Today in Hinduphobia January 9, 2021: Attacks on Andhra Pradesh Temples, Hindu-Blaming for US Congress Riots, and Other Effects of the Industry of the Lie
I. How Far?
How far will you go for the truth?
This question sounds like something you would hear in a movie, or read in a novel. A “Red-pill” rescue from the “Kool-aid.” Perhaps it’s also a line we can contemplate in real-life. In terms of philosophy. In terms of politics. In terms of fighting the good fight; truth, justice, and all that. The truth is what we like to think we fight for. That goes for me too. I’m a media studies teacher, showing students and readers how to think through media stories and deceits, pushing theories and ideas and paradigms. I like to think of truth as my professional duty.
But here’s another way to think about the same question:
How far will they go for the lie?
I think the real question to ask about the world, its past, present, and whatever is left of its future, is this one. We often think of lies, especially in the public realm, as appendages to greater strategies and interests. People — companies, governments, politicians — set up lies primarily as elements in their path to some desired outcome. Profits. Conquests. Control. This, we are somewhat informed about now. We know that governments and media manufacture lies so that the public supports invasions and wars. We know that PR firms manufacture crises and events so we support some politician or product. A lie, we know, is an instrument.
There are excellent documentaries, books, even movies about it. And of course, in my field of media studies, this is how we have been thinking about media for a while now. There are systems of power and inequality and oppression (the famous “race-class-gender-sexuality “mantra”), and these are naturalized, normalized, and routinized into common-sense. And so, sometimes, is dissent. One season’s revolution is the next season’s commodity-spectacle of the same. And on and on it goes.
But the history of the world, and of course, the present, which is how we endure it, is still beyond our dreams and desires of or for “the truth.” We believe in the “truth,” of privilege, oppression, injustice, whatever, that is now being actively suppressed or concealed by the instruments of power. Media, education, propaganda. The lie, as instrument.
But what if we re-conceived this model altogether? What if the history of the world is less about the lie as mere instrument, but is more about the lie as the cornerstone, the lie as foundation, the lie as “motor” as they like to call it? The history of the world is not a lie. The lie is the history of the world. All the wheels that spin, they spin because of the desire to enforce a lie.
So is lying as old as speaking? Is it what makes us human? Homo Mendacious? Is this my horrid red-pill to add to the pharmacopia of insanity?
Tempting as human nature denouncements are, I don’t quite think so. I don’t think we need to essentialize lying as our nature, human or primate at that. Did our early ancestors play tricks of the tongue? Or apes? Little deceptions, evasions, tactics to survive? That is not the problem. The problem is not the lie as much as the rule of the lie, and the rule of the lie as a way of life. That is the question that we need to think about now, in the face of some very contemporary examples.
II. Symbols of Despair
Example one: the world is shocked. People are calling it a failed coup. An insurrection. I do not know what the right words are. But it was shocking. A spectacle on the scale (if not the scale of death, fortunately) of the terrorist attack of 9/11, in terms of its jolt to the ordinary. A President banned from social media. A President reviled by so many, and defended still, by many too.
Example two: the world hardly knows, but some of us do, and are shocked. A weeping Hindu archaka (temple priest), wrapped in a cloth thin as a useless paper mask in the face of a pandemic, holding like a baby in his arms, a head with a smiling face, just the head (read more about the Ramateertham attack here, one of several dozen Hindu temple desecrations in my home state of Andhra Pradesh).
For him, for me, and for many of us, this macabre moment is no less macabre because this head is not that of a biological being, a “living thing,” as defined in the dry words of elementary school science books. “It” has no cells, tissues, nerves, or organs. “It” has no “feelings.” “It” is stone, carved into a humanoid appearance. For most of the world, “it” is no more a thing than a broken doll, and the incident at most, an assault on artistic sensibility, a violation of property.
A violation, yes, but not quite perhaps, for the modern world that is, as egregious as the violation of the US Congress yesterday. What made that event so horrible for many to contemplate? What exactly? By the scale of mass violence, it was small. It was really a violation of space, temporarily, by people convinced of their righteousness, however wrong it may be. A symbolic breach, but a powerful one. For many Americans, a body blow, reawakening whatever pains they have carried inside; pains of sexism, racism, growing inequality and apathy. It was a symbolic rather than a physical violation, but still. No difference. Such is the power of symbols. Such is the power of images, names, forms, and the stories we tell around them, stories we live by and live for.
My Rama. My god. My divine child-companion I saw in my dreams when I was a child. My child. My father. My ancestors. My world, with all its breezes and trees and rivers and days and eternities. My world, with my loved ones. My family, friends, each one, embodied and yet elevated beyond form because of Him. Rama.
For Sri Kiran Kumar, the Ramateertham temple Archaka, Rama is. And not just in some abstract sense of “faith,” but in the concrete sense of labor. That is what he does with his hands, breath, body, all day, all life. Theoretically (and I say that because I will come to some “theory” below), he is all primed and “privileged” to actually zoom right out of anything like labor. In fact, the theory says, what he does isn’t “labor” at all, but just appropriation of stolen labor of the laboring masses in the villages around the temple. It’s a theory that a lot of people believe is fact. Because their teacher said so. Their leaders said so. Katherine Mayo said so. I suppose you have a bit of that theory in your head. Not that you believe it, but I guess you have it anyway. Most of us who live in the modern world too. This is the theory we got drilled into us all our lives. He’s a… priest! He’s an apex-pyramid .. BASP! I mean, since he’s really not “W” or “AS” or “P” in the usual sense. I mean, he’s supposed to be “W,” per the theory. Or at least the “W of India,” er, “South Asia.” But let’s call him BASP because I can get words for each of these. Brahmin. Andhra. Sanskritic. Priest. There, I did it. I named privilege.
Jokes aside. Rama is. Rama is, and He is also this BASP’s labor. He is this BASP’s body, denied comfort, escape, reprieve, relaxation, his whole, whole life. He is this BASP’s obligation, his duty, to his mother and his father and to his ancestors, whom he repays for his embodiment through his rituals and his actions. And he is this BASP’s relationship to the thousands who gaze past him at their Lord day after day as he chants their names and that of their lineages. Per theory, they should have killed him! Chopped him up! Tore Rama down! Long ago. Or at least in 1947. Or 2010. Or now. Or tomorrow.
Theory, you see, stops before Reality. Reality may not have all the words for it, but Truth lives as it does, as it always has. Do you think the labor of Sri Kiran Kumar, BASP, is not apparent to those who are embodied by labor even in the forms recognized by theory? Do his neighbors, friends, villagers, generation after generation, in the gaze and comfort of their Rama, not know that what he embodies is true, and not what the vandals, the criminals, the tormentors who come ever closer each day profess? Of course, they do. What with his privilege! He could have been in the city like more and more of his alleged kind, throwing out the old codes of denial and austerity and practice. He could be in the… IIT or something. And in the MNC. Like many of his alleged kind. He could be making whole farms disappear in India from his corporate office abroad making long-distance investments in real-estate via smartphone. Making lands, homes, families, whole memories disappear.
Theory stops before Reality, before India, before whatever it is that we call Dharma, before the Sanatana of it, to be precise. It’s never the native natives who will Kill their elders, their beloved servants of their beloved gods, is it?
III. Always the Colonizer
Theory stops, and yet the work to make this theory a fact, never stops working.
Back to the other example now, back from that far-away mountain temple on the Eastern seashores of India to Washington, DC.
In the fury of yesterday’s violations, one more was noticed, a small one, in the scale of things: the Indian tricolor . Among the “deplorables” is, apparently an Indian or Indian-American one.
Theory’s Biggest Names came out immediately. “Hindu Supremacism and White Supremacism” began the chant. All the tropes, tactics, torturous rain-fire of truth-bending of these years twittered and tweeted all over again (and of course, these haters won’t get banned for lying or hating, no).
The Indian press, and some Indian twitter leaders, also picked up the performance. Hindus! Bhakths!
But. Reality. But. The truth.
There is no evidence at all that the Indian flag is at the event because of a Hindu, or Hindu Supremacist, even. All the evidence suggests there was a group of proud Christian Trump supporters of Indian descent who went to protest (and who even had the decency to disown the violence that came later on their social media pages).
But it does not matter one bit to Theory. The raising of a cross there doesn’t matter. The display of Christian-fundamentalist homophobic signs doesn’t matter. The long-standing and deeply inseparable history of Christianity and White Supremacism and European settler colonialism doesn’t matter. The fact that most of Trump’s Indian American voters are actually not Hindus but Christians too doesn’t matter.
To Theory. To the Way of the Lie, all that matters is the kill words they suck on to live on while others die. As they always have.
“Overwhelming upper caste Hindu Trump supporters” some professors and journalists opined away on Twitter. When less than 22 percent of Indians in America said they would vote for him. When even Prime Minister Modi, so casually smeared as the Hindu Supremacist to Trump’s White Supremacism, is NOT from an “upper caste.” That is the theory of the colonizer. That is the lie he wishes to try and fit reality into, inquisition-style.
The colonizer is always right. It doesn’t matter if he’s right wing or left wing. Indian or American. White or Brown. In fact, the last point is particularly relevant. When it’s a Hindu who can be blamed in the task of proving the theory right, even colorlines needn’t matter. Whites still get to decide who’s a Hindu Supremacist apparently. Just like how they got to decide who was a Savage. Just like how they got to decide who was a Heathen. And a “False god.” And an “idol.”
Was it because of their… “whiteness”? That’s what Theory said. That’s what is taught today. But is that all there is? Was it, like, complexion alone that drove Columbus? Or da Gama? Or Pizarro?
Theory will not admit. Yet.
IV. A History of Violence
Long before Rama of my Andhra Pradesh, even longer before my Rama of Ayodhya and Vishwanath of Kashi and Krishna of Mathura and Ranga of Trichy and Vithala of Hampi and Kapaleeshwara of Mylapore and all the other tens of thousands of my gods and besmeared BAPS and my people who defended them both, in “AD” 304, in the “canton of Taron on the upper Euphrates, to the west of Lake Van… the Indians had built there two temples containing images of gods about 18 and 22 feet high.”
These, one Saint Gregory, came to destroy. He was “strongly opposed by the Hindus, but he defeated them, and smashed the images.” This, according to Sita Ram Goel, was the beginning of what I would call the Lie trying to prove itself right, somehow, coming our way… you MUST be wrong, for I AM right. Your gods must be devils, for MY book says so.
Who we see as our children, our mothers, our friends, and treat accordingly with the same care and respect day after day, some crazy corporation from far-away has got a lot of business about! Neither East India Company nor Schools of “Indology” nor, now, fed and fawned on by some of us, these Departments of South Asia Studies (or at least the Colonizer Theory they defend as if Lie-Defending is their biggest business).
So I return to my opening thesis, here. In college, in “PoCo,” I learned always that it was the economic, or the political-economic, of it all; they wanted the spice, the gold, the labor. And somehow, even if the “culture” they spawned around it, the colonizer’s story of the world, this-ism that-ism Euro-Anglo-Orientalism, was important to unpack in its own right, the business of the lie was somehow always off the hook. It was ceded to truth, analysis, even resistance, only in bits and pieces; archeologies they called it, of knowledge and such. But the business of the lie, the business of the way of life revolving around proving (or actually not even bothering to prove but just pretending anyway) it, the ad nauseum of it all…
We must speak of it because we have endured it for too long.
Sita Ram Goel’s History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304–1996) documents a history of power that neither Said nor Amin nor anyone else we read in college laid out with the erudition and force and clarity that was needed. How could they? How much could they, even?
Goel’s monumental study is a critique of theology not as it is fancied in conferences but as it happened. To us. Every encounter of any significance is documented carefully. What the Portuguese colonizers did when they encountered the “false gods” in Goa and Malabar. What the French colonizers did to temples in Pondicherry. What the British missionaries did when the natives pushed back against their arguments with some arguments of their own. Swami Vivekananda. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, most of all. And then, sprawling over three decades and hundreds of letters, conversations, reports; the grinding debate between Mahatma Gandhi and an incessant army of colonial Christian missionaries out to prove him, and Hindus, wrong somehow. This is the longest chapter in Goel’s book and weighs on the reader heavily. Then, a part of postcolonial world history even ambitious books like The Darker Nations have failed to mention: the massive lobbying effort made by colonial missionary organizations to retain their dominance over these newly free nations through the United Nations. Finally, the persistence of colonial religious power in supposedly independent India well into the 1990s, and the fundamentally intolerant nature of their theo-political project against indigenous cultures, lands, and peoples. Whether the hundreds of temple desecrations in Andhra Pradesh and other parts of India each year are proven to be caused by the same people who also go around boasting about kicking idols, or showing up in Hindu sacred sites with Bibles and insults to the local deities, or it’s all some conspiracy against Andhra Pradesh’s Christian Chief Minister as he claims, students of culture and power cannot ignore the scale and speed of this campaign of destruction any longer.
V. India After Predator, But What Will Remain?
The “indigenous” is, according to Theory, somehow not what it is, at least not in India. Nor is it really what they admit to here in America either. Fifty years after Alcatraz and five hundred and thirty years after Predator came, they won’t honor the truth still in children’s history textbooks beyond the weird idea that “everyone is an immigrant to America,” the indigenous people and the settler-colonizers, alike. The business of the lie is so deep, even when it is pretending to change, pretending to replace one great white chief with another….
The Lie today will not weep for the violence sweeping India, my part of India, my ancestors’ homeland. Great river-mothers opening up to the vast ocean, and amidst their waters, rising from the palm trees, the great gopurams of a land that is fast disappearing under greed and lies. It was bad enough seeing in a mere two decades almost the entire natural landscape of my hometown of Hyderabad, its endless horizons of massive, monumental sunset-flecked boulders, pulverized and erased into endless urban dreariness. Lakes filled up. Trees cut down. Whole hills flattened. I saw that happening before my eyes in the tiny, tiny village of Yaganti / Jwalapuram in Andhra Pradesh too when I visited five years ago. Seventy thousand year old Toba volcanic ash being dug out from below the ground to be sold to a detergent factory. Ten thousand year old rock paintings in hills being blasted every day all around them. The great temple of Uma Maheshwara with the mighty Nandi who is growing they say, each year of this wretched Kali Yuga. The old palm-faced cliffs seemed to tremble with the blasts. The caves inside named for ancient sages, secrets to this life, this.. everything, holding on and holding fast to Rama or Shiva or some sacred silence in the face of the lie.
(Watch this short video about the beautiful Ramateertham temple. It is in Telugu but try to experience the place and its sanctity anyway even if you don’t know the language. Broadly, the report narrates the history and sthala purana. The Pandavas stayed on this hill during their exile, when they received the deities of Rama and his family from Lord Krishna. The deities were hidden in a lake later, and rediscovered about five centuries ago when a mute woman in a nearby village began to suddenly speak. She said Lord Rama appeared before her and wrote the letters of his name on her tongue. Rama, she said, told her he was hidden in the lake. The vigrahams were retrieved, and this temple has flourished with active daily worship ever since. Many pilgrims come and place pebbles in small piles as a way of seeking boons from Rama).
Hindu Temple Desecrations in Andhra Pradesh 2020–21: Fact-Sheet and Resources
This is a list making the rounds on social media. Several incidents have been verified in Telugu news media. This extensive report on BBC News Telugu attributes one incident below to a routine road-widening exercise, but confirms several others. Police officials have stated that there have been between 200–300 temple desecration incidents each year for the past five years in this one state alone (read more here). For more on the complex situation with temples, state control and Christian-evangelical onslaughts on Hindu places of worship like Tirumala, watch this interview with Chilkur Rangarajan of the famous “visa temple” of Hyderabad, here.
14.11.2019: Durga temple in Guntur
21.01.2020: Hanuman temple in Pithapuram
11.02.2020: Venugopala swami temple in Rompicherla
13.02.2020: The main entrance of a temple in Undrajavaram
14.02.2020: The Chariot of Lord Balaji was burnt in Bitragunta (District Nellore)
06.09.2020: The Chariot of Lakshmi Narasimha swami burnt in Antarvedi
12.09.2020 Murti of Ganesha smeared with faeces in Rajahmundry.
13.09.2020: The Silver Lions from the Chariot of Goddess Durga was stolen
15.09.2020: The murti of Saibaba was damaged in Nidamanur (District Krishna)
16.09.2020: Hanuman murti was damaged in Eleswaram
16.09.2020: Goddess’s murtis were damaged near Gundlapadu in Guntur Dist
17.09.2020: Nandi murti was damaged in Makkapet (District Krishna)
19.09.2020: Murtis of Lord Shiva were damaged in Chintapalli (District Visakhapatnam)
20.09.2020: Photo frames of Lord Ayyappa were damaged near Narasapuram (District West Godavari)
23.09.2020: Hanuman murti was damaged in Pathikonda (District Kurnool)
25.09.2020: Hanuman murti was damaged near Naidu pet (District Nellore)
05.10.2020: Nrisimha swami murti was damaged near Mantralayam (District Kurnool)
06.10.2020: Hanuman murti was damaged in Adoni (District Kurnool)
06.10.2020: Goddess Saraswati murti was damaged in Narasarao pet (District Guntur)
17.10.2020 — The main entrance of Sri Veerabhadra swami temple was damaged Tarlapadu
Hanuman murti was damaged near Yanam (District East Godavari)
28.12.2020 Lord Shri Rama murti was decapitated in Vizianagaram
31.12. 2020 Karthikeya murti was damaged in Rajahmundry
3.1.2021. Sita Devi murti damaged in Vijaywada.
6.1.2021 Sri Koppara Lakshmi Narasimha Temple vandalized after lock was smashed.