Academic freedom, Hinduism, and the end of the age

Under fire from Hindu nationalist groups, U.S.-based scholars of South Asia worry about academic freedom:

We are at a tipping point,” said Rohit Chopra, one of the conference organizers and a professor of communication at Santa Clara University. He said the issue went beyond the conference. “It’s about the principles of freedom of expression, academic freedom and of a university being a space where people can speak for the most vulnerable.”

The online conference, Dismantling Global Hindutva, included panels on the hierarchical caste system, Islamophobia and differences between Hinduism the religion and Hindutva the majoritarian ideology. The event was co-sponsored by departments of more than 40 American universities, including Harvard and Columbia.

The whole piece is a mishmash. First, let’s stipulate that many Hindu activists are unsophisticated, illiberal, and nasty pieces of work. But someone like Suhag Sukhkla is none of those things. So the article focuses more on the former than the latter because the former is sensationalistic. Yet, many of the reported threats are credible to me because I myself have received various forms of these invectives from 15-year-old masturbaters in India on Twitter (though a little surprised adults behave like this too). But beneath the bluster and thuggishness, there’s a legitimate grievance. Imagine an academic conference on Islam that spotlighted its hierarchical gender system, religious dominionism, and the differences between Islam as a culture and Islam as a religion. Such a conference wouldn’t happen because academics would fear Muslim outrage and violence, and, they see Muslims as subalterns and marginal, and so above criticism.

The first issue illustrates why many Indians and Hindus are behaving like this: they’ve seen the heckler’s veto work on weak-spined academics before. They’ve seen it work for Muslims, and they’ve seen it work for left-wing activists. When Charles Murray was physically attacked at Middlebury it got results. Murray really can’t speak in public anymore at such venues because the cost of security would be prohibitive. The second issue is that academics don’t really believe in freedom of expression anymore, they believe in critiquing the powerful. They’re activists. Ideologues. What the Hindus are doing is turning the master’s tools against the master when they leverage identity politics and their status as people of color. The academics, who don’t really believe in freedom of expression, respond with most gusto when they try and smear Hindus by connecting them with Nazism and argue for their hegemonic status vis-a-vis Muslims in the subcontinent. It’s all who/whom here.

I believe in dispassionate analysis and Epoche. Many Hindu activists and believers are wrong on many things. And I tell them so when I think this. But I don’t do this because I want to “deconstruct Hinduism.” I don’t really care that much about Hinduism, or Islam, or any religion. I want to know what’s true. When humanities scholars gave up on the truth, they gave up on the high ground from which they could defend their viewpoints as part of free speech. This is the world they created. You told people that truth is subordinate is power. Your enemies now seek power to force you to speak their truth.

14 thoughts on “Academic freedom, Hinduism, and the end of the age”

  1. It’s happening in India too. If you read a left sponsored magazine called “Caravan” you will see how left ecosystem uses derogatory terms for Hindu Nationalists. And the misinformation through the left chambers are enormous.

    If you go through 2nd October twitter timeline and other social networking sites, the left was celebrating Gandhi while the Hindu Nationalists were celebrating Shastri even though Shastri was a socialist. These stark differences have started emerging in the political thoughts primarily because grievances of the majority communities have not been addressed which are generally naive but necessary- 1) handling down the administration of temples to the community 2) abolishing minority “special” rights which gives them unfair advantage 3) Checking the demographic changes occuring in India by the Muslim population 4) putting an end to illegal conversion activities.

    These demands are always countered by the left ecosystem as 1) Reinforcing Caste morbidities 2) Islamophobia 3) India is a “secular” country 4) conversion is a fundamental right of Indians hence they should be “freely” allowed.

    The Left ecosystem in India is a strong, nurtured through government funds, Modern day “feudal” Lords and external financial assistance. The Hindu Nationalists are generally supported by 15 year-60 year middle and lower middle working class whose purchasing powers are lower than the Left financial bidders.

    I know Razib is fair in his analysis of caste and genetics which many Hindu Nationalists may dislike but they will acknowledge if a traditional face to face discussion happens though they won’t admit to it publicly but they will acknowledge the genetic difference between Upper and Lower caste. The Left on the other hand sees discussion black and white and will not acknowledge the arguments put forth by the Hindu Nationalists regarding the “oppression” Olympics which then transforms into a “your ancestors oppressed us for 5000 years”discussion and then affirmative action.

    There are unanswered questions put forth to the left as of today-
    1)Was India if not politically United, culturally United before, during and after Muslim invasion and British rule?
    2)What role did the Muslims of Republic of India played in the freedom struggle from the formation of Muslim league to the partition and why is it a crime to say that they supported the partition of India and a separate muslim state?
    3) On what legal and rational basis can muslims of republic of India post 1947 demand special minority rights when they themselves voted for a separate nation and got their separate nation as East and West Pakistan and ask for a “Secular” India when the partition happened on Islamic lines? How can any communist, socialist justify this?
    4) From 1951 to 2011 how come Muslim population increased from 9.8% to 14.23% while Hindu population declined from 84.2% to 79.8% cannot be questioned as changing demograph of the Republic of India? West Bengal went from 19.85% to 27.01% from 1951-2011 cannot be regarded as changing demography? Assam from 17.8% to 33.5% in the same duration should not be a concern to the majority community? Kerala from 17% to 30% being ruled by the communists and Congress showing such demographic changes shouldn’t be questioned?
    4)Why should government fund a minority institutions which doesn’t provide affirmative action for the Indian lower castes while the institutions established by the majority communities are mandated to take affirmative actions even when they are privately funded owned?
    5) How come the temple lands under the post independent governments were allotted to construct mosques and now fall under the Muslim Waqf board which emerged as the 3rd largest land owing organization in India after defence ministry and Railways ministry?
    6)If Muslims of India shouldn’t be blamed for what their ancestors did then why Hindu upper castes are punished for through “Historical injustices based affirmative actions”?
    7)If Muslims are backward and undereducated in India why are the Hindu Majority or the Government responsible for it when the Muslims ask for the teachings of Quran and hadiths to be incorporated into the “government” schools?
    8)If Hindu society is a caste based society and the upper caste had all the power in the past then please provide the copper plate inscriptions or farmans of the sultans which granted them lands, authority etc since such research papers are not published and never talked in the mainstream political discussions.
    9)If Moplah riots were the revolt of Muslim peasants against Hindu Zamindars then please explain how come the peasants after 1922 till today didn’t get the propriety rights over the lands for which they revolted and the new Zamindari class of Thangal(Syed) took over the lands of “Hindu” Zamindars. Explain to undereducated Hindutva goons how come Indian Muslims be trusted when they asked for reinstatement of Osmani caliphate when the Arabs, Iranians, Turks themselves had a movement to overthrow the caliphate themselves?
    10)If a Hindu Nationalists chant Jai Sri Ram in election rally is termed as communal then why the same standard not applied to a Muslim Nationalist chanting “Narah-e Taqbeer Allah hu Akbar” in an election rally?

  2. One of the things that makes me roll my eyes over South Asian academics/activists who claim to “speak for the most vulnerable” is how they are perfectly happy to deny ethnic cleansings and genocides of Hindus. And I’m not just talking about the Ghaznavids, Mughals, etc, but also more recent examples in the past century.

    If you talk about a more contemporary example like the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits, these activists will either dismiss it as a BJP conspiracy or go on tirades about the Pandits’ so-called Brahmanical privilege.

  3. This is a good post.

    It’s a bit weird to see the left project Hindutva as some sort of all powerful force.

    In reality it is irrelevant outside of India and even within India it is only really become politically relevant since the 90s.

    I don’t think western people feel seriously threaten by Hinduism or Hindutva the way some of them do by Islam.

    The westernized Indian elite do rightly feel threatened as it erodes their power.

    Since Modi is from a lower middle class / caste background there are a lot of jibes about him along those lines from rich westernized upper caste “Hindus”.

    A half Italian, 1/4 Brahmin, 1/4 Parsi – 5th gen political dynast is the leader of the opposition to Modi. He bragged about being a “janeudhari” (initiated Brahmin) at one point.

    But sure Modi is the casteist.

    Meanwhile in the West, Hindus have no real political power as Hindus. A lot of stuff about caste I think is irrelevant, but will be used to paint Hindus as a privileged grouped undeserving of minority status despite being brown, largely immigrant, non-English speaking and perceived as pagans.

  4. The second issue is that academics don’t really believe in freedom of expression anymore, they believe in critiquing the powerful.

    Among the leftist academics I know in India, none of them really care for freedom of expression and they state that openly in front of me.

    It’s only ‘liberals’ who pretend to care for FoS but they can’t go overboard about it because:

    1. The masses in India don’t care about it. So liberals can’t antagonise groups that are allied with them for tactical reasons like Muslims or Dalits.
    (And from whom liberals derive most of their authority since they themselves do not have any political base)

    2. They can’t antagonize progressives either who form a bulk of the academia in places like JNU.

    In any case, it is hilarious that Hindutva is specifically being called out for this when every single faction in India from communists to Dravidians to Congress have been guilty of it and often at a much greater scale.

    1. Yeah during the Gabby Petito thing, my mom (parents are pro-BJP normies wrt India, here former Reaganites that abandoned the GOP when Trump went apeshit) asked quite innocently that if they knew that the boyfriend did it, why couldn’t they just force a confession out of him?

      My father explained to her what being Mirandized was, and the constitutional rights of the accused. She snorted with derision.

      Apparently “encounter killings” are a pretty big thing in India (and the other “South Asian” countries) too, with fairly negligible outcry except for the usual activist and academic crowd.

      We’re pretty much the farthest thing from a liberal society hahaha.

  5. Its alright. In absence of an on ground opposition back in India, all these DGH conferences acts a glue for Hindutva cadres. The BJP/RSS would be happy to have such a perfect foil in terms of overseas academia, which have zero impact electorally for the opposing side, but keeps their own base charged up.

    In USA, I doubt much would change unless one side gets weaker. Hindus in USA , i feel are already closer to the glass ceiling, and they wont reach the economic prosperity to browbeat the academics into submission. While on the Academics side they will always carry the mark of being less/non Hindu to really impact the Hindu side. Irrespective of how much woke the next gen hindu kids be, they are already starting from such a conservative base, that there will always be a catchment area for Hindu/Hindutva.

  6. I mean how many brown pundits regulars here really respect the Anglo-American ‘scholars’ who do so-called ‘research’ on Hinduism?

    A lot of Anglophone scholarship on Hinduism ranges from kind of untrue to outright disinformation. The solution to this problem is calm and dispassionate critiques of this ‘scholarship’. Follow Saul Alinksy’s rules, use the rulebook of your enemy against them!

    Academics are sort of like celebrities, once we stop respecting them (not all of them just the ones publishing crap!) and caring about what they think, especially when their evidence is weak, their linguistic ability is poor and their reasoning spurious, then they stop mattering! What many academics want and crave is recognition, a good income and respect; and neither the American public nor higher education system offer anything of that kind.

    Hindus should be funding and supporting academics and writers who are publishing good quality scholarship and writing, ones that aren’t morons, rather than spending their time engaging on low effort, low IQ Twitter battles. When you offer a calm and scholarly critique of an academic book, you’re reducing the ability of these midwit professors to misrepresent you as the Desi SS!

    1. A lot of western academics are infested by post modernism and their scholarship is misleading at best (see many historians on America, etc). Why would western scholars of India be any different? Best to find individuals who care about the truth–regardless of their ideology–and listen to them. Sometimes it may be unpleasant and sometimes it will be grand but the truth will never lead one astray.

  7. It is important to state that any death threats or threats of harm being made or justified under any condition is unacceptable, only after this is stated should anyone speak about such issues. That is a first and necessary step. No place for abuse.
    As to the academia, my view has been that where the methods are not rigorous, it gets easily hijacked into various ideologies. Blame the methods, for every few good works under current works, a whole lot of very poor works get published and it is indistinguishable from motivated works. That is where a lot of angst comes from. In sciences we use the language of math ,probabilities, errors , it clears out a lot of motivated reasoning. Why should humanities not be infused with math?.

  8. There is only ONE issue . Muslims don’t mean anything to western academic. Neither do so called lower castes. These are just smokescreen s
    The real thing is “Hindus” are non violent and ripe for CMissions to make inroads.
    In Muslim majority countries the CM would be killed no question asked. But in hindu lands thanks to “intolerance”.
    They thrive. This conference had only One goal.
    Discredit Hindus and give literature to CM for there work and funding to liberate the “Satan worshippers”.

  9. While colonial apologists exist, they’re a minority and they aren’t the people giving you most of the grief today. This isn’t some cleverly disguised Abrahamic hatred for pagans either, as some right wing guys hilariously believe.

    The current western establishment is extremely guilty about the chaos they’ve wrought upon the ME and for pushing countless Muslims into radicalisation who feel like their people, cultural heritage sites and holy lands are being attacked in what’s essentially a “war on Islam” (recall IS recruitment videos was full of hatred towards the US). This created a cultural demand for “liberal Islam” among the “good people”, so they keep pointing to the violent chapters of Christianity’s history to essentially say that all religions have this phenomenon. But Christianity today is largely harmless, so they point to Hinduism instead to show how it is in fact committing violence against minorities and overplay it out of proportion that you’d think 1000s of people are dying every year due to communal violence.

    The current zeitgeist claims to be very anti-racist and it sees Hinduism as racist due to caste (notice how some academics even say its proto-Nazi), so that was already a big black mark. But the perceived notion of oppressing subaltern groups (Islamic) is what’s really driving the mainstream headlines (it doesn’t matter to them that the reverse is true in 2 of our neighbouring countries, and far more vulgar, because criticism of Islam will raise eyebrows). Compare everything you don’t like maniacally with Nazis and you got the current sociopolitical trend. So “Hindu Nationalists have appropriated anything and everything native to India so everything native to India is bad”. Its dumb but it is what it is. In the current ethical framework, a “nazi” is the worst charge they could land on your moral compass.

    Also keep in mind that Indians are a “model minority”, richest ethnic group in the US and among the most educated. As a religious group, Hindus are the most educated in the US and second most successful financially (behind Jews). What this means is that you’re seen as a privilged minority and not a subaltern group like Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics, etc. Jews suffered the holocaust so they can also take part in the oppression olympics. Yes, we’re brown but we’re excluded from the “no human is illegal” list because we’re seen as some “upper caste fascist supremacist”. So we’re more like the Irish or German immigrants, because of our socioeconomic status.

    On MSM at least, its woke hatred. We’re not an interest group so we should be given sermons about our “bigotry”. Even the non-woke and even the right leaning crowd shares this belief (though not with an active agenda) because literally no one can suggest that things are a little more complicated on the ground than how they seem without being faced with rhetorical hostility. If you may recall, Krzysztof Iwanek, a liberal Indologist, had said that he fully reaffirms his confidence in India’s democracy during the peak CAA riots period, and dismissed the fascist charge as a severe exaggeration. BUT he supported India on Kashmir, took a positive view on various economic reforms, defended Atmanir bharata and even the farm bills IIRC. So when he says he’s only against Hindutva, not Hindus, its easier to believe him at face value. But you’d probably never heard of him because he doesn’t tell the Establishment clowns what they want to hear like a dilettante. So he’s not the go-to person on anything concerning India unlike Jaffrelot and Truschke, who DO tell them what they want to hear with the correct phraseology. No doubt its a huge cause of irritation for the wokes that Hindu extremist violence is non-existent in the west, ergo few people will take them seriously about the threat that you pose.

    This is largely constrained to the reddit and twitter crowd that’s more likely to have an idea about India than those who aren’t very active, the latter group seems to be the majority in my experience however. So the vast majority doesn’t know and doesn’t care.

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