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.

Disinformation Feudalism

 

When the halls of power echo your voice, when titans of commerce and capital don your colors, when hallowed institutions bow to your ritual, does that make you a revolutionary? Well it does in today’s America.

It’s all a bit odd. Millions of fire-breathing activists believe they are fighting a once in a millennium battle against the forces of oppression stemming from a white supremacist state, greedy capitalist mega-corporations, and various organizations that toe the aforementioned’s line; yet all of the power centers mentioned agree with the ideology of this “resistance.” So what are they really even resisting? History shows its style when it rhymes and repeats. The poetry of the past is a delight but can be a disaster once it reaches the present. I believe we are seeing many of those themes today. What is happening in the digital realm took place centuries ago in the physical realm. The Dark Ages beckon us in order for us to see the light of the day. Continue reading Disinformation Feudalism

Pew Survey on India (religion, etc.)

The Pew Survey on India is long. Here are my main impressions/surprises:

– The strong emphasis on Hindi in the Gangetic plain is pretty striking (“Central”)

– The stuff about mass conversions to Christianity in South India seems overdone. I understand people can/will lie on Census due to reservations, but this seems less plausible for a pollster. That being said, a disproportionate number of conversions are in the South

– South India is less religious, less nationalistic, etc. This seems to apply across religions (that is, Muslims in the South are less focused on religion just like Hindus in the South are)

– Opposition to “inter-caste” marriage is very strong. And, it is strong among non-Hindu groups too

– All Indians seem rather nationalistic

Indian American survey (outmarriage rate)

The sex-ratio skews male outmarriage for immigrants but balances out for native-born Indian Americans. The 30% rate is pretty low from what I expected. Also, surprised that 40% of spouses of Indian Americans were Indians born in India, but I wonder what percentage of these are 1.5 generation (born abroad, raised in the USA).

Yoga: do your thing my brownz

Sometimes I can’t help it, I’m going to do it. So here it goes, Yoga Teacher Jessamyn Stanley Believes White Supremacy Has Polluted Yoga – and It’s Time to Talk About It:

Jessamyn Stanley needs you to know what yoga is really about – and it’s not the poses.

In her new book Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance, the yoga instructor and body activist shares reflective personal essays that touch upon everything from racism to the cultural appropriation of American yoga, from consumerism to cannabis.

The book explores the existence of white supremacy and cultural appropriation in American yoga. “I would venture to say that everything in our collective society is rooted in white supremacy. I am sure there are many people who would disagree with that, and honestly I don’t care because I believe that and I know it’s the case,” she says.


“The appropriation comes from practitioners who are not South Asian looking at South Asian teachers and saying, ‘I need to do exactly what they’re doing. I need to practice yoga exactly how they’re practicing it.’ Yoga as a concept exists in so many cultures. It’s literally the basis of so many different things: the idea of acceptance and the yolking together of the light and the dark. But these teachers are just saying, ‘Practice yoga.’ They’re not saying, ‘Pretend to be Indian.’ They’re not saying, ‘Steal someone else’s ethnic identity.’ They’re saying, ‘Practice the balancing of truth and light within yourself.’ “

Two words: Kali Yuga. This whole timeline is cursed. It’s absurd. It’s perverted.

I’m not Hindu, so I don’t “believe” in yoga in a spiritual sense, though I have seen its efficacy is a form of exercise firsthand.  But the way it is…yoked, to the most absurd and bizarre social justice movements today is just a wonder to behold.

Stolen oppression

‘The Psychopathic Problem of the White Mind’ – A psychiatrist lecturing at Yale’s Child Study Center spoke about ‘unloading a revolver into the head of any white person that got in my way’.

The psychiatrist in question is Aruna Khilanani. Her parents are doctors. She was educated in private schools. But, she talks about her experience with discrimination. You know, stuff like not being supported as much in her medical residency as a blonde peer.

We have a problem. Who has the standing to point out the hypocrisy and manipulation of these people? I’m frankly sick of it. Any brown person in the United States does experience some racism. But those of us with education and resources are not really underprivileged in any way. The vast majority of white Americans, whose life expectancy is decreasing, have it worse off than us. That’s just a fact.

How the BJP Became the Bahujan Janata Party

Much of the ire of Indian elites and those left of the Indian political center simply boils down to one thing – the poor and lower-castes aren’t voting the way they want them to. Over decades, an assorted motley crew of political parties has taken the votes of India’s subalterns for granted. Through sops and social engineering, a steady support was built over the years. If you are of X caste, you must vote for Y party. And don’t ask why.

Yet, a party that venerates the idols of old has now become an iconoclast breaking the idea of voting one’s caste rather than casting one’s vote. The BJP, for years known as a “Brahmin-Baniya” party reserved for the privileged and so-called upper-castes, has shattered traditional caste calculus and come up with a new formula making established Indian political equations void. Today’s BJP is one that has been given a brute mandate by India’s Bahujans (the so-called lower-castes of India) along with its old upper-caste base. A united Hindu vote is beginning to coalesce, something that is sending shivers along the spines of the BJP’s political opponents.

But to truly understand the magnitude of these ramifications, we must peer into the past and understand the tradition of caste to grasp the revolution we are witnessing today.

Continue reading How the BJP Became the Bahujan Janata Party

Clarifications on my views about the Burqa

Given the responses I received from my previous post, I feel a detailed clarification explaining my stance and reasoning behind it is due.

First of all, as I do not advocate any ban due to my instinctive gut feelings. I like most humans, feel strong instinctive visceral reactions for a range of things from ugly tattoos to plastic surgeries to the latest Hollywood fashions. But no one in their right mind would advocate any regulations on clothing, lifestyle, or anything else for mere aesthetics or reactions, no matter how strong the reaction is.

By Burqa here I mean the combination of the Burqa + Niqab and not just the Burqa in isolation

History of Indian law and the Greater Good:

Currently, in India, there exist a number of laws (and their application) aimed at social justice where the burden of proof at times lays on the accused not the accuser. Examples of these being the SC/ST atrocity act, Dowry law, Domestic violence laws, etc. Not getting into the legalities of these laws, it is fair to note that the system is rigged against the accused to prove his/her innocence, unlike most other cases. But weighing the pros and cons, considering the state Indian society finds itself in, these laws are generally accepted across the board.

Till now (2021) it is fair to assume that significantly more cases under these laws have been Unreported than the cases where these laws are abused (though it may not always remain so).

Why should the benefit of the doubt be given to the women in case of Dowry/Domestic abuse cases & Scheduled castes/tribes in case of Atrocity-related conflicts? We all know why. I am extending the same argument here.

UCC and Burqa:

Generally in the world, we have accepted that legal polygamy is not an acceptable practice. In India with Muslim personal law, there continues to be legal polygamy for Muslims. But looking at the numbers, the practice is not even followed by a very small fraction of the Muslim population (as opposed to the practice of Burqa which is ubiquitous). Yet most nativists (Hindutvavadis) in India & *true liberals acknowledge the need for a Uniform Civil code. There are multiple valid reasons for the UCC, but one of them certainly is that Muslim personal law creates a feeling of separation among the Muslim community which is bad for a cohesive society. The same argument along with a few others can be made much more convincing against the Burqa than for UCC in my view.

Arguments against the Burqa:

  1. Burqa – as a black overall creates a distinct separation between the Muslim women and society on whole. Here is a fine piece by Jaggi on it. Jaggi in this piece has relied heavily on BR Ambedkar’s scathing remarks about women in Islam in Pakistan and Partition. Some of Ambedkar’s quotes                          “These burka women walking in the streets is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India. Such seclusion cannot but have its deteriorating effects upon the physical constitution of Muslim women….”.“Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment. Being deprived of healthy social life, the process of moral degeneration must and does set in. Being completely secluded from the outer world, they engage their minds in petty family quarrels, with the result that they become narrow and restricted in their outlook.”                                                                                                                                                   It is important to note that BR Ambedkar had similarly scathing criticisms of Hindu practices and the Hindu code bill was directly aimed at addressing those ills. Even though the single Hindu code bill failed to pass in the Indian parliament the content eventually got passed under various laws.
  2. One might argue that wearing a Burqa is a personal choice of an adult woman and denying so is an infringement of her fundamental rights – and that point is certainly not without merit. Once a practice like Burqa is accepted in a society it is automatically imposed on girls as young as five years old. One cannot even begin to imagine the effect that would have on the psyche of a child. A discussion on this topic on BBC Radio: link. I am not supporting something as extreme as Dawkin’s stance that children be raised devoid of indoctrination, but just that we curtail to the extent to which we indoctrinate under the guise of religion.
  3. As in the case of the Atrocity Act or other pro-women laws, it is fair to start with the assumption that women don’t have faculty (especially compared to men) in these societies (Indian in general, Muslim in particular). Therein the question of assumption of personal choice of the woman becomes difficult to justify.
  4. Another issue that is often missed in these discussions is the impact this might have on the Men’s psyche. Jaggi has made the point with reference to the Love Jihad issue so I won’t go into that in detail (read his piece). An example of what some MAN in UP said about it – here
  5. The lack of a visible face, especially in public places hinders equality in interactions. We communicate a lot non verbally (most of it facially). Burqa not only restricts expression for the wearer (it may be down to choice) but also restricts the communicator from gauging the non-verbal communication.
  6. The public security issues which arise from  garments thought often exaggerated in right-wing circles are non-trivial.

The Other side:

Some of the defenses of Burqa  which find some purchase in my mind are:

  1. In the hyper-sexualized and judgemental world with immense peer pressure to Go out – Look good – be sexy, a Burqa might appear as a welcome respite for a certain type of personality.
  2. If the person wearing the Burqa feels closer to Allah due to the act of wearing it, how can the state or society come in between her spiritual fulfillment?

Out of these two, I empathize to an extent with argument 1, yet it doesn’t tip the scale in my mind.

Closing thoughts:

I see the point made by many that such a law is counter-effective to the aim of reform. While I concede this point to a degree, I don’t think it needs to be counter-effective in all cases. The same can be argued for most reforms.

The views I hold here may appear extreme in some respects, but it’s anything but a mere reflexive extension of my gut feeling, it’s an internally reasoned and argued position. I don’t advocate bans, especially in the current state of Indian affairs, but I do rejoice when I hear this happening in Sri Lanka, Denmark, or France.

Post Script: 

My views on the Sabrimala controversy and menstruation taboos are also in concurrence with the Supreme court judgment. Not stating it to engage in monkey balancing, but merely stating it for context. You can find my piece which covers some of these topics here – What is “Brahmanical” in Indian Patriarchy?