M.J. Akbar’s Tinderbox & Aag ko Pani Ka Bhay: Thoughts on Indian Sub-continent.

A close childhood friend, a passionate and active supporter of Aam Aadmi Party-whilst he retains his deep personal and family linkages with the Congress party- his grandfather served as a minister in a Congress run Madhya Pradesh government in the 70s, is a regular sparring partner on arguments around ideological moorings of Modi Sarkar and its performance.

A comment he made in a recent argument, he was explaining to me why the opposition in India behaves the way it behaves and what is the opposition’s role, quoted a famous Hindi adage- Aag ko Pani ka bhay (The fear of water should be inculcated in every fire). Coming from someone who has been extensively involved in political mobilization and has had a close view of governance in this country, the comment is a remarkable summary of the sub-continent’s politics over the last 100 years.

The comment made me once again read M. J. Akbar’s seminal work on Pakistan- Tinderbox the Past and Future of Pakistan, relook at the structure of modern Indian state, its institutions and the incentives that drive the political parties in India.

Akbar’s book presents the intellectual foundation of the idea of Pakistan, the political land scape that nurtured the idea making the idea a potent force, eventually leading to the partition on the sub-continent on religious grounds and founding of an Islamic nation.

Akbar submits that the fall of Mughal empire and with the emergence of British as the de-facto rulers of the sub-continent, the Muslim elite that that ruled for over five hundred years felt politically disenfranchised and powerless.

One of the ways in which the elite responded to this defeat was by nurturing the idea that Akbar calls- Theory of Distance.  He credits the origin of this theory to Shah Walliullah a pre-eminent Islamic theological intellectual of 18th century. The theory claimed that the Muslims were suffering, because the difference between believers (the Muslims) and infidels (the Hindus) had blurred in India. They had abandoned the purity of their faith and forgotten they were a distinct entity.

As the British consolidated their rule over India in the late 18th and the 19th century, their policies encouraged this distinction and the Muslims increasingly felt the British were discriminating them vis-à-vis Hindus.

The British on their part, during the years in power, saw the Indian sub-continent not as one Nation but an amalgamation of multiple groups each with its own sectarian identity.

Their experience of 1857 made them consider Muslims as a political force that posed the gravest threat to their rule.

In the first half of the 20th century, they used the force of Muslim identity as a counter-weight to the nationalist movement which was primarily led by Hindu leaders.

The British stoked the fear of a numerically dominant Hindus will deprive Muslims of any power sharing. Starting with separate electoral colleges for Muslims, British support for ‘Theory of Distance’ culminated in Two Nations theory with partition and creation of Pakistan.

The British Raj ruled by the principles of pitting caste and sectarian identities against each other and using these identities bulwark against the freedom movement. Their encouragement and support of the Two Nations Theory has left a lasting legacy in the sub-continent.

Post 1947, the two nations have followed different trajectories.

Pakistan has slowly, steadily and surely moved in the direction that was envisioned for it, by founders of its idea. A state founded, as Akbar writes in his book- not only as a separate nation from Hindu India but also a laboratory and fortress of Islamic faith.

It’s laws today discriminate its citizens on religious grounds- only a Muslim by law can become its Prime Minister or President. It has enshrined Islamic practices in its constitution and its once Westernized Army, its most dominant institution, now has Faith, piety, Jihad for the sake of Allah, as its motto.

Although Islam could not hold the country together, its eastern wing seceded in 1971 to become Bangladesh, it has continued it march towards a homogenous Islamic country. Religious minorities made up for 31 % of Pakistan’s population in 1947, today they make for 4% of it’s population. Its current prime minister aspires to make Pakistan a modern-day version of Riyasat e Medina.

Akbar’s book introduces us to actors who gave birth to the ideas of Muslims as a separate nation, the need for an Islamic republic in the sub-continent and those who fought- politically and violently for fulfilment of these ideas.

It is unfortunate that we don’t read about these men- they are all men, in our school text books. Ideas of Walliullah, the Ulemas of Deoband, Maulana Madudi and Zia ul Haq have shaped the destiny of the sub-continent and continue to drive the actions of those running the countries in the sub-continent.

The book, well researched and mercifully does not read like a Phd thesis, fills this space remarkably. My one quibble with the book would be that it does cover the role played by Hindus in the emergence of two nations theory. The most towering leaders of the freedom movement were Hindus but they were avowedly secular and considered Muslims as equal stakeholders. Where and why did they fail in garnering mass support for their ideas of United Secular India.

India inherited the Raj in 1947. It opted for the Westminster style, first past the post model for it legislative function. Its bureaucratic service is modelled on the lines of British era Indian Civil Service and its police force even after 75 years of Independence follows the procedural manual laid down by the British. The Indian state continues to enforce The Indian Penal Code, enacted by the British in 1860 and India’s Supreme Court functions in English. Its successive governments not only inherited, and have largely preserved the British era state structure, they also inherited India’s sectarian fault lines.

Setting it up as a multi-party democracy, the founders of the modern Indian republic continued to see India the way British saw it- a union comprising of multiple religious and geographical identities. Shashi Tharoor captured the idea of the Indian Republic pithily when he compared India with a traditional Indian meal called –Thali.

A Thali is a traditional India meal comprising of an array of dishes in uneven quantity with each dish bringing its own distinct taste and flavor; a sum of its parts a Thali makes for a delicious wholesome meal with each dish contributing to the culinary experience.

The problem with looking and treating a country like a Thali whilst governing it as boisterous electoral democracy is that sooner than later politics of identity will kick in. Each sub-group will look to the trump its own interests over the interests of the larger group as a whole. Its design will make sure that the incentives of the politicians representing each sub-group, will always be aligned with achieving optimum output for the sub-group that they represent even if those goals are achieved at cost of the largest group- the nation state. While there is merit in the arrangement, why should the size of the largest group be allowed to dominate the smaller units, a side effect of this approach is that it leads to the politics of – Aag ko Pani ka Bhay.

In the absence of a unified Indian identity, crafted in a melting pot with its religious and geographical diversity as ingredients, we as a nation always end up playing the balancing act. Let us guard against the majoritarian tendencies of its majority community by vesting its religious and cultural institutions in the hands of a secular state. Let the dominant religious minority have its own personal laws otherwise it will feel alienated. Let us split the state purse on religious lines as a mark of our commitment to building a nation that treats all religions equally. Let us ride roughshod over rights of the real minority- the individual for the sake of a group’s sentiment. We have ingrained in our laws all these principles.

Design a state structure that looks as Indians first on what are their religious beliefs and then their caste denomination. Give them a polity that will thrive on amplifying their differences and pitting the fear of one identity against the other. Fail to build state capacity that can be a neutral arbitrator of conflicts between these identities or can forcefully maintain law and order and you will end up with the polity thriving, on politics of ‘otherization’ of the ideological and political opponents; and one that challenges state’s monopoly over violence repeatedly. Instead of supremacy of the law performing the role of Pani  to the Aag of anarchy or the will of the people acting as the Pani to the Aag of governments not delivering, politicians get to play one identity against the other.

The Indian sub-continent has been carved into three separate nations in the last 75 years in an attempt to balance Aag and Pani. While two of three nations are forging common national identity, for a better or for worse time will tell, the largest of three continues to stumble along. How soon its people come together and forge an identity that subsumes their smaller group identities- one wonder if its citizens even want to do that, will shape the destiny of the sub-continent in this century.

 

Browncast – Shazia Ilmi BJP National spokesperson

Shazia Ilmi

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this podcast Mukunda and I talk to Shazia Ilmi – BJP National spokesperson about Indian politics, Muslims in Politics and Society and a lot more.

 

Hindutva, Asabiya and Apostacy

This particular blogpost is triggered by the following thread

It has been fashionable for long to use historic Hindu pluralism as a defense against claims of rising intolerance. The above Twitter thread was spawned by comparisons (premature IMO) of Hindutva rage at Beef eating by “members of the one’s tribe” to the Islamic practice of Takfiri and apostasy. The fears of liberals like Dhume may be exaggerated, but the potential of Apostacy and Takfiri memes arising in Hindutva needs to be inspected.

Historically, Hinduism (especially Brahmanical) had a concept similar to Takfiri. However, unlike Islam, this concept in Hinduism was mostly associated with Ritual purity and orthodoxy and rarely had political manifestations. I am naturally talking about social ostracization. This ostracization was not only limited to the Untouchables, but also to those Savarnas who went against the prevailing orthodoxies and customs. About this, we have a good number of examples in the Medieval period (especial Bhakti movement) but not many in the ancient period. Dr. Ambedkar in his book on Shudras claims that beef-eating was weaponized  (and hence political) by Brahmins to make the defeated Buddhists or Broken men “Untouchables”. As these claims are unsubstantiated or out of date with the current scholarship, it’s safe to assume Hinduism had no equivalent of political apostasy, unlike the Abrahamic faiths.

It is one thing to hound, oppress and kill the Other but to justify in-group political violence needs the emergence of concepts like Apostacy and blasphemy. However, it is important to note that the emergence of Apostacy in Islam cannot be understood without the concept of Asabiya (In group solidarity/ brotherhood) and the repercussions of the overthrow of the Ummayads by the Abbasids. Without strong Asabiya and its political implications, it is probable that strong defense mechanisms in Islam like Apostacy and blasphemy would not flourish. All cultures and systems which have strong Apostacy like memes tend to have strong Asabiya – even in non Abrahamic faiths, as such examples are rife in Medieval and Modern China. Closer to home, the secular Marxist-ish LTTE also came up with ideological justifications for hit jobs against Tamil “traitors”.

It must be noted that the Indian revolutionaries had by and large avoided the “traitoring” of the brother during its long years of fight against the British. Designs at assassinations of political moderates (like Gopal Gokhale) were almost always given up on principle. This was only to change with the biggest assassination of Modern India, that too under the guise of protecting India and particularly its Hindus. However, most of the Hindu population vehemently condemned the actions of Godse and co. Incidently this assasination also resulted in a huge setback to the attempts of developing an Asabiya which were gaining traction among the Hindus since the late 19th century.

However, the Hindutva of the 21st century, especially after the rise of the Modi and RSS is no longer a movement with insignificant Asabiya. Over a century ago, the greatest Indian leader of his time, Lokmanya Tilak had once said something along the lines of this – “What would the son of an Oil-presser do in the parliament ? Pass laws ?” Today such a person is not only THE leader of the nation, but also the Hindu Hriday Samrat. Changes in the fabric of Hinduism have been fantastic and Hindus have achieved some sort of Abasiya which they never had at any time. If the latest voting patterns show us anything, it’s that at least in national elections, Hindus are increasingly voting over caste lines in favor of a strong Hinduva leader. One of the cores of Hindu traditional society, the Varna system has changed much more in the last 100 years than it did at any such period in the last millenia.

At such a dynamic time in the history of Hindu society, claims of “over the past millenia” hold less water than they did even a few decades ago. There exist far more incentives to have strong Asabiya in modern democratic nation-states than ever before. As a result, it is only fair to extrapolate that far more incentives and mechanisms exist today which can select controls like Apostasy and Blasphemy to a degree. That doesn’t mean that Hindu(tva/ism) will become like Islam and India like Pakistan, both material and philosophical constraints will continue to prevent this IMO. But its not insane to expect the Apostasy and Blasphemy will NOT remain irrelevant in the Hindutva project. Especially given the sorry state of the Rule of Law in the country, it is not very paranoid to be vigilant about such trends. To what degree is this justified, we cannot comment today. Five years ago, I would have been more alarmed by the potential of such norms getting established given the killings of rationalists (Dabholkar and co), which took place in a span of 3-4 years. Even though these murders did not result in a spree of killings as many had feared they were a rude awakening nonetheless.

Hence I argue that to assume such norms would NOT take root in the coming decades with increasing Hindu Asabiya is unwarranted. And this can be argued only because the norms “over the past millennia” have changed drastically in the recent times.

Hindutvavadis are not Bhakts

As an atheist, I don’t appreciate and understand religious leanings especially the spiritual and devotional aspects. But from time to time I obsessively listen to Devotional songs especially Marathi Abhangs. One of the earliest Marathi devotional songs I remember seeing is a song titled Tujhe Roop Chitti Raho. The song is a devotional song to the deity Vitthoba by a Bhakti saint Gora Kumbhar. The ghastly incident picturized in the song is

Once, his wife left her child in the courtyard where Gora Kumbhar was working and went to bring water. Gora Kumbhar was busy in preparing the mud required to make the earthen pots and was as usual engrossed in singing bhajans of Pandurang. His child playing near him, fell in the shallow ditch where the mud for preparing the pots was laid. Gora Kumbhar was churning the mud with his feet. While doing so, he accidentally crushed his child under his feet. He was so lost in singing the bhajans of Pandurang that he didn’t even hear the cries of his child.

Though as an 8-9-year-old boy, this song had a profound effect on me, the reaction I felt back then nothing compared to the one I felt last week as a father of an infant in the age of Helicopter parenting. The tale invokes comparisons to the sacrifice of Issac by Abraham to the one God. In the tale of Gora Kumbhar, his boy is brought back to life thanks to Vitthal while in the case of Abraham a messenger of God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son.

For all the 3 major dharmic faiths of the subcontinent at that time, this Bhakti might have been a surprising element. We don’t know much about the Brahminical response to this particular case, but it unlikely that it would have been positive given what we know about the Brahminical response to the Bhakti movement in general. In the Buddhist view of Karma, Gora Kumbhar might be dealt with less harshly as he had not intended to crush his son. The Jaina view however would result in significant negative Karma associated with Gora Kumbhar. In the Bhakti narrative, it’s penance (where Gora Kumbhar broke his arms) that started the annulling of his bad Karma. However, according to the tale, Vitthal only brings his son back to life when Gora Kumbhar’s wife who has been abusing Vitthal and her husband’s blind bhakti for the loss of her son, prays to the Lord Vitthal. The example of Gora Kumbhar crushing his child under the intoxication of Pandurang is extreme and strawman-ish for the sake of the argument but I use it nonetheless as the difference between this and the mainstream Bhakti movement is not one of quality but magnitude alone.

This is not a case of modern morals dissecting and judging medieval tales, but the criticism of the core idea of Bhakti itself. The suspension of belief, apparent transcendence felt while deeply engrossed in the Bhakti is physiologically not very dissimilar to the effects of psychedelics. Why then in a society where the latter is taboo while the earlier is revered? For this particular reason, for all the elements of social progressivism in it, (something I am partial towards), I have never truly had a fully positive outlook towards the Bhakti movement.

Unlike spirituality and religions, politics in general though rife with religion and demagoguery has counter-balancing pragmatic currents, especially in democracies. Coming to the title of the post, sometimes I wonder whether the pejorative “Bhakt” was used for Modi/Hindutva followers (implying their blind faith in Modi and the doctrines of Hindutva) is a harsh use of the word on Hindutvavadis. I have used the word as a pejorative and I have been called out by people of the Hindutva leanings for using a word with positive religious connotations as a pejorative. While I sometimes agree with this criticism, I do so for the exact opposite reason. I find a lot of even most hardline Hindutvavadis, rational in their personal lives and not prone to Bhakti – an exact opposite of the archetypical Bhakt.

For all the criticisms one can have of Modi, he has actually delivered quantifiable benefits to large masses of Indians. I cant totally put a finger on it, but I see a tangible difference between the adulation Narendra Modi receives from his supporters to the adulation South Indian leaders – Amma, MGR, YSR have received in the past. The second has all the tell-tale signs of Bhakti, while Modi’s support base and particularly the broader Hindutvavadis lack it. Though one might argue that the cult of Modi is barely ten years old, and it could reach new heights in the near future making my current assertion out of date – but that’s to be seen.

In retrospect, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, we can see the Bhakti movement as a catalyst that had magnified and spread confessionalism and devotion in a personal god into the ritualistic orthopraxy of elite-driven Hinduism thus making Hinduism competitive with monotheistic faiths. It also enlightened the masses to the political and social currents of their environment thus empowering the Rayat (masses) who got their Raja in the coming centuries. In other words, the Bhakti movement fertilized the ground on which the Maratha Hindavi Swarajya and later Hindutva germinated. This point has been more succinctly and coherently by @kaeshour in Hindutva is the woke culture of India.

Yet it is fair to say a sense of historical injustice and insecurity is the sentiment that drives Hindutva not Bhakti, but that’s a separate discussion. Is it fair to see the term Bhakt as a pejorative, If yes then for whom? Anyways in the woke currents of times we live in, I cannot see any other beneficiary of the current use of the word Bhakt* than Hindutva. Not that any partisan liberal will see this.

West Bengal, TMC wins!!!

Modi’s BJP Suffers Setback in West Bengal State Elections:

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party fell far short in its attempt to win control in a fiercely contested state election, one in which its aggressive efforts to get out the vote have been criticized as worsening the country’s surge in Covid-19 infections.

Official results coming in early Monday showed Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was poised to win as many as 77 seats in the West Bengal state legislature—a sharp pickup from its previous showings but well short of a majority of the 292 seats being contested.

The state’s governing Trinamool Congress party was on track to win as many as 213 seats. The party is led by Mamata Banerjee, a powerful regional politician who has at times been an outspoken critic of Mr. Modi.

– Does the TMC have an ideology?

– It’s weird that this is a state with 90 million people. India is so populous!

– Are regional parties going to have a lock on the south and east?

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

Some notes on the accession of Junagadh vs. Kashmir

Whenever there is a debate on Kashmir, there is often a parallel drawn, particularly in Pakistan, between the accession of Junagadh to India, and the accession of Kashmir (also to India).

The narrative in Pakistan typically goes –

In the case of Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim state acceded to India, as its Maharaja was Hindu. While in Junagadh, India insisted on a plebiscite and eventual accession to India though its Muslim ruler had acceded to Pakistan. 

While this criticism may seem superficially sound, it is very specious and misleading as it ignores how different the case of Junagadh was from that of Kashmir. It is worthwhile to reflect on the circumstances surrounding the accession of the two states.

A few things –

1. Junagadh was not contiguous at all with Pakistan. In contrast J&K in its entirety was contiguous with India.  The Nawab’s accession to Pakistan was in violation of the contiguity principle. Here’s a map locating Junagadh in Southern Gujarat.

On the other hand, all of Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety was and is contiguous to the rest of India. So the “contiguity principle” was very much adhered to in the Maharaja’s accession to India

 

Image Source : wiki

2. Junagadh, with its population of 700K, was ~85% Hindu. The Nawab’s decision to accede to Pakistan was clearly in violation of the wishes of his subjects. In the plebiscite that succeeded the Nawab’s Pakistan accession, well over 95% of the voters chose to accede to India

In contrast, J&K was about 75% Muslim. Also unlike in Junagadh, where Hindus dominated the whole state, in J&K, the Muslim predominance was mainly in the Kashmir valley, while the Hindus were numerous in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh.

3. Junagadh’s Hindu population revolted strongly and vocally against the Muslim Nawab’s decision to accede to India. Close to 100K Hindus fled the state in the fall of 1947 as per VP Menon, leading to a near collapse of Kathiawar economy.

The plebiscite in Feb 1948 was prompted by this revolt against the Nawab’s decision. Which ofcourse settled the matter in favor of India. In contrast, in J&K, there was no major clamor among the Muslim population in favor of Pakistan. The major Muslim political body National Conference supported the Maharaja’s decision to accede to India notwithstanding its differences with the Hindu princely ruler. So it was a situation fundamentally different from that of Junagadh.

4. The Nawab of Junagadh unilaterally and hastily decided to join Pakistan, under the influence of his Dewan – Shahnawaz Bhutto (father of Pak PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) without even the common decency of letting the Indian govt know of the decision through proper channels.

In fact, Sardar Patel and VP Menon learnt about the decision through the media in late Aug 1947, and later got it confirmed by the Nawab. The Nawab had gone back on the word of his earlier Dewan Abdul Kadir, who had assured Gujarati press as late as April 1947, that the state won’t join Pakistan.

In sharp contrast to the indecent haste and reneging of promise by the Nawab, the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, was deeply conscious of the fact that 70% of his subjects were Muslim. He did not accede to India in a hurry.

The accession happened only as late as 26 October 1947, following the invasion of Kashmir by “irregulars” and tribal militias sent from Pakistan. So Hari Singh’s sensitivity and judiciousness was tested to the limits and his hand was forced by Pakistan’s aggression.

5.  Next, let’s examine the attitude of India and Pakistan in either case – radically different approaches.

In Junagadh, Muslim league politicians tried to “force” the hand of the Nawab through Shahnawaz, though the Nawab ruled over a Hindu province with no borders with mainland Pakistan.

While in the case of Kashmir, Sardar Patel and VP Menon assured Hari Singh throughout 1947 that they would be okay if he chose to accede to Pakistan. So the Indian attitude was a cool-headed dispassionate one that acknowledged whatever decision Hari Singh would take.

Pakistan in contrast tried to force the issue militarily in Kashmir, not just using its Army and its “irregular” agents, but by cutting off supplies and transport to Jammu from Pakistan, in an attempt to intimidate the Maharaja into acceding to Pakistan.

So these are five major ways in which the case of Junagadh differed from that of Kashmir. Clearly there is no parallel.

There is no ideological contradiction in the way India handled both cases. The Indian reaction was pragmatic and philosophically consistent.

References for the thread :

  1. TCA Raghavan, The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan
  2.  On Kashmir Demographic history –http://cpsindia.org/dl/Blogs/Blog%2015%20J&K.pdf

Post-script : 

In the first draft of this piece, it was mentioned that Hindus were predominant in Jammu in 1947. I have corrected this to “Hindus were numerous in Jammu”, though maybe not in a majority. The census numbers of 1941 are unreliable on account of WW2, and also the Jammu specific numbers may have been impacted in the course of 1947 on account of both the riots against Muslims in Oct 1947 and against Hindus / Sikhs in Mirpur / Rajouri the following month.

Also the % share of Muslims in the state of J&K has been edited from ~70% to ~75%, as the latter number is a fairer estimate based on 1931 census, while the former number stems from the 1961 census

Why Hindu-Americans Don’t Stand Up For Hindus

One of my earliest memories of my childhood is watching the Mahābhārat with my dad. After we dropped my mom off for her night shift at the factory, we would return home, and a black rectangle filled with film would catapult me into a confusingly wondrous world. From the magical arrows whizzing through battlefields to the terrifying image of Time, the narrator of the epic, transposed across a cosmic abyss, I was glued to a story I couldn’t truly grasp but loved at the same time. I could barely understand what the characters were saying (I spoke Gujarati at home, not the hyper Sanskritized Hindi in the serial) and was too young to read the English subtitles fast enough. I would constantly interrupt my dad, many times to his annoyance, but he would still lovingly explain these stories that would make an imprint on me for the rest of my life.

 

As my life passed, I would see so many of the stories from the Mahābhārat play out in my life and in the world around me. The blind love of a long-gone Dhritarāshtra came alive with my parents, who showed me love, despite my bad behavior, my failures, and my unending ingratitude, one of my greatest flaws. Their love was uncompromisingly unequivocal, and I was an unworthy Duryodhan. I saw the struggles and rise of “low-born” Karna with my own family, as we grew from a family who couldn’t even afford to spare money to buy a popsicle from the ice cream truck that taunted me every day as it passed by my house to slavishly building a motel business in the middle of nowhere to selling it and owning a nice single-family “American Dream” home with many fewer worries than we grew up with. And perhaps most importantly, I saw the devotion or bhakti of Rādhā through my family’s Hindu faith and regular attendance to our local temple – a tradition that grounded us through tough times and brought a sense of community, fellow “gopis” perhaps to share our lives and love with.

Those evenings watching the words of Vyāsa transform into images will forever be special to me. For those nights would fuel the dreams of my days as I grew up connected to a timeless culture and values. And they would doubly serve me when I learned of the nightmarish state of my fellow Hindu diaspora with regards to their views on Hinduism and Hindus.

In The Battlefield

To find the answer to the titular question, I did a bit of “field reporting” one weekend with my fellow Hindu-American friends starting off with a simple question:

Why do you stand up for Black, Hispanic, and Muslim people for the injustices they face, but not for Hindus?

The most common responses were along the lines of:

    • “What injustices faced by Hindus are you talking about?”
    • “I honestly don’t know what type of issues we face, besides normal ‘brown’ discrimination here.”
    • “I’ve never seen any from the media I consume” A general theme of genuine innocent unawareness was what I saw.

So I prodded further and mentioned the atrocities Hindus face in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even parts of India. Yet Still, the answer was “I literally never heard this before.”

Then came a visible sense of discomfort, and I know why. My question then silently morphed to “Why don’t you stand up for your own people” in their minds. I didn’t need to spell it out, but it turned into those very cutting words – why don’t you stand up for your own…

Bangladeshi Population Statistics – 1971 Contained A Civil War Where The Pakistani Military Is Said To Have Conducted A Genocide Targeting Bangladeshi Hindus

The rapes, the forcible conversions, the killings, the discrimination, the demographic collapse all signaling horrors that didn’t have any similar magnitude of rivals in India. The initial response was denial or wishing away the numbers I gave them: “Oh how do you know all that happened to them?!” “Maybe they converted willingly!”

I mentioned CAA and the refugees begging to return to the land of Dharma. Denial then became equivalating.

“Well, this all probably happens in India too!”

I kept unpacking this. I ask them, “why do you think this way?” Note – I tried to avoid a confrontational tone as much as possible, just neutral questioning so as to not pry open any vitriolic reaction. They talked about their parents’ hysteria over Pakistan, their WhatsApp forward fueled hatred, etc… I tried to explain to them that the equivalence wasn’t there. That the magnitude of what happens to Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh is much worse presently and historically than what happens to non-Hindu minorities in India.

Pakistani Hindus Begging For Refuge To Immigrate To India.

But they just weren’t having it.

“I don’t believe you. India is just as bad”

Now, India is of course not perfect, now or historically. But it is a work in progress. It is diversity in action in a way very few countries (The United States and Brazil are the only ones that come to mind) can compete with. India is pluralism, both its virtues and flaws.

By this point, we linked up with a few other friends and the conversation dropped. But let’s continue this theme with a few other independent observations and anecdotes.

Misinformation Warfare

Modi equals Trump – this fantastically false idea is an atomic bomb on one’s perception of India. A very simple notion that has a number of externalities. Hindu-Americans are fairly “woke” from my personal experience, and Indian-Americans heavily lean Democrat. Standard diatribes against “45” are common when talking politics with my Hindu-American friends. I don’t really care as I don’t support him, but the Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) gets tiring after a while.

Policy-wise (you know, the actual actionable impact that changes people’s lives and futures), Modi has done more socialism in one term than Bernie Sanders will ever do in his lifetime. The comparison fails at almost every metric:

Right Wing, Left Wing, “nationalism”, “conservative” and other meaningless labels are even more irrelevant when thrown into the ocean of Indian politics. They sink into nothingness. They’re pointless.

But to many Hindu-Americans, “Right-Wing”, “Nationalist”, “conservative” are terms that immediately make them see red, and “RACIST” pops into their mind in big white letters. I don’t care about your 14 syllable ideology. People see things through simple lenses. It doesn’t matter what Modi and Trump actually do to a lot of people; it matters how they are characterized.

Fuck your nuance. Damn it to hell.

Hassan Minhaj told me what I need to know in a 12-minute 37-second segment on a now-canceled Netflix show. I trust the consistently wrong coverage of the New York Times – yes the same one that complained why more Indian people aren’t dying of coronavirus. Additionally, it’s quite clear that “South Asian” organizations in the US have explicitly blacked out mentioning these atrocities as it would hurt their respective lobbies.

With community organizations, media, and celebrities silent – how can Hindu-Americans be aware?

American Dharma

Now let’s talk about religiousness.

Hindu-Americans have some of the highest retention rates of religious identification in the US.

I can’t judge others’ religiosity, but from what I’ve anecdotally seen. Hinduism is many times a more aesthetic/background thing than practice for Hindu-Americans. Sometimes it seems samosa and chicken tikka masala have more weight in their culture than pujas and scripture. Now token ritual involvement happens every time Diwali rolls around, but to me, Hindu-Americans really just aren’t “self-aware.” Funny as Hinduism places so much emphasis on self-discovery and reflection.

Another thing – explicit politics is pretty far removed at American Hindu temples versus other diaspora places of worship. Political rhetoric that’s common at other religious places isn’t a mainstay in mandirs; and honestly, I am glad this is the case. Religion to me is more about immediate community and individual practice rather than political machinations across the Atlantic. I’ve seen firsthand how the ugliness of politics warps American religious communities where identity realpolitik replaces spirituality for many of these “religious adherents.” Where insulting the “Other” is more important than praising the Omniscient.

Ideally, religion would be separate from politics. But we can’t deny a battlefield once we’re on it. Hopefully, temples stay out of the fray of such rhetoric, but Hindu-Americans outside of it strengthen.

So in conclusion, the answer to the question:

1. Genuine unawareness of Hindu injustices driven by media, community, and political organizational blackout. 2. Right-wing and left-wing notions don’t translate well across Indian and American politics. Many Hindu-Americans see red once “right-wing” is mentioned. 3. Religion and politics don’t mix at Hindu temples unlike other religions.

The Craven

 

Now while we’ve answered our query, I want to add an addendum to a vile specimen I’ve seen recently amongst the diaspora. Aping their equally contemptible cousins back in the subcontinent, this emergence of Indian-Americans who speak in the poisonous tongues of India’s elites is now slowly seeping into mainstream American culture.

They seek to transplant American history and dynamics onto India just as blindly as India’s elites have over the decades. Equating Hinduism itself to white supremacy and fascism and defining it solely by casteism are standard affairs for this type. They have no ingenuity in their discourse. The blueprint of their commentary is amateur oppression Olympics. Their foundations are self-loathing. Their walls are an echo-chamber blocked off by the soulless skyscrapers of coastal elites on one side and the great blue filter of social media on the other. Their roofs are paid for by verbal prostitution. Their material is so common, yet they have a profound disdain for commoners. They are copy + paste. Many are essentially white progressives with a sprinkling of turmeric and cumin for empty color and scant flavor.

They are from South Asia, not the Indian Subcontinent. Their culture can be summed up into samosas, chicken tikka masala, a few “South Asian” outfits, and henna. Depth is an allergy to them so their roots are forever undiscovered but much-maligned. They will go out of their way to pin every misfortune and misery inflicted upon other minorities as purely due to economics or European imperialism, but will not hesitate to blame the downfalls of India solely on Hinduism and its indigenous culture. On the off chance that they navigate blame to the British, they will remain mum on the equally or even worse atrocities of the Mughals and their hate-filled predecessors. Their silence screams at the scars and ruins of their ancestors’ temples, all to preserve this mythic “solidarity” amongst fellow “South Asians.”

As they watch their fellow Indian-Americans break all barriers, their reflex is dismissal. When our minority becomes model, they relentlessly attack their own people instead of appreciating and applauding. Excuses for success rather than attributing it to hustle and immigrant sweat. They write paragraphs lamenting how every Indian-American has come to America with a silicon laced gold brick in their mouths, a silver stethoscope around their necks, or a platinum high caste thread over their shoulder. They wash away the struggles of immigrants with haughty commentary and exhibit a saffron-tinged white guilt. They seek to be the oppressed lamenting at the impending “fascism” that is perpetually 1 Republican representative away from arriving and simultaneously the oppressor as they claim Hinduism itself is oppression. They cloak their jibes in a mythic and undefined “Brahminism” where they attribute normal Hindu practices like vegetarianism, innocent rituals, and practices performed by all castes and communities as part of a grand conspiracy of “Brahminical supremacy;” the irony being that many of these commentators are Brahmins or high caste themselves! Due to their skin color and last name, they believe they are the chosen voice for over a billion other Indians and millennia-old civilization.

Essentially, they care about what India looks like, not what it is. They seek approval at any cost. But either way and in the end, why should they expose their necks in courage when they can swallow their pride, forever remaining craven?

Reposted from The Emissary. Follow me on Twitter!

The Self-Hating Prophecy of Indian Elites

 

What is the difference between introspection and self-hatred? Introspection brings reflection, intention, and evolution. Self-hatred brings rumination, doubt, and rot. One is essential, the other is extinction.

Engagement of either shift one’s fate. From the roots of mentality grow branches of thought, blooming into flowers of action and eventually the fruits of result. Nowhere is this more clear than the night and day of the Indian elite.

The ancient elites of India wrote eternal tomes of meditation that built the bedrock of a civilization that has seen the best and worst of humanity, outlasting every peer and power. Their art and literature emanated confidence, beauty, and advancement. While sure of themselves, they had no qualms integrating new ideas from abroad or from home. Diversity was strength, and challenge was opportunity.

Their descendants today are devolution incarnate – Kali Yuga realized. An unending anguish for the approval of outsiders, self-flagellating of even the most innocent of traditions, and an obsessive compulsion for mediocrity are the trickle-down that these elites have given Indians since independence.

While trivial bashing of them is enjoyable, I want to get to the meat of their minds as well as what these minds have yielded.

What causes the exceptional self-loathing of these elites? The mania of knee-bending and the need to constantly look outwards for validation? The ability to be stupendously arrogant towards their birthright to rule yet despise their roots? Continue reading The Self-Hating Prophecy of Indian Elites