Today in Hinduphobia October 18, 2019: Murders, Children as Propaganda, Denial, and Other Depressing Items

Let me begin with the most depressing problem on hand, with the hope that by naming this, we will perhaps be able to do something about it. The most depressing problem in the conversation about Hinduphobia today is that we really do not have the tools to even have a proper conversation about Hinduphobia.

This is not surprising, I suppose, considering the fact that the institutions that normally provide the tools for civil society to have meaningful conversations about human rights issues, about the lives of ordinary children, women, and men, and their right to be protected from threatening propaganda, religious bigotry, and violence, have failed to ever consider Hindus as human beings worthy of such a conversation.

Universities, NGOs, media, schools, all invest so much effort these days in educating us about Islamophobia, Homophobia, Anti-Semitism, Misogyny, and other bad things that happen to members of historically targeted, oppressed, or relatively powerless groups of human beings. These institutions have not only failed to recognize Hindus as a group of people who fit into such a category, but have actively sought to deny the growing demands from Hindus around the world that a denial of Hinduphobia is in fact a denial of human rights. It is after all, only academic bureaucracy, and its increasing cooptation with the calculations of geo-military forces and ideologies, that have kept the commonly understood notion of “Hindu” identity out of the commonly understood definitions of postcoloniality, racism, and alterity, recasting “Hindu” as “Hindu Nationalism” and then as “Nazism” and laughing over blood, essentially, like Hindu bodies and lives are about as important as a goat on a sacrificial festival day.

But the cause of my concern today is not specifically these institutions so deeply invested in denying Hinduphobia, but in the emerging movements and organizations that seemingly are interesting in advocating for its inclusion in the conversation today. Are “Hindu” organizations taking the fight against Hinduphobia seriously enough, or are they content with deluding their donors and followers with platitudes about their powerful importance on the world stage using pictures of Modi and Trump holding hands (among other things)? Are members of Hindu civil society who are aware there is a problem with Hinduphobia taking that problem seriously enough to work with experts and professionals, or are they content with social media narcissism and ephemeral twitter-length outbursts? Are Hindu parents, most importantly, who have brought children into this world with this “H” label that a hostile world (or hostile parts of the human race) have invested huge funds into demonizing, and ultimately, destroying, prepared enough to teach their children about the privileges and perils of being Hindu as they grow into an uncertain future?

The signs I have seen these past few days are not encouraging as far as these questions go. Before I talk about some of the really terrible things that are happening in terms of HIRL (Hinduphobia in Real Life as opposed to just the usual media/mental propaganda), I should note that our behavior as a community confronted by clearly political-existential challenges is incredibly disappointing. We are ruled by tremendous myth-making and denial, and have retreated to social media storms as an outlet in the absence of any effective real-world organizing, strategy, or action. I have seen this happen for a few years ever since I started following what Hindu organizations do a little closely, and the same things seem to play out again and again; playing only to the converted, pretending something is happening when it actually isn’t, and sulking when told something is not right under the pretext of some chimera called “Hindu unity.” I have written a whole e-book on this issue so ordinary Hindus trapped between indifferent Hindu organizations and a hostile Hinduphobic world can understand the logic of narrative and writing. I believe about 200 people have bought it and some have told me they have even employed some of my ideas. I am grateful.

I woke up this morning to a Twitter alert from India’s national broadcaster, Doordarshan, saying that they would be airing a special program on Hinduphobia in US politics. I have no idea why they tagged me, but I assume it’s because they know me as someone who writes about this issue (and particularly how it’s been affecting Tulsi Gabbard). The program began on a professional-enough premise, setting up the issue as a question (Is there Hinduphobia against Tulsi Gabbard?), but what happened after that was really strange. Essentially, there was a world salad tossed around about Hinduphobia, Bhagawad Gita, California textbooks, Blacks and the American South, and “Left Liberals” like Martha “Mussbaum” and Amartya Sen. There were some scholars I know and respect up there, and valiant and occasionally coherent points were made, but on the whole, I was left quite disappointed about the lack of planning for something like this (I believe another omission was the absence of any mention of Tulsi being a non-Indian Hindu; a question becoming ever more relevant with the RSS’s recent push to define “Hindu” as essentially “all Indians”; so where does that leave a non-Indian Hindu, like Tulsi?)

The problem with organized Hindu groups is that despite sharing some concerns with independent Hindus about Hinduphobia, there has been a deep inertia when it comes to actually understanding how the professional, cultural, and academic mainstream operates today. Hindu activism is rarely able to go beyond Hindu performance, by and for Hindus, with little bearing on the active sources of Hinduphobia today, whether in terms of media, academia, or multinational companies freely spreading disdain for Hindus through ads and marketing campaigns in India. Confined to the fringes (of effectiveness and visibility, not necessarily of morality), these groups then flounder about looking for ideas and campaigns to cannibalize from independent Hindu activists, and claim an occasional victory or two along the way even if much more is required to be accomplished (I was fascinated to find that a Hindu advocacy group recently deployed a “content analysis” methodology of sorts on US news coverage of Kashmir, though a professional move would have been to support an independent, professional media researcher or research group as more serious communities might have done).

The depressing part of Hindu inability to see Hindu survival as a serious priority for every one of us is of course not just this inability but the survival part.

In the past few days, there have been several acts of brazen hate against Hindus in South Asia, from stone-throwing mob attacks on Hindu Goddess processions to violent murders. On the last day of the sacred Goddess festival of Durga Puja in Bengal, a Hindu schoolteacher, his pregnant wife, and small son were all slaughtered brutally. Members of India’s ruling party went to Twitter to announce that the poor schoolteacher was a member of their organization (the RSS) and demanded that “liberals” should condemn the murder. If he was indeed a member of the RSS and was indeed killed for that, then it is strange that there has been no RSS “million man march” or any such visible demonstration of solidarity.

A few days later, a Pakistani student organization released a video featuring Pakistani children threatening to conquer India and kill and eat cows at India Gate. One Pakistani boy stabbed his finger threateningly and promised to kill the “RSS terrorists” and avenge the martyrs. Watch the video here:

While this video naturally was criticized widely for its exploitation of children, an Indian response featuring Indian children was also produced. In this video, the children don’t threaten a counter-conquest of Pakistan, but the opposite; they plead that Indians love the whole world, and Indians are CEOs at Google and Microsoft, and that Indians honor guests as divinity itself.

The strange thing about Hindu inability to comprehend the cultural mainstream today is that most Hindus on the internet celebrated this cringe-worthy self-praise showpiece as a sign of Indian (or Hindu) moral superiority blindly, instead of realizing that this video comes across as sheer ethnocentrism, not unlike the Pakistani one (and of course, is naively suicidal in a way). One ethnocentrism threatens death, and the other tries to claim moral superiority through goody-goodyness.

There is no honor in goody-goodyness, frankly. But who will tell the Hindus?

Who will tell the Hindus that the problem is not that the world fails to understand how beautiful your Hinduism is, and how peaceful the Hindus are. Sure. The world already knows that. What the world, especially the world that will remain to either honor or to imprison your descendants after you are gone, is waiting for you to do now is to show which way your actions will take you. You can pretend that we are nice, and so nice, and so like Gandhi, and hope the madness will stop. Or, you can start by using your mind, your words, your actions and your silences strategically, and acting on demonstating powerfully that the problem is not with our Hinduism but with their Hinduphobia.

How each of us do this of course is best left to our individual talents, dispositions and locations. But something must be done.

Speaking of nothing being done, or something being undone; the RSS, much maligned as “fascist” and much helpless even as it pleads for liberals to condemn murder of its cadre, seems to have sacrificed one more person to Hinduphobia. Kamlesh Tiwari, a Hindu organization leader from Uttar Pradesh, decided to troll back at a Muslim politician some time ago who had called the RSS “gay.” Tiwari called not the Muslim politician or his party or his people but the founder of his community the same thing, and immediately earned a bounty on his head for his blasphemous trespass. He was arrested (but not those who openly declared a bounty on his life though) and kept locked up for a long time, and eventually released. Yesterday, he had his throat cut open and his body riddled with bullets.

While most Hindus would never say such disrespectful things and “invite trouble,” the truth is that denial and silence too can end up becoming invitations to trouble too. The mainstream culture of the world today, not the “fringe groups” indoctrinated in some terror camps in South Asia, has all but accepted that Hindu lives do not matter. You can take that reality and now decide what you want to do with it. The choice is simple:

a) you can continue boasting that you are successful, educated, peaceful and Hindus are not like Muslims and lose whatever little goodwill one might still have for Hindus, or

b) act like a normal 21st century world-citizen who is aware of his or her rights as a human being, a postcolonial people, an agent of indigenous resistance and decolonization, and assert dignity through the sheer, simple, inexorable task of truth-talking alone.

(PS: on the last point, we will all do well to learn from that truth-talker who has done you and me the great service of pointing out that Hinduphobia is a real thing which a million Hindus with high median incomes and higher still ivy-league degrees in this country for 50 years now have been unable to do; Learn-from-Tulsi).

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Vamsee Juluri

Author of Firekeepers of Jwalapuram, Part 2 of The Kishkindha Chronicles (Westland, 2020) & Media Studies Professor at the University of San Francisco.