Monday, September 10, 2012

Hinduism and race


Swami and writer Ishwar Sharan, whom I know from contributing to his book on Saint Thomas, has republished on the Bharata Bharati website a text I wrote in 2007, on how the Churches have repositioned themselves vis-à-vis racism, and how, in contrast, Hindus choose to live in the past and keep on using the language appropriate for the colonial age. Shrill tirades against “white Christian nations” will not do to counter the missionary effort in India, now mostly carried out by natives. Christianity has changed races several times in its history and its association with white racism was only a phase, long gone now and kept alive only in some Hindus’ fevered imagination. Even the odd expressions of white racism, like the recent attack on Sikhs in the US probably was, are typically condemned by the Churches.

In reaction, Mrs. Radha Rajan has written on 28 August 2012: “Swamiji, why this renewed attack against Hindu intellectuals now? And permit me to be blunt, none of this will deter me from always looking out for Sonia Gandhi even in our religious domain.”


Well, go ahead and criticize the Italian bar-maid who became the de facto “empress of India”. I don’t think she is all that important, but I agree that the Churches can put pressure on Christian politicians to facilitate their operations. I don’t think any country should have a foreigner as its most powerful politician, but native Christian politicians are more dangerous to Hinduism, and a few have more conversions to their credit.


But more serious is that my article gets perceived as an “attack against Indian intellectuals”. Well, to the extent that Indian intellectuals identify the Churches with “foreign” and “white”, I think indeed that they are anachronistic and wrong. That is just my dissenting opinion, which I don’t conceive of as an “attack”. I find differences of opinion quite normal, the very stuff of intellectual life, and those who can only see them as attacks are not intellectuals.



Hindu racism?


Radha Rajan says: “I don’t want to be told how to fight my  battles and what weapons to use.” My knowledge of ground realities in India is very limited, but through my journeys, through the writings of Hindu activists and now through the internet, I get the impression of Hindus suffering defeat upon defeat. There are some signs of light, some local Hindu gains, but over all, the evolution is not good. Just look at the demographic gains of Christianity and Islam, and the confused and weak stand of the Hindu’s main political representative, the BJP. So the weapons being used do not seem to be very effective. I think they could use a reality check, hence my article. 

Radha Rajan also wrote: “Now this is once again white intellectual elite attempting to define the parameters and idiom of racism. Racism is as much about race as it is about politics as done by the white race. The white race, as a political category is despised by its victims for the political instruments it devised and used to subjugate non christians and non whites.”


The age in which the white race dominated the world lasted only a few centuries. Indeed, Hindus never tire of telling us that in the premodern age, most world trade was in the hands of the Asian powers India and China, so Western dominance was only a brief intermezzo. It is quite unhistorical to base essentialist pronouncements on such a short episode. Don’t Hindus think in ages, Westerners only in centuries?


But I agree that here, Radha Rajan represents a very large Hindu opinion. That section of Hindus claims to engage with Christian missionaries but is in fact fixated on “whites”, a vanishing minority among them. But it is so much easier if you can recognize the enemy by his skin colour instead of by a complicated thing such as his religious ideology. And Hindus, just like most people, like to take the easy option. Moreover, this reduction of complex ideological issues to race is highly secular, so there is a premium in secular India on preferring the Christian or Muslim race-follow to the differently-coloured ideological friend. That is why the fearful BJP will prefer to say that, for instance, Bangladeshi intrusion on Bodo lands is not a religious but a foreigners’ problem, even while Mumbai Muslims express their solidarity not with their Bodo fellow-countrymen but with their foreign fellow-Muslims.


According to Radha Rajan: “To now say that this dislike and expression of dislike of the white race is also racism is to say a rape victim's natural revulsion of the male species is sexism. The white race either wants to be ring master with the rest of the world playing circus animals or it wants us to look up at it helplessly while it assumes a paternalist role.”


It is not clear whether she (and some other Hindus who have reacted) differentiates between my view and my description of the Churches’ view, but since we’re all deemed white, I guess it’s all the same. This undisguised expression of anti-white racism may earn her some popularity but is misconceived.


I will not bother with the moral issues in her explicit defence of racism. Maybe she can show its successes, and they would justify it, who knows? What I want to explain, is that this is not about “natural revulsion” against the white race, but just the reverse. As US-based Communist Vijay Prashad once explained, Hindus in the US pretended to be white when being white was fashionable (basing their own claim of whiteness on the Aryan Invasion Theory) but changed over to a non-white identity when being non-white became more gainful. So, in this construction of things, which Chennai-based Mrs. Radha Rajan must know through the similar discourse of the Dravidianist parties, she is a lot whiter than she pretends.


Caste discrimination is presented by the Churches and their Dalit wardens as precisely a case of white racism against natives, viz. by the Aryan invaders who became the upper castes (including Radha Rajan’s own Aiyangar Brahmins)  against the aboriginals, who were turned into the lower castes. This is not about the British colonizers resenting the Indians’ anticolonialism and therefore criticizing anti-white racism, but about the anticolonialism of the lower castes resenting the earlier colonization by the Aryan invaders, the ancestors of Radha Rajan. To the British back then, and to the Dalit and Dravidianist spokesmen now, upper-caste imperialism is of the same kind (essentially foreign, though far more thorough) as British imperialism. Whether there was an Aryan invasion may be disputed, but I merely observe that the Churches are successfully building on that scenario.


The art of making enemies


This is also an occasion for me to express my amazement at Hindus’ propensity to see and make enemies everywhere, even among Hindus. In the Panchatantra, where a teacher has to instruct some princes through fables in the art of statecraft, one of the five books is devoted to the art of making friends. But today’s Hindus seem better at the art of turning friends into enemies.


Radha Rajan and other Vijayvaani authors have earlier attacked the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha for its 2008 “Jerusalem Declaration”, a remarkable diplomatic victory for the Hindus. The underlying theology may have been unsophisticated, if only because the event was rather improvised, and criticism is allowed, but hey, Jews have common interests with Hindus (the defence against Muslim terrorism and against Christian missionary subversion being most acute), so this building of bridges deserved some applause.


They have also criticized and antagonized the NRIs in general, Rajiv Malhotra in particular. US-based ex-businessman Mr. Malhotra has built an enormous database of highly relevant information, and developed pro-Hindu and pro-India arguments in his books. While fighting Christianity, he is attacked in the back by envious Hindus. If it can be any consolation, Malhotra is no better than Radha Rajan when it comes to making friends. I have witnessed how he antagonized many Hindus through his sharp and unforgiving (but truthful) language, even some people who were allies only a year ago. At any rate, at a time when the situation of Hindus in India and Hindus abroad is ever more similar, wisdom dictates that these two categories refrain from antagonizing each other.


And now, Radha Rajan also wants to antagonize Hinduism’s Western allies. When I first came to India, the Ayodhya movement was gathering strength, and what I, as coming from the country where most EU institutions are housed, got to hear all the time from Hindu activists, was the theme of a “Western-Indian alliance against Islam”. Back then, Hindus were vaguely aware of a similarity between the West and India. Thus, colonialism started as a way of by-passing the Muslims, who threatened Europe for a thousand years and conquered parts of it. As late as the early 19th century, Europeans and even American seafarers were victims of enslavement by Muslims, just like the Hindus. (Of course Europe and the Islamic world also cooperated, though problematically: the European slave-trade, of which the abolition’s 200th anniversary occasioned my article, started as a Portuguese subcontractor’s operation in a far larger and centuries-old Muslim slave-trade.) Today, European worries about Islamic encroachment remind one of what India is going through. So, among other things, we have that in common.


But now, Christianity is seen as more of a threat than Islam, and it gets identified with the West. Indeed, Westerners who have explicitly broken with Christianity are routinely dismissed by Hindu internet warriors as “Christians”. At the same time, recent interventions by America and/or NATO, made possible by their victory in the Cold War, have made the West seem very unsympathetic. Attacks on India’s old NAM ally Yugoslavia, on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya (with the French and British leaders shaking hands there and looking very neo-colonial) are not liked by a people that remembers foreign invasions too well, albeit that these came from its Chinese and Pakistani neighbours. These Western interventions were criminal and mistaken, but it’s not to me that our governments will listen. At any rate, this development doesn’t change the earlier anti-Islamic equation, but it has changed the Hindus’ focus.


So, some Hindus invent reasons to treat “whites” as the enemy: the Partition of India back then and the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh today is blamed on the British (The Empire’s Last Casualty is the secular-sounding title of a recent Hindu book on Bangladeshi persecution of its minorities), not on its real Islamic perpetrators; the Pakistani and otherwise Islamic terror attacks on India are blamed by Vijayvaani on covert American influence. It seems that some Hindus are white supremacists: for something meaningful to happen they always have to find a white hand behind it.


Well, suit yourselves. I only tried to sharpen the Hindu perception of how the Churches function today, and therefore to correct some misperceptions. But I would never want to tell Hindus how best to face their self-declared enemies. If you prefer to live in the colonial past or in a delusional world of your own creation, do your worst. If your weapons are more effective than mine, show me the successes you achieve with them.

Only, I hear laughter in the background. It must be by brown Christians who go on converting Hindus all while Hindu activists have their gaze fixed on “white racist Christian missionaries”.



Mahalaya said...

Let me tell you a story. A year or so ago back upon a very large wonderful forum of Hindu. I found a poster, who was Indian, posting very unusual things. Very christian things.

When a westerner came in to become Hindu, he was almost always there to say..."Stay christian".

Then he posted some things about missionary work in Haiti..leaving his name out. But spoken in the first person as if it were about him. Now upon this forum almost all western adoptees of Hinduism were threshed continually in the fear that they were still secretly christian. If one came in saying "stay christian" from the West they would have immediately been removed.

But this Indian doctor was allowed to continue saying these things without question. He even went as far as to begin questioning the divinity and motivations of Ram and Krishna.

This would have been an immediate ban had it been a westerner posting such things. But for years he continued without even a question being raised about his motivation.

That's what these missionaries are counting on. That Indians are so prideful...nationalistic...that they would never consider the true nature of one of their own.

I tried to warn the others, but they ignored my comments and he was allowed to continue.

Only once i went online and found this man actively speaking about his missionary trips to convert...and his hatred of Hinduism. Only when i put it upon the forum, then they reacted.

What made me saddest wasn't this one misguided Indian's attempt to convert. But, his absolute conviction to make sure westerners were discouraged from the forum and would hopefully go back to their, often christian, faith.

All while being sheltered in the rampant racism..nationalism of his countrymen.

It was the hardest lesson of my lifetime. Nearly broke me.

But, in the end...these "insiders" are a very real threat to all. To those in the East and west of east.

In the end, everyone loses.

Senthil said...

You hit the nail hard on the head.

I am sick and tired of the internet Hindus who still venerate Islam and Christianity and identify the problem with only 'radical Islamists or evangelists'. Their criticisms with regard to Islam mostly are done on a case by case basis, be it Owaisi's statements or Azad Maidan's violence. They never attempt put all this in a larger picture and to trace the roots of this menace to Islamic ideology and life of Muhammad. This is the state of Hindu society even after a Sita Ram Goel and Ram Swarup happened to the Hindu society. Hindus stand on this matter just confirms SR Goel's suspicion that the oft repeated Hindu tolerance is actually Hindu cowardice. The foundational critique on monotheistic religions done by Ram Swarup remains a colossal waste till today as Hindus are unwilling to extend it further and develop that into a political ideology.

I do not agree with your point on BJP. Politicians will not take up issues that will not appeal to masses. The BJP dropped its Hindu character,because the hindus are so ill-informed still so that it is impossible to unite them against the threat of the 'other'. The terms of the language of political discourse is still set by 'Seculars'. This is the result of the anti-intellectualism of the sangh movement as pointed by you and SR Goel.

Shankar Sharan said...

You are very right KE. Not only the main thoughts and arguments, but also about R Rajan and R Malhotra. Both seem too impatient to percieve friends' viewpoint and show unnecessary arrogance. With years of readings and observations of my own, I caanot agree more on all the points you made. Thank you!

Rita Narayanan said...

The Problem of the Hindu inner self

independence has not done a lot of good by democratising the inner workings of society. I for instance find that as you go lower down the line among my own Iyer community, people being more aggressive- militant and less progressive to caste or to outsiders than the old educated less aggressive class. Although they themselves avail of progress very readily :(

Race is another issue where the whole non white world is quick to cry racism and colonialism about the white man. But look inside Asiatic, Southern European and even African societies and one finds much greater racist overtones.

Phillip said...

[To now say that this dislike and expression of dislike of the white race is also racism is to say a rape victim's natural revulsion of the male species is sexism.]

I don't think so. Friends of mine have been rape survivors. One of them has been one of my best friends for twenty years. She survived a brutal rape (and that wasn't all he did to her), and is also a radical feminist, but neither of these facts turned her into an indiscriminate hater of all men. This is because she is not stupid. I generally avoid generalizations (yes yes, haha) for the same reason that I am not a groupist and racist, but I think that "groupism is the result of ignorance and stupidity" is a fair generalization to make. Seeing groups rather than individuals belongs to the earliest stage of learning. Those who refuse to move beyond that stage are bigots.

Karthikrajan said...

The “art of making enemies” reminds me of the joke about a zoologist collecting frog species from various countries. He left the jar containing Indian frogs open whereas he kept the others closed. When a visitor asked him why, he said that no Indian frog would allow its brethren to escape to freedom !! such is the case with hindus, excellent ‘jar frogs’ !! when will these people ever realize that the enemy ( or should we call them ‘traitors’ ) is within us. The race angle introduced by churches and lapped up by the Dravidar Kazhagam brand ir-rationalists is very true. Lord ram is not only a colonialist but also a racist who mercilessly and needlessly killed the dark skinned south Indian kings including ravana of lanka. Seetha’s abduction and ravana being a devotee of siva are just conspiracy theories invented by the evil arya-braahmans. The recent controversial jewish American film maker said it right: islam is cancer. Hindus just have to add one more phrase to it ‘and Christianity , root cause: semicrack jewish prophets’.

Phillip said...

[To now say that this dislike and expression of dislike of the white race is also racism is to say a rape victim's natural revulsion of the male species is sexism.]

This is just another attempt to neutralize the dangerous and inconvenient concept of individualism by shackling it to the great bogey of our time, race. She needs to think a bit harder about the implications of her position. I wonder what she would say to dalits who think the same way about brahmins? Would she accept the hate of such a person as her just karmaphalam? I doubt it. "Those who live by the sword die by the sword", as a great muni once said. There is nothing especially east or west, black or white, about insisting that people recognize that they are themselves subject to the principles to which they hold others.

Vivek said...

Muslims also seems to improve their image here.

Bhuvan said...
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Anonymous said...

I would like to both disagree and agree. Let me start with a difference in view. While the church is now led by locals (i.e. non-whites) be it in Africa, India or Indonesia, it is still financed by the west and serves western geo-strategic interests. To that extent, the criticism of the west as sponsors of a rabid evangelism (the Republicans in the United States being a prime example) is valid.

However, I do agree with you that Vijayvaani and Radha Rajan attack the Tibetans, the Jews, the Sri Lankan Tamils and Aung San Suu Kyi. They even attacked the anti-Islam movie trailer done by an Egyptian Copt. To that extent, my sense is that only China and the Arab world would gain from such an intrusion into the Hindu space. Hindu activism has been infiltrated and Vijayvaani and Radha Rajan exemplify that in part.

I may not agree with you, Dr. Elst. But please continue to write what your write. It is food for thought. We need that debate. Keep up the good work in your rigorous intellectual analysis.


Bhavya Ketan said...
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Unknown said...

Please see following article by Rajiv Malhotra on his website: Problematizing god's interventions in history. An interesting paragraph taken from there:
'In this classification, I interpret Jesus’ original teachings as type B (ahistorical and esoteric), whereas Christianity later became type A (exoteric institutionalized power). The Grand Narratives in Jesus’ name have often not been faithful to his message. The category of “Abrahamic religions,” as used in this essay, denotes the institutions and their history-centric Grand Narratives. Prior to Constantine, Jesus had inspired movements quite similar to Indic traditions.'
In above, does he not talk like someone who is trying a bit of inculturation tricks? If he is pro-Hindu and trying to 'fight' what is above all about? What original Jesus movements is he referring to and which Indic traditions are they similar to? Has he not read Lawrence Gardner?