said that the Janata Party experiment did not live up to their expectations.  They thought perhaps Indiraji had learnt an RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat with leaders and spiritual guru's celebrate Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) 50 years on the occasion of Krishna Janamashtami in Mumbai in 2014. appropriate lesson while out of power, and will behave in a responsible manner in the future.  And so the brought her back into power. 

The institutions of Hindutvavadis have prospered without state support.  It is the opponents that needed state support for their ideological and pecuniary purpose.  The Hindutvavadis want the present dispensation to evolve a system that the state will not intrude in the lives of the people of India, and stick to basic governance.  The Hindutvavadis want the present dispensation to put in place minimum government which will automatically give maximum governance. 

And in the process the government should be able to reduce the taxes, a disproportionately large share of which comes from the Hindutvavadis.  The additional disposable income with the Hindutvavadis will then be used by them to fund programmes that take their agenda forward, through society initiative and not state.  At the same time the opponents will be starved of the funds that they have taken for granted as if it is their god given right.  

As it is, there are many such activities that the Hindutvavadis are already doing.  But because of the hostility from the state institutions which were under the control of their ideological opponents, this effort was somewhat negated.  The Hindutvavadis had to fight their battle on two fronts – one to defend against the war that their political opponents were waging misusing against them (using the taxes that the Hindutvavadis paid), and the second to take their agenda forward. 

Furthermore, if for any reason the present dispensation loses the political power, there will be no state power that the opponents can once again misuse for the purposes listed Mohan Bhagwat & Narendra Modiabove. Perhaps the disbanding of the state power will seriously discourage our opponents to try and seek political power. 

The Hindutvavadis are convinced that the present prime minister, Narendraji Modi, and some others who are steeped in an RSS upbringing, know that a reduction in state power is in the long-term interest of the nation. It is for people like Kanchanji to support their effort and work to put the necessary system in place as quickly as possible. And not to try to be the king instead of the King. – Hindu Vivek Kendra, 13 February 2015

» Ashok Chowgule is a Goa industrialist and the Working President (External) of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, India.

BJP loses in Delhi

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