Letter to a Young American Hindu, by Vijay Prashad

The following is a guest contribution from Vijay Prashad. He is the author of eleven books, including Karma of Brown Folk (2000), and most recently The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World (2007).

Dear Friend,

Like you, I was raised in a mixed family. My parents' families came to Bengal from Punjab, and from Burma. One side leans towards Hinduism; the other to Sikhism. The city, the metro, provided its own cultural mooring, and in secular India, I found myself interested in all religions and deeply schooled in none. Id meant fellowship with my Muslim neighbors and friends; a Navjot meant a crash course in Parsi life; Nanak's birthday meant a visit to Gurudwara Sant Kutiya in the center of town; Christmas, which is Bara Din in Calcutta, meant a brightly lit Park Street and a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral; and, of course, Diwali and Holi represented the high-points of our festival culture. Religion was colorful, and friendly. It didn't represent either the harshest of personal morality nor the resentments or distrust of others.

I learnt a few prayers and songs, but this learning was not systematic. Some of my friends were better schooled than I in their various traditions. Our diversity was not simply across religion, but also a diversity of the density of our engagement with religion: agnostics or religious illiterates were as welcome as those who were committed to their faith. The festival that I most liked was Saraswati Puja, the day when we wore yellow and put all our schoolbooks at the feet of the goddess. The respite from study was welcome, as you can imagine.

My morality came from elsewhere than religion, from recognition of the pain in the world. Religious teachers whom I encountered sometimes talked about this suffering, but they didn't seem to have more than charity to offer to those who suffered. It struck me that while religious festivals were beautiful, religions themselves were not adequate as a solution to modern crises. But religion, as I came to understand while reading Gandhi many years later, can play a role in the cleansing of public morality. In 1940, Gandhi wrote, "I still hold the view that I cannot conceive politics as divorced from religion. Indeed, religion should pervade everyone one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. It is not less real because it is unseen. This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality" (Harijan, February 10, 1940). In other words, politics should not be simply about power struggles, but it must be suffused with moral concerns. It is not enough to win; one must strive to create, what Gandhi called, Truth in the world.

To strive for Truth does not mean that we, as humans, can be sure that what we believe in or what we aspire to is some transcendental truth. Gandhi's autobiography was not called I've Found Truth, but The Story of My Experiments with Truth. The use of the word "experiments" is revealing, since it refers to a scientific tradition that privileges verifiable testing (this is also the case with the Gujarati word "prayago," which is in the original 1927 title, Satya-na Prayago athva Atmakatha; Professor Babu Suthar links "prayoga," the singular of "prayago," to the ayurvedic and yogic sense of treatment and practice. An ayurvedic doctor must ask the patient to "prayoga" a medicine, which would imply, try it out to see if it works). Religious traditions are resources to guide us, as social individuals, through the difficulties and opportunities of our lives. They are not dogmas to tear people apart from each other. In a powerful essay against compulsory widow segregation, Gandhi wrote, "It is good to swim in the waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide" (Navajivan, June 28, 1925). Let tradition be a studied resource, not a set of inflexible, unchanging rules.

The Gita.

More than a decade ago, I was teaching South Asian history in central New York. A few young students invited me to their Gita reading group. I was delighted to join them, not because I was an expert in the Gita, but because it pleased me to see second-generation South Asian Americans take an interest in the history and traditions of the subcontinent. The students, dutifully, read their section for the evening and proceeded to have a discussion about it. They had little guidance apart from the text, and they valiantly drew from the analytical skills they learnt in their classes to make sense of the Gita. For them, religion was not an "experiment with truth," but because of their context, it was the Truth that had to be unmasked by their close, devoted reading. I felt myself sinking into it.

The Gita is a remarkable book, precisely because of its history (it was composed long after the Mahabharata, written in classical Sanskrit of the Gupta era, and interpolated into the long epic much later). Frustrated with the hierarchy promoted by Brahmans through the Vedic traditions, scores of people turned to Sramanic traditions (most familiarly, Buddhism). The Gita is a sublime response to the power of Buddhism with concepts such as karma drawn from it. The genius of the text is that it takes concepts and ideas from these popular traditions and brings them into line with some of the central principles of Brahmanism (varna, mainly). The Gita is awash with contradictions: it preaches ahimsa, and yet is set in a battlefield, where Krishna must convince Arjun to go into the fight; it validates the importance of caste hierarchy, and yet shines a light on the equality of all before the awesome might of divinity. The contradictory nature of the text allows every reader to find something beneficial in it. It works as a mirror to our reality.

Then there is bhakti, one of the foundation stones of modern Hinduism. It is the Gita's central concept. Personal devotion (bhakti) drew out from the oppressed peoples of the subcontinent the ability to challenge those who stood between them and divinity (the Brahmins, for instance) and those who stood between them and a peaceful life (Kings, for instance). The concept, Bhakti, was the central idea for a series of important spiritual and social rebellions, led by such people as Andal, Kabir, Mirabai, Tukaram, and above all, Jnanesvar. Jnanesvar, the 13th century Marathi poet, wrote an extended commentary on the Gita in which he not only went after the powerful, but also bemoaned the great harm done to the people for whom religion had become a crutch rather than an engine. "The peasant farmer sets up cult after cult, according to convenience," he wrote. "He follows the preacher who seems most impressive at the moment, learns his mystic formula. Harsh to the living, he relies upon stones and images; but even then never lives true to any one of them." Jnanesvar's powerful critique was not met with an equally powerful movement to overthrow the foundation of the social order of his time. As the historian D. D. Kosambi wrote, "Though an adept in yoga as a path towards physical immortality and mystical perfection, there was nothing left for [Jnanesvar] except suicide." The ideas were glorious, but there was no institutional platform to realize them.

Noxious Hindutva

All this is lost if one reads the Gita as settled Truth rather than an experiment in truth. When Gandhi claimed to base his ahimsa philosophy on the Gita, he faced opposition. "My claim to Hinduism has been rejected by some," he wrote in Young India (May 29, 1924), "because I believe [in] and advocate non-violence in its extreme form. They say that I am a Christian in disguise. I have been even seriously told that I am distorting the meaning of the Gita when I ascribe to that great poem the teaching of unadulterated non-violence. Some of my Hindu friends tell me that killing is a duty enjoined by the Gita under certain circumstances. A very learned Shashtri only the other day scornfully rejected my interpretation of the Gita and said that there was no warrant for the opinion held by some commentators that the Gita represented the eternal duel between forces of evil and good, and inculcated the duty of eradicating evil within us without hesitation, without tenderness…My religion is a matter solely between my Maker and myself. If I am a Hindu, I cannot cease to be one even though I may be disowned by the whole of the Hindu population."

Those who criticized Gandhi for his "misuse" of Hinduism came from the organizations of the Right. The Hindu Mahasabha (1915) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (1925) provided this Right with an institutional nucleus to sharpen the assault on both Indian society and on the Indian freedom movement (whose undisputed leader at this time was Gandhi). The leadership of this Right considered Gandhi a "traitor" to the "Hindu people," and it was their cadre that murdered him in 1948. The RSS, the spearhead of the new "Hindu nationalism," eschewed the mass Freedom Struggle that emerged in the 1920s, sharpened in the 1930s and eventually defeated the British Raj in the 1940s. In 1928, the RSS inaugurated its Officer Training Camp to train its own storm-troopers, not to do battle with the powerful British and its institutions, but with the relatively powerless Muslim masses. The swayamsevak, or volunteer, took an oath, "offering himself entirely – body, mind and wealth – for the preservation and progress of the Hindu Nation." The complexity of India, its diverse heritages and its fluid cultural resources, was anathema to the RSS and its doctrine of Hindutva (Hinduness).

The influence of Italian fascism and German Nazism pervaded the RSS, becoming clarified in the 1939 book by M. S. Golwalkar, "Germany has shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by." For Golwalkar, the role of the "Jew" within India was to be played by the "Muslim" (it should be said that his 1939 book was reprinted in 1944 and in 1947, after the Holocaust was known to all, and yet there was no revision of this section). No wonder Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen considered the ideology of the RSS to be "communal fascism." The RSS remained a marginal element in Indian political life, having played no role in the Freedom Struggle and having a noxious view of the complexity of Indian social life that appealed only to a few among the dominant castes who felt left out of the new Indian republic.

Indian Honeycomb

That complexity is something that Gandhi and others well understood. In 1992, the Anthropological Society of India published the first of an ongoing series of monographs with the omnibus title, The People of India. In this volume, the late K. S. Singh laid out the basic findings of this immense study of the Indian people. There are, he wrote, 4635 identifiable communities in India, "diverse in biological traits, dress, language, forms of worship, occupation, food habits, and kinship patterns. It is all these communities who in their essential ways of life express our national popular life." Strikingly, the scholars working under Singh's direction discovered the immense overlap across religious lines. They identified 775 traits that related to ecology, settlement, identity, food habits, marriage patterns, social customs, social organization, economy and occupation. What they found was that Hindus share 96.77% traits with Muslims, 91.19% with Buddhists, 88.99% with Sikhs, 77.46% with Jains (Muslims, in turn, share 91.18% with Buddhists and 89.95% with Sikhs). Because of this, Singh pointed out that Indian society was like a "honeycomb," where each community is in constant and meaningful interaction with every other community. The boundaries between communities are more a fact of self-definition than of cultural distinction. This Gandhi knew implicitly. Unity was a fact of life, not a conceit of secular theory.

When I went to Punjab in the early 1990s to do my dissertation research, I was startled to find communities that considered themselves on the fence about their religious identification. Three in particular (that make their way into Singh's study) stood out: the Mirasi, Sonar and Rajputs, who claimed to be both Hindus and Muslims. The group I had gone to study, the Balmikis, had a wonderfully rich religious history, where they crafted their own spiritual tradition around the preceptor Bala Shah Nuri and Lalbeg. Bala Shah's poems attacked both the Brahmins and the Mullahs for their perpetuation of untouchability and their refusal to stand for justice. Ram te Rahim kian chhap chhap jana, the followers of Ram and Rahim will hide themselves in fear, sava neze te din avega, hade dosakh pana, and when the sun sets, Bala will send them to hell. This evokes the kind of language of that other great Punjabi poet, Bulle Shah, who sang, Musalman sarne to dared hindu dared gor, dove ese vich mard eho duha di khor (Muslims fear the flame, Hindus the tomb; both die in this fright, such is their hatred).

Hindutva, or the ideology and movement of Hindu chauvinism, attempts to do to this richness what agro-businesses do to bio-diversity. They want to reduce the multiplicity and plurality of cultural forms into the one that they are then able to control: a deracinated "Hindu," like a Genetically Modified form of rice or barley. The joy of religious life, of social life, is reduced into a mass-produced form of worship, cultivated out of hatred for other religions rather than fellowship for humanity. With the RSS and its parivar (family), we are no longer in the land of religion. We are now in the land of power and politics, hate and resentment.

Till the 1980s, the RSS remained on the margins of Indian politics. Rejected at the ballot, the movement emerged only through assassination and intimidation, through riots and mayhem, through which it sought to define the political and social space. In the 1980s, conditions changed, as the Congress abandoned its soft socialism/soft secularism for neo-liberal globalization and the politicization of religion (first by patronizing Sikh separatists). The RSS family won over the Congress' "Hindu vote bank" through an aggressive campaign against dalits (over the Mandal Commissions attempt to deepen reservations), against Muslims (over the Meenakshipuram conversions and the controversy over the mosque at Ayodhya) and against the Left (by deeming its ideology to be "foreign"). Flamboyant campaigns designed to make the most of the television media and harsh rhetoric against minorities attracted the dispossessed, who now joined with disgruntled dominant castes to bring the BJP to power.

The Indian honeycomb began to breakup in this period. It was also in this time that Hindutva went overseas with a new confidence.

Yankee Hindutva

More than a decade ago, I used the term "Yankee Hindutva" to describe the way Hindu chauvinism came into the United States. Eager to branch out to the Diaspora, the RSS and its subsidiaries took advantage of multiculturalism to build their foothold here. Not for the American audience an unadulterated anti-Muslim rhetoric (that would come only in some "safe" spaces, and more aggressively, after 9/11). Initially, the RSS organizations, particularly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and its youth wing, the Hindu Students Council (HSC), promoted the idea that Hinduism is denigrated in the U. S. and that if other cultures are being celebrated, why not Hinduism too. This is an unimpeachable argument, but it came with some implementation problems. First, it assumed that "Hinduism" is a singular thing, not a clumsy name for a diversity of beliefs and affections that litter not only the subcontinent but also the South Asian Diaspora (from Trinidad to Fiji). Second, because the VHPA and the HSC jumped in the game first, and because the most stringent are best often to claim to speak for a religion, the conservatives took control of this issue. There was no liberal critique of the denigration of Hinduism, and when liberals and radicals did dare to tread, the conservatives harshly shut the door to them as being inauthentic defenders of the Culture. This was the tenor of the battle over the 2005-06 revisions of the California text-books. We didn't like the old books either. But we didn't like the sanitized version of Indian history promoted by the conservatives. We wanted "India" to appear for what it is, a land of contradictions, not an unblemished "brand" that needs to be sold so that we can feel falsely proud.

In 1990, a group of committed activists of the hard Right formed the Hindu Students Council (HSC) in the woods of New Jersey. Their public pronouncement was along the grain of liberal multiculturalism, that they wanted to assist Hindu students who struggle with the "loss and isolation" due to their "upbringing in a dual culture Hindu and Judeo-Christian….We try to reconcile our own sorrows and imperfections as human beings in a variety of self-defeating ways. And we usually go through this confused internal struggle alone. It was precisely to assist you with this spiritual, emotional and identity needs that HSC was born." Given the strictures of liberal multiculturalism, everyone, including college administrators, stood by and applauded. But the HSC was never simply about the identity struggles of those whom it called Hindu Americans. It was also the youthful fingers of the long-arm of Hindutva-supremacy in India. The HSC was initially a "project of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America," the far Right "cultural wing" of the hard Right Sangh Parivar (Family of the Faithful). When activists of the Right destroyed a five hundred year old mosque in 1992, the VHP egged them on, the VHPA cheered, and so did the leaders of the HSC. For them, concern over the identity struggles of young Indian Americans could easily be reconciled with their anti-Muslim politics. Multiculturalism in the U. S. provided cover for the cruel, cultural chauvinism in India.

Young South Asian Americans, such as yourself, come to the HSC not always for its politics, but as a space for shelter and struggle against anti-Indian racism. Falguni Trivedi, who participated with the HSC in 1997, tells the story poignantly, "When I was twelve years old, American kids would gang up on me at the bus stop, yelling 'Gandhi Dot' and ask, 'why do you people in India worship cows and drink cow urine?' It is pretty tough for young Hindus stuck between two cultures." When Trivedi went to her parents, they, like many first-generation migrants, offered her the ostrich-strategy. "Adjust" to the verbal abuse, they said. Trivedi, however, wanted her parents to offer clear answers to the questions posed by the racist youth, such as answers about the cow. The parents didn't have ready answers. "Parents don't know," said Dheeraj Singhal, now a lawyer in Ohio, "they're lost. They don't know where to look. Kids are really desperate to know who they are, the meaning of their customs. This giant void of ignorance facing them is a great issue." It is here that the HSC and other such organizations (including the non-communal South Asian Student Associations on various college campuses) come in. But the HSC is actually unable or ill-fitted to deal with U. S. racism. It tells the youth that they come from an ancient heritage and that they should be proud of it, but the HSC makes no attempt to undermine the structures of racism that produce this sort of off-the-cuff racist remark. To promote Indians as the "model minority," who have a great and ancient culture, and not combat the racism that devastates the world of color and pits people of color against each other, is inadequate. It simply lifts up one minority, us, and says that we shouldn't take this nonsense because we are culturally great.

Groups like the HSC and the VHPA are less concerned with the broad problem of racism and of Indian American life, than they are to push the Hindutva agenda in the U. S. and Canada. Here are two examples:

(1)Air-conditioned Sadhus.

By the late 1990s, Hindu temples could be found in most of the areas where Indian Americans lived (or where American Hindus did, such as in Hawaiii). The Prathishtapanas for the Middletown, CT., Satyanarayan temple near where I live took place in 1999 (although families in the area had worshipped in their basements since the early 1980s). These temples are a resource for Hinduism, with ceremonies and festivals, "Sunday Schools" and devotional sessions. The VHPA has other ideas for the temples. In 1998, at a VHPA Dharam Sansad, the conclave decided that all temples and cultural organizations "should associate, endorse and/or affiliate with the VHPA to make the Hindu voice more effective." In 2000, the VHPA sent a hundred God-men from India on a Dharma Prachar Yatra "in a manner so that all of America is covered with Hindutva," as a VHPA activist put it. One of the tasks of the Yatra was for the sadhus to "clear the misconceptions about the VHP" and to assert "the VHP's point of view about issues like Ayodhya movement and attacks on Christians." All talk of "inter-faith dialogue" and of Hinduism as tolerance was out the window. These God-men went on tour, not to offer solace, spiritual guidance or to explain the travails of racism – they came out to plug for the BJP, the VHP and its campaigns against Muslims and Christians in India.

The God-men were treated like touring rock-stars. Luckily I was teaching the Manavadharmasastra (or the Laws of Manu) that semester: "A priest should always be alarmed by adulation as if it were poison and always desire scorn as if it were ambrosia" (II. 162). Our air-conditioned priests are far removed from even the barest humility asked of them by their calling.

(2)Representing Hinduism.

For decades, there has been an ongoing debate within the broad field of India Studies. Influenced by social historians who opened up the world of Indian popular culture and the struggles of ordinary Indians, and by the intervention of Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), these scholars fought against the racism and conservatism of the academy. Sanskrit studies, for instance, treated India as an ancient resource with no lived heritage of Hinduism; political scientists saw India in terms of U. S. or British foreign policy, not in terms of what is in the best interests of the Indian people. Graduate school in the 1980s and early 1990s was a hive of conflict against what some of us saw as a racist representation of the subcontinent.

In 2000, Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation published a long essay against the tenor of Hinduism Studies in the U. S. As if he were a lonely pioneer, Malhotra went hell-for-leather against the entire U. S. academy. Much of what he said is correct (there is an insensitivity toward the Hindu tradition, and a disregard for the real living Indians), and it had been the basis for a long-standing debate around the institutions. With his access to the Indian American media, Malhotra (and the soon to be formed Hindu American Foundation) went after individual academics and then the California 6th grade textbooks. It was a lot of flash and lightning: many of us liberals and radicals were already in the thick of these fights, and much of our work has been fruitful. But we were not invested simply in making India look good: we wanted to ensure that the diversity of India's history and its struggles be represented in the curriculum and in the research agendas. "The social science and history textbooks do not give as generous a portrayal of Indian culture as they do of Islamic, Jewish, Christian cultures," carped Malhotra. When asked about the struggles of dalits and women in ancient India, Suhag Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation grumbled, "In terms of men and women, I think, first of all if you look at Christianity or Judaism or Islam, no-where in the textbooks is there any discussion of women's rights. Then to pull it in for Hinduism, is a different treatment of Hinduism." All culture must have equal treatment, all contemporary representatives of that culture should be able to create their sense of self-worth based on this representation. Shukla has a point: no tradition is in the clear on these issues. The solution is not to brown-wash the textbooks on ancient Indian history, but to write more honest books about the contradictions of all civilizations.

Malhotra's assault to get a politically correct interpretation accepted or nothing at all is the genteel version of the Shiv Sena and VHP activists in India who went after James Laine's book on Shivaji (by book burnings and physical assaults on his collaborators).

These issues are brought to the center by the VHPA, the HSC, the HFA: all to blind us from other issues, such as racism in the U. S., the Iraq War, economic uncertainty and distress in India, rising numbers on sexual assault and female infanticide in India, and the Gujarat pogrom. Yankee Hindutva is a set of blinders, not an optic to see the world clearly.

What Would You Have?

yadidam svayamarthanam rocate tatra ke vayam
If the objects themselves are like that, who are we?
Dharmakirti (7th Century).

The suffocating presence of the VHPA and the HSC, of the RSS and the BJP does not exhaust the capacity of either Hinduism or of its adherents. Our affection for its resources is not diminished, nor should we turn away from our traditions because the RSS and its family try to debase it.

In 2004, the Indian people, and a majority of them being claimants to the title Hindu, rejected the parties of the far Right in the parliamentary election (they were defeated again in 2007 in the Uttar Pradesh state elections). The mandate was offered to the Congress and the Left, who crafted a Common Minimum Program that promised a more generous set of policies for the working-class, the peasantry and the indigent, as well as a more secular defense of the public sphere. The parties of Hindutva went into a self-imposed period of infighting, as scandals interrupted their claim to holding the high-moral ground.

In the Diaspora, there was some reflection of this change in the Indian political landscape. The far Right moved to consolidate its agenda despite changes within India – closer ties between Indian American lobby groups and pro-Israeli lobby groups, to sharpen the idea that the Indo-Pakistani problems can only be resolved in the Israeli fashion, through force; the creation of the Hindu American Foundation (whose main campaign in 2004-05 was the Diwali resolution, and who was an active leader of the California textbooks campaign); an assault on scholars of India and Hinduism, led this time by the Infinity Foundation. But not a word from any of these organizations on the farmer's suicides in Andhra Pradesh, on the deepening problem of unemployment across India, and on the cataclysmic child malnutrition rates across the country. These matters were not, apparently, of importance. Discussions about Planet India, as Mira Kamdar puts it, eclipsed the burgeoning social crises in India. As Gandhi warned his fellows ninety years ago, "The test of orderliness in a country is not the number of millionaires it owns, but the absence of starvation among its masses" (Muir Central College Economics Society, Allahabad, December 22, 1916). Equally, these organizations remained silent after 9/11 at the attacks on South Asians and Arabs and at the illegal detentions of hundreds of South Asians (the civil rights and activists groups, such as South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow and Desis Rising Up and Moving were in the lead here). Immigration reform, "Operation Meth Merchant" (against the small Indian shopkeepers in Georgia) and other such issues were equally off the radar of the HSC, the VHPA and HAF.

If I were you, I'd abandon the Hindu Students Council and create a new organization called Sarvodaya (Compassion for All), a word Gandhi coined for his variety of social justice. You can still have intellectual and spiritual investigations of the Gita, you can still hold inter-faith discussions, you can still educate your fellows about the rich and diverse tradition of Hinduism, and you can also promote egalitarianism and social justice as values derived from your tradition.

The Hinduism that cares more for its reputation than for its relevance is no longer a living tradition. It has become something that one reveres from a distance. To keep it alive, Hinduism requires an engagement with its history (which shows us how it evolves and changes) and with its core concepts (what we otherwise call philosophy). "Every formula of every religion has, in this age of reason, to submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for universal assent" Gandhi wrote in 1925. "Error can claim no exemption even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world" (Young India, February 26, 1925). Submit all faith to experiments, to see how they are able to assist one in the messy world we live in: to detach faith into self-indulgence is to patronize those traditions. That's the nature of experimentation, a far better approach to faith traditions than empty reverence.

The choice lies between giving over the traditions you love to the forces of hatred who might masquerade as the defenders of tradition; or to the force within you, and around you, a force of love and ecstasy, passion and pain to transform the world. What would you have?

Vijay Prashad
May 17, 2007.

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Comments

Interesting essay...more

Interesting essay...more interesting title. The gap between the definition of "Hindu" in the title and the complexity presented below is striking, though I understand it as an attempt to bridge a communications gap and as a use of the "Letter To A Young..." trope.

Anyway, I'll make room for the outright critics of religion now :)

Sudha, Thank you for sharing

Sudha,

Thank you for sharing your experience in HSC. Mr. Prashad's remarks about the HSC are rooted in a recent report by the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH). The report can be found here:

http://hsctruthout.stopfundinghate.org/

Our coverage of the report, along with a lengthy discussion about it in the comments section, can be found here:

http://www.passtheroti.com/?p=454

The CSFH report links the central HSC structurally to Sangh Parivar outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. It does not make much mention of campus branches, which do indeed function relatively autonomously. But a look at the HSC's central website (www.hscnet.org), turns up some problematic statements. Here's an example, from a comment I made in the discussion I mentioned above:

Those Muslims who cannot get out of the past glory (?) of imperial influence (e.g. Mughal) are still suffering from an identity crisis and a superiority complex that contributed toward the destruction of the indigenous culture. They remain alienated from their country’s natural and historical cultural ethos. Not surprisingly Pakistanis have considered themselves to be a different race or culture than the Indian and ally themselves with Central Asia, Persia or Arabia as the source of their culture and history. But the Hindu process of making everyone its own relative or family has been working on many Muslims as well. Many Muslims recognize that they are part of an Indian cultural ethos, sometimes termed as Hindutva, and are positively contributing to it. Some Sufi saints, musicians, dancers and singers are exemplary in this matter, though other Sufis have promoted Islamic aggression as well. (hscnet.org)

This passage is essentially a lighter, more positive paraphrasing of the RSS’s beloved M.S. Golwalkar, in a passage from his book “We or Our Nationhood Defined”:

The foreign races in Hindusthan [India] must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must loose (sic) their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least, should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation; let us deal, as old nations ought to and do deal, with the foreign races, who have chosen to live in our country.

On passtheroti, we've also discussed a study by sociologist Prema Kurien of a branch of the HSC in an unnamed university in California. The study brought to light all sorts of interesting dynamics between various members of the group. That post can be found here:

http://www.passtheroti.com/?p=461

Mr. Prashad is a

Mr. Prashad is a self-described marxist. Does that mean he thinks soviet dictator Stalin was a wonderful guy? Does he feel that Mao's mass famines (more than 30 million dead chinese) were a great thing? Probably not.

Yet he feels free to link hindu organizations in the USA with the most reactionary groups in india! This is the kind of insincerity that makes his many appeals to Gandhi suspect; a selective linkage of american hindus to the most retrograde aspects of their background. A similar analysis would describe catholics in terms of priest rape, burning of heretics and imperial popism. Surely all of us would agree that this is unbalanced.

I have lived in the USA for 30 years. During that time I noticed that folks like Mr. Prashad for the most part refused to self-identify as hindus. They were indians, south asians, progressives, liberals, whatevers but not hindus. Often, one came across self-hating dialogs from these folk, especially in the 80s.

Starting in the 90s, indian engineers and professionals became more organized. They were astonished to find how hindus were described in textbooks and by so-called professional scholars. They began to organize to respond to these crude caricatures, many of which are descended from the ugly religous propaganda of christian missionaries of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most of these people weren't professional scholars and in some cases their enthusiasm has run ahead of their knowledge. Their approach may seem heavy handed and some individuals like Rajiv Malhotra (cf. Daniel Pipes) can seem one-sided and shrill. Yet these groups are genuine collaborative movements run by americans which have had significant impact on the discussion of hindus and their culture in the USA. The Hindu American Foundation (derided in this article) publishes an annual survey of hindus around the world, reaches out to legislators and libraries, runs a summer internship program for young hindus.

All of this is glossed over this article - reduced to the phrase "Yankee Hindutva". A similar characterization of Mr. Prashad would be "left-wing extremist". Both characterizations are wrong and should be avoided by thinking people.

The suffocating presence of

The suffocating presence of ...the HSC,... does not exhaust the capacity of either Hinduism or of its adherents.

Really, you have no clue! HSC is the only reason I still identify myself as a hindu. With a hindu mother and an athiest father, I had no identity growing up. I grew up being ashamed of hinduism and now you are encouraging people to be ashamed of being in HSC and learning about hinduism.

I only hope you dont succeed in destroying this community of college students who are NOT taught to hate by its own members. The "fascist leaders of HSC" we never knew, if they ever existed. And I have attended the camps, the conferences, meetings, etc for three years. Only once a VHP head, just one dude, came to the annual camp and spoke about Babri masjid and how it was a temple once and how hindus need to build a ram temple there. No, he didn't ask us to rise up against the muslims. Everyone was quiet and uncomfortable. When he left, everyone agreed he was a nut! It actually helped us identify the trouble within hinduism.

I hope muslims students are not going to think we are against them and start hating us. HSC had good relationship with all other religious organizations including the Islamic Students Association in our campus. This is manufacturing hate where there wasn't any in the first place! I hope past HSC members dont start imagining there were HSC members somewhere secretly promoting fascist ideology and communalism. I've seen no evidence of that and this author does not provide any evidence of that except to say HSC is associated with this and that. Please avoid tarring HSC in the future.

vivek, I am glad you have

vivek,

I am glad you have exposed your peculiar line of reasoning so openly. It is outrageous to claim that the two above passages are glosses of each other. The first paragraph is a statement of fact regarding the silly claims of exalted foreign origin that are often made in Pakistan and also by so-called "muslim leaders" in india. It clearly states that these claims are bogus and muslims are like family members to hindus. The second passage is completely different in character and makes ugly statements such as muslims should not claim " even citizen’s rights" because of the non-indian origin of their faith.

Finally, the researcher Prema Kurien's observation could easily have been made about ANY disenfranchised group in the USA. Feelings of low self-esteem, anonymity, disenfrachisement etc. are a well known issue when living in a society in which a group has no public representation. These can be countered in many ways, including working for a more positive representation, building stronger communities ties etc. - precisely the kind of activities that the HSC undertakes.

It is striking that instead of respectfully responding to Sudha's FIRST HAND experience, her personal life-story, you have chosen to hector her with misleading quotation and reference to a research scholars speculations. Fortunately, this is a public forum and so people can decide who the real fanatics are !!!

Pratik: The first paragraph

Pratik:

The first paragraph is a statement of fact regarding the silly claims of exalted foreign origin that are often made in Pakistan

How many times have you been in Pakistan and/or have met Pakistanis that have made this claim?

It clearly states that these claims are bogus and muslims are like family members to hindus.

Really...?

Those Muslims who cannot get out of the past glory (?) of imperial influence (e.g. Mughal) are still suffering from an identity crisis and a superiority complex that contributed toward the destruction of the indigenous culture. They remain alienated from their country’s natural and historical cultural ethos.

But the Hindu process of making everyone its own relative or family has been working on many Muslims as well. Many Muslims recognize that they are part of an Indian cultural ethos, sometimes termed as Hindutva, and are positively contributing to it. Some Sufi saints, musicians, dancers and singers are exemplary in this matter, though other Sufis have promoted Islamic aggression as well.

Read these two paragraphs I quoted above. And then tell me that you don't see anything problematic with every single phrase which defeats the "Muslims are our brothers as well." On whose terms?

During that time I noticed that folks like Mr. Prashad for the most part refused to self-identify as hindus. They were indians, south asians, progressives, liberals, whatevers but not hindus.

Reality check: for those of us who call ourselves "South Asian" or "Indian" rather than Hindu or whatever, our religious identity may be a part of that larger umbrella, regardless of what religion. For example, when I say I am "Indian American," that could also imply that I am Hindu, or someone is Muslim, Parsi, or whichever other religion that has adherents in India. Meaning, all those religions and identifications are "Indian" themselves.

Furthermore, though some of us may be Hindu, many don't see it as the singular, overriding, or primary self identification. For example, I do not primarily describe myself as a "women of color," even though I am. It doesn't mean that I am not a woman of "color." Likewise, just because I don't call myself a "Hindu American" doesn't mean that I am in fact not Hindu and not American. I simply don't see those two markers as completely describing myself as an individual.

Finally, the researcher Prema Kurien’s observation could easily have been made about ANY disenfranchised group in the USA. Feelings of low self-esteem, anonymity, disenfrachisement etc. are a well known issue when living in a society in which a group has no public representation

These can be countered in many ways, including working for a more positive representation, building stronger communities ties etc. - precisely the kind of activities that the HSC undertakes.

Your solution doesn't match the problem you point out. The problem you describe is of a larger nature that generally overrides religion, ie white folks who are racist against Indians don't really know the difference whether we are Hindu, Muslim, and so on (unless there are outward indications, such as covering your hair, wearing a turban, etc). To be sure, there have been instances whereby people of the certain religion have been targeted for hate crimes such as Sikhs because people thought they were Arab.

Yet you state that the HSC strives for "positive representation" and build "stronger community ties." Build "stronger community ties" with whom? With other Hindus? If so, that doesn't speak to the larger problem that you point to, which is that there are other factors besides religion that disempower groups. Furthermore, shouldn't the "community ties" be based on a larger umbrella, ie Indian Americans- which include non Hindu people who may be the victims of racism- and go a step further than that as well?

All of this is glossed over this article - reduced to the phrase “Yankee Hindutva”.

Mr. Prashad did say:

Influenced by social historians who opened up the world of Indian popular culture and the struggles of ordinary Indians, and by the intervention of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), these scholars fought against the racism and conservatism of the academy. Sanskrit studies, for instance, treated India as an ancient resource with no lived heritage of Hinduism; political scientists saw India in terms of U. S. or British foreign policy, not in terms of what is in the best interests of the Indian people.Graduate school in the 1980s and early 1990s was a hive of conflict against what some of us saw as a racist representation of the subcontinent.

It was a lot of flash and lightning: many of us liberals and radicals were already in the thick of these fights, and much of our work has been fruitful. But we were not invested simply in making India look good: we wanted to ensure that the diversity of India’s history and its struggles be represented in the curriculum and in the research agendas.

The solution is not to brown-wash the textbooks on ancient Indian history, but to write more honest books about the contradictions of all civilizations.

You make it seem like Prashad discounts people who criticize what is out there on India, Hinduism, and South Asia. This is clearly not the case; he himself points out that he has been a part of this larger battle within academia to represent these topics with accuracy. I think this is a crucial difference from what the Hindu American Foundation does:

To represent more accurately and precisely the various compelx realities that exist in India.

This does NOT mean that you propose a glossy representation of Hinduism, one that has been manufactured to be in sync with what makes you feel good. This doesn't mean that you see the West in one way, and in order to provide an equally heavy counterweight to this "West" and/or the flawed representations you see, you simply construct the exact opposite representation of Hinduism. This is just as flawed.

***

Sudha

I understand what you are saying, and I'm glad you brought to light your experiences. A couple of things:

The “fascist leaders of HSC” we never knew, if they ever existed.

Yes, but just because you never "knew" the "fascist leaders" doesn't mean that they don't exist.

Only once a VHP head, just one dude, came to the annual camp and spoke about Babri masjid and how it was a temple once and how hindus need to build a ram temple there. No, he didn’t ask us to rise up against the muslims. Everyone was quiet and uncomfortable.

This is an alarm bell already.

A question: do you know who financially funds the HSC? Who allocates the money? And where the money goes?

In addition, there is no need to explicitly state "rise up against the Muslims." The reference to how a Ram mandir should be built in place of the masjid speaks volumes on its own: Build a mandir over a masjid that used to exist, but exists no longers because assertive Hindus have now destroyed it to leave their own triumphant mark. Don't you think that this already implies that we should, or indeed we are, rising up?

And I have attended the camps, the conferences, meetings, etc for three years.

I am really glad you mentioned this, because I genuinely want to know what were the things you saw, heard, and observed at these camps and conferences.

At those camps and conferences, were these things mentioned? And if so, how?

1. Kashmir

2. Non Hindu religious groups

3. Bangladesh

4. Pakistan

5. Hindus around the world

6. the US

7. India

8. US democracy

9. Indian democracy

Once again the

Once again the liberal/secular/communist fascisit strikes his dirty hammer. It seems there is no hatred towards Hinduism by these self righteous fascists. These people think it is perfectly ok to deride Hindus and Hinduism, but not ok for anyone to be critical of them, or for Hindus to stand up for themselves.

Enough is enough. After all the debate with these pseudos, I think the only solution would be for Hindus to include something in their tradition that Muslims use. Fatwa. Laaton ke Bhoot baaton se nahin maantein.

Dilip: It seems there is no

Dilip:

It seems there is no hatred towards Hinduism by these self righteous fascists. These people think it is perfectly ok to deride Hindus and Hinduism, but not ok for anyone to be critical of them, or for Hindus to stand up for themselves.

Did you read the entire piece?

If so, can you please cite or quote where there is

1. hatred towards Hindus
2. derision of Hindus
3. derision Hinduism

Once again the liberal/secular/communist fascisit strikes his dirty hammer.

Fatwa. Laaton ke Bhoot baaton se nahin maantein.

You really ought to be ashamed for the last line in Hindi that you wrote. You're accusing people here of fascism yet you say such a fascist thing.

Oh, and it's not fascist at all that you propose a fatwa. And it's not paradoxical and hypocrtical at all that you suggest a concept like fatwa from a religion that I am assuming you do not like. Let's hate Muslims; Islam is fascist, terrorist, and fundamentalist, so we'll show them by being fascist, terrorist, and fundamentalist. Yeah!

This kind of paradoxical, frothing-at-the-mouth, testerone pumped comment evoking Hindu militancy is dangerous.

Amusing to see the

Amusing to see the derogatory, hectoring and one-up tone adopted here towards any interactor who disagrees with the communist intellectural Prashad. Desi Italiana is a good example of this kind of ignorant "progressive intellectual" :-

I point out that pakistanis often believe they are descended from superior "foreign invaders". Our friend, desi Italiani, immediately says (you have to imagine the pompous tone here!):

How many times have you been in Pakistan and/or have met Pakistanis that have made this claim?

I have met MANY pakistanis who believe this and further here are just a FEW of the articles on pakistani history written by pakistanis that support this position:

Almost 60% of the population of the Punjab comprises of Rajputs and Jats and the various branches of their race such as Awans, Khokhars, Ghakkars, Khattars, Janjuas, Arains, Gujjars, etc. though the Awans, Khokhars and Khattars claim common ancestry from Qutb Shah who is said to have come from Ghazni with Mahmud Ghaznavi, scholars hold the view that they were most probably converted by Qutb Shah during Mahmud Ghaznavi's reign and were not his descendents. This tendancy of claiming foreign origin by some of the local tribes is not uncommon. Even admittedly Rajput tribes of famous ancestry such as the Khokhar, have begun to follow the example of claiming connection with the Mughal conquerors of India or the Qureshi cousins of the Prophet.

http://www.pakhistory.com/pakh/punjabpeopleorigin.php

Famous psychoanalyst and writer Sudhir Kakar in one of his books on the hindu-muslim divide says:

"There has been a historical tendency among upper-class Muslims (or those aspiring to higher status in the community) to stress or invent Persian, Arab, or Turkish ancestry rather than rest content with their more humble Indian origins.... The nature of the vicious circle is immediately apparent: the anchoring of Muslim identity in Islam spurs Hindu suspicion of Muslim loyalty to the nation, which makes Muslims draw closer in the religious community for security, which further fuels Hindu distrust of Muslim patriotism, and so on."

From: The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict, Sudhir Kakar, 1996.

But hey, why bother with reality? We can always stay in the marxist dream world where asserting a hindu identity "doesn’t match the problem you point out." But asserting "brown" identity (or third-world brotherhood) is always sensible !!

One can very easily see the roots of marxist extremism in these responses: the narcissistic self-absorption, the dogmatism, the belief that there is only a fixed number of problems that needs to be solved in a utopian way. From here the path to the gulag or re-education camps is a short hop and skip....

As I said before, this discussion is helpful because it clearly exposes the fanatics amongst us in a public forum.

Pratik: Desi Italiana is a

Pratik:

Desi Italiana is a good example of this kind of ignorant “progressive intellectual”

But hey, why bother with reality? We can always stay in the marxist dream world where asserting a hindu identity “doesn’t match the problem you point out.”

One can very easily see the roots of marxist extremism in these responses: the narcissistic self-absorption, the dogmatism, the belief that there is only a fixed number of problems that needs to be solved in a utopian way. From here the path to the gulag or re-education camps is a short hop and skip away

Our friend, desi Italiani, immediately says (you have to imagine the pompous tone here!):

Tell me what is so "Marxist" and "extremist" about my comments. I actually engaged with you, and you shoot back with anti Marxist rhetoric and the fact that I'm being "pompous." I asked you if you've ever been to Pakistan and/or have met Pakistanis. I know lots of Pakistanis, and I've never heard someone assert that Pakistanis are of a different race. If anything, I've heard about cynical politicians dividing up peoples into two separate countries. Furthermore, the quote that you provide doesn't necessarily reflect what the population at large thinks, much like whatever Savarkar wrote doesn't automatically mean that every self identifying Hindu in India feels the same way.

And if you are able to show me where my comments have spoken about Marxism, then I'd direct your attention to this remark you yourself made:

Mr. Prashad is a self-described marxist. Does that mean he thinks soviet dictator Stalin was a wonderful guy? Does he feel that Mao’s mass famines (more than 30 million dead chinese) were a great thing? Probably not

.

So why the automatic connection between a Marxist and a gulag??? Even if Prashad, myself, or anyone else here is a self described Marxist, does that mean we would like to send people to gulags?

In addition, no one here in their right mind has insinuated that if soemone is unashamed to be Hindu, or identifies him/herself as such is a Hindutva type. Didn't you read Prashad's piece?

As I said before, this discussion is helpful because it clearly exposes the fanatics amongst us in a public forum.

Yes, we're all a bunch of communists, fascists, Marxist, dogmatic, deragotory and uppity fanatics here. Which is why your comment still remains and we have not deleted one comment of yours and/or banned you.

I'll have you know that this blog is not a "public forum"; we keep it public, even when we totally disagree with commentators, are subject to personal attacks, flame baiting or when commentators blow a lot of hot air, post rhetorical rantings as comments, and make unacceptable comments. The moderator can delete comments and ban people, but that hasn't happened yet and we all hope it stays that way.

You can engage with what people are saying here with substance; if not, you are free to vent your frustrations against commies, self hating Hindus, Hindu haters, fanatics, Marxists, et al.

Pratik: I have met MANY

Pratik:

I have met MANY pakistanis who believe this and further here are just a FEW of the articles on pakistani history written by pakistanis that support this position:

Wait a minute...did you read the entire blog post that you linked to? You selectively quoted from that blog but that's NOT what it says at all; if anything, the writer is saying otherwise. And furthermore, he/she is talking about Punjabis and Punjabi Muslims as well, but the writer is focusing on Punjab and discussing the various scholarly theories:

Leading Tribes of Punjab and Their Origin

Before the advent of Islam, but after the Aryan migrations, several invasions and mass migrations of the Central Asian tribes named as the Sakas, Parthians, Kushans, Huns and Gujjars took place in the Punjab (and other parts of Pakistan). The last two tribes i.e. the Huns (White Huns/ Epthalites) and Gujjars arrived in the 5th century AD when Hinduism had revived under the Gupta Empire but had not fully succeeded in crushing the influence of Buddhism. As the Gupta Empire collapsed under the impact of Hun invasions, it caused deep consternation among Brahmins in view of their failure to eliminate Buddhism while the Gupta power supporting them in this task had disappeared. Therefore, they began to make overtures to the new arrivals who were valiant, vigorous and warlike. They were offered the rank of Kshatryas in the Hindu fold, a position only next to that of the Brahmins and confers the responsiblity of rulership.

In the course of time the leading groups of Huns were absorbed in the Hindu fold as Kshatryas while Jats, who were the descendants of the remaining groups of Huns, occupied a lower strata of society. But the present day Jats and Rajputs also include the descendants of the previous invaders..... the Sakas and the Kushans and even of earlier races. Sakas, Parthians, Kushans, White Huns, and Gujjars were ethnically Iranian. In fact, Huns (White Huns/Hepthalites) are also called Iranian Huns to differentiate them from the other Mongoloid Huns who invaded Europe. The word Gujjar is derived from Khazar and Jat from Gatae who inhabited around the Caspian Sea and migrated towards northwest South Asia.

Todd assigns Scythian origin to the Rajputs. Scythians came to be known as Sakas in South Asia, and were absorbed in the Hindu fold as Kshatriyas. Sakas, Yavannas (Greco-Bactrians), Pallavas (Parthians) ultimately became Kshatriyas. The Huns are known to have been regarded as one of the 36 clans of Rajputs. However, except for the Huns, all others had mostly adopted Buddhism mixed with their religions (like Saka sun-worship).

Almost 60% of the population of the Punjab comprises of Rajputs and Jats and the various branches of their race such as Awans, Khokhars, Ghakkars, Khattars, Janjuas, Arains, Gujjars, etc. though the Awans, Khokhars and Khattars claim common ancestry from Qutb Shah who is said to have come from Ghazni with Mahmud Ghaznavi, scholars hold the view that they were most probably converted by Qutb Shah during Mahmud Ghaznavi's reign and were not his descendents. This tendancy of claiming foreign origin by some of the local tribes is not uncommon. Even admittedly Rajput tribes of famous ancestry such as the Khokhar, have begun to follow the example of claiming connection with the Mughal conquerors of India or the Qureshi cousins of the Prophet.

A branch of the Wattu Rajputs of the Sutlej by an affection of peculiar sanctity, have in the course of a few generations become Bodeas and now deny their Rajput and claim Qureshi origin. There is a Kharral family lately settled in Bahawalpur who have begun to affect peculiar holiness and to marry only with each other and their next step will certainly be to claim Arab descent.

However, a significant number of Punjabi tribes are indeed descended from Afghan, Turkic, Arab, Mughal and Iranian Muslim invaders/migrants. Even those who are of local origins but claim foreign Muslim ancestory, might have partial ancestory derived from them. But all in all, the foreign Muslim ancestory element among Punjabis does not exceed more than 20% of their population.

According to Thomson, Awans are a Jat race and were converted to Islam by Mahmud Ghaznavi. In several districts of the Punjab they are registered as Jats. Mr. Thomson in his Jehlum Settlement report adduces many strong reasons in support of his conclusion that the Awans are a Jat race who came from passes west of D.I.Khan. Griffin also agrees to the local Muslim origin of Awans while Cunningham holds that Janjuas and Awans are descended from Anu and calls them Anwan. Another scholar Wilson is of the view that Awans are of indigenous Hindu/Buddhist/Pagan/Animist origin. In the genealogical tree of the Nawabs of Kalabagh, who are regarded heads of the Awans, there are found several native names such as Rai, Harkaran, etc.

As regards Gujjars, the well known scholar Cunningham thinks that they are descended from Scythian (Saka) and Yue-Chi (Kushan) tribes who invaded Pakistan in the first century BC and in the first century AD respectively. Other scholars believe that they are descended from a Central Asian Turkic people called Kazars. Since the tribe migrated from Caspian Sea which is called Bahr-e-Khizar it was named Khizar, Guzar, Gurjar, Gurjara or Gujjar. The name Hazara was given to the district by these Guzara tribes. The name Gujjar, according to another version, is derived from the words 'Gau' and 'Char' meaning cattle grazers.

Though Arains claim Iranian descent, they too are generally considered of Rajput origin, but Rajputs having Scythian-Kushan-Hun origins are indeed related to Iranians. According to the Punjab Gazetteer, the Arains of sahiwal District themselves pointed out that they are Surajbansi Rajputs originally settled around Delhi. Arains of Ghaggar Valley say that they were Rajputs living on the Panjnad near Multan. Mr. Pursr writes that they are usually supposed to be Muslim Kambohs. the Jullander Arains themselves say that they are descended from Rai Chajju of Ujjain. Kambohs claim descent from Raja Keran who was related to him.

Similarly, Ranghars and Meos are described to be of Rajput/Jat origin who were converted to Islam during the time of Qutbuddin Aibak. Kahutas are a mixed Mughal and Rajput tribe. Khattars are related to Awans and Jats.

Khokhars are sometimes returned as Jats and sometimes as Rajputs. Col. Davis notes that many of the social customs of the Khokhars of Shahpur denote Hindu origin. Eastern Punjab Khokhars themselves claim Jat-Rajput origin. Only some of the West Punjab Khokhars claim Arab origin.

Gen. Cunningham identifies the Ghakkars with Gangaridae of Dionysius and holds them to be descendents of Yueti or Tokhari Scythians (sakas).

In Pakistan, Rajput and Jat tribes are so mixed up that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other at many places and in several cases. Some of the Rajput tribes are probably of Jat origin and vice versa. In southwest Punjab the name Jat includes a most miscellaneous congries of tribes of all sorts. Its significance tends to be occupational: to denote a body of cultivators or agriculturists. Even tribes which bear well-known Rajput names are often classified as Jats in the Punjab. Anyway, the origin of both is the same as stated earlier.

Gen. Cunningham and Maj. Todd agree in considering the Jats of Indo-Scythian stock. Maj. Todd classifies Jats as one of the great Rajput tribes. They belong to one and thesame stock.... they have been, for many centuries, so blended and so intermingled into one people that it is practically impossible to distinguish them as separate wholes. At present distinction is social rather ethnic. The same tribe Rajput in one district and Jat in another according to the position in local tribes... During census many of the Jats entered, as third heading, the name of the Rajput tribe from which they claim to have sprung.

The Jats in ancient times inhabited the whole valley of the Indus down to Sind.... They now form a most numerous as well as the most important section of the agricultural population of Punjab.

Beyond the Punjab, Jats are chiefly found in Sind where they form mass of the population.

The main (Muslim) Rajput tribes of the Punjab are: Bhatti, Punwar, Chauhan, Minhas, Tiwana, Noon, Chib, Gheba, Jodhra, Janjua, Sial and Wattu etc. While the important (Muslim) Jat tribes are: Bajwa, Chatta, Cheema, Randhawa, Ghammon, Buta, Kahlon, Gil, Sehota, Taror, Waraich, Summa, Wahla, Bhutta, Malhi, Sukhera, Alpials, Dahas, Langah, Ranghar, Meo, Awan, Khokhar, Ghakkar, etc. But some of these Rajput tribes are classified are Jats and vice versa.

Punjab has had its periods of prosperity and poverty in a regular cycle. Before the arrival of Muslims, Punjab along with the other regions/provinces of present day Pakistan was leading a separate existance from that of India, and kingdoms based in its territories or in the NWFP often ruled over most of northern India. Kushan, Saka, Bactrian and Hun Kingdoms with their capitals at Peshawar, Taxila and Sialkot respectively, ruled over large parts of northern India for centuries. [Link]

I've read a similar framing of origins and history- invaders, conquerers, migrating tribes- when it comes to Gujarati history who are all majority Hindu. So why do you take issue with this? Admittedly, this piece is very Punjabi-centric, but it is not arguing what you said it did.

That Pakistan History blog is

That Pakistan History blog is nutty; in some spots, it's blindly patriotic, and has way too many blogs that lash out at India (interestingly enough, when they talk about Pakistan, they mostly focus on Punjabis and Pathans when Pakistan is more diverse than that).

It reminds me of some of the nationalist pro-India pieces I've come across which focus so much energy on bashing Pakistan, an obsession with proving how indigenous we are to India, and so on that it's almost comical.

If only people like this on both sides of the border spend the time they do on this stuff on issues such as getting people access to water, sanitation, healthcare, food and raise literacy levels, people would be off for the better.

Pratik I am glad you have

Pratik

I am glad you have exposed your peculiar line of reasoning so openly. It is outrageous to claim that the two above passages are glosses of each other. The first paragraph is a statement of fact regarding the silly claims of exalted foreign origin that are often made in Pakistan and also by so-called “muslim leaders” in india. It clearly states that these claims are bogus and muslims are like family members to hindus.

It is true that many Muslims in both India and Pakistan, particularly those descended from the Ashraf classes (North India's Muslim elite), often trace their ancestry to places like Afghanistan, Iran, Arabia etc. These claims are sometimes spurious, and often times real (hence names like Bukhari, i.e.,'of Bukhara'). While I might accept that some Muslim rulers of India in the past justified their hegemony on the 'right of conquest,' on their descent from foreign invadors, I could provide you with numerous counterexamples, and further I find this totally irrelevant. Whether or not some Muslim's in India exhalt their 'pathan' or Shia Irani lineages should have little bearing on their rights and freedoms (from pograms, from systematic discrimination and denial of service and education) in India today. From the passage you quoted, it seems that groups of local origin are attempting to do the same. The impetous to allign with this geneology does not come from a desire to be 'anti-national' or 'silly' and 'foreign,' but rather to emulate the dominant group of one's community. Hindus have a word for this as well, its called 'Sankritization.' Read about it, and you will learn that it has been one of the dominant trends within Hinduism for the last 150 years. Secondly, Muslims are not the only community in India to sometimes trace their ancestry outside the subcontinent. Saraswat Brahmins do as well. Does that make them 'silly' and 'foreign' too?

Pratik: Your quote of Sudhir

Pratik:
Your quote of Sudhir Kakar is interesting. The first sentence makes clear the authour's opinion in its highly sarcastic and reductive tone, as if cultural identity could be so easily reduced to the binary of exhalted foreign to humble Indian. The second thing it does is to root Hindu 'distrust' in Muslims in the fact that some Muslims trace their geneology outside India. The product of this 'distrust' obviously being the various instances of violence and discrimination that Muslims face in India today. This is merely a (not that) sophisticated way to blame the victim.

Also, this totally ignores a great deal of evidence that points to the fact that Muslims in India do not think of themselves as 'foreign.' Read any report that gathers testimonies from people who are victims of anti-minority violence in India (be they Christian or Muslim), and you will see that a great deal of the pain and shock comes from the fact that this could happen to them 'as Indians,' that this could have been done to them by 'their neighbours.' The appeal to the local, and the emphasis on what is shared with their attackers is clear...this is what anti-minority violence in India ruptures.

Also, your interpretation of the passage quoted by vivek from hscnet is bizzarre. Claiming that there is an essential cultural ethos to India, i.e., Hindutva, is remarkably ignorant of the unquantifiably diverse cultures, practices etc. that exist today (much less the past) in India. Claiming that only those Muslims who work within the Hindutva fold are truly 'Indian' is offensive and absurd. This passage is not inclusionary and guaranteeing of rights, it is in fact quite the opposite, just more subtle in its attempt to code 'good' and 'bad' muslims.

Your family member analogy is also quite revealing, i think what you left out was the 'bada bhai,' 'chota bhai' part of the argument, in which Hindus and Muslims are locked in some sick paternalistic relationship in which Muslim 'misbehaviour' in any part of the country results in genocide. Why dont you start being honest about what you are? Stop hiding behind the use of psychoanlytic theory, the quotations from Pakistani websites, the exhaltations of Indian engineers and professionals fighting white orientalism, and say what you really are. A HINDUTVADI.

One thing I agree with you

One thing I agree with you on...the letter seems to be cynical and instrumental in its use of Gandhi and other Hindu texts.

The fact that these discussions keep taking place in the same field is an indication of many things. One is that appeals against Hindutva, if they hope to have any success, must be made by people personally invested in Hinduism. I have lost hope (for the moment) that any ideal of Humanism, or South Asianism, or even Secular Indian nationalism, will be able to destabilize the virulent forms of Hindu nationalism that have grown so entrenched in India. This leaves us only to wrest the interpretation of Hinduism from the reductive and proto-fascist clutches of Hindutvadis.
However, Hinduism has not central text, nothing analgous to the Bible, Torah or Koran. Despite a life time of observation, I still am unable to glean the metaphysical principles that my middle-class Hindu extended family actually believes in and tries to live by, besides reincarnation and the performance of rituals. This is what makes all counter appeals seem cynical, or anti-Hindu...Hindutva has been so successful at inserting an particular type of identity where there was none...thus it is hard to make appeals to a counter one. One thing is clear, Secular politics in the form in which it is carried out in India today, is in fact mostly cynical, highly elitist, and alltogether ineffective. Any ideas how how to change that?

sudha's comment is really

sudha's comment is really interesting. i would like to offer my own experience with these organizations as a complementary example.

i grew up in a family that was very involved in VHP. but growing up, all VHP meant to me was "sunday school" - we read amar chitra katha comic books, learned indian games like kabbadi, where our parents attempted in vain to teach us hindi, and have us read religious shlokas (to this day i cannot tell you what i was reciting or what it meant). we did yoga once, which i remember well - it was one of the few things i actually enjoyed. and we did yearly camps, which i remember mostly for, well, camping. all the religious stuff flew over my head. us kids did campfire skits without fail, every year, that offended our parents, and that's what i remember most.

when i was young, i know there was VHP literature in our home that was probably politically related, but i had no idea what it meant, especially since i don't know anything really, about the history of india and of indian politics. even in my early teenage years, when i actually attempted to read the stuff, i couldn't place it in any context.

but slowly i started to piece things together. and the day that the babri masjid was discussed in our sunday school was the pivotal moment. my experience is so exactly the opposite of sudha's. i hope sudha is still reading - i think you would find this really interesting. it was at sunday school, one afternoon, and the man who did the presentation was someone our family had known for years - i grew up playing with his kids. he did the presentation, and everyone acted like what he was talking about was completely normal. i remember people talking about making donations for "memorial" type bricks that would be used to build the new temple. an alarm bell went off in my head. here were people that i'd grown up with, my parents, the parents of my childhood friends - all people i respected, knew to be smart, capable, and seemingly sane - talking about destroying a mosque and building a temple in its place. something sounded terribly wrong to me, but since i had no context to place it in, no opposing viewpoint to compare it to, i didn't know what to think. but i trusted my gut feeling - even though i questioned it at times! because these were people i trusted! - that something was very very wrong with what the VHP was supporting.

it was really bizarre for me to have to slowly realize the truth of the situation - that the VHP, the group i grew up in, and equated to my "indian culture connection", was actually the US wing of a virulently racist and right-wing organization in india, the BJP. it took a few years, a lot of reading other news sources - and those were the pre-internet days, when all i had was the LA times to refer to when trying to find other viewpoints on even just the babri masjid situation.

and of course, from person to person it's never totally black and white, which made it weirder. my dad, who was *extremely* active in VHP for years and years, and (i eventually found out, by carefully engaging him in discussions about it) is a big supporter of the BJP, and was even an RSS member as a kid (! i could not believe it when i found out) is the same person i knew growing up to be politically liberal here in the US (pro-union, votes democrat, even volunteers for the democratic party) - and, when it comes to palestine vs. israel is supportive of the palestinian side.

anyway, i digress. i just mention my dad's grab-bag of political views because i initially thought, my dad's a liberal democrat, there's no way he would support such crazy right-wing stuff! but i was wrong. and when it comes to HSC sudha, unfortunately, you really need to read up on the roots of the organization. vijay prashad is right. actually when i was in my later high school years my dad started getting involved in the VHP's push to get the HSC to expand at colleges across the US. (and tried to get me to start it at my college too.) i was so creeped out by it - because i could see exactly how they were trying to dupe people like you and me, unfortunately - second-generation indian-americans who would love to have a forum in which we can connect to our religious heritage. they totally strive to make HSC seem like a perfectly normal organization. but make no mistake, sudha, or anyone else in HSC, the HSC is definitely the youth arm of the VHP, which is the US arm of the BJP, which is the (less militant?) arm of the RSS (. i saw it from within myself, i suppose you could say.

this is actually the first time i'm saying this publicly (even though it is anonymously) - i have expressed to my parents (somewhat) that i question the things that they support, but never to any of the people i grew up with (i'm not really in touch with any of them anymore) or anyone else for that matter. i'm not especially religious, or especially interested in indian politics, being that i do consider myself american (i was born here). and you gotta pick your battles right? so i haven't really seen if there are other people who grew up "in" VHP not knowing the full story. but i would imagine there are, and i would be so curious to hear from others like me.

well that's all i have to say. like i said, i'm not particularly into indian politics, so i may have gotten some of the details wrong, but i know hate when i see it, and i know that what the VHP supports is hate. despite whatever else good they might do. they support hate.

Quick, and not all that

Quick, and not all that important clarification of the groups discussed in jra's post:

The VHPA is the American wing of the VHP, which is the most openly 'religious' arm of the Sangh Parivar. The RSS is oldest and most powerful branch, calling itself the 'cultural' wing. The Bajrang Dal is the 'youth'/militant wing, think brownshirts...the ABVP is the student wing, the Durga Vahini serves as the women's wing and the BJP is the political wing. These are the core organizations of the Sangh Parivar, though there are many others.

to aatish: i knew i had

to aatish: i knew i had probably got that wrong. thanks for clarifying. honestly, i'm not really interested in the details, though i'm sure many others reading this are, so again, thanks.

oh! and a detail i meant to end my story with: i always wondered growing up why my parents rarely talked about gandhi. i mean, there was always so much talk of being proud of our indian heritage, but there was always so little discussion of him, his work, his ideals, etc. i always found it strange. once i learned what sort of an organization the VHP was (and that there's a connection between the radical(s) who killed gandhi and the RSS/BJP/etc - again, i am not going to get into the details but i know the connection is there) it finally all made sense.

jra, but make no mistake,

jra,

but make no mistake, sudha, or anyone else in HSC, the HSC is definitely the youth arm of the VHP, which is the US arm of the BJP, which is the (less militant?) arm of the RSS (. i saw it from within myself, i suppose you could say.

and as hindus, rightly should have more than two arms :)

Sorry, bad joke. My point is that this so called arm of theirs isn't really attached to their body. It is its own body because kids who grew up here rarely be willingly used by some other organization.

Vivek, JR, Desi Italiana et al.

I wouldn't dream of supporting any kind of hate speech or ideology while supporting HSC. My thought is, what if that lady Prema Kurien went to our HSC meeting instead of the unnamed California one? She would have probably written something like...these people care more about socializing than learning about Hinduism...they are disorganized, cliquish and lazy...HSC needs better leadership, etc. That's right Desi Italiana, if anyone had anything interesting(hate speech) to say about Kashmir, Democracy, etc., I would have been the most surprised. The loudest argument was over whether hinduism allowed meat(hot dogs) at the HSC picnic. We almost went to the library to look for books but decided to let the hot dog defend itself. Prema Kurien would have had nothing to talk about if she had come to us. Lucky for her, she found the ideal controversial subject matter in the HSC she visited. And it looks like some past HSC members later found their calling in VHP. And VHP keeps making bigger and better plans for integrating HSC into its organization. But its more wishful thinking. Of all my friends who attended HSC events, none are in VHP. If you want to find future VHP leaders, maybe look in your community centers and hindu temples. I wish there was some organization that was absolutely devoid of racists, fascists, and other ordinary assholes. But I can think of even ONE! I dont think it is fair to tar an organization just by association.

A question I would like to ask is if you are still speaking to your parents and their friends. I bet you still do. You cant drop them completely but you can correct them from time to time. HSC has moved away from its parent organization. It IS mostly autonomous. Do you think they are solving any issues by pointing to HSC and saying "these are the evil doers in our religion and we have nothing to do with them" and move on? I wonder what the point of it is? Instead why dont people adopt their local HSC chapter and see that none of its members are lead astray. Most meetings are open to anyone. Just a suggestion.

Sorry for the long ass reply.

The last part was for jra

The last part was for jra whose dad was happily in VHP. Sorry, latenight and all.

hi sudha, glad to see you got

hi sudha,

glad to see you got to read my message. yes, of course, i still speak to my parents, though not to the friends (i grew up with them but was never close to them). i don't think my dad is active in VHP anymore anyway. but if he were, i certainly wouldn't still go to the events with him. (he actually dragged me and my sister to that "vision 2000" thing back in 1992 or 1993 or whatever - my sis and i were going to the east coast to look at colleges - and we ditched it to run around the city instead. there were definitely tons of HSC folks there, is what i remember, from perusing the program and seeing all the name-badges people were wearing. maybe they didn't know what was going on either? i don't know.) anyway -

i can see what you're saying, and here's i would do if i were in your situation: start a new independent organization with the same people, at my university, that was unaffiliated with HSC. seriously. even though none of y'all have those extremist views. actually, specifically BECAUSE you don't have those extremist views. i mean, i just thought to myself - if those people i associated with in VHP (keep in mind, i was a kid then) were really my good friends - and, if they didn't also agree with the extremist politics, and had no idea about VHP's extremist assocations (which unfortunately was not true) - i would absolutely find another venue within which we could still associate with each other. because why should we associate with VHP, when we don't agree with the organization's beliefs?

i don't know, it seems pretty straightforward to me. you were unaware of the sketchy ties HSC had to other groups. you still like the people though. so start another group with the same people.

Sudha I wouldn’t dream of

Sudha

I wouldn’t dream of supporting any kind of hate speech or ideology while supporting HSC...Do you think they are solving any issues by pointing to HSC and saying “these are the evil doers in our religion and we have nothing to do with them” and move on? I wonder what the point of it is? Instead why dont people adopt their local HSC chapter and see that none of its members are lead astray. Most meetings are open to anyone. Just a suggestion.

Actually, that's not a bad suggestion. Why not use the cache that the HSC already has to create a counter-movement against its Hindutva leaders? Has this already been tried? If so, does anybody know what the results were? I’ve heard that certain HSC chapters, once made aware of HSC’s links to the VHP and its actions in India, have repudiated their affiliation, but has anybody tried to counter the leadership from within? Also, I don’t think that obvious hate-speech against Muslims is the only problem. Though I was almost never exposed to virulent anti Muslim positions growing up, I still picked up understandings of Hinduism and Indian history that were in line with ’soft-Hindutva.’

Pratik mentioned the agitations of Indian professionals living in America against white orientalist views of Hinduism. These orientalist views are however, not countered with realistic or complex undestandings of Indian history or Hinduism, but precisely the soft-hindutva (and sometimes hard-hindutva) understandings i was exposed to as a child. Despite the lack of overt hate speech, this type of Hindutva also predisposes itself to an view of Muslims as essentially 'foreign' or 'violent' or 'anti-national.' When you are told that Hindus have always been a peaceful, accepting, and non-conquering race, you are likely to view the contemporary politics of India in a particular light. When this history you are told fits with the Hindutva narrative, you are more likely to believe Hindutva conclusions as well. Therein lies the danger, despite the lack of hate speech. And we must also always keep in mind that hate speech is not the real tragedy, nor is 'insult' to another's religion...the real tragedy is that people in India are often murdered, raped,orphaned, denied opportunities, subject to social and economic boycott on account of their religion.

I have read many critques of

I have read many critques of Sangh Parivar, but I feel none have even come close to truly understanding them. I don't often comment, because the extreme-left vision and idea of Sangh Parivar is very far fetched from the reality. On top of that, as clearly evident in this blog comments, these "liberals" are never willing to look within or even learn to correct their perception.

As I see it, the Sangh Parivar started after the Communists/Marxists or Left-Extremisim movement but they have out-organized them by a good margin. Whether it is political field in India (BJP vs Communists Parties), student field (ABVP), service work (sewa international), or labor field (bhartiya majadoor sangh BMS). Similar things have been happening in US also ... HSC vs YSS/FOIL, Ekal Vidyalaya vs. ASHA/AID-India. This despite the fact Sangh Parivar has been continuously maligned by the psuedo-liberals for over 50 years, as well as even accused of murdering Mahatma Gandhi.

I haven't seen anything from Communists/"psuedo-liberals" like Vijay Prashad or Biju Mathew that has attempted to find out the reason for being outfoxed by the Sangh Parivar. I believe it is high time, that some of these guys, introspect and find out the reason they are being continuously ignored and becoming increasingly marginalized in setting the agenda.

Prema Kurien would have had

Prema Kurien would have had nothing to talk about if she had come to us. Lucky for her, she found the ideal controversial subject matter in the HSC she visited. And it looks like some past HSC members later found their calling in VHP. And VHP keeps making bigger and better plans for integrating HSC into its organization. But its more wishful thinking. Of all my friends who attended HSC events, none are in VHP. If you want to find future VHP leaders, maybe look in your community centers and hindu temples.

Sudha, your argument is interesting. I wonder if you're missing the forest for the trees (or tree in this case). I was part of a student movement too when I was in college (on a totally different issue), and it was also decentralized (to a point), and it also had ties to a national organization that had its own politics and was tied to larger groups. Chapters are always different from each other, and the fact that one chapter spent its time arguing over hot dogs is important in not overgeneralizing, but does that really give you the full picture?

I'm not saying I have it--I'm just wondering what it is, and why you're confident that your perception is comprehensive. A lot of the questions that Desi Italiana asked are really relevant and it's hard for me to buy that we should dismiss them.

Dilip, Pratik, Raj Kumar: Ok,

Dilip, Pratik, Raj Kumar:

Ok, to be honest, I'm tired of reading comments that mention the words "fascist," "Communists," and "pseudo" whatever in every phrase. It seems to me that these labels that you are throwing around are in fact obfuscating any substantial issues, and it almost comes across as if none of you have anything concrete to counter Prashad's piece, so you resort to flinging labels to discredit what someone is saying. Not one of you has actually referred to or engaged to what Prashad has said in his entire piece. Of course, you're free to disagree; but what kind of argument is "You're all just a bunch of fascists, Commies, and pseudo intellectuals?" If that is how you dismiss arguments, then eventually people will dismiss what you are saying here. If someone does respond, it ends in commentators flinging poo at one another.

How about we all (myself included) go beyond throwing around these labels and actually talk about what's written in the post? Maybe you can contribute to the fruitful dialogue that is going on between Sudha, Jra, and Aatish?

One thing that I think is

One thing that I think is interesting is the intense focus on the sangh in the U.S. Honestly, who cares, besides American desis and desis in America?

I'm more interested in talking about how center and leftwing parties like Congress and CPI(M) are all but abandoning poor people to be actively recruited by nationalists (Hindutva and otherwise).

Sudha: That’s right Desi

Sudha:

That’s right Desi Italiana, if anyone had anything interesting(hate speech) to say about Kashmir, Democracy, etc., I would have been the most surprised. The loudest argument was over whether hinduism allowed meat(hot dogs) at the HSC picnic.

Thanks for replying. But since you mentioned that you've been to all of the conferences, meetings, and camps, I'm really interested in knowing how the topics I mentioned were framed. I'm not talking about outright "hate speech" (ie "We need to 'take back' Kashmir from the Muslims")or anything even close to that; I'm just wondering how those topics were discussed.

I understand that you might not have time, or maybe it's no longer clear in your memory, so you might not be able to give any descriptions- which is cool. However, if you can, that would be most appreciated.

Dr. Anon: One thing that I

Dr. Anon:

One thing that I think is interesting is the intense focus on the sangh in the U.S. Honestly, who cares, besides American desis and desis in America?

Because the original post is on Hindus in America. Hence the title: "Letter to a Young American Hindu."

Some kvetching. Though I'm

Some kvetching. Though I'm out of my element, I think this stuff is a bit over the top:

The Gita is a remarkable book

It's okay, not remarkable (at least in translation).

Frustrated with the hierarchy promoted by Brahmans through the Vedic traditions, scores of people turned to Sramanic traditions (most familiarly, Buddhism). The Gita is a sublime response to the power of Buddhism with concepts such as karma drawn from it.

The way I read it was a cooptation of the Buddhist and other philosophical responses to Brahminism. I don't think a text that can easily be interpreted (again, in my translation) to encourage people to follow their obgliatory dharmic path, regardless of their personal feelings about things like killing their relatives, can be described as a "sublime response to the power of Buddhism."

I also don't like that it takes some of the more interesting ideas from some of the Upanishads I read in translation and replaces philosophical concepts with an anthropomorphized deity whose might is fearsome.

The genius of the text is that it takes concepts and ideas from these popular traditions and brings them into line with some of the central principles of Brahmanism (varna, mainly).

I think the genius of the text is that it subverts social justice aims and turns them into a popular easy-to-read story. But I don't think that that story is all that progressive in what it encourages you to do or not do, though there are certain aspects to it that are nice (like acknowleding that there isn't one universal human type, but several...which, I know, is unfortunately a justification for caste also).

it preaches ahimsa

I honestly don't remember this part. Where?

and yet is set in a battlefield, where Krishna must convince Arjun to go into the fight;

Remind is more like it.

it validates the importance of caste hierarchy, and yet shines a light on the equality of all before the awesome might of divinity.

How is this good? It provides religious sanction for the existing social order.

The contradictory nature of the text allows every reader to find something beneficial in it. It works as a mirror to our reality.

What I read was not all that contradictory. What it was was a mix of a lot of different things, but mostly in line with ideas about Brahminical superiority and caste. There were, though, some interesting things in it, and yes, there are parts that can be interpreted to be meaningful on a personal level completely outside the social context in which it's written.

Then there is bhakti, one of the foundation stones of modern Hinduism. It is the Gita’s central concept.

I didn't get this, aside from the end with the whole might-of-Krishna bit--the remainder (and substantive part, in my opinion) was about dharmic duty, I thought. I also don't understand how you reconcile stating that something is the Gita's "central concept" with the argument that it's awash in contradictions.

Anyway, despite my snarkiness, I openly acknowledge my lack of full knowledge about this and am actually interested in dialogue :) I just happen to be an asshole.

One thing that I think is

One thing that I think is interesting is the intense focus on the sangh in the U.S. Honestly, who cares, besides American desis and desis in America?

Because the original post is on Hindus in America. Hence the title: “Letter to a Young American Hindu.”

If you're going to be snarky, come up with something better than this. I was obviously (I thought) referring to the whole debate, including the CSFH report, this piece, and many other things, not just the conversational thread (parts of which I find interesting).

Dr. Anon: If you’re going to

Dr. Anon:

If you’re going to be snarky, come up with something better than this.

No, I wasn't being snarky. I really thought that we were all losing ourselves in the comments, most of which didn't actually talk about what Prashad said in his post.

No, I wasn’t being snarky. I

No, I wasn’t being snarky. I really thought that we were all losing ourselves in the comments, most of which didn’t actually talk about what Prashad said in his post.

Sorry about my tone.

I think it's inevitable that a piece like Prashad's in the context of the CSFH report will open up a debate, both productive and unproductive. What I was asking was why that broader debate has to be so U.S. centered. There are a lot of interesting things happening in South Asia that might be relevant :)

How about we all (myself

How about we all (myself included) go beyond throwing around these labels and actually talk about what’s written in the post?

I will follow you right after you stop throwing or supporting labels like "Yankee Hindutva", "Right Wing", "Gujarat Pogram", "Fascism", "Fundamentalists" or linking RSS to Hitler based on a book that they stopped publishing in 1950, disowned it and which hasn't been read by 99.9% of the Sangh Parivar workers and followers.

I am just bewildered by the Hippocratic nature of accusations by CSFH and Vijay Prashad etc. They accuse HSC of having "secret" relations with Sangh Parivar, yet they never mention any of their links with Communist Party in India. YSS/FOIL/CSFH accuse RSS of being secretive, yet they don't publish any of financial documents about their organizations and neither disclose their linkage with other organizations beside CSFH.

I would recommend that you read http://cynical-nerd.nationalinterest.in/?p=86 to get a prospective on true nature of half-baked allegations by Vijay Prashad.

Raj Kumar I will follow you

Raj Kumar

I will follow you right after you stop throwing or supporting labels like “Yankee Hindutva”, “Right Wing”, “Gujarat Pogram”, “Fascism”, “Fundamentalists” or linking RSS to Hitler based on a book that they stopped publishing in 1950, disowned it and which hasn’t been read by 99.9% of the Sangh Parivar workers and followers.

Im interested in your first comment...The failure of secular politics in India is clear, and if you can shed some light on that, then please by all means do. But don't be delusional. I don't link the Sangh Parivar to Hitler based on a 'book they stopped publishing in 1950,' I link them based on high-school textbooks in Gujarat today. I am not throwing around works like "Gujarat Pogram" flippantly, I use that phrase (and the word genocide) because nearly 2,500 people were brutally murdered in Gujarat, and many many many more were displaced, impoverished, mutilated, raped, orphaned and are still today continually denied compensation, relief and justice by the state. Those are undeniable facts.

Raj Kumar: I would recommend

Raj Kumar:

I would recommend that you read http://cynical-nerd.nationalinterest.in/?p=86 to get a prospective on true nature of half-baked allegations by Vijay Prashad.

It really seems like people are not entirely reading pieces that they linked to.

So, did you read this article? It's the author's attempt at deconstructing Martha Nussbaum's book.

I read it. And I'm curious what are the "half-baked allegations" by Vijay Prashad that you are referring to, and how this article on Martha Nussbaum has to do with these half baked allegations he supposedly makes. I can conjecture the linkages based on your comments, but I'd rather hear the specifics from you.

I will follow you right after you stop throwing or supporting labels like “Yankee Hindutva”, “Right Wing”, “Gujarat Pogram”, “Fascism”, “Fundamentalists” or linking RSS to Hitler

Right, I already said "myself included." So you want to start now?

And just out of curiosity, what would you call what happened in Gujarat if not a pogrom? "Gujarat having a bad day?"

Anybody interested in reading

Anybody interested in reading a report on the Gujarat riots/pogrom/genocide/ whatever you want to call it, here are few reports:

Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/reports/2002/india/

Amnesty International: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa200012005

In case you think that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are part of a fascist cabal that have links with FOIL and the Communist Party of India, here's a report from the US State Dept which is clearly not a leftist extremist:

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18311.htm

Certainly these reports are not comprehensive, especially since the Gujarat State government denied Amnesty International access to investigate. There are reports from India, but they might be regarded under suspicious light

Interesting conversation;

Interesting conversation; however, I have a serious concern to those who recommend that Sudha or anyone else start an "independent organization" - in most ways that is what HSC has become, slowly distant from its roots - whatever they may be - running autonomously.

The bigger question is, suppose 15 people from HSC go start a new national organization based on "Sarvodaya" - compassion for ALL - would CSFH / Vijay Prashad let them go?

Fat chance, especially if they were successful: Headline, www.stopfundinghate.org, May 22, 2008 - "Sarvodaya: Hindutva in the name of Gandhi", new Hindu group started by former members of HSC, an organization shown by CSFH as being related to Hindu Extremism in America - therefore, by association, so is Sarvodaya. A report would go after the personal history of each of the 15 founders and their families. And every college professor dealing with South Asian students in America will get a personalized email saying the same.

jra, if you were one of these people, the only way that you can absolve your guilt of being born in a family of bigoted Hindus is to publicly denounce them; sorry, your association with them, and continued association makes you guilty of genocide in Gujarat. I'm not sure who you love more, your father or Vijay Prashad's bias.

HSC chapters are independent. So is jra, who has his/her own brain and ability to decide what he/she believes in.

If Vijay Prashad has integrity, he would respect people for their independence: otherwise this is built on false pretense. The left, and Vijay Prashad's friends who subscribe to this approach, have a long history of doing this. NO ONE with a history of connection with Hindutva, or family members who are sympathetic, are absolved of their guilt unless they make publicly defaming statements. This is particularly true of organizations who build momentum in America.

So much for "Compassion for All" :)

I'm not sure that CSFH knows what compassion means, it is, after all, not an intellectual or academic attribute - it is one that shows emotional respect for people, regardless of their views. Perhaps Vijay Prashad and friends should try compassionate criticism before preaching about compassion?

Dear Friends, There is a

Dear Friends,
There is a wealth of ideas and analysis in these comments. I want to make three short points:

(1) Hindu-hating, etc.
This is the most curious charge. I certainly despise Hindutva and its political manifestations. I have nothing against Hinduism. Indeed, I think that like many traditions it has a great deal to offer the world. Reading the Upanishads is a treat; no child should be denied the complicated stories and narratives in the epics (including the Buddhist stories). I heard them first from my elders and from Amar Chitra Katha. Reading them in the original version has lifted them for me to another realm.

I can see why some people would be annoyed by my disregard for some of the campaigns against the misuse of Hindu iconography. But that's a discussion in itself. I don't approve of how people use such iconography, but I'm not willing to take the position that only "Hindus" have the right to determine how the iconography is used. That is a cultural purist claim that has more problems than it has solutions. Rather, I believe that culture is something that is contested, and that one needs to contest it from the standpoint of claims on traditions rather than property: instead of saying the bindi is my culture, you can't wear it, it might be better to say, wear the bindi by all means, but at the same time don't shy away when Indians are insulted because of the bindi, etc. In other words, enjoy our culture, but share the costs that we have to bear as a result of racism and cultural denigration.

But Hindu-hating? Not really. If so, then I wouldn't be invested in this debate.

About the Gita: Dr. Anonymous is right to say that I go over the top. I am over the top with it. It is an insightful text, and I would love to be part of an ongoing discussion about it and its effects. One cannot see the range of the Bhakti movement divorced from the Gita. It is in Kabir as much as Tukaram.

(2) Revealing biases.
I am a Marxist. There is nothing I've ever done to hide that. I am also deeply interested in Gandhi and his role in Indian history. I believe that Gandhi holds a central moral role for Indians of all political stripes. I don't turn to Gandhi just to make a point. Rather, Gandhi is the bedrock from which I build many of my arguments. His Collected Works are as important to me as those of Marx and of the Vedas.

FOIL-YSS and on are not hierarchical organizations with membership and with a central command. FOIL is a internet based network that is part information sharing, part discussion space, part campaign generation. YSS was a summer school that has since morphed into something different -- not sure what it will be in the future. We have no hidden agenda. Everything is in the open. People who work in and around FOIL and YSS are also integral parts of the liberal-left movement in the U. S. We believe that it is important to seed movements and let creativity flourish. We are not invested in control or in driving one single agenda. There is no sour grapes about HSS or the VHPA. Our beef is ideological and not organizational -- in other words, wish we could be like you. We have no interest in being a hierarchical organization of that kind.

(3) Sarvodaya.
I take Sudha's story to heart. Especially the encounter with the VHP guy. That is why I say, cut your ties to the HSC Central, to the VHPA. Go your own way. Make Hinduism your own. Break ties with the baggage laid on you by Yankee Hindutva. Hinduism is to be gained. Nothing is to be lost.
Create Sarvodaya; not one organization, but many. Make the Gandhi Day of Service your own. Create bridges and break down walls.

peace and love,
Vijay.

Vijay, Do you seriously

Vijay,

Do you seriously believe that CSFH's method, and yours, are really designed to create bridges and break down walls? I have lots of respect for you and some of the things you do, but you are by no means a poster child for reconciliation, bridge building, or wall breaking. Your methods, including defamation and personal attacks, are inherently DIVISIVE.

You may not be anti-Hindu, but you ARE anti-Hindu-influence-in-politics. Given that your Marxist bias is a direct correlation to political parties in India and your pet issues are driven by your political baggage in India, that also makes you less than a poster child for objectively promoting "peace and love" among young Indians in America.

10 ways to have done this compassionately:

(10) Call HSC Leadership and ask for a public dialogue
(9) Write an open letter to HSC and its membership about key issues that you think need to be addressed
(8) Write publicly about alternative suggestions to right-leaning Hindu organazations (not as an afterthought)
(7) You guys are good at Internet stuff, create an online forum for dialogue
(6) Share the positions of the people you attack
(5) Invite Hindutvites to FOIL, Proxsa, YSS forums to share their views and discuss
(4) Be honest about your politics and bias upfront in the reports you write
(3) Address your criticism directly to people that your are criticizing
(2) Verify your analysis before publishing circumstancial observations as truths
(1) Don't attack people personally

Having been active in FOIL events and one point in time, one of the first ice-breakers I remember built solidarity around those who have "been to VHP camps" and requiring them do denounce it - a peer pressure tactic that makes people uncomfortable and is far from "bridge building": I know first-hand about the type of ideological indoctrination you guys do, and so do many of my friends. The ideologues - you, Biju, and crew - of FOIL, YSS, CSFH, PROXSA haven't changed since inception, you guys drive the CSFH reports, you spread them to other academics across America, you aren't willing to have public debate, you develop the content and shape conversation at things like YSS - you may not have legal status as organizations but you more than certainly operate like them (without the accountability).

Honesty about your position, especially before you go out after others would be prudent. i.e. - in your letter above, it would have been respectable for you to mention that you were Marxist and that every "movement" you have seeded in America has been premised on being anti-Hindutva - then maybe someone reading you for the first time wouldn't, by mistake, think that you were actually an observant professor that was just trying to make some academic analysis of Hindu politics in America.

You have deep connections with Marxist efforts. You don't mention the influence of Marxism once in your letter that pulls from your history and growth as a person / academic / ideologue - Since you don't mention your bias, and neither does CSFH in any of its literature or reports, you are all, in fact, being ultra shady.

Regarding my comment about

Regarding my comment about how his self identification as a Marxist influences his stands in this piece, can those of you who taking issue with Prashad tell me:

1. What are Prashad's arguments and stands in this piece

(I'm asking everyone to be specific to this piece rather than Prashad's entire academic portfolio because not everyone who may be reading this thread is familiar with his works. In addition, it helps us focus on a text that everyone can read and refer to)

2. How these arguments are Marxist

Dear Anonymous (no. 39), Desi

Dear Anonymous (no. 39),
Desi Italiana has done a fine job asking for more specific critiques that might allow your ten points to be answered with clarity. So I'm not going to go into that for now.
I am more interested in the following remarks you make:

(1) Peer Pressure Tactics.

Having been active in FOIL events and one point in time, one of the first ice-breakers I remember built solidarity around those who have “been to VHP camps” and requiring them do denounce it - a peer pressure tactic that makes people uncomfortable and is far from “bridge building”: I know first-hand about the type of ideological indoctrination you guys do, and so do many of my friends. The ideologues - you, Biju, and crew - of FOIL, YSS, CSFH, PROXSA haven’t changed since inception, you guys drive the CSFH reports, you spread them to other academics across America, you aren’t willing to have public debate, you develop the content and shape conversation at things like YSS - you may not have legal status as organizations but you more than certainly operate like them (without the accountability).

I'm afraid you have me there. That is, our memories are different on these matters. I don't recall being part of a "eating bitterness" session, asking those with some VHPA past to revoke them and apologize. In the early years of YSS, at least two members of the organizing committee had been in the RSS in their early years (one of them wrote a book about the experience: Partha Banerjee's Hindutva: In the Belly of the Beast). There was, it seems to me, an enormous effort made to explore the complexity of Hinduism rather than to denounce people for their beliefs or their pasts. I used to run the session on Religion and Politics, where I would do a reading of the formation of the Indian Honeycomb and what the emergence of intolerance (Hindutva in the lead, but not far behind, Islamic chavunism and on).

I have always been willing to have a public debate on any of these themes. In fact, Rajiv Malhotra of Infinity and I had a long conversation about some of these matters on the Internet a few years ago (it was carried in full by the website of Outlook magazine). You want to organize a debate? I'm ready to join in anywhere and anytime that my schedule permits.

Honesty about your position, especially before you go out after others would be prudent. i.e. - in your letter above, it would have been respectable for you to mention that you were Marxist and that every “movement” you have seeded in America has been premised on being anti-Hindutva - then maybe someone reading you for the first time wouldn’t, by mistake, think that you were actually an observant professor that was just trying to make some academic analysis of Hindu politics in America.

I am not only a Marxist, I am also a father. That impacts the way I see what is happening to our cultural world. I am also an anti-imperialist. There are many subject positions that did not seem relevant at the time to that letter. But because I did not mention it in one letter does not mean that I conceal these important parts of who I am. They are part of the public record, and I am proud of them (I don't deny them -- that's morally evasive, as the HSC is).

I am also an academic. I write the way I do, with analysis, because I believe it is far more useful as a way to hold a discussion than by simply name calling and yelling at each other. Reason, as Al Gore writes in his new book, is in short supply.

You have deep connections with Marxist efforts. You don’t mention the influence of Marxism once in your letter that pulls from your history and growth as a person / academic / ideologue - Since you don’t mention your bias, and neither does CSFH in any of its literature or reports, you are all, in fact, being ultra shady.

I can't speak for CSFH. If you look at the HSC's recent press release, I don't figure as an author of the report. So you had better take your concerns up with them.

About my "deep connections with Marxist efforts," these are, as I said above, all part of the public record. And I almost always talk about it when I address an Indian American or Asian American gathering. I wear my anti-imperialism on my shirt; it is not hidden in my back pocket. Nothing shady about that.

peace and love,
Vijay.

Please give me an example of

Please give me an example of how Prashad’s politics have a bearing on the arguments he is making in this piece. It’s not enough for me to hear “Because he is a Marxist, he is taking these stands.” That doesn’t say anything. I want to see the ties.

I think the argument would run something like: Marxism is an inherently anti-religious doctrine and any attempt by a self-described Marxist to claim or to sympathetically define Hinduism is palpably insincere.

I don't know if I buy the argument, but I think that's what the argument would be, and therefore, someone would be unwilling on those grounds to engage the conversation about the piece in its specific points.

It's worth considering, if only to be careful about labels like "Marxist" and "Hindu."

Whoops, posted that one too

Whoops, posted that one too many times - it kept saying it didn't work, and I had to rewrite it - sorry moderator!

Sorry to you! If anyone else

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Can I ask a question to

Can I ask a question to everyone?

Why is it crucial for you guys that Prashad should state upfront that he is a self defined Marxist? Meaning, how would that influence what is he saying and how would that change how his stands are percieved?

If someone could answer this without flinging the labels of "fascism," "Marxist extremist" and so on as a counterargument, I'd really appreciate it. In order words, give me a substantiative connection and concrete examples as to how his being a Marxist totally colors his stands in this piece.

Anonymous: 10 ways to have

Anonymous:

10 ways to have done this compassionately:

(10) Call HSC Leadership and ask for a public dialogue

This suggestion is fair enough, BUT:

Why is it necessary to have a dialogue with them? Are they really that important and a crucial link that we have to mediate through? You are placing an undue importance on this organization that makes me uncomfortable. In placing importance on the HSC, you seem to be implying that they are significant enough to have a dialogue with because of their presumed representation of Hinduism. Why do we have to depend on the HSC? Are they some representative of Hindus in America? Last time I checked, none of these guys have been elected by Hindus in the US.

And furthermore, in relation to what I stated above, I don't see how the HSC should be the embodiment of practising Hinduism, or be the meeting point for people who follow Hinduism. I agree with Prashad when he says "Make it your own."

(9) Write an open letter to HSC and its membership about key issues that you think need to be addressed

See above.

(8) Write publicly about alternative suggestions to right-leaning Hindu organazations (not as an afterthought)

This is kind of a no-brainer, no? What kind of alternative "suggestions" do you need to write out to the Hindu right? It's obvious. You don't seek to oppress another group of people; you don't target them for violence and murder. You don't see them as "foreigners" and subsequently question their "loyalty to the state." You don't accuse them of being the fifth pillar. You do not create a state based on a religion. You don't violate the human rights of anyone.

And alternative questions to spend energy on: come up with better policies that every single Indian citizen- regardless of religion- can benefit from. This means studying and coming up with better solutions to eradicate poverty and so on.

(7) You guys are good at Internet stuff, create an online forum for dialogue

We're already doing that. Unfortunatley, for some people, dialogue means simply mud slinging with labels such as "fascist," "Marxist extremist," "left wing fanatic" and "sending off people to gulags and re-education camps". No concrete conversation is happening.

(6) Share the positions of the people you attack

This is ridiculous and absurb. So I attack the state government of Gujarat for targeting Gujarati Muslims, raping Gujarati Muslim women, killing over 2,000 people in a grotesque manner, and displacing hundreds, or thousands more who are now languishing in refugee camps.

Now, I'm supposed to share their position out of "compassion" and in effort to have a dialogue? You've got to be kidding me. What is one supposed to say? "Yes, ok, I agree with you that Gujarati women should be raped in a maccabre manner. So.... can you stop raping them?" Get real.

(5) Invite Hindutvites to FOIL, Proxsa, YSS forums to share their views and discuss

Very reasonable.

(4) Be honest about your politics and bias upfront in the reports you write

Please give me an example of how Prashad's politics have a bearing on the arguments he is making in this piece. It's not enough for me to hear "Because he is a Marxist, he is taking these stands." That doesn't say anything. I want to see the ties.

(3) Address your criticism directly to people that your are criticizing

What do you think he is doing here? Did he not name the organizations he has a problem with?

(2) Verify your analysis before publishing circumstancial observations as truths

What is so flawed about his "analysis" in a post that is clearly partially personal, based on his own experiences, childhood, and so on? Isn't it clear that this letter of his is an amalgam "circumstantial observations?"

(1) Don’t attack people personally

Where are the personal attacks in his piece?

You may not be anti-Hindu, but you ARE anti-Hindu-influence-in-politics. Given that your Marxist bias is a direct correlation to political parties in India and your pet issues are driven by your political baggage in India,

Let me get this straight:

If you are "anti-Hindu-influence-in-politics" then you are a Marxist. Or, because you are a Marxist, you are prone to "anti-Hindu-influence-in-politics"....?

Please, please, someone give me a direct connection between being a Marxist and taking an anti-religionized politics stance. It's not enough to pull vague ideological arguments out of your ass. Don't tell me, "You are an idiot because you are a Marxist" or "No wonder you take these positions- it's because you are an extreme left wing fascist."

I realize that it seems like I'm defending Prashad to the bone. Not true; I'm just waiting for an actual counterargument to be written here.

I followed the link here from

I followed the link here from Salon.

A very interesting article that I am glad Vijay wrote. I have also found that many of the young American hindus are completely unaware of the rich diversity and layered complexity within the "hindu" family of traditions. Many of them have only been exposed to the completely bland "Hinduism Lite" that the VHP seems to be peddling. What he does not mention (at least in this article) is that this problem is not limited to "hindus." Christians are stuck with a similarly homogenized "Christianity Lite" and Muslims with a homogenized "Islam Lite." (I don't know about the Parsees, Jains, Sikhs, or Buddhists from personal experience.) It is quite sad to see.

Because this same phenomenon seems to be hitting all the communities, I wonder if the reasons are not also common. Could it be that few communities are actually socially-dense enough to sustain/pass-down their own quirky diversity? I suspect that parents are accepting of homogenized traditions as seemingly better than nothing with the resulting "infrastructure cost" across many different communities.

Let me close with my own experience with the VHPA and HSC from when I was a graduate student at MIT in the late 90s. At that time, an HSC chapter had formed on campus. Some were suspicious, but I knew the officers involved and they were good and decent people. For a while, control was kept local and none of the fascist stuff was going on. Then, there came a time when the local chapter officers disagreed with the VHP and national HSC (these were for all intents and purposes distinct organizations in name only --- sharing websites, people, and email lists). At that point, all of the HSC officers at MIT resigned in protest as the national authorities tried to bully them into hosting an event that they felt uncomfortable with.

I am from Malaysia, so maybe

I am from Malaysia, so maybe something in the article may not apply to me, but some do. I would like to say that there are Hindus being persecuted in Malaysia in various forms. Some examples would be the demolishment of temples by the Malaysian government and the conversion of poor Hindus using allurement(by christians and the muslim government) and sometimes by force. If i join a Hindu force to oppose this that doesnt mean i belong to some organization with links to Hindutva forces from India. Hinduism is being denigrated here and we Hindus can see the parallels in other countries (US and India included). What happened is that we are starting to get more assertive and this translates to some as being fundamentalist. Hindus are not practising Hinduism just because it sounds like a nice religion, we practise it because we love it. so if a person try to say something bad about it, we have the right to say

No there are many good things in it as well, if you are only looking at bad things in it, then no religion is perfect and there are many religion which had at in its past some negative stuff.

Strange many people are ready to dismiss whatever good things Hindus say about their history, even if we can give proof. Maybe they think that their proof has more validity than what hindus say.

Shreedharan: Thanks for your

Shreedharan:

Thanks for your comment.

I would like to say that there are Hindus being persecuted in Malaysia in various forms. Some examples would be the demolishment of temples by the Malaysian government and the conversion of poor Hindus using allurement(by christians and the muslim government) and sometimes by force.

I am not very familiar with the situation in Malaysia apart from reading about the demolition of mandirs, and so on. But I have read news reports about that. Absolutely no doubt that persecution of any people- whether they are Muslim, Hindu, whatever-should never take place and must be roundly denounced. I'm going to expand on this point in my next comment, so read my comment that follows.

If i join a Hindu force to oppose this that doesnt mean i belong to some organization with links to Hindutva forces from India.

This is where I start to part ways with what you are saying, I'm afraid. I do not see why you would say something like "Hindu force" and why you would need to be a part of a "Hindu force" to protest and try to counteract whatever injustice you see taking place. There are civil society groups and other organizations that you could be a part of or start up which calls for the application of protection and equal rights for all citizens, including Hindus and others. I do not see why the division of religion in society needs to be replicated in movements and counteractions which call for equality for all, unless you think equality need only to apply for your own specific group and not others.

I do agree with you that if you are part of a Hindu organization, it does not automatically follow that you have links to Hindutva organizations and parties in India.

Hinduism is being denigrated here and we Hindus can see the parallels in other countries (US and India included).

Now we are heading into murky waters with this statement. How are Hindus being denigrated in the US and India?

For sure, in America, there is an orientalist take on Hinduism and an inaccurate representation, which obviously needs to be looked at again and corrected. But as Prashad says, I believe that it needs to try and reflect the realities that exist; replacing one faulty represenation with another point together by some Hindus themselves is not correct. Furthermore, this mangled represenation of histories, religions, and so on of India, Hinduism and so on is not confined to only Hinduism. It's not that Hindus and Hinduism are singled out. You can make this "denigration" argument for any minority group on the US. Take for example how Native Americans are depicted in US history textbooks, or African Americans. The Latin Americans. And so on. The solution, then, is to make sure that with every single thing about every single diversity that gets published in textbooks must be discussed in the most accurate way. In my opinion, the solution is not to decry how only Hinduism is discussed in an orientalist way, etc.

What happened is that we are starting to get more assertive and this translates to some as being fundamentalist.

Something about this phrase makes me uncomfortable; I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe the idea that "we" are becoming more "assertive"...

Hindus are not practising Hinduism just because it sounds like a nice religion, we practise it because we love it. so if a person try to say something bad about it,

Practising it because you love it is fine. I myself come from a very religious household where my family members are practising Hindus, and on many occassions, the Hinduism we know (my family is Gujarati, and there's a heavy dose of Swaminarayan in this Hinduism)regulates and governs many actions, ideas, practices and so on in my family.

But "a person saying something bad about it?" Don't you think that is very liable to liberal interpretation? Ascertaining whether somebody is saying something "bad" could mean anything from pointing out that the caste system and the justifications for it in some writings of Hinduism are flawed to saying that all Hindus are a bunch of pagans.

Furthermore, you can practice Hinduism, Islam, whatever. But if you are a pracitising believer, does that mean you blindly follow every single thing is propagated in that religion or 'religious leaders'? Is it permissible to look at it with a critical eye and say, "Ok, I describe myself as a Hindu, but I do not agree with the caste system. I do not agree with the ideas of 'pollution' in the sense that if you intermingle, interact, and etc with people who are not of your 'caste' or religion"?

Strange many people are ready to dismiss whatever good things Hindus say about their history, even if we can give proof. Maybe they think that their proof has more validity than what hindus say.

1. Nobody here is categorically denouncing Hinduism and "their history" (I'm not sure how you can talk about "Hindu history" when that is very difficult to do, seeing that first, history is not really religious, and secondly, even if you are talking about the "history of Hindus," you'll find that it is not singularly "Hindu" because there are various non Hindu dynamics that are intertwined). What's being discussed and religion, politics, and militancy skirming dangerously close to one another.

2. Please be mindful that Hindus do not speak a uniform and collective voice, anymore than Muslims do, Christians do, and so on. So I don't think it is accurate nor truthful to say, "What Hindus say" and "their proof." Just to drive home the point, when you say "we give proof," I do not see myself as part of that "we" despite the fact that I was raised in a Gujarati, Swaminarayan Hindu household.

Mr. Prashad: Your post has

Mr. Prashad:

Your post has elicited many thoughts in my head. I'll try to explain some of them the best I can.

***

In the fall of 2005, I went to a three day India conference on pluralism and democracy. A lot of big Indian and Indian American names were present.

Gurcharan Das was there. He was presenting his article "The Dilemna of a Liberal Hindu."

First let me say-- Gurcharan Das is not a Hinduvavadi. He is what he says he is- a "liberal Hindu", with all the contradictions that play out in "liberalism".

The thing is that when he was talking, I saw several people nod their heads in agreement with some of his assertions that I found were problematic. I could see how someone who isn't critically following what he is saying could totally fall into some of the things he was saying. For example:

A few months ago the confident and handsome friend of our son’s gave a telling reply to a visiting Englishwoman in Khan Market in Delhi. “I am a Hindu, but …”, he said, and he went into a winding reply about his beliefs. He hastily added that he was an Indian first. It was a perfectly honest answer, and any other person might have given a similar one about Islam or Christianity. But I sensed an unhappy defensiveness–the ‘but’ betrayed that he might be ashamed of being Hindu.

This deduction on his part- which I noticed in the room was garnering a bit of strength- is so subjective, that I was suprised that no one called him on it. First, he seems to be saying that people should be comfortable in using the tag "Hindu" as the primary identity; that is, they should be not ashamed of it.

This operates on the assumption that India is Hindu, and thus, there should be no problem that a Hindu identifies himself first as a Hindu and Indian next. Because if you turned the tables around, would the same apply to, say, a person who primarily identifies him/herself as "Muslim" and Indian next? Is that ok?

Secondly, he codes his friend's response and reaction as "defensive". Fair enough, but again, let's turn the tables around. If an Indian who is Muslim responds the way that Das is reading this, how would you interpret this? I suspect that the standards would not be the same.

No one pointed this out to him at the conference.

This happened two weeks after I got a call from one of Delhi’s best private schools, asking me to speak to its students. “Oh good!” I replied on the phone. “I have been reading the Mahabharata, and in that case I shall speak about dharma and the moral dilemmas in the epic.”

The principal’s horrified reaction was, “Oh don’t, please! There are important secularists on our governing board, and I don’t want controversy about teaching religion.”

“But surely the Mahabharata is a literary epic”, I protested, “And dharma is about right and wrong”. But my remonstration was to no avail. She was adamant and scared.

As I think about these two incidents, I ask myself, why should these two highly successful, young professionals be embarrassed of their heritage?

This anecdote seemed to strike an chord in some members of the audience- one of agreement.

During the Q&A session that followed, no one really asked hard questions. No one pointed out the flaws in some of his logic. Instead, a well known Indian artist lambasted him, roaring that "You, my friend, are a person who rides a tricyle" (I didn't really get that, but whatever). Gales of derision flooded the floor and Das started to look really defensive.

It could have been very, very easy to point out his anecdote about the principal at a PRIVATE school doesn't make sense; a private school has the choice to teach one religion, no religion, or all religions, whereas a public school- in keeping in line with the "secular ideal" pushed forth by the state- doesn't have to teach the Mahabharat if it chooses not to. Someone could have pointed out that there are plenty of texts that make up the "national" literary canon which are not tied to Hinduism the way the Mahabharat is. Another question could have been: "Ok, so you are saying that this private school doesn't want to teach the Mahabharat out of 'secularism'. Has this school- if it is not a private religion based school [ie a private Christian school]- taught any other religious texts, such as the Bible? If not, why is this anecdote an example of secularism failing? And why does this incidence stand out as a contradiction? If it has not taught any other religious text, why does the fact that the principal doesn't want to bring up the Mahabharat smack you in the face?"

What I saw was flawed assessments getting misguided into incongruent conclusions. This could have been systematically broken down and questioned, but instead, all he got was derision (BTW, in the interests of disclosure, I had written down these thoughts and raised my hand. I didn't get picked. Maybe there were others who were thinking like me and didn't get to speak, either).

The last speaker at the conference was Ved Nanda. This man basically spent his time ranting and raving about "Hindu persecution" to the point where it simply became very difficult to keep up with him (one person who was also at the conference told me that he just started to tune out Nanda). He asked throughout his entire speech, "why is no one talking about the persecution of Hindus, but the persecution of Muslims only?" (actually, that was his whole speech).

Several people nodded their head in agreement- people who I know have problems with what happened in Gujarat. Meaning, none of these people who agreed with what he said supported state sponsored terrorism which has roots in Hindu fundamentalism. But instead of pointing out that he was going on and on about Hindus being persecuted but not one word about others being targeted for their religion, what he got from one of the professors was that he was "right wing." That's it. Instead of bringing to attention how lopsided his ideas were, the label of "right wing" was used to dismiss him. To be sure, he does have some right wing leanings. But why not address the question that he repeatedly asked instead of blowing him off and indirectly confirming the suspicions of some that "Hindus" are "persecuated" and that the state is "pseudo secular"?

What I am trying to say is that more often than not, many of us simply dismiss things that are nonsensical rather than addressing what is being said. When these ideas go unaddressed, you can almost see the seething anger hardening and reinforcing itself. There are many people who are not assholes; it is very easy for average folks to fall into the trap of misguided arguments because somewhere, something along the line failed to address their thoughts, feelings, and so on. A disconnection happened somewhere.

How do we address this, Mr. Prashad?

This leads into my next point: I have noticed that people will decry their deaths of one group, but not the other. Hindus will vehemently denouce religion targeted persecution, Muslims will do the same. Very few will say that killing Muslims because of their religion is equally wrong as Hindus to be killed because of their religion. Is it possible to categorically denounce persecution period, whether it involves Hindus and Muslims and whoever else? The problem is not that Muslims are getting targeted for their religion; pointing this out is simply highlighting a symptom. The fact is that religious based persucation is the problem- witness the anti Sikh riots which left around 3,000 dead; around 2,000 Gujarati Muslims; Hindu fundamentalists targeting Christians for "reconversion."

***

In my opinion, the state has been fostering group identity politics. This is a chicken and egg dilemna- I don't know if the groups came first and then the state created channels whereby these groups can play out its desires, politics, and so on, or whether the state has created a group consciousness and has nurtured group politics.

In our modern times, the State is vested with the monopoly over the allocation of resources. Because it is the governing mechanism of who gets what, one consequence of this is that some go to the state not to give, but to take.

What I've noticed is that the road to getting to the State is via group politics. This has led to a "special interests group" mentality, whereby each group vyes with the other group to attain favors- whether they are political, social, economic, etc. In the end, each group is thinking about itself- its location, situation, predicament. This has led to myopia- no group is able to see its location in the larger framework and in relation to everything else; there's this tendency to cut off pieces from the larger picture and just look at those pieces rather than the overall picture which prohibits seeing the source of the problem.

Furthermore, I think the state has been very active in this situation, most notably via "multiculturalism" and "pluralism". This is evident both in US politics and Indian politics. Basically, "multiculturalism" and "pluralism" asks, prompts, and requires the outright construction of a group- a group which is defined by common criteria, behaviors and so on. This not only reduces the very real diversity that exists, but it seeks to homogenize and contain a given set of individuals from others.

Then there's the state actively promoting "pluralism" and "multiculturalism". In India, politicians have explicitly played with group politics for their own benefit (Indira Gandhi and the Sikh party) and have formed a platform on group politics. Furthermore, some are accorded a different set of rules and and jurisdiction, while others are not. Take for instance the "Personal Law" where basically, there is a parallel (or even outside of the reach)of the civil code that other citizens are expected to follow. Marriage laws are different for Muslims than for others; Hindus have it different as well- laws that are completely in opposition to equality for all citizens.

All of this that I have mentioned feeds into, helps foster, strengthens, and reinforces what is happening with the sustainment and growth of Hindu fundamentalism in India as well as the US to varying degrees.

What do you think?

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