Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, 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.
This particular blogpost is triggered by the following thread
I am increasingly wary of "over the millennia" takes.. it seems to me that things can sometimes change, and sometimes change very fast.. it is still good to keep an eye on these trends… https://t.co/Z5EPfvFJJs
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 As these claims are unsubstantiated or out of date with the current scholarship, it’s safe to assume Hinduism had no equivalent of political apostasy, unlike the Abrahamic faiths.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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
Being among the earliest readers and admirers of Brown Pundits, it was an honor when Omar Sahib invited me to write here few months ago. Since I blog about diverse topics (like most of you), I hesitated that something might come across as irrelevant. I’ll keep sharing my thoughts on various topics from time to time. Just starting with a piece on Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan.
It is hard to imagine a young kid finishing high school without ever coming across The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe? Written in 1719 by Daniel Dafoe, it is among the claimants of the auspicious stature of first English novel, and widely believed as a true travelogue upon its inception. However, there is seldom a casual reader who can trace the legend back to the 17th century roots of literary tradition with an autodidact character at its center; and few are aware about the Arab-Spanish mentor of this optimism in human reason and contemplation, Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185).
Almost six hundred years between Dafoe and him, we know very little about the life of Ibn Tufayl, except that he was a polymath, serving as a physician and adviser of Sultan Abu Yaqub Yusuf (d. 1184) of the Almohad dynasty ruling Morocco and Spain. It is unfortunate that his complete interdisciplinary work is lost, except his philosophical experiment involving an isolated autodidact, named Hayy Ibn Yaqzan; literally translated as Alive, Son of the Awake.
It is the story of a boy, the nature of whose existence is shadowy to an extent that there are two completely rivaling accounts of his origins. One account ascribes his origin to spontaneous generation from matter; the other is necessarily a legendary human drama in which a royal infant somehow grows up away from society and culture. Being isolated from all intelligent life, he gradually becomes conscious, thereby discovering shame, jealousy, aspiration, desire, eagerness to possess and practical reasoning. He experiences love through affection of his foster doe, and death, as it ultimately departs.
To know is necessarily an obligation for Hayy Ibn Yaqzan. Desperately seeking meaning, his search guides him to explore various disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, metaphysics and spirituality. He deduces the presence of God through contemplating the unity of cosmos and its boundedness; and in his ascetic code of conduct, he seeks satisfaction and salvation.
After thirty-five years of isolation, he finally meets Absal, a hermit refugee from a land of conventional religious believers. In Absal, Ibn Tufayl modeled a religious divine who has learnt many languages to gain mastery of scriptural exegesis. Absal’s first reaction is a deep sense of fear for his faith as he encounters an exotic being. As they interact well, Absal endeavors to teach Hayy to speak and communicate, in order to make him aware of knowledge and religion.
However Absal soon discovers that Hayy is already aware of the truth, to envision which, Absal’s own intellect bears nothing except revealed symbols.
Judging Absal’s good intentions and the veracity of his message, Hayy proselytize to this religion and Absal introduces Hayy to his people. As Hayy gets familiarized with civilization, two basic questions continue to puzzle him in great deal. First, why people must need symbols to assimilate and express the knowledge of the ultimate truth; and why can’t they just experience the reality more intimately? Second, being completely oblivious to practical religion, he continued to wonder why there is an obligation to indulge oneself in rituals of prayer and purity.
He keeps on wondering why these people consume more than their body needs, possess and nurture property diligently, neglect truth by purposefully indulging in pass-times and fall an easy prey to their desires. He finally decides to accompany Absal to his land, thinking that it might be through him that people encompass the true vision and experience truth rather than believing it with their seemingly narrow vision.
What follows is a tale of a neophyte philosopher teaching ordinary people to rise above their literalism and open another eye towards reality. His interlocutors on the other hand, recoil in their apprehensions and being intellectual slaves to their prejudices, close their ears. He consequently realizes that these people are unable to go beyond their usual appetites. He also grasps that masses of the world are only capable to receive through symbols and regulatory laws rather than being receptive to unstained and plain truth. Both men eventually return back to their isolated world but this time Hayy as the teacher and Absal as his disciple. They continue searching their ecstasies until they met their ends.
Ibn Tufayl’s singularly survived legacy extends in diverse dimensions and its canvas is vast. Its theological and philosophical themes were employed and transformed throughout the various phases of European enlightenment.
It isn’t just one curious aspect that many centuries later, the metaphysically preoccupied Hayy Ibn Yaqzan is transformed into a shipwrecked sailor, predominantly occupying himself with inventions and utilitarian exploration of nature. As Malik Bennabi – an acute observer of modern condition – observes, the genius of both the narratives lies in characterizing the solitude of their respective protagonists. In this respect, time for Robinson Crusoe is essentially a concrete cyclic happening of acts, such as work, food, sleep and work again.
Nov. 4. This morning I began to order my times of work, of going out with my gun, time of diversion, viz., every morning I walked out with my gun for two or three hours, if it did not rain; then employed myself to work till about eleven o’clock; then eat what I had to live on; and from twelve to two I lay down to sleep, the weather being excessive hot; and then in the evening to work again. The working parts of this day and of the next were wholly employed in making my table; for I was yet but a complete natural mechanic soon after, as I believe it would do anyone else.
This is pretty much the condition of a modern individual where the void of solitude is filled with work, each of us occupied mechanically with the object at the centre of our world of ideas, diligently busy in constructing our own proverbial tables.
On the other hand, what fills Hayy’s solitude is an overwhelming amazement, the adventure starting by experiencing wonder in the ultimate nature of life and death of his beloved foster-mother, the gazelle.
When she (the gazelle) grew old and feeble, he used to lead her where there was the best pasture, and pluck the sweetest fruits for her, and give her them to eat. Notwithstanding this, she grew lean and continued a while in a languishing condition, till at last she died, and then all her motions and actions ceased. When the boy perceived her in this condition, he was ready to die for grief He called her with the same voice, which she used to answer to, and made what noise he could, but there was no motion, no alteration. Then he began to peep into her ears and eyes, but could perceive no visible defect in either; in like manner he examined all the parts of her body, and found nothing amiss, but everything as it should be. He had a vehement desire to find that part where the defect was, that he may remove it, and she return to her former state. But he was altogether at a loss how to compass his design, nor could he possibly bring it about.
Thus, it is ultimately in the nature of failure to identify this defective part where Ibn Tufayl tries to locate an ineffable reality beyond the material.
Ibn Tufayl’s philosophical romance has been regarded as one of the pioneer autodidactic works surviving from medieval scholastic tradition . But besides being an influential narrative — with rich literary possibilities and themes such as those transformed by a modernist like Dafoe — it was a precursor to important medieval interactions between the schools of Thomas Aquinas and Averroists, and invited modern appraisals from mathematician rationalists like Gottfried Leibniz .
Voltaire and Quakers admired it for its appeal to reason, and Bacon, Newton and Locke were possibly influenced by it to various degrees too. Traces of Ibn Tufayl’s original literary pointers are also found in Rousseau’s Emile, Kant’s Ground of Proof for a Demonstration of God’s Existence, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Darwin’s Origin of Species among others.
Especially in the context of Muslim tradition, its contemporary value lies in rich possibilities to bridge gaps between reason and revelation. It lays down a perpetually self evolving construct where reason and reflection are the essential keys to the doors of timeless revelation. Ibn Tufayl’s voice still echoes loud, struggling to tell us that rejecting either would imply rejecting a part of truth.
Daniel Dafoe, Robinson Crusoe, Penguin Classics 2003
Lenn Evan Goodman, Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan: a philosophical tale, 1972.
There have been attributions to an earlier work involving similar but limited themes to Avicenna.
Samar Attar, The Vital Roots of European Enlightenment: Ibn Tufayl’s Influence on Modern Western Thought, 2010
Growing up in 90s India, one couldn’t avoid the jovial Sardar caricature in the Entertainment industry. Most Sardars one saw on television we either Jaspal Bhatti/Navjot Siddhu or Jaspal Bhatti/ Navjot Sidhu on steroids. It’s been decades since these caricatures made an impression on my mind, but still, the moment I see a Sardar, I tend to start assuming him to be a jovial, funny, and extroverted person – and in my experience, that stereotype has mostly held up in my eyes. So when I read news articles of Sikhs being targetted in the United States in wake of the 9/11 attacks as an 11-year-old, I was extremely confused. In my eyes how someone could confuse a full and rich bearded and turbaned Sardar with a moustacheless Muslim extremist stereotype.
Similarly, the honest Muslim Chacha was surely aimed at creating a positive image for bearded and capped Muslims who had humble professions. But for someone like me who was initially inoculated with even more powerful imagery of the bearded Muslim (as illustrated below), the Bollywood Muslim stereotype wasn’t enough to leave an impact on my subconscious mind.
The image I am talking about is shown below :
Around 1 km from where I stay, an entire wall is painted with this image with the title – “This is how terrorism ought to be tackled” in Marathi. Growing up in Maharashtra, every Ganesh festival, half the pandals (decorations made for celebration ) are about Shivaji – and a significant number of them have either bearded & mustache-less Afzal Khan, Shaista Khan, Aurangzeb. The strong impact this imagery made on my psyche wasn’t countered enough by the various Bollywood chacha’s I grew up seeing.
As a result even at age of 25, I held on to a tiny bit of the initial instinctive negative reaction when encountering bearded moustacheless individuals. Some years ago, I had convinced myself that my reaction was due to the aesthetics of certain styles of facial hair which I do not find appealing. Later reading a novel in which the daughter/son (Thousand splendid suns or Kite Runner or Not without my daughter) was playing with her Abbu’s mustache less beard made me realize the error in my ways. Since then I have made a conscious effort to curtail that initial reaction and have been largely successful Was this reaction bigotry on my part? or something else?
Coming to the recent controversy where the radical atheist author Taslima Nasreen made an off-hand and poor tweet about England cricketer Moeen Ali. Taslima Nasreen is known to fly off the handle – especially with poorly worded tweets – was instantly attacked by Moeen’s England teammates. Irish England captain Eoin Morgan made special mentions after the 2019 world cup of the multicultural atmosphere of the English team – which means bearded (conservative?) Muslims like Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid (or Monty Panesar) don’t stick out like a sore thumb and that is progress of a kind in my opinion.
Similarly, at the age of 16-21 as a radical atheist (when I assume I was a lot more immature than I am today), even the Hindu Tilak invoked a strong reaction in me. But today, like the beards, skull caps (the *out of tribe* symbols of identity/belief) I do not have any reaction to the Hindu religious symbols. It’s a sign of shedding some of my atheistic/judgemental roots. But still, an image remains, even the sight of which troubles me to an unreasonable and illogical extent.
From beards and turbans, we come to the Burqa. Arguably the most controversial garment in the world, no matter how much I try, I cannot empathize or humanize the Burqa. I have observed over the years that whenever I travel (outside my ghetto Pune urban life) – especially in the summers – I grow more Islamophobic. The appearance of the Burqa in the sweltering heat of India sends such a strong and negative emotion in me, I cannot humanize it no matter how much I try. In the end, I feel it’s only the French who have got this issue sorted the way it should be. Of course, it infringes on the freedom of choice but I concede I am not that libertarian. As a wannabee male feminist, I do cringe when I see the North Indian (even Maharashtrian) Purdah or the hijab, but Burqa is definitely a line I believe I can never cross in the 21st century. Does this make me bigoted? I personally don’t think so but I could see the wokesters calling me so.
I have read the passionate defense by Khatija ( AR Rahman’s daughter ) of her choice to wear the Burqa. Having seen an iota of merit in that argument, I still feel for the greater good Burqas ought to be banned. (I don’t see it getting banned anytime soon anywhere in India). However, I have to acknowledge that whenever someone uses the *For the Greater Good* as part of their argument, maybe the argument isn’t watertight.
I understand this is a highly politically incorrect blog post to write. I have wanted to express these thoughts for months now, but something held me back. I have tried to be as honest and rounded in my thoughts as I could.
Please be constructive and respectful in feedback.
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:
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…
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 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.
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.
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:
Modi has enacted a litany of “socialist” measures and welfare schemes including:
Swacch Bharat – an initiative to rid India of open defecation by building toilets as well as raising menstrual health awareness for women.
Ayushman Bharat – Extending healthcare to India’s poorest 500 million people and continuously expanding.
Ujjwala Yojana – Providing 60+ million poor households with free liquid petroleum gas connections that are safer and more healthy than traditional wood-fired methods.
Jal Jeevan Mission – Along with a frenetic infrastructure push to integrate India’s rural and poor, an integral piece has been Jal Jeevan, where households are connected to give every Indian rural household a tap water connection by 2024; luckily something that is well on its way to being achieved.
A massive push for renewable energy as India integrates solar energy at an unseen scale amongst the world in order to meet international climate goals and combat local pollution.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
The last few days have seen two separate terrorist incidents in France, both involving Muslim youth (both refugees, not French-born Muslims) beheading (or trying to behead) French civilians because of perceived outrage over blasphemy. In the first shocking incident a teacher named Samuel Paty tried to do what good teachers do; he was teaching about freedom of expression and wanted to show the cartoons that led to the murderous assaults on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. He told his Muslim students that if they felt uncomfortable seeing those cartoons, they could step outside the class. There is no indication that he himself said anything that could be construed as an attack on the prophet. But the very fact that he showed the famous cartoons in his class was enough to rile up at least one of the Muslim student’s parents, who started to outrage on social media, which led a Chechen youth named Abdullah to travel a 100 km, find the teacher by paying his students to point him out and then beheaded him on a public road before being shot dead himself.
If this was not bad enough, today another “refugee” (this one from Tunisia) went on a stabbing/beheading spree at the basilica of Notre Dame in Nice and killed 2 women and a 55 year old sexton. Another person, this time in Saudi Arabia, stabbed a guard at the French consulate before being arrested. At the same time there have been massive protests in Bangladesh, a mock beheading at a girl’s school in Pakistan, official protests from Pakistan and Turkey and boycotts of French products all across the Muslim world. Continue reading Why do Muslims React More to France Than to China?
Even though the comment thread on my previous blog post – Playing with Fire was the immediate trigger for me writing this post, but I have been meaning to wade into this topic for some time. History writing in India has been a controversial topic especially since the ascendency of Hindutva. NCERT books on history are often blamed for preventing the “Truth and Reconciliation” between the Hindus and Muslims. While these criticisms have some merit, I often feel they’re overstated and straw-manned. Left-Liberal historians – Messrs Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra has been the favorite punching bag of Hindutvavadis in general. A lot of times people get carried away in hubris while punching these histories. Generalizations and misrepresentation of writings of these historians are rife in the Hindutvavadis.
I will go through Medieval India by Satish Chandra (class 11 history), Romila Thapar’s Medieval India (class 7), and Medieval history book by Nios (by multiple authors).
This piece focuses on the treatment given to Pre-Delhi Sultanate Muslim Invaders – the famous Ghazis of Islam. My recollection of textbooks is that the Mughals (except Babur and Aurangzeb) are glorified to a certain extent – especially Akbar, but none of the previous Muslim rulers are. I may be wrong – I am yet to read those chapters and will be posting about them later.
Mohammad Bin Qassim :
The Ummayad General doesn’t get much mention in these texts as by most accounts the Arab conquests of Sindh were at most localized events and did not have lasting consequences beyond Indus. Yet the one mention he gets in the Medieval history NCERT book isn’t something which appears positive.
NIOS book – Module 2 – Page 134 History Module 2: “Arabs were also attracted by the wealth of India. Arab merchants and sailors had brought back stories of great wealth of India. However, the reason for the invasion of Sindh was to avenge the plunder of Arab Ships by pirates of Debol. King Dahir refused to punish the pirates. Hajjaj the governor of Iraq despatched an army under Muhammad Bin Qasim. He arrived in Sind in AD 712, and besieged Debol which was situated on the sea coast. After crossing the Indus he marched forward. At Rawar, Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Dahir who was defeated. Arabs killed a large number of fleeing soldiers. Dahir was also caught and killed. Muhammad Bin Qasim now proceeded forward and within a short span he conquered various important places in Sind including Brahmanabad”
Mahmud of Ghazni:
In Satish Chandra’s Medieval history, the period from 1000-1200 is called the Age of Conflict. The intra-Turkic conflict between Muslim and Non-Muslim Turks before the consolidation of Turkic sultanates also finds mention in the chapter. Additionally, he notes “The Islamized Turkish tribes were to emerge as the greatest defenders and crusaders of Islam. The love of plunder went side by side with the defense of Islam. About Mahmud – Mahmud is considered as a hero of Islam & the ghazi spirit further increased during his time. In India his memory is only of a plunderer and destroyer of temples. Mahmud also posed as the great But-shikan or destroyer of images. Mahmud also broke the Shivlingam and ordered parts brought back to his capital.”
In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history, Mahmud doesn’t get a positive treatment. Thapar says “One of the attacks which is frequently mentioned was the destruction of the Somnath temple. Destroying temples had another advantage – he could claim as he did that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images. In 1030 Mahmud died and people of North India felt relieved“. After this Thapar does state his achievements for his capital and state along with his patronage of scholars like Firdausi and Al-Birauni.
NIOS book – Module 2- gives a slightly more neutral characterization of Mahmud “Mahmud enriched his treasury by looting the temples of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura and Kanauj. The attack against Nagarkot in AD 1008 has been described as his first great triumph. In AD 1025, Mahmud embarked on the most ambitious Indian campaign, the attack on the Somnath temple in Saurashtra. Mahmud captured the city after grim struggle in which more than 50,000 defenders lost their lives. His attacks on India were an attempt to fulfil his ambition to make Ghazni the formidable power in the politics of Central Asia. Mahmud’s raids into India were only to acquire the famous wealth of India.“
In Satish Chandra’s book – The Ghurid invasions and Mohammad’s legendary battle against Prithviraj Chauhan finds considerable space given to it. The analysis is neutral and doesn’t get into speculations beyond a point. The other exploits of Mohammad and Qutubuddin Aibak are explained in some detail. The author makes no claims of iconoclasm except in the case of Bakhtiyar Khalji in Bihar and Bengal. About Khalji he writes “he destroyed some of the great Buddhist monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramshila“. Additionally, he notes “Neither was really concerned with Islam, though neither scrupled over the use of Islam to justify their plunder of Indian cities and temples“
In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history – she also focusses on the Battle of Tarrain and appears neutral towards Mohammad Ghori and the Ghurids in general.
NIOS book also gives a neutral and brief analysis of Ghurid invasions and capture of North India.
Romila Thapar’s Medieval History is meant for 7th standard and hence doesn’t have the details seen in Satish Chandra’s 11th standard history book. Satish Chandra’s book captured a lot of facets of these invasions including religious. Reading these chapters, it is fair to conclude that none of these books glorify these early Muslim Ghazis. It can be fairly argued from Hindutva point of view, that Islam’s role in these conquests is understated (especially in Thapar’s Medieval History). But that book is meant for 12-year-old kids.
On the broader reading of history, I guess Islam is necessary but not sufficient in explaining the Turko-Afghan invasions of India in the 11th and 12 centuries.
Unless you are living under a rock, you will have noticed the Babri demolition conspiracy verdict. All 32 accused including the firebrand Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharti were acquitted of the conspiracy charge. A conspiracy charge is notoriously difficult to prove in Indian court even with Political will, in this case from an objective perspective, the charge was unlikely to stick owing the excessive burden of proof required to prove conspiracy.
I came across this interview of Advani with Prannoy Roy from 2000.
After six years of Modi Shah, Advani appears like a fresh of breath air (to my liberal ears). Notwithstanding his role as the prime mover of the Ram Janmabhooni movement which left trails of blood across the country, Advani appears significantly liberal to my eyes in 2020. The willingness to talk to the enemy (as seen in a range of interviews given to aggressive media), comparatively more respect to democratic ethos and institutions, and an overall soft spoken-ness.
However, the interview leaves us with the question – Is Advani telling the truth?
There seem to be three potential chain of events which led to the culmination of the demolition of Babri Masjid.
The aim of the Rath Yatra by Advani was always to demolish the mosque and the previous years were spent in raising support for the demolition of the mosque. This was the narrative the most far left and far right in India believe. In other words, the whole movement was a conspiracy under a facade of Rath Yatra.
The leadership of the movement – namely Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and to a lesser extent Vajpayee under the umbrella of RSS (this included the current Prime minister) never really planned to break the mosque. Their aim was to mobilize the Hindu over and above their caste boundaries. The mobilization has political benefits as well as social benefits in response to Islam. However, during the movement, a small group actually conspired to break the mosque. That means if there was a conspiracy, either the top leadership was kept in dark or the top leadership turned a blind eye towards it. This seems to the claim made by Advani and Vajpayee where both of them on record called the demolition of the mosque as the saddest day of their life.
The mass movement got carried away in hubris. After years of chest thumbing, for the karsevaks – this was the moment to go down in the history and they did.
If either of 2 and 3 is true, it is fair to say the BJP and Sangha Parivar leaders were playing with fire and when the fire got out of control it burned every one to a certain extent. Though today even if the fire was unintended, the fruits of the fire continue to be reaped.