On 26-27 April 2014, the Global Hindu Conference took place at the Wyndham hotel San José CA, the heart of Silicon Valley. It was far less luxurious than most academic conferences, but contentswise it was unusually rich and focused. Most participants were amazed at the quality of not one gem here or there, but of all the papers. It gathered people for work, not leisure: sessions from 8h till 22h, with breaks of only ten minutes.
I apologize for a very uneven overview, particularly to the speakers whom I mention only cursorily. Given time constraints, I write this report in a hurry, but a book with all the full papers will come out later this year.
Papers by Sumeet Saxena, Mrs. Kamlesh Kapur, Sandeep Balakrishna and Vishal Agarwal detailed the different modern schools of historiography: British, Indian nationalist (ca. 1920-70), Marxist etc. Balakrishna presented his recently published book about Tipu Sultan, countering the false and laughable propaganda of the secularists. Vinay Deolikar cut the so-called Muslim period to size: it declined sharply after 1707, and by 1750, most of India was under the Hindu Pad Padashahi (“Hindu sovereignty”) established by the Marathas. The decisive hero was Peshwa Baji Rao, who in ca. 1720 changed the power equation in India decisively. William Dalrymple and the secularists falsify history by pretending that the Moghuls handed over their power to the British, who in fact had to wrest it from the Hindu kings.
Niraj Mohanka explained the Wendy Doniger affair, where her “banned” book had erred, and how Hindus have reacted. About this affair, Vishal Agarwal authored a list of errors in Wendy Doniger’s controversial book The Hindus, an Alternative History, shortly after the book appeared in 2007. Because of the commotion, his list has finally appeared in print. He presented the book and discussed the classes of errors. The hundreds of factual mistakes reflect poorly on her scholarship, but they are not the reason why Hindus are up in arms against it. The classes she claims to champion, women and low-castes, are systematically denied their proud role in history and reduced to mere victims of patriarchy and upper-caste domination.
Prof. Narahari Achar detailed the history of Parikhit and Janamejaya, grandson and great-grandson of Arjuna, who presided over the first narration which was to expand into the Mahabharata. He applied modern software to the astronomical data in the epic.
The paper by Shrikant Talageri, who could not physically be there, was read out by the undersigned. Talageri described the difficult challenge that a real historian of India has to face. On the one hand, there are the gross and shameless biases imposed by the Marxists and secularists, parroted by the world media and even by India-watching academics. On the other, any legitimate criticism or just factual portrayal of negative practices by some Hindu or other will be shot down by the affected sectional interest groups or lambasted by Hindu activists as “anti-Hindu”.
The undersigned spoke about the failure of Edward Said’s “Orientalism” thesis and of the hyperfocus on the role of colonial historiography. I gave some feedback on the weaknesses and mistakes of the Hindu attempts at history-rewriting so far.
Kandadai Rangachari and Kalavai Venkat discussed “Jesus in India”. This refers not just to Nicholas Notovich’s hoax, debunked more than a century ago, only years after it had been launched, but stlll widely believed by Ahmadiya Muslims, New-Agers, Ramakrishnaites and hundreds of millions of Hindus. It equally pertains to the equally mythical
Kalavai Venkat delivered the Sita Ram Goel memorial lecture, mercilessly pin-pricking the illusions about Christianity. He at once presented his new book, What Every Hindu Should Know about Christianity. The Sita Ram Goel memorial lecture was preceded by an overview of Goel’s life, with many rare pictures, by Paramacharya Sadasivanathaswami, the head of the Hawaii-based Shaiva Siddhanta order.
A debate on how to deal with the challenge of Christianity took place between Prof. Madan Lal Goel and Kalavai Venkat, with yours truly as the moderator. I fear the whole thing doesn’t look good on camera, for I was plagued by pain and dryness in my right eye, and the material circumstances were not exactly fit for a panel discussion: each time they spoke, the two opponents had to get up and speak through the microphone at the rostrum. The organizers should think of these things beforehand, or rather, I should have thought of these things. Still it worked out well, as the antagonists were correct and friendly and held nicely balanced viewpoints. Kalavai was in favour of a robust stance, openly treating Christians as enemies because their adopted doctrine is unequivocally hostile to Hinduism. He advocated the use of science-based scepticism and ridicule. Goel, by contrast, was in favour of a more diplomatic attitude, as many Christians were coming out of this antagonistic worldview. Niraj Mohanka commented that both are right, since their attitudes fit the two faces of Christianity: on the offensive in India and the other frontline states of the mission, on the retreat and giving way to a more open-minded “spirituality” in the West.
Sundarsh Vedapureeswaran discussed the fundamental flaw in the Abrahamic outlook. Myself, I gave an overview of what Christianity is not. Some Hindus imagine that Christians should live up to the Hindus’ own fantasies about what Christianity is, e.g. “Jesus would be angry if he saw the spread of missions”. In reality, the Christians are only bound by Christian texts, chiefly the Nicean creed.
The paper that was perhaps most urgently needed by the Hindu community, was by Prof. Laul Jadusingh, targeting “god-talk”. He reiterated that non-theism was fully a part of Hinduism until Shankara. “Ishwara” meant something else for Patañjali than “God”. But when today’s Hindus so profusely mention “God”, it is heavily tainted with Christian theology. It is imperative that Hindus go back to their roots in this respect, and understand that (1) “God” means something very different in Hinduism than in Christianity; and (2) Hinduism can very well exist without a notion of “God”. Buddhism has been less confused about this. (I might mention the commotion in 2005 in Cambodia when planned school textbooks turned out to include the notion of “God”. The Buddhist clergy intervened to remind everyone that this was a Christian notion adroitly promoted by the missionaries, and that for many centuries, the Cambodians had proven their ability to do without this notion.) At any rate, the focused Buddhist mobilization against Christian proselytization contrasts favourably with the naïve and lazy Hindu attitude so far.
The subjects of historiography and the defence against Christianity were each given half a day, the other sessions were shorter, but at least a start was made.
Acharya Arumuganathaswami presented the educational situation in the US, including the textbook selection and editing process, against which his monastic order had brought out an introductory textbook on Hinduism. He also presented the film version, The History of Hindu India, which evoked general admiration. The only critical note was by a professor who liked the film but saw a tinge op imitative apologetics in it, of the type: “Christians say they worship God, but we too…” I think that was unfair, as the Hawaii Shaivite order just happens to be theistic and genuinely see Hinduism as theistic, a Shaiva attitude long predating the Christian domination in the colonial and present periods. On the other hand, an alertness for the Hindu tendency to mimic Christianity is commendable.
Schoolchildren and young adults, whose religious education was discussed in papers by Ashutosh Gupta, Mona Rawal, Easan Katir and Tushar Pandya, need to be approached in a different way because of the specific sensitivities of their age group. One thing they have in common is regular exposure to the barrage of the ambient anti-Hindu propaganda. Young adults in America, however, are in a generally anti-religious mood and atmosphere. By contrast, younger pupils often react by feeling shame or by wanting to disown Hinduism in order to be more acceptable to the ambient Christians.
Katir also gave his testimony about the edits process starting the California textbook affair. As the Acharya diagnosed, the California parents, none of them education bureaucrats nor historians, had been naïve in their understand of the textbook-editing process as well as about the state of the art in certain topics of history. This failure should be no big deal provided they have learned their lesson and improve their performance next times around.
Far from complete was the treatment of another sore point: the legal and factual treatment of the temples. But at least a start was made with the case of Andhra Pradesh, presented by Prasad Yalamanchi. Scientist Yadu Moharir, author of books on Ganesha and Laksmi, tried to explain the scientific basis of Hindu rituals, an ambitious project but for skeptics his treatment may not fully have met their standards of rigorousness. He did elucidate the logic behind rituals, though, useful knowledge for someone of a non-ritualist background like myself.
Rahul Chandra documented the situation of the Hindus in Pakistan, mostly Sindh, and why many feel compelled to flee to India. Especially the vulnerability of girls to abduction by and forced marriage to Muslims forces them to flee. In a few districts they still form a high percentage, helped by a high birthrate, and this explains why many also don’t feel a pressing need to flee yet. But if they are not helped from abroad, they too will come to feel the heat. A complement to this was Vishal Agarwal’s description of the peculiar history of Sindh. For the audience these were novel topics full of surprising information. Rahul Chandra also presented a paper about the development of alternative media, a remedy to the decades-long painful absence of the articulately Hindu voice from the public debate.
Dilip Amin reported on the challenge of interfaith marriages and described the typical and foreseeable conduct of the non-Hindu spouses and their families. Though he did not say so outright, he seemed to see dissuasion from the marriage as the most desirable course. At any rate, he countered the naivety of the Hindu youngsters and the cluelessness of their parents.
Similarly, Kamlesh Kapur, also the author of a hefty textbook on Hindu dharma, reported on her experience with interreligious dialogue, gathered over several decades. The piucture is almost uniformly dismal. Hindus come totally unprepared, have not been mandated or somehow sought representativeness, and improvise widely different responses to the three questions that they invariably have to answer: (1) the name of our God?, (2) our basic belief?, and (3) the name of our holy book? “They fumble, they feel trapped and remain on the defensive, and they look like losers”: that sums up the general picture. She outlined the essence of a remedy, but before we can really speak of a remedy, much remains to be done. At any rate, she correctly diagnosed a glaring problem. Here too, the failure should have been obvious years ago, yet Hindus have never laid their finger on this gaping wound.
In material details, a few things could have been better. Lack of manpower among the organizers accounts for that, and probably it is unavoidable in a truly pioneering venture. But in contents, this was the best Hindu conference I have ever attended. It was packed full of real and new information. Elsewhere, papers are passively accepted from whoever volunteers one, and the more Hindu a conference, the greater the likelihood that some worthless or downright embarrassing papers have only been programmed because their contributors had sponsored the conference. Here, every single paper was of remarkable or really very high quality. Some topics were handled for the first time ever. All praise to the main organizer, Rajiv Varma.
The greatest merit of this conference was that it had finally started to strategize. Secularists and the missionary lobby like to portray the Hindu movement as a big and dangerous monster. Big, perhaps, but dangerous? Maybe a few activists are dangerous the way a mad dog is dangerous: it has the ability of barking and once or twice even biting, but then it is driven into a cage or otherwise taken care of -- it may look formidable but it is after all only an animal. What is completely lacking that could make the movement effective (or "dangerous"), is knowledge: knowledge of what dharma stands for, knowledge of the enemies, and knowledge of the field of action. This movement has tremendous potential, but in the real world it is only stumbling from defeat to defeat. Even the expected BJP victory in the Indian elections may only be a Pyrrhic victory if the disappointing experience of BJP rule in 1998-2004 is anything to go by. Jobs and other perks for the BJP time-servers, but nothing at all for the Hindu cause. This is a brainless dinosaur, and what this conference set out to do, was to infuse a brain into the dinosaur. In this regard, it made great strides. Whether it will be successful in the long run, only depends on the follow-up.