By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni
On a visit to India – Hinduism’s “native place” to use local lingo – it is hurtful but hardly surprising to see the arch of justice malignly manipulated to bend against Hinduism. Since coming to power, as PM Modi pushes India to yield the well-deserved historical, religious, and socio-cultural space long denied by Islamic and colonial rule and their historians to both Hindooism and Hindoos, liberals feel compelled to look for all kinds of pretexts and texts to further undermine both the faith and its followers. Suddenly, barring the few conceded as enlightened Hindus by the intellectual-elite class, every Hindu is now damned as a practitioner of Hindutva, and therefore fascist.
Ironically, it is Christianity and Islam which since inception have been imperialistic and used and abused “state power” to subjugate people of other faith. From Arabic-Turkish invasions to Mughal and Colonial period, and right through modern times, Christianity and Islam through their plenipotentiaries have freely subjugated and reigned over India and shaped the discourse about India. Through patronage, power of the purse, and sheer muscle power, they have dictated the narrative of history and of social, cultural, political and economic events.
Throughout world history, rulers have perpetuated their subjective and self-serving versions of history, leaving it to their chosen authors to present them in glorious, enlightened terms. In India similarly, from Ghauri and Ghazni to Mughals, Islamic rule has been presented as progressive transitioning from savage ‘slash and burn’ tradition of conquering, entailing desecration and looting of religious sites and icons and mass slaughters or conversions of the conquered, to assimilative and syncretic. Given such a mindset, historians have never conceded (and likely never will) that Akbar was an exception and Aurangzeb the rule.
Such dictated versions of Indian history are no more true or authentic than presenting Christianity, Islam, and colonialism as enlightened, just, and compassionate towards the natives. Even until shortly before India’s independence, prized colonial clubs carried signs saying “Dogs and Indians not allowed”. Colonials referred to Indians, author Mulk Raj Anand recalls, as “Kaala Aaadmi Zameen pe hugne wala” (Black man who shits while squatting”).
Born slightly before Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”generation of Indians, I grew up with students and scholars in school and university who like me, were brainwashed through prescribed textbooks and proscribed discourse. They got us to view India as servile and spineless; Hinduism as inward looking, backward and caste-ridden; and Hindus as gutless.
We were fed pretty much the same misinformation about the glorious days of Mughal rule. For instance, what must have been marriages of convenience, compulsion or forcible conversion contracted between Muslim rulers and Hindu women were interpreted as indicators of eclecticism. (Cross-faith imperial romances and marriages exist only in Bollywood and its romanticized notions of history). In reality, such matches were reflective solely of statecraft and served as “human bounty” accompanying surrender – a bitter manifestation of the saying -“To the victor go the spoils”.
Cultural appropriation and whitewashing of history uniformly occurred with respect to defining Medieval India and Muslim rule, both of which were presented as less savage than what they were. Colonial British India in fact is long hailed as India’s pathway to modernity and progress, and Britishers’ benign and valiant effort to end Hindu India’s archaism.
While damning Hinduism as archaic, stilted representations of Indian history conveniently ignore the inequity intrinsic to the two dominant faiths (Islam and Christianity) that were alien to India and its home-grown religious tradition. Divinely revealed faiths that have only one Holy book and only one Prophet or one God’s Son, have a built-in proclivity to remain monolithic, and oppose diversity of beliefs and people.
Among the world’s leading religions, Hinduism is the only one with pantheistic leanings that has an eclectic approach to God and to God’s preachings. Unlike the Bible or Quran, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayan are sacred but not monopolistic writings uniquely and divinely revealed and personally dictated by God. Nor does it have a singular human incarnate of God such as Christ or the Prophet Muhammad. Instead, Hindus have a plethora of God’s incarnations to choose from and follow.
Diversity is so intrinsic to Hinduism that within the same family, parents and children, or husband and wife can pray to different deities and use different modes of worship. To deny Hinduism’s tolerant embrace and its core principle of Unity (but not Uniformity) of Godhead is to fly in the face of facts.
It is even more unjust to damn all Hindus and their faith on their singularly hurtful practice of caste-system and caste-based discrimination. Even that dreadfully oppressive system or social order, had it been a Western or Christian practice or tradition, would have invited less opprobrium, and certainly not, eternal damnation by historians and interpreters of culture and religion.
Today, much like Blacks in the US, followers of Hinduism are ready to address their victimization by historians and socio-cultural commentators and to recapture their dignity and history. But while no one cares or dares to malign the aggressive – even terrorizing – calls for Black Restoration and Enslaved People’s Compensation, and acts of penance by Whites in America, India’s historically oppressed faith matters naught to the intellectual elite.
Indian scholars and opinion writers, even those based in America, are hogging editorial pages in leading Indian newspapers. One particularly offensive is Brown University Professor Ashutosh Varshney (“Jim Crow Hindutva”, Indian Express, October 19, 2021). To him, Hinduization of India is alarming and reminiscent of the Jim Crow period in America, when racist lynchings, forced segregation of blacks, and property and voter rights suppression were used to disinherit Blacks with a view to perpetuate their enslavement. Never mind that hardly anyone has heard of Jim Crow, outside of America’s dark ages.
Undeterred, Varshney claims, what race was to the American South, ethnicized religion is to Hindu nationalists. As evidence, he cites what MS Golwalkar (whom he calls the ideological father of Hindu nationalism stated in 1938 that “only Muslims who support glorification of the Hindu race and culture may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation.” Using that as lens, Varshney retrofits ‘Nationalist Hindu’ history by claiming “the Hindu nationalism of Vajpayee sought to make India more Hindu in public symbolism and discourse, without using laws to make India anti-Muslim”. But it is Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) that is not just Hinduising “the public sphere but using laws to make India anti-Muslim”, and directly or indirectly fostering lynching and other means of intimidation “to make Muslims second-class citizens”. BJP, and by implication Modi, therefore are creating a Jim Crow India.
Such equations are artificial, even childish. Worse, they are deployed selectively to suit personal agenda.
In the wake of the savage death by choking of a Black person at the knee of a brutal White cop, America and quickly the world rose as one to grieve, and vigorously condemn such atrocity. Black Lives Matter (BLM) became a rallying cry for blacks to dislodge and decimate existing racially biased structures, institutions, and re-write history. American founders and their statues including Gandhi’s statue, along with long-cherished American landmarks were trashed for their anti-Blackism, slave ownership, or geneticist views. Under the new regime, every White child in America is being (or will soon be) compelled to acknowledge he, his White family and legacy are victimizers and every black child is told he is a victim.
The Black outrage is now being transplanted to other nations, especially India, to challenge and reframe previous interpretations of history. But it is being done at great cost to the truth of long-standing oppression of Hindus and Hinduism.
While the Colored Pride movement and its offshoots are revered by the global academia and liberal elite, Heaven forbid if a Hindu Pride Movement (HPM) should rise here as a counterpart to BLM! That would cause a storm of protest and condemnation by academia and their political mouthpieces to further damn the Hindutva-ization of India.
A published author based in California, Neera Kuckreja Sohoni regularly contributes opeds to The South Asian Times.