Reclaiming Hinduism?

Over the years, I have spent many hours in many different spaces talking to people who I would describe as people who come from a Hindu right orientation (whether vitriolic and violent or whether a tacit support for the first group).  This is an imprecise description that I'd like to improve on because it doesn't help to reify or demonise "Hindutva" because it plays into the mode of conversation they use and is cruel to the person involved, who may or may not subscribe to all the things you think they subscribe to.  So, in point of fact, I have made many errors as well.

I have also learned a lot.  Most of the conversations I've had have been on the Internet and have ranged from long protracted discussions (the initial stage), to impatience and confrontation, to outright conflict, to descent into personal spats, to eventual harmonisation through some kind of equilibrium - whether it is mutual tolerance, mutual disdain, or mutual something.  The point was mutuality, for keeping things going - but this is not a solution.  

The other side of was to come to understand that Hindutva is a part of a discourse and way of understanding the world- communalism, in short - which involves breaking the world down into fixed identities based on particular identities and promoting, denigrating, organising, on that basis (in the India/Pakistan/to some extent Bangladesh discussions, its often primarily politicised religion; in Sri Lanka, its ethnicity/language/religion/race).  So there are polarities constructed (in different contexts in the world, Hindus vs. Muslims vs. Christians vs. Sikhs... or Tamils vs. Sinhala ... Palestinians vs. Jews ... Greeks vs. Turks ... Catholics vs. Protestants ... etc.)  

The trick, then, became to learn how to carry on a conversation that simultaneously engaged on the issues that are involved, and break down or contain the discourse of communalism or the particular representation of the communalism-of-the-powerful that progressives often object to - Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., Zionism in Palestine/Israel, Hindu Fundamentalism in India, Muslim Fundamentalism in Gaza, etc.   This is particularly tricky because a South Asian American soft Hindutva supporter is not going to sound like a raving lunatic - rather, like Aseem Shukla, cofounder of Hindu American Foundation, their tone will sound considered, balanced, both sides - great American PR.  However, within that, the contents will still reflect the communalism-of-the-powerful and perpetuate a communal framework of understanding the world (two separate things).

I write all this as background to recent incidents (both short short term and the last two years or so) and what is happening in the Indian-American and South Asian American diaspora, especially on the Internet.  Recently, Sepia Mutiny, which I have often criticised (and for much of which I owe them an apology as well for shrillness and rudeness) has taken a step that I think is worth highlighting as a really good best practice.  After many months of many conversations being hijacked by commentators working in Hindutva framework, a blogger decided that the swarm of Hindutva comments that were frequently derailing their conversations and/or presenting disturbing and anti-[insert identity] sentiments would be monitored and unpermitted.  This was in line with a longstanding policy they had in their comments to ban anti-secular comments, though it was not enforced because the moderators - as is their prerogative - to choose to give free reign to people to a greater extent than we have done here with Hindutva discourse.

After a recent comment I left there, I finally grew frustrated enough that I typed a question into Aardvark which asked for advice in how to speak to Hindu fundamentalists.  I received this in response and I thought I would pass it on for those of you who, like me, are interested in moving beyond Hindutva frameworks to analytical understandings of communalism that focus more on power, multiple identities, and restrict the religious or communal element of the analysis to the extent that it makes sense (i.e. it does no good to deny the existence of communalism - the goal is to talk about it without talking from within it and thus perpetuating the problem):

Talking to ANY fundamentalist can be frustrating. It is nearly impossible to change their worldview in one conversation. But you can shake them up a bit by knowing a bit more about what THEY think themselves experts on, for this instance, Hinduism. Use what they say against them since they only believe what they say. Here are some resources (in order of increasing effort) for you to better understand Hinduism... " the change..."...

1. (it's an outline [snippet cut - Dr. A] the source book referenced is the BEST!)
2. The Bhagavad Gita by Stoler-Miller (a tiny book, look for it in your local library,
3. The Mahabharata, directed by Peter Brook (a long but great production, again, look for it in your local library,

I don't vouch for the versions of the texts here because I have not looked at them closely, but I do think that the approach is correct and the first link especially seems like it can be quite useful if it is done well.  This is especially the case for people who identify with Hinduism in any sense (cultural, family, social, religious, spiritual) to contest the identity from the people who speak in our names.

That is all I have to say, but I will simply add that communal conflicts are saddening, that being forced into engagement in a discussion on terms that you simply don't believe (think: neoliberalism, to which the rise of religious fundamentalist is related) is cruel, and that an effective way of combatting it on a day-to-day level is valuable.  This goes beyond the excellent documenting and campaigning work that groups like Campaign to Stop Funding Hate do and seeks to employ it in every day practice.  It should not replace other efforts to contest things like nation-state inequalities racism, gender bias, anti-xenophobia work, advocacy for disempowered groups in general - but to supplement it, to incorporate it in a broader effort.  Moreover, it involves acknowledging the legitimacy of situaton

And that, my friends, is what we have to figure out how to do, for those of us who are confronted with a fundamentalism of some kind.  Ignoring or tolerating it is not a necessary or viable option anymore, and there is a moment right now when things are and will continue to change.  The only other solution to ignoring it is to engage, engage positively when we can, remember to be kind to ourselves and each other and at times even our oppressors, and never, ever, ever give up the struggle.

Dr. Anonymous offers a discussion of his experiences with secularism and fundamentalism on the Internet.

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Dear Dr. Demagogue, what we

Dear Dr. Demagogue, what we do about Islamic fundamentalism and political persecution as in Pakistan killing 3 million people (2.5 million of them Hindus) and raping 200,000 women in Bangladesh in 1971, or the state-sponsored persecution of all minorities, including Islamic sects like the Ahmadis who are officially non-Muslims in Pakistan and have no voting rights (by contrast, Ahmadis in India enjoy full voting and civil rights, and full religious freedom.)

Not to mention the 4 frivolous and bloody wars Pakistan waged, and the thousands of terrorist attacks by Muslim terrorists waged against India and other countries?

Muslim invaders of India destroyed thousands of Hindus temples, including the temple that existed on Ram Janmaboomi. Without that, there would be no 1992 demolition of masjid-e-janamstan (it's name until the 1940s) that Babur's deputy built over the ruins of the temple. Five Muslim terrorists and a thousands strong Muslim mob burnt 59 Hindu pilgrims alive. Without that, there would have been no Gujarat violence.

Radical Muslims need to stop their fundamentalist killing ways and then turn around to demonize Hindus. Only then there will be lasting peace in the Indian subcontinent.

Reclaim Islam first. Then there will be no need to "reclaim" Hinduism.

Reclaim Islam first. Then

Reclaim Islam first. Then there will be no need to "reclaim" Hinduism.

I think most of what you said is skewed to the point of being extroardinarily offensive (i.e. you make my point for me), but we're not going to agree about that.  Instead, why don't you tell me what you think Hinduism means and how it relates to persecution and killing of people.

"Instead, why don't you tell

"Instead, why don't you tell me what you think Hinduism means and how it relates to persecution and killing of people."

Who is killing whom? In 2002, a Muslim mob, under a pre-meditated plan of a Muslim terrorist cabal (some of whom are now hiding in Pakistan), probably acting on behalf of the ISI, burnt alive 59 Hindu pilgrims in the Godhra train carnage. Nanavati report:

Had that not happened, no Gujarat violence would have taken place in 2002. The blame for all the deaths, including the 1000 that died in the post-Godhra violence belongs with the Muslim terrorist cabal and whoever (probably the ISI) made them do it.

Add to that:
1. deaths from 3 wars Pakistan waged (1948, 1965, Kargil)
2. 3 million killed in the genocide Pak conducted in 1971 (and the rapes, displacements and looting and confiscation of property)
3. countless deaths from terrorist attacks launched against India from the Pakistan soil
4. millions dead from partition
5. death and strife from the civil war Jinnah waged for one year demanding the partition

Going further back, countless brutal wars by Islamic invaders, of which Will Durant wrote in his 1935 book "The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage" (page 459): "The Mohammedan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. The Islamic historians and scholars have recorded with great glee and pride the slaughters of Hindus, forced conversions, abduction of Hindu women and children to slave markets and the destruction of temples carried out by the warriors of Islam during 800 AD to 1700 AD. Millions of Hindus were converted to Islam by sword during this period."

There is no question whatsoever that, among all the religious demographics that exist today, Hindus have been the worst subjugated, persecuted, brutalized and killed. You need to accept that unfortunate factuality.

I only need to accept what my

I only need to accept what my eyes and mind tell me to accept.  Again, I disagree with your basic premises and the facts that you have laid out.

However, I am more interested in the part of the question that you have not answered- you still haven't told me what Hinduism means to you.  What makes a Hindu?  Who is a Hindu?  What is Hinduism?  

And SECONDLY, how exactly are they persecuted, in your mind.

I'm interested in these questions because I want to know what you think, rather than being engaged in a back and forth on facts that we are going to completely disagree on (and which I will fight you politically on in the appropriate spaces :) You are obviously very concerned with Hinduism - so why?

If you get past the clutter,

If you get past the clutter, Hinduism is not a religion, but instead a broad and inclusive umbrella of philosophical and spiritual thoughts, and evolution thereof. To me, some of the things it embodies are the following notions:
1. all human beings are created equal
2. every human being has a soul
3. no soul is superior or inferior to any other soul
4. respect for and living in consonance with nature
5. all living beings are a part or an extension of God

Most of these values are commonly shared across all Dharmic religions (Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism being the major ones) which were all born in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism as practiced has lots of gods because of its libertarian underpinnings. No one instructs you to pray to a certain god. Each god in the (classical) Hindu pantheon represents a certain useful concept. For example, Goddess Saraswathi symbolizes the pursuit of knowledge and life-long learning. Many Hindus consider Buddha, Jesus Christ, Shirdi Sai Baba (a Muslim ascetic) and other figures/icons from other faiths to be gods as well, and offers prayers to them. So, theistically, Hinduism is of the "many in one and one in many" variety.

The end goal for those that choose to take the spiritual path the Hindu way is to reach the state of the so-called nirvana, a higher form of spiritual being, but every person is basically free to take his or her path to get there.

As of now, Hinduism is facing an existential struggle. And those struggles can't be understood unless you view them in the context of the timeline of the 5000+ year Indian civilization in all of the political, religious, spiritual, philosphical, scientific (and technological) realms. For starters, I would like to point to the following brief sketch of Indian mathematics through the ages (please spend some time and go over it):
Indian Mathematics: Redressing the balance, by Ian G Pearce
Mathematics, being the core abstraction of methodical/scientific human thought, provides a fairly good scale on which human evolution can charted. As you will gather from the document, Indian mathematicians laid the foundation for modern mathematics by inventing formal grammar (for Sanskrit in 500 BC), the number zero (around 500 AD), the decimal and binary number systems (in the 5th through 7th centuries AD; Arab and Persian mathematicians like Al-Khwarzimi and Al-Kindi adopted Indian mathematics, wrote books about them in the early 9th century, giving credit to Hindus and Indians, and thus helped spread Indian math to the Middle Eastern and European worlds), and differential calculus in the early second millenium AD (300-400 years before Newton and Leibniz gave their formulation and treatment of calculus) among other things.

A civilization as developed as that, and that far back, hit a major existential snag when it came under a barrage of foreign invasions, beginning with Muhammad bin Qasim in 700s AD and hasn't recovered from the assaults since. One plausible theory is that the Indians of that era, who by then evolved and ventured into deeper spiritual, philosphical and scientific pursuits became physically too weak (eg, vegetarianism, a concept that originated in Dharmic religions, unless complemented with regular exercise and/or yoga to remain healthy and fit, can make you physically soft and weak) and under-prepared to defend themselves effectively. The struggles that began then continued on through various Islamic invasions and later the colonial subjugation, bringing us evetnaully to the partition and the various developments in the post-independence India (which chose to become a secular democracy, with freedom of religion, unlike Pakistan, which declared itself an Islamic Republic shortly after the partition and has not been good to its religious and ethnic minorities.) We can discuss these at length over time, if we get around to it (over here, or in the "appropriate spaces" you refer to :)).

Also, I'd like to know that,

Also, I'd like to know that, if hypothetically, you came to believe that a Hindu had some responsibility in either personally engaging in violence or promoting violence against others or treating others as not equal, would that person be acting in the spirit of Hinduism?  Would they still be 'Hindu'?  Is it a matter of self-identification or is some notion of adherence to those values relevant?  And where does the notion of intellectual honesty enter into the equation?


"personally engaging in

"personally engaging in violence or promoting violence against others or treating others as not equal, would that person be acting in the spirit of Hinduism?

Violence except in Self-defense is absolutely not in the spirit of Hinduism. It is not in the spirit of true Islam either. Every human beinghas the same right to live (and prosper, availing opportunities available to them. A just society strives to give everyone an opportunity to rise. Independent India has taken many steps to mete out social justice.)

On self-defense, one has to learn to defend himself or herself when under external aggression, or otherwise be prepared to be subjugated, enslaved or killed. After hundreds of years of brutal Islamic invasions, Hindus did begin to learn to defend themselves. That's why Shavaji was able to build and expand the Maratha empire into a large and powerful one. But then the British came in (some Muslim rulers gave them the initial military access) and used divide and conquer tricks to defeat and rule everyone.

Then the Partition of India was used to break India apart and set up a permanent enemy for India to contend with. An undivided India (with a secular democracy as the Indian portion of the divided India currently is) would have made several fold the progress (in education, economy, science and technology, national security, etc) for all its people, regardless of their religion ( and caste, creed, etc), than India has been able to manage while struggling under the incredible weight of being persistently harassed by Pakistan's wars, terrorism and other monkey business.

See, the root of almost most of the problems caused to India over the Islamic conquests, being continued through the present day by Pakistan's monkey business, seems to come from some sort of cultural arrogance on the part of (some) Muslims to dominate other people's lives and the world, and to expand Islam using whatever means available.

Hindus, on the other hand, unless they are facing existential threats, want to live, let live, and go on to pursue spiritual, philosophical and scholarly endeavors (some of them doing business and other worldly stuff too.) You need to ask yourself:
1. why some Muslims seem to have this need for domination.

Now, 59 Hindu pilgrims were burnt alive in the Godhra train carnage. 5 terrorists plotted the burtal killing and they goaded thousands of local Muslims by inciting them to mob the train and lock the Hindus inside the compartment; they then poured Gasoline and burned them alive. Next question:

2. Do you feel empathy for the 59 Hindus burnt alive in that train?

Retaliation to that carnage led to the deaths of so many in the end (I do feel terrible for both Hindu and Muslim innocents that lost their lives in the entire episode.) You don't expect Hindus, after 59 of them were grotesquely charred to death to lie down and submit themselves to be further brutalized, do you?

You need to also ask yourself why:
2. committing such heinous terrorist acts came easily to those terrorists
3. why so many Muslims allowed themselves to be goaded into violence against Hindus on that train.

The Muslim community definitely needs to do a lot introspection as things stand in today's world. There are seemingly a few fundamentalist elements, being leveraged by power/domination hungry politicians and other political players, in turn goading regular Muslims into attacking non-Muslims. This has happened through out the history of Islam, as clearly seen in the brutality against Hindus over the part 1300 years. World peace will only come about if intelligent and educated Muslims figure out a way overpower the fundamentalist elements and then build bridges to the non-Muslim world. It's very much possible, although the crushing silencing of the reform movement in Iran was disheartening to see.

So your argument is that

So your argument is that Hinduism is a diverse set of traditions but shares a few values not just internally but with other faiths that have some roots in South Asia, should be construed as a set of values and a civlisation rather than a religion, and is generally peaceful, but faces an 'existential threat' for the past 1300 years.

Some pieces of evidence to refute this in the hear and now, without getting into a back and forth on historical narratives:
There are probably around 1 billion Hindus in the world, and most of them  reside in a state where Hinduism is not just respected, but has major political sway in a variety of forms (from the upper class / upper caste leadership of CPI(M) to the legal recognition of Hindu ceremonies and values to the combination of demographics and political system).  Moreover, this state does not face any major external threats to its existence, although it is embroiled in one major sustained conflict, which could turn into another soon.  Moreover, it is and has been a massive recipient of aid over its 60 years, is allied to the military and economically most powerful country in the world, and other militarily and economically powerful states.  Further, diasporic Hindus in many countries tend to enjoy a high level of freedom of religion and worship and personal safety.

Do you disagree with these assertions?  Or do they fit in with the worldview that you've presented in some way that I'm not able to grasp?

I am not in agreement with

I am not in agreement with some of things you say, although I will only respond to a subset of them.

"So your argument is that Hinduism is a diverse set of traditions but shares a few values not just internally but with other faiths that have some roots in South Asia, should be construed as a set of values and a civlisation rather than a religion, and is generally peaceful, but faces an 'existential threat' for the past 1300 years."

Sort of, but in a day to day sense, it is also a religion, under the classification of Dharmic religions.

BTW, what's this deal with Pakistanis and Indian Muslims insisting on using "South Asia," and to blank out references to India and the Indian subcontinent (the "Indian subcontinent" in a well-defined entity in geological, historical, cultural and political senses)? It's a trap set by China, to undermine the identity of India and the cultures of the people of the subcontinent. Since Asia is closely associated with China for the outside world, "South Asia" then becomes a sort of China's underling. If you are from the subcontinent, almost certainly your ancestors were Hindus that lived in the Indian subcontinent, and so you have the inheritance of the Indian and Hindu civilization, (whether you want it or not :)). Be proud of your roots instead of rejecting them.

"There are probably around 1 billion Hindus in the world"

About 850-900 million.

"major sustained conflict"

Which one?

"which could turn into another soon. Moreover, it is and has been a massive recipient of aid over its 60 years"

Indian didn't much aid relative to its size. It built itself up by investing in education from the beginning. When that investment (I have heard that there are more professionals of Indian origin than of any other ethnic origin; it's probably close to being true, with the possible exception of the Chinese), by 2003, India became a net contributor to the IMF.

"Further, diasporic Hindus in many countries tend to enjoy a high level of freedom of religion and worship and personal safety."

That's almost entirely true in the western world, but elsewhere it is spotty, and it is the opposite of what happened to Hindus that stayed in Pakistan at the time of partition. There were about 12-15% Hindus in the original Pakistan, but now there are only 1.6% (2002 census) in the current Pakistan, and are a shrinking minority in Bangladesh (9% in 2001 census.) Hardly any Hindus rose to any decent degree of political power in the combined Pakistan. 2.5 million were killed in 1971 in East Pakistan. Apparently, Pakistan had 300 Hindu temples originally, but now there no more than a dozen or so. Pakistan's persecution of Hindus is only a part the larger scale of persecution of all minorities, including minority Islamic sects, there.

What do you personally think of Ahmadis being declared "non-Muslims" by Pakistani government in 1974 and of them being denied even voting rights (even in the most recent election)?

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan were denied voting rights

Wed, 2008-02-20 03:11

Colombo, 20 February, (Asian Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Pakistan were denied voting rights in the Parliamentary elections held on 18 February. Since 1985 Ahmadiyya Community is continuously are deprived of exercising their democratic rights due to their religious believes.

Elections took place in Pakistan on 18th February with senior members of the Government claiming that they were conducted freely and fairly. What they failed to disclose was that due to certain wholly unjust provisions, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were denied the fundamental right to vote.

Do you personally think that Ahmadis (who enjoy full religious freedom and other rights in India) are not real Muslims?

Do you agree with them being denied the right to vote in Pakistan? Especially in light of Ahmadis' contributions to Pakistan (Zafrullah Khan and Abdus Salam being two examples), isn't it a national disgrace to persecute them? When is this horrible treatment of Ahmadis going to change in Pakistan? And what are you doing about it?

correcting a typo with some

correcting a typo with some rewording: When that investment (in education) started paying off, by 2003, India became a net contributor to the IMF.

One key point that I missed

One key point that I missed is this. Even though there are 800 million Hindus in India, their percentage has shrunk significantly since independence. Muslim population quadrupled from 1951 to 2001, but Hindus (including dalits) only increased 2.7 fold. Also, the growing Naxalite threat, aggressive missionary conversion activity and divisive politics that pit people against each other (instead of solving problems while also uniting people towards a common purpose) are serious internal problems of significant strength.

the upper class / upper caste

the upper class / upper caste leadership of CPI(M)

Dr. A, can you provide a link for this?

I can't, actually.  My source

I can't, actually.  My source is mainly conversations with a few people that have studied West Bengal as actvists.  It should be verified, though, so I'll work on that.  Thanks for the request.

'2. Do you feel empathy for

'2. Do you feel empathy for the 59 Hindus burnt alive in that train?'

Yes.  I feel empathy for anyone burnt in any train, as most human beings do.  But do you assume that only Hindus feel empahty for other Hindus?  Why is it difficult to emphathise with the pogroms against Muslims in gujarat, christian priests, and others - does it not give you pause that in a religion which you argue is premised on respect for life, so much slaughted is being conducted, even though by your own statistics and arguments the vast majority of Indians are Hindu (i.e. not about to disappear) and that in some/many diasporas Hindus are able to worship freely?  To believe otherwise, (e.g. threats from demographics, maoists or in other contexts) seems paranoid to me, and results in justifying people being slaughtered in the name of your religion.

secondly, is it possible to read the history of south asia (it is mainly used by people like me from the aemrican diaspora) and what is going on today without seeing it 'as a hindu'?  Much of what you say is grossly offensive  to me - for example, do you believe that one cannot sympathise with Ahmadis in Pakistan just because one does not agree with Hindutva?  It is possible to say - i oppose the slaughter of or discrimination against or violence against all people - whether by the Pakistani government, the Indian government (1984, Telengana, West bengal in the 1970s, and many other isntances), the bangladeshi government, the American government, various social forces, british colonialism, the sri lankan governmentm, the israeli state, islamists, or anyone else.  This does not seem difficult for me to adopt as a principle, yet with many people who call themselves 'Hindu' in a political sense, they tend to be unable to take such a stance. 

It is, imo, the stance of the silent majority of thebillions of people in the world, but it seems to go ignored until we bother to yell. 

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