Indian Religious Landscape Survey

This is a very simple poll. I posted a couple of these questions on Twitter (@omarali50) and want to do the same here. The idea is to test a hypothesis (not about what will happen to the Indian religious landscape, but what do readers of this blog THINK will happen to it, and why) which will be part of a later blog post I plan. For now, please take this very simple 3 question survey by scrolling down within the survey below.. and comment on the post as you see fit.. We may learn something, or at least have some interesting discussions..

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

69 thoughts on “Indian Religious Landscape Survey”

  1. The relative positions of H/I/X pops will be maintained , take or leave 5%. That was my answer.

    More interesting question would be what will be the position of Islam world over in 100 years time.

        1. Hindu population is already around 70 percent if you include crypto Christians.

  2. A word or two about Christianity.
    There is no chance that Christianity will overtake Islam. What is Christianity? There is not only one Christianity. Catholicism is a very rigid kind of Christianity which very much interferes with people’s private lives. It is actually a big corporation which operates as a state within the state. They have their own banks, media, political parties, think tanks, secret service, properties (the largest real estate owner) etc. They have a direct influence on politics and politicians in countries where they are majority. However, their influence is decreasing in Western countries and less and less people going to the church. Their influence is still strong in Latin America’s countries. They will try to do missionary work, i.e. to aggressively conquer new territories in Africa and Asia. India will be one of their targets. They see Orthodox Christianity as enemies and several times in AC history inspired genocides against them and against indigenous people in Latin America. They have long term imperial strategies, operate on Machiavellian principles, often falsifying history.

    Anglican Church led by English royals is really pathetic. The strongest base they have in Nigeria and some poor Commonwealth countries. They may also try to revive themselves in India based on glorifications of colonial past and people’s short memory or Stockholm’s syndrome. They should be reminded by thinking people to recognise 85 million killed and starved in India under their colonial rule and to work on reconciliation and forgiveness. Sooner or later, they will reunite again with Catholics.

    Orthodox Church is trying to follow original tenets of Christianity, sometimes looks old fashioned and anachronistic but, paradoxically, this is its strength. They resist modernity (and post modernity), sincerely believe and preach the brotherhood and love among the people. Very passive, sometime look masochistic. They remain us on our old lovable grandfathers whose time is over but they are still around acting as guardians of ancient knowledge. Not interested to conquer new territories, o0perate often within national boundaries.

    Protestant churches try to follow the modernity, giving positions to gays and lesbians, moving further from original tenets will finish as interest or community based social groups, who practice Christmas/Easter celebrations, and that’s it. American style protestant churches are aggressive to enter new markets, attract younger with show style services, modern music and actually they do not have anything with Christianity, they even do not have a cross. Sometimes they are organised as aggressive sects, you can expect them to conduct strong marketing and recruitment campaign.

    1. Milan, I agree with you about RC . It is the most sophisticated and long lived organization with a prestige and clout at all levels of the society. I mean ‘sophisticated’ partly in a cynical sense and partly as an appreciation. Even one hundredth of it’s scandals and persecutions of it’s opponents and it’s own followers would have sunk any other organization long time back ; communism could not even last 80 years. From it’s early persecution of pagans to pedophile scandals of recent decades, it is mired in some scandal or other. Yet it commands the allegiance , overt and covert , of sizable and influential sections of society , especially in India. So far it has grown and maintained by hitching it’s stars to the bandwagon of western imperialism ;no, in fact more than hitching ; it has been an ideological fuel of western imperialism. With it’s involvement in education and hospital sector in India , it has got a strong clout in India , still it’s heart is the west I think.

      1. Indian RC’s heart is in the west since it’s primary allegiance is to the Pope and we know where his heart lies. Below layers of soft papal verbiage is a contempt for non-European cultures and other religions

  3. @Omar

    While it is always silly to predict human behaviour, let me be a little silly and bold and claim that “Christianity” could well become the 2nd largest religion in India by 22c by gaining converts from both Hindus and Muslims (obv more from Hindus as they are more in number). In fact, I expect native Christian churches to have Mormonic characteristics – so not quite the model we are used to.

    In fact, I expect many local Christian and other Hindu (or even mixed doctrine) churches/deras in India – the Gurmeet Ram Rahim effect. I expect most of them to plateau off at some stable equilibrium size, but a few to really grow, in effect spawning off novel religious denominations.

    Jews/Arabs stole the march from us with their funky products in late antiquity. But the real innovator and disruptor in this space always has been (and will be) us 🙂

    1. i think this is most likely if christianity becomes a de facto ‘new religious movement’, not christianity tied to western motifs or the indigenous traditions of india (syriac).

      1. Christianity in India, esp new evangelical churches, are already at a remove from Western motifs. One of the features of Christianity is the ability to shed cultural baggage and preach in local languages (after all the Ethnologue is an entirely Christian invention). Makes the faith less prone to elitism and more adaptable – easier to plug and play and more amenable to the franchise model. That is why I would bet on its longer-term future in heathen India (and China).

        Also I am betting on Indian creativity (and real out-of-the-box thinking) to come up with whacky versions of the faith, some of which will stick and grow. All speculative of course.

        1. Slapstick

          Evangelical Christianity is a few steps removed from Wahabbism. However, it has two attractions to the disenfranchised.

          a) Everyone is Brother/Sister with physical hugs and kisses including the visiting Americans. They also visit every home, sit, eat, help out, specially in the poorer homes. Upper caste Hindus (and Buddhists Priests in Sri Lanka) are going to have a hard time competing with that physical and community spirit.

          b) Evangelicals invest, i.e. Education/schools set up jobs thru connections and then collect later on in tithes. Saudi Arabia/Wahabbi does similar, but will just teaching the Koran/Arabic result in employable people, and tithes/donations thereof.

    2. Razib and Slapstik, wouldn’t a ‘new religious movement’ simply be a Hindu with Jesus as Ishta Devata? This is already true for a large number of Hindus; and Hindus have no problem with this since Hindus revere Jesus. The most radical hard right Hindus (whatever that means) have no issue with Hindus worshiping Jesus as their Ishta Devata.

      1. It will be the Bahai faith – Baha’u’llah is now Baha Bhagwan in India.

        Bahai Faith will have to dramatically Saffronjse but it can do that; I wanted to share a video

        Im not able to directly link to the exact time but go to 18:39 and one can see how Bahá’í Faith can complement India.

        My only worry is the extent to which the Faith will have to Dharmacise; we are going to have to discard a lot of Persian cultural baggage (garbage?) as we transform (and are transformed) by India.

        I for one don’t see any incompatibility between idol worship and the Faith.. The exactitude of Bahai teachings will have to tempered in the more relaxed Eastern climes.

        Islam of course will always prove to the most difficult to the Faith but nothing can stop the tide of the New World Order.

        1. Video hyperlink?

          How is Bahá’í faith different from Hinduism? Or is it not different? I already think of Bahá’í as a syncretic faith within the broader Arya Sanathana Dharma open source architecture ecosystem. Can someone be Bahá’í and many other religions at once? [Hindus can and often claim to be. This is why Gandhi claimed to be a muslim, christian, buddhist etc.] I so, can a Hindu just claim to be Bahá’í without having to change anything? If so, I want to join!

          1. Yes Bahais can marry under Any religious ceremony except Islam. Because in the Niqah there is a condition that Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) is the last messenger, which we of course don’t accept.

            We have Ganesh idol and we are waiting on the Nataraj and they coexist happily with a picture of Abdul Baha..

        2. Baha Bhagwan in India

          If it is any consolation, Ahura Mazda was typically referred to as Baga or Baga-vant (lit. endowed with grace, dignity) in Old Persian inscriptions (OP suffix -vant > -vand in Modern Persian; cf. bog = God in Russian).

          bhagavAn is coming full-circle via a rather circuitous route.

      2. @AnAn

        Not necessarily. You are thinking about it using a traditional Hindu straitjacket. But reality is FAR more messy and Indians can be WAY more heterodox than you (or anyone) can predict. The birth and branching-off of Sikhism from Hindus (and various quasi-Sikh cults off Sikhism proper in turn) is an obvious case in point.

        In general, India has always had a variation of deras and baba-cults spawning off organically. Most do not follow (or care about) what iSTadeva refers to. That is entirely your theological categorization.

        (PS: You keep an open mind, but only in some directions :))

        1. Hmmm. So let us ignore the terminology linguistic gymnastics. Maybe we are speaking of the same thing? Perhaps you mean deras and baba-cults spawning off organically that reject Sarva Dharma [all paths might (or do) lead to the same goal]. Hinduism already has many deras, baba-cults and sects of this type.

          What is an example of quasi-Sikh cults splitting off of Sikhism proper?

          Many Hindus attend Gurudwaras. Sikhs welcome them. Have these Sikhs branched off of Hinduism? Is the answer complicated and nuanced?

          1. What is an example of quasi-Sikh cults splitting off of Sikhism proper?

            Dera Sach Khand (Ravidasis), Radha Svamis, Dera Sacha Sauda, Nirankaris…

            Have these Sikhs branched off of Hinduism?

            Sikhs are not Hindus, mate. That boat sailed long ago. My family is related to (lapsed) Jatt Sikhs by marriage so I intimately know what I am talking about.

            However, Sikhs and Hindus in N India are connected by close cultural and kinship ties. So you can speak of Sikhi and Hinduism (and Jains etc) belonging to some sort of Dharmic zeitgeist, just as you have Judeo-Christian zeitgeist in the West.

          2. Would Udasis be considered one of them, since founded by Nanak’s brother? One of the primary reason of the original resentment of sikhs vis-a-vis hindus i feel is the role of Udasis. Without them i wonder what would have been the hindu-sikh relationship.

          3. “Dera Sach Khand (Ravidasis), Radha Svamis, Dera Sacha Sauda, Nirankaris…”
            Don’t know about them. Wow you are informed!

            “Ahura Mazda was typically referred to as Baga or Baga-vant”
            True. Isn’t this the same as modern Bhagavan but pronounced differently?

            Many Zorastrians have said they believe Zoroaster was born before 1000 BC. Do you think this could be correct? [Obviously we don’t know for sure.]

            I have read Indologist papers suggesting that Iranians worshiped the Daityas and Danavas before the birth of Zoroaster. What are your thoughts on this?

            Slapstik, you are extraordinarily knowledgeable and intelligent. This is an observation without any virtue signaling or political correctness.

          4. I think there is a typo. Udasis were formed by Nanaka’s son Sri Chand–who I think the world of.

            Saurav, Karan, Slapstik: Something happened in the early 1900s (some say 1906) that caused a split:
            –between Hinduism and Sikhism
            –caused many famous Sikh Gurudhwaras to remove Hindu deities and worship of Hindu deities from inside their shrines
            –caused a split with the Udasis
            –caused a split with the Sanathana Sikhs
            –caused a split between Khalsa and non Khalsa Sikhs

            Is anyone willing to write an article about what the heck happened? Not that it matters much. Hindus still attend Sikh Gurudwaras in large numbers. Including Hindus who understand Punjabi.

        2. I see examples of hindu heterodoxy as well as rise of countervailing forces of hindu monotheism at play as well. The rise of ethno-religious hindu, less spiritual /religious more interested in real world issues like politics and power for Hindu-dom.

          1. Slapstik +1 great comment, mate

            All those who say that Sikhs are the same as Hindus are basically denying them their identity. For most south Indian hindus like myself, Sikhs are an exotic bunch with a fuzzy connection (the golden temple being called Harimandir sahib, for example) but this is probably no more than say the connection of Islam to Judaism – an overlapping set of beliefs and gods/prophets but a divergence ever since. And this ‘Dharmic Zeitgeist’ is again a problematic concept in India, since the majority of Indian Buddhists for example are recent low caste converts who explicitly reject Hindu beliefs. So any efforts to consider them ‘one of us’ is again a denial of this basic reality.

            The way I see Hindu identity evolving in India is less through a ritualistic and more through a nationalistic channel like other commenters have mentioned. In parallel, I also see Christianity (and maybe even Islam to a smaller extent) ‘Indianising’. Most south indian christians for example have ‘hindu’ names and aren’t very outwardly religious.

            Another possible trajectory is that many castes may want to split off and claim a separate religion status, at least on paper – like the Lingayats in Karnataka. This may help them get around the oft-lamented (and in my view justified) hindu complaint of not having any autonomy over educational and religious institutions.

          2. I have been saying for months that Sikhs are not a type of Hindu and to insist that they are is really offensive to them. AnAn didn’t seem to get it until it was pointed out by Slapstik. Well, hope he gets it now.

          3. And this ‘Dharmic Zeitgeist’ is again a problematic concept in India, since the majority of Indian Buddhists for example are recent low caste converts who explicitly reject Hindu beliefs.

            Thanks Siddharth.

            I think you are conflating an “is” with an “ought” above. If the question is whether Sikhs are Hindus, the answer is obviously NO. But if the question is whether Sikh Panth is “Dharmic” (a broader category of Indic faiths, with certain broad commonalities) then the answer is YES.

            However, the above is a statement of sociological fact (or a good approximation thereof), not a normative moral judgement. A Sikh may simply identify as non-Dharmic (she/he’d have to jump through a LOT of theological hoops, but may be possible) and the above statement will not contradict her/his right to self-identify as such. Nor would the Indian Constitution, in fact.

            Similarly, a Hindu may see his religion in a very expansive light, encompassing Sikhism or even Christianity. AnAn is probably an example of such a person (apologies to him, if I have misconstrued). And she/he has full right to think so – again a lot of mental and theological gymnastics required to defend such a position, but may be possible.

            Ultimately, who is a Hindu or a Sikh and what kind of algebra relates the two sets is a classification problem, and the set definitions used in legal, moral, theological, social etc uses may not be exactly congruent. The definition I typically use for such sets of Hindus and Sikhs is social/anthropological. Hindus and Sikhs form a single large sociological group in India – who inter-dine, inter-marry and inter-inebriate (:D) – and yet keep clear religious distinction. Hindus can (and do) choose to baptize as Sikhs, for example. Label this commonality Dharmic, or Indic or whatever you fancy.

            So any efforts to consider them ‘one of us’ is again a denial of this basic reality.

            Comparison with Dalit Buddhists is not a neat analogy, because the Dalit identity typically trumps religion in India. E.g. Dalit (chamar) Ravidasi Sikhs branched out of Sikhism for precisely the same reason.


        3. “you can speak of Sikhi and Hinduism (and Jains etc) belonging to some sort of Dharmic zeitgeist, just as you have Judeo-Christian zeitgeist in the West.”

          Till recently , Judeo-Christian zeitgeist in the West was a non-starter ; Jews were severely persecuted in all Christian western countries , with occasional lapses in persecution. Actually western anti-antisemitism can be traced to bring about a monolithic Christian civ in the west.
          Only after the horrors of the World Wars in the 20th century , there is an accent on Judeo-Christian – especially in contrast to the rest of the world.

  4. Going by the increasingly large proportion of Indian (mostly Hindu) youth becoming atheist or only having nominal importance for religion(most BJP supporters among the youth IMO do so out of a sense of cultural nationalism), I feel India will be a largely godless (but still very spiritual) country by the turn of the century (which is a good thing). IMHO I’m not confident the same can be said about Muslim youth. I see a largely agnostic population that is struggling with islamist elements by the turn of the century (if the world survives till then, that is). But I also see India’s assimilative power improve with time (as India becomes more confident with her rising economic status), though I’m not sure if it will be enough to assimilate those elements. Only time will tell.

    1. Secular Indian, many of Hinduism’s most respected scriptures, sects and saints have been called “atheist”; and they are “atheist” from a certain point of view. This has been true from the beginning and remains true.

      What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

  5. Omar,
    Two questions before I venture an answer-

    1. Do you mean India, the state that exists today or India the geography/civilization? The former is 80% H today, the latter ~66%. If you mean the former, it may not exist in its current form in the 22nd century.

    2. By 22nd century, do you mean 2100 or 2199 or say mid-22nd century?

  6. At this moment i don’t care about anything religion, world, revolution or change because i am dead inside as i see no future for world with humans {as nilhilistic non-conformist person} & actually feel that world would be better off without humans hence i don’t like to speculate but i do want to say one thing – End of Hinduism would be the final chapter of Orientalism started by Abrahamic religions.

    Catholic Orientalism: Portuguese Empire, Indian Knowledge (16th – 18th Centuries) (Oxford Theology and Religion M)

  7. I think any such analysis has to incorporate the point that ‘religion’ in India is usually a proxy for orthogonal political/economic/cultural interests and is quite distinct from actual ‘felt’ culture and traditions. Talk to middle class Indian Hindus and Muslims from UP, who have a reasonably secular outlook, and you will hardly be able to tell the difference. Even in the past, apart from the all the theological homilies, the reason for the political chasm between these groups was language (more precisely the script and vocabulary to be used for the common language), and once that conflict was resolved, politics was dominated by the more natural inter caste conflicts, since caste coincides much more strongly with economic (and sometimes cultural) interests.

    Something like race in the US, which coincides with economic interests tremendously, but would certainly take a back seat if Hispanics in a particular region of the US sought to make Spanish the sole official language, which would pit blacks and whites against Hispanics.

    There are two sides to the current political scenario in North India. On the ground, caste is completely dominant, and only charismatic leaders (which could have also come from the Congress were it a meritocratic party), and localized (usually manufactured) riots overcome it temporarily. In the internet world, where there is a preponderance of upper caste Hindu males herded into jobs they dont particularly like (H1B/IT/money allure and legacy of colonialism), and deprived of an organic Indic education due to insistence on English medium, do we see a desire for a strident ‘Hindu politics’. But I doubt these guys can even convince their own wives and girlfriends to fully come on board with such a project.

    This is not to say that there is no threat from religious extremism, especially that rooted in rather non-accommodating Abrahamic faiths, alongwith reactionary Indic nativism, but at the end of the day this is a security issue in India, simply because of the overwhelming prepodarance of Indic faiths, both in terms of numbers and economic power, and the well established mode of constitutional governance.

    Having said all this, I think we are going to see a more marked ‘Indianization’ of most groups in India. This will happen through intermarriage with Hindus, more and more sophisticated Indic literature (graduating from the rather fluffy Amish Tripathi type work and suffocating social realism) being able to expose more nuances of more recent Indian philosophy and history to people (something like Ramayana and Mahabharata did for Vedas and Upanishads) and more pride in an increasingly powerful Indian economy and state.

    So in some sense, I expect the vast majority of Indians to be ‘Hindus’ in the decades to come.

    1. “Something like race in the US, which coincides with economic interests tremendously”

      How so? Do you think over time Latino Americans will socio-economically outperform caucasions leading to a jealous nativist backlash?

      As Indians become richer I think Indians will become more religious/spiritual. This is because people will search for the truth, and because people will search for love and happiness. When the gross thoughts slow or stop . . . stuff happens. And not just deeper control over the concious brain, subconcious brain, unconcious brain and nervous system.

      1. AnAn, I meant that in the US, whites are the professional and business classes (with a small but vocal Asian attached service class), while blacks and Hispanics are the working classes. This ensures that black and Hispanic vote predominantly goes to Democrats, while a majority of whites vote Republican.

        I think as Indians become richer. if they are in India, they have plenty of avenues to engage their brains, but the society lacks a recent, relevant literature that can act as a cultural pole star. We are yet to produce Tolkiens, Rowlings and George RR Martins, although to be honest, nobody has such figures in the modern era except the Anglos, but Indians might produce one soon. This will be a turning point, and play a major part in the ‘Indicization’ of India, as well the spread of Indic thought and culture abroad.

        1. India has produced Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Arundathi Roy, Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Arvind Adiga. The list goes on, and this is just in English.

          1. Kabir, I would argue that with the possible exception of Salman Rushdie, all these authors are heavily invested in the social realism category. I have no problem with social realism as such, and recognize its importance in a literature, but I do think that there should be room for imagination and more epic literary work. Indeed, social realism can be smartly incorporated in such work (think Karna in Mahabharata).

            Its a bit like Indians only producing good batsmen, which is important and difficult, but doesnt complete a cricket team.

            As a young Indian teenager, the only ‘non heavy’ but smart, imaginative literature I had access to were works like Tintin, Famous Five, Hardy Boys etc. Then in college in the US, I came across scifi work like ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ and ‘Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep’. People a bit younger than me (who did college in India) have usually read like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The current generation’s polestar is probably George RR Martin’s work.

            There is virtually no work of any of these kinds in any Indian language and context. The only works that came close in themes but not in scope, were Chacha Chaudhary and Byomkesh Bakshi. Forget anything even remotely near Tolkien, Rowling and Martin.

          2. Well, I don’t like fantasy literature at all. I like stories to be semi-plausible. Of course, as a child I read “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Harry Potter” (but even Harry Potter is basically a boarding school story with Potions instead of Chemistry and evil being defeated every year).

            India has produced “Midnight’s Children” and “A Suitable Boy” (which in my opinion is one of the best novels ever and it is quite epic in scope). I’d say Indian Literature in English is not doing too badly.

          3. Kabir, I guess fantasy literature manages to capture a population’s fancy in a way that various forms of realism just cant. Perhaps, they also allow a wider range of interpretations which enable their use as reference points in varied scenarios.

            I have no doubts about the literary quality of the works you mentioned. But I can tell you that none of these works or authors have the kind of cultural impact in India that Tolkien and George RR Martin have had in the Anglo world.

            Also, the original comment was literature in the context of India’s overall literary heritage. And none of the authors you have quoted (with the exception of Rushdie) really locate themselves in that heritage. Their stories are certainly based in India, and describe specific aspects of Indian society and culture, but they are not connected to India’s heritage the way, for example, Tolkien’s work is influenced by Norse mythology (this is well attested) and Martin’s work by Christianity (‘resurrection’ of Jon Snow, Jon being the only biblical character name, Jon preaching love thy neighbor via Wildlings).

          4. George R R Martin is hardly “Literature”. Literary Fiction has to have some merit in it and be of a certain quality. Martin is genre stuff. People will not be reading him 100 years from now. Harry Potter is for children. “Game of Thrones” from what I saw on TV is full of unnecessary scenes of violence against women and unnecessary deaths. In any case, your tradition of fantasy goes back to the Ramayana which is hardly realistic, what with the demons and the flying monkeys. In Urdu, we had the Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, which has magicians and fairy princesses and other such fantastic elements.

            How is “A Suitable Boy” not connected to India’s literary heritage? The entire thing is about Ghazals, courtesans, the Hindu-Muslim question, Nawabs, Zamindari, and arranged marriages–all very Indian concerns. Yes, it is a novel in the tradition of “Bleak House” and “Middlemarch”, but that is what the serious novel is supposed to be like.

            As for impact, how many Indians read English language fiction and that too serious Literature? In Pakistan, English is read by a small social class and Fiction (or any other form of non-school related reading) is read by an even smaller fraction of that class. Even in the US, there were surveys recently showing that a surprising number of people had not read a single book in the past year. Reading fiction is an acquired taste and it demands educated parents who inculcate that habit early. Not everyone has parents like mine who hand you a Complete Works of Shakespeare at age 10. Before approaching the original, there was Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare”. Which is not to say that as a child, I didn’t read some quite stupid things too, but I knew early on what was Literature with a capital L.

            In any case, for a long time literacy rates in India were so low that you probably wouldn’t expect people to read anything. Film is much more of a mass medium.

        2. Vikram, in America Asians substantially outperform caucasions by every socio-economic measure and the extent of that outperformance is growing rapidly. Within caucasions and hispanics (most of whom are also caucasions) are are several “ethnic” subsets that are rapidly growing in their socio-economic outperformance of most American caucasions.

          One of America’s greatest features or secret sauces from 1775-1980s was that the US did not have economically dominant minorities. Now America increasingly has ethnic groups (immigrants, children of immigrants, Asians, subgroups within the broader hispanic, caucasion community,) that socio-economically substantially outperform the caucasion mainstream.

          “Hispanics” as a group are socio-economically improving the fastest of any group in America. They are likely to converge on caucasion levels soon, although this hasn’t happened yet. If hispanics can keep their cultural secret sauce, they might significantly outperform caucasions in the future . . . but perhaps it is more likely that hispanics will be absorbed into caucasion culture and lose their cultural economic advantages.

          Of course there is no such thing as caucasion or hispanic anywhere in the world. Both of these are extremely diverse groupings with large numbers of subgroups, ethnicities and races. Most “hispanics” self identify and are identified by the general population as caucasion. Because hispanics increasingly outperform caucasions in various domains, many hispanics identify as “white” to avoid being discriminated against for affirmative action and “diversity” purposes. At other times they identify as “hispanic” when being identified as “hispanic” is more useful.

          Males without college degrees in America overwhelmingly support Trump. But Trump is not a Republican (except in name).

          Please see the article series on American culture at BP. More detail on these subjects is coming.


          Literature is a different unrelated matter. Would you include Tagore in this category? How about Laskhman Joo? I have many of Lakshman Joo’s books and think more highly of him than all the authors you mentioned above. Of course many of my closest friends are Kashmiri. India has many great Sufi masters too . . . but they try to keep a low profile (maybe for fear of assassination?) Many millions of foreigners visit India for spiritual reasons every year. This is India’s greatest strength.

          In the east; culture, secularism, literature, religion, spirituality, music, songs, poetry, sculpture, painting and art are the same thing. There is no difference. The idea that there might be a difference is a 1500s Abrahamic concept related to Christian and Muslim concepts of blasphemy. In eastern philosophy these concepts don’t exist. The East is built on freedom of art, thought, intuition and feeling. Anyone can sing, say, write anything about anything. Europe and Canada don’t have as much freedom because of post modernism, political correctness and quaint ideas about things such as speech can be violence, “racism”, “bigotry”, “sectarianism”, “oppression”, “imperialism”, “exploitation” etc. The east is built on “love” and freedom; not fake virtue signaling and politically correct linguistic gymnastics.

          I think India is at the cusp of an art revolution which might be the subject of future articles.

          1. With due respect, I feel that litterateurs like Tagore and even Premchand were overly focused on social realism, and in my opinion, this has severely curtailed the potential of Indian literature.

            Just imagine if every Hindi movie was only about social realism, no Sholay, no Deewar, no Shakti, no Andaaz Apna Apna. Even a script like that of Dangal would be beyond the acceptable parameters for such authors, and their descendants mentioned by Kabir earlier.

          2. Very interesting Vikram. Some of my friends are leading scholars of Tagore; so I hesitate to say too much about him . . . because I might be wrong and so informed.

            Tagore created a very wide spectrum of content. Have you listened to his Bengali songs and poetry? Tagore spoke to the heart of the human experience with extensive de facto discussions of religion, spirituality, meditation, samadhi, mysticism. The only way Tagore could have composed these peaces of art is if he had extensively experienced meditation, samadhi, kundalini, love. Part of his genius is that he was able to express them through what the world regarded as “secular” artistry. Of course the vast majority of those who read him understand less than 1 basis point (1/10,000th) of the full meaning. But that is okay 🙂

            Vikram, like me you should try to read the 18 Maha Purana Itihasas (some of which have 12 volume english translations), the Valmiki Ramayana Itihasa, Mahabharata Itihasa, Hari Vamsha Itihasa, the Vedas, Agamas, Kashmiri Shaivism scriptures, Nath Sampradaya scriptures, Tirumantiram, Buddhist scriptures (hundreds of books on this alone), Gaudapada Karika, Shankaracharya’s works, Sufi works, Tulsidasa, Kamban, Yoga Sutras, and too many others to mention. Read these together with ancient Iranian, Turanian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Germanic,Norse texts. The commonalities and inter-connectedness is breathtaking.

            There is an extraordinarily vast quantity of interlocking story, narrative, art, logos, heart, character, mystery, wonder, mythos (all good mythos is partly real), humor in them.

            I don’t know about Premchand.

          3. AnAn, I do find Tagore’s Bengali poetry stirring and inspiring. But I find his stories, out of date, if that makes any sense. I am not exposed to all of his corpus of work, so might be wrong on this though.

            In any case, Tagore’s literature has been unable to fulfil the role of a literary cultural pole in India. Few young Indians, especially outside Bengal, care to read him.

  8. If what is happening in Sri Lanka is anything to go by, then Evangelical Christianity is on the rise. Why, because they Evangelize and reach out people at all levels of society.

    Roman Catholics generally dont change faith. Significant number of establishment Protestant Christians (Anglicans/Methodists) are at the very least attending Evangelical churches.

    Evangelicals are making inroad among the Hindu Tea estate workers. Buddhist families facing crises or poor are also joining the Evangelicals.

    If I was an oppressed Shudra/Dalit in India I would become a Evangelical Christian. A westernized organizations with backing by the US. In contrast Buddhism is “intellectual” and essentialy a self help program. Neither can Buddha provide divine help as he is not a God.

    Another issue, Roman Catholics and Protestants are lumped together as Christians. Catholic/Protestant divide is probably bigger than Sunni/Shia. Evangelicals have a distinct loathing for Catholicism, and often refer to the Pope as Satan.

    Disclosure: Paternal and Maternal families are Protestant (Anglican/Methodist). Quite a few of them have moved on to become Evangelical Christians, including my parent and sisters. One of my Brother in Law is a Catholic and that sparks “interesting” comments from my mother (now 92).

    1. I understand why conversion to Christianity would make sense but it faces two roadblocks in India

      1. Your personal social standing will hardly change(separate church/mosque for dalit converts), you will still have to move in the same social circles , face the same issues, the conversion may remove the social stigma but only after couple of generation where no one can trace it back to your original caste, and even that would happen if you drop your surname. No one plans that long term.

      2. If you are poor the immediate access to caste quotas in jobs/education vis-a-vi small number of quota in few institution set up up Christians. If you convert you lose immediate access to affirmative action. In the south to circumvent this,entire christian and muslim dalits/OBCs are grouped under caste quotas and the percentage is jacked up to 70-80 percent (Tamil Nadu has 90 percent i think), so that conversion is not an issue for quota jobs/education.

        1. Two points:
          1) why Shudra + Dalit/Harijan/untouchable versus only Dalit/Harijan/untouchable? [Maybe Shudra are not harmed much by caste?]
          2) Dalit/Harijan/untouchable economic empowerment is almost completely unrelated to caste, racism, bigotry, sectarianism, exploitation, oppression, imperialism, hegemony etc. Often the most oppressed/harmed groups perform the best.

  9. “AnAn, I do find Tagore’s Bengali poetry stirring and inspiring. But I find his stories, out of date, if that makes any sense. I am not exposed to all of his corpus of work, so might be wrong on this though.

    In any case, Tagore’s literature has been unable to fulfil the role of a literary cultural pole in India. Few young Indians, especially outside Bengal, care to read him.”

    This I didn’t know. Too many people very close to me have are deeply embedded in Tagore. I suspect part of the issue is that both of us have seen a very small fraction of his work. If you are interested, I can put you in touch with the foremost living experts on Tagore.

    I find some of Tagore’s stories very moving. I was moved to tears to Tagore’s words on Imam Hussein.

    I forgot to mention most of the works that have moved me in the above list.

    I would add many books from the Ramakrishna order.

    Slapstik Pandit 😉 . . . have you read Dara Shikoh and Jahanara’s books. I have heard amazing things about them but don’t know how to read Parsi/Dari 🙁

    I mean many of us can figure out large chunks of the spoken language because it is so similar to our own.

    Have you read Kashmir’s great Sufi works? Lakshman Joo’s works?

    Vikram, I have thousands of books on shelf. How can someone find time to read new books?

  10. Vikram,

    Do you think Indian Literature will ever have popularity of Tolkien given that there is no unified language?

    Just recently a Telugu movie was made from an old popular novel and was a great hit. But the popular novels tend to be only the romantic ones since women are seen as the ones with enough time for enjoying fiction.

    Men read serious items as spiritual or social reality ones. Do you think this is conducive for fantasy books to be universally popular?

    The latest popular English fiction is not written for serious readers. It was such a pain to read Amish Tripathi even though he had many creative and interesting ideas.

    So, should we expect fantasy genre in Indian English at all when so many alternatives exist to experience fantasy (eg. Bahubali)?

    1. VioletTwilight, in my opinion, language is not a problem. In the cinema world, we see ideas from Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi cinemas getting transplanted quite often. Ideas clearly matter more than language, even though each language has its own singular experience.

      There are elements of fantasy and magic in extant Indian literature, and these are ideas Indian audiences are well familiar with, even if they are masked under divine/religious justifications. I dont think eschewing the religious background for fantasy will be a great disconnect.

      I think the bigger problem is simply the desire to write books with imaginative content, free of choke hold of social realism, and in tune with heritage of Indian literature. The psychological scars of colonialism were immense (and we are not the only ones who have suffered), and there remains the lure of Western readers who pay in dollars, but will only consume social realism themed books from Indian authors.

      1. Vikram,

        Just so I understand you better, is it your expectation that Bahubali movie like story be well-written as a book rather than being a film medium?

        Because, writers for movies are likely to make more profit than fiction writers. This is driven by large population being non-English speakers who like their entertainment in their native tongue.

        For example, Yandamoori Veerendranath in Telugu wrote about black magic fantasy which sold well. I brought up Amish Tripathi because he did fantasy well but fell very short of language command.

        Were you expecting non-religious fantasy stories to be popular world-wide instead? But, won’t that depend on playing the publishing game well? I see a lot of Indian cook book writers doing that game with a mix of grandma recipes and memories combined.

      2. Also, want to let you know that Kiran Desai wrote Hullabaloo in Guava Orchard, which is more magic realism/fantasy (and quite fun) but got the Booker prize for the Inheritance of Loss. So…it’s not really the lack of writing but more of popularity.

  11. VioletTwilight,the underlying reason for the lack of popularity is that modern Indian authors have been overly committed to social realism. Authors as a group are not seen as popular figures (there are some exceptions). There is a disconnect between the middle/lower middle classes (the major potential market) and the authors, since all too often authors only fulfil the role of native informants for Westerners, especially when it comes to English language writing.

    Note that I am speaking as a Haryanvi origin English medium educated Mumbaikar, so might be lacking a lot of information of how the Indian language literature scene outside of Hindi and Marathi work.

    Another way of thinking about it is this. Until private TV channels came along, Hindiphone Indians only had social realism serials like Shanti and Hum Log on DD to choose from. Once the native market had a bigger say, the content of the shows changed dramatically (whether the English medium classes like these shows is a different discussion). But it is only an evolution of these shows which can be a genuinely decolonized Indian television series.

    Note that as soon as Netflix and Western money entered the fray, the Anurag Kashyap types offer up social realism (with some blood and sex) on TV again.

    We’ve simply never had a proper Indian market develop for expansive, modern Indic literature. I would say that folks like Chetan Bhagat and Tripathi really created this market, and it will take some time for it to mature and motivate more complex work.

    1. The job of writers is to produce Literature. Not to cater to the tastes of the lower and middle classes. If the lower middle classes don’t appreciate good Literature, they need to be educated. Bollywood is there to keep the middle classes entertained.

      Even in the US, the lower classes aren’t exactly reading “The Great Gatsby”.

      1. Kabir, this logic does not explain why Anglos have so much high quality non ‘Great Gatsby’ type literature.

        One of Ashis Nandy’s key contributions was to show how colonialism had a psychological, and not just economic/political impact. Colonialism left elite Indians with a distinct sense of feeling to justify everything they consumed and enjoyed to the colonizers. This is understandable since employment in the Raj was the most popular path to economic mobility and industrial life.

        Indian cinema did not have to obey such constraints since the early entrepreneurial entertainers were able to create a market outside the colonized classes. For example, Prithivraj Kapoor used to do street plays across India during the Quit India movement. And the result is that Indian cinema has produced a truly expansive spectrum of work, ranging from ‘Court’ (movie of record for Mumbai) to HAHK/DDLJ types (likely to be forgotten once a generation grows up with no conception of marriage restrictions) to Baahubali (epic).

        Indian literature has no such expansive footprint. Due to the psychological and economic dependence on the Western ‘India social realism’ market, a large chunk of thoughtful writers remain disconnected from the market in India and the authors who serve it.

        A similar scenario is seen in journalism as well, where the elite English language media (which has many assets) is more connected to the international English media (BBC, NYT, WaPo) than Indian language media. One can check how many times leading English language journalists like Barkha Dutt cite articles from NYT/WaPo etc on their twitter lines compared to those from Indian language media. India must be the only country in the world where foreign news media relies on authors from media houses with a miniscule readership in their home country for op-eds etc. I have never seen NYT/WaPo carry a piece from a Dainik Jagran, Daily Thanthi, ABP journalist.

        They would have done similar things with Indian cinema, but Bollywood forces them to pay attention and acknowledge a broader India.

        1. Why would an American newspaper cite a Hindi newspaper? American newspapers are just better, especially papers of record like the New York Times and the Washington Post. It’s not all just colonialism. Journalism is of a higher quality in the West as is Literature. Also, obviously foreign media is going to get op-eds from people who write in correct English. English is what matters.

          Yes, it is true that the West has a lot of genre literature. But those of us who study Literature don’t take it seriously. There is the Western Canon and then there are books that the average person reads for entertainment. Don’t confuse the categories.

          The good thing about the US is that over four years of English Literature classes in high school even people who are never going to read a non-required book in their lives at least know who Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald are. That is what the standard of good writing is. In Pakistan, supposedly “educated” people cannot quote a single couplet of Ghalib, which is frankly pathetic.

        2. @Vikram

          Good points! The op-ed pages of western newspapers will continue to highlight the adherents of the “universal civilization” who are only ethnically Indian, and understandably. A surfeit of upper middle class Indians who have seceded from the very society they live in do cloud more organic voices from appearing in such media. On the other hand, the relevance of such western validation is in precipitous decline and Indian writers, even in English, will begin to write primarily for Indians. Aatish Taseer wrote in 2015 of the boatman he met in Varanasi who looked forward to sending “this government of the English packing” with the rise of Modi. That hasn’t quite happened but the market for Indian authors, even those whose rise was mediated by the “universal” establishment is shifting homewards as Taseer himself wrote, wistfully, this month that after the rape of colonialsm ended 70 years ago, the seduction of cultural authority is also now ending. I am, however, skeptical if an Indianized English can ever be a medium for an authentic Indian conversation or a nursery of organic Indian ideas.

          Extensive translation between Indian languages (as a web, not hub and spoke through English medium) is necessary to stimulate a shared Indian literature. Vivek Shanbaug’s recent Kannada novel Ghachar Gochar read as an Indian work written for an Indian audience on its own terms. Many of the cherished novels in Malayalam draw on myths (pan-Indian as well as Yakshi/Chattan etc…), one of the most famous being M.T’s Randaam-Oozham which tells Mahabharata from Bhima’s perspective. I’d love to discover the best authentic voices from the Indo-Gangetic heartland; unfortunately the Malayalam literati still translate very little Indian work that hasn’t been validated abroad.

          1. Thanks Zack. Mehendi Laga ke Rakhna wont be forgotten for sure.

            @MadhSang, agree with almost everything you say. Regarding Indian English, I think it is here to stay. As sophisticated as Indian languages are, English can currently express far more complex thought due to its much larger vocabulary. It is also part of the resistance against Hindi by non-Hindi wallahs.

            I dont see any possibility of a diminishing of English’s role until North Indians give up trying to impose Hindi, and truly embrace multilingualism.

            Regarding authentic voices from the Gangetic plains, I would try Adha Gaon by Masoon Raza and Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla.

          2. MadhSang,

            Agreed on the need for translation. Often I get to know the literary work in a different language through a dubbed movie.

    2. Vikram,

      I think you are underestimating the awesome serials DD (Stone Boy, Farmaan, Chanakya, Malgudi days etc) did before private channels and excessive zoom lens ruined TV. Everyone watched RajasekharaCharithamu (first Telugu Novel) on DD. It was as good as Pride and Prejudice by BBC imho.

      Netflix is opening doors but won’t sponsor anything that won’t sell. I think ithihaas ki thaali se and RajaRasoiAurAnyaKahani to be very entertaining.

      You are also underestimating the disconnect in language. A lot of Indians have English as second language. Do you pick Chaucer or Tolkien when you want to be entertained?

      Reading in mother tongue vs. English would be as difficult for many unless it is written in slang style of Tripathi.
      There are a lot of great Indian writers but like I said dubbed movie is much easier than translating a book.

      Garcia Marquez won’t be as popular without translations. We should perhaps start there.

  12. Cannot really comment on South Asian Literature vs European Lit. I just know (a few) translations of SA Literature.

    However, there is a huge difference in how science and engineering evolved in Europe vs South Asia.

    Two basic concepts in Europe (England?)
    a) Scientific Publications
    b) Patents and Copyright

    So in the west one could stand on the shoulders of Giants (Issac Newton?). There was no necessity to reinvent the wheel. In Engineering/Inventions there was an assured period of “monopoly” and then the concept/invention reverted to the public.

    In contrast, out here in South Asia there are plenty of superb Engineering work. However, no record as to how it was measured and built/created. Most were done by caste/craftsmen and they kept their knowledge within the family/community. If possibly techniques were written, termites and climate would have destroyed them in a few decades.

      1. rohit,

        I live in the boondocks. 100kbs-200kbs connection.

        Half hour (approx) might work if electricity and internet connection does not break. And most often it does.

        Frustrating at times. Then also I look at it as a blessing, need to stick to the writing, which sticks in the mind.

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