Writing Across A Cracked World: An Excerpt from my Forthcoming Book for Guru Purnima
Writing Across a Cracked World is a guidebook for emerging writers, independent scholars, spiritual explorers, bloggers, artists, activists and anyone else who is concerned about the growing Hinduphobic bias and bigotry in mainstream media and academic discourses. On this Guru Purnima day, I am happy to share two of the 40-odd principles and aphorisms on narrative and writing I discuss in my forthcoming book to inspire and inform the writer in you.
Words are Levelers. Words are the levers you can use to topple the Hinduphobic paradigm.
You may already have all the facts, or some of them, to boldly refute dominant academic voices and media megaphones (and megalomaniacs) who systematically lie about Hindus and India. But all the facts in the world, issued forth as tweets, retweets, posts and even scholarly essays, will not breach the mental walls erected by the gatekeepers of the Establishment, and more importantly, the mental walls that Middle Hindus live behind for reasons of practical survival.
Right now, the language of the movement’s narratives is set up so that Middle Hindus either fear to embrace it, or at best decide to participate anonymously. The narrative remains credible only among the converted.
What I believe is that by refining our understanding of the logic of anti-Hindu discourses and narratives as they exist today, and by perfecting our writing accordingly, we can actually breach the high walls of the Establishment.
Seen in terms of words, narratives, and language, there seems to be very little shared mind-space between the Establishment and the Movement. We will talk more about this a little later in the book in an entry about what Dilbert cartoon creator and persuasion expert Scott Adams called the “two movies” of the 2016 American election campaign. For now, let us see the field for what it is. The Establishment has its own reality, where Hindus are bloodthirsty creatures, and Hanuman is either a “dimwit Ram bhakt” or an “angry” “creature” whose image on taxis implies that the drivers wish to rape women because Hinduism says to do so and Hindu males feel hot and violent between the legs like Shiva’s Trishul and Vishnu raped the Goddess Tulasi and Rama is a misogynist pig and Sita sings the blues. The Movement, on the other hand, consists of anti-colonial Hindus who continue to see Rama, Krishna, and all the divinities of their world just as how we did; through a lens of love, aesthetic appreciation, and philosophical and ethical contemplation.
Middle Hindus are occasionally jarred by the former, and can relate to the Movement’s sensibilities still. But the Establishment has a million tricks to make them lose what is left of their minds; namely, it’s domination over the channels and technologies of mass communication. It has managed to turn very neutral and endearing qualities into slurs and insults; for example, the word “Bhakt.” Many Middle Hindus and even members of the movement now use this word in a disparaging or at least in the newly-reduced political-fanboy sort of way. The more virulent strains in the Establishment are getting actually very good at this. Between 2014 and the present, many neutral or positive Hindu words have actually been tarred and burnt effectively by propaganda. Remember, they have the same technologies, resources and skills used to sell junk food, colas, cigarettes, fake wars and the like: they can easily convince the world that 2+2=5 (as they did in George Orwell’s 1984). Destroying a word like “Bhakt” was easy. More will come unless we get smarter.
Another example is the change in the Establishment’s discourse in terms of what it considers the problem. Till 2014 or so, it considered the problem to be “Hindu Extremism/Fundamentalism/Nationalism.” Now, it targets Hinduism and the phrase “Sanatana Dharma” itself as dangerous. But because “Hindu” remains a popular word still among “Middle Hindus,” some important voices in the Establishment have started an effort to appropriate the label from the Movement. Without course correction, what we might see is the following: the Establishment owning the definition of “Hindu” in the eyes of the Middle Hindus, ending up reducing Hindu practices to a zombie-like superficiality of temples turned into museums and images reduced to decorations, while the Movement struggles to fight this with increasingly narrowcast words like “RW” or “Nationalist” and so on which have far less purchase with the Middle Hindus (and carry negative connotations too).
The way forward, in my view, is to let our words travel where we might physically and professionally not be able to go: into the very core mind-space of the Establishment itself. If we discipline our writing so that it can work on the stage of understanding that Middle Hindus and reasonably neutral professionals in the Establishment are at the moment, we have a better chance at reaching in and toppling the ignorance that dominates today.
The Hindu movement is NOT the same thing as a “RW” movement. See the road ahead as bigger than “Left” and “Right.” Don’t be trapped by labels.
I have been writing, the past few days, about one thorny problem in our own thinking more than any other: the use of the label “RW’ to describe the Hindu movement.
“RW” is a heavily skewed word. It has been loaded with so much negative meaning that it loses you two possibly sympathetic readers in the middle ground for every one convert to the Hindu movement. It is not a stick you can get into the Establishment’s mind to flip it over. They have already defined it to a much bigger audience, and for far longer than you can imagine.
Now, on occasion, you might be able to get access from them though if you call yourself RW and write very badly and say outrageously mean and stupid things that by comparison makes their Hinduphobia look smart, polished, and quite normal really. So. It’s a trap. Not worth it. We are out to break a powerful paradigm, not get used by it.
I think that most self-identified “RW” writers, bloggers and activists have started using this term uncritically because it seemed like the opposite of what the “Left Wing,” which is what most scholars and writers today who loathe Hindus and Hinduism on the basis of their uninformed colonial-era pseudo-scholarship might call themselves. I had a hunch though that even if the term “RW” was being widely used by people, it really was just a Hindu movement.
I conducted an informal Twitter poll recently l to see what terms people in the movement liked using, and why. This is what I found:
There were several interesting comments too about the choice of words. While “Hindu” was indeed popular, several people explained that “Right Wing” was popular in general because people who use it are aware that it does not mean the same thing in every country.
The problem with this assumption is simple: “RW” works this way only if you are already in the Movement. It does not penetrate into the Establishment (in fact it actually makes them feel vindicated that what they think about Hindus, however absurd it might be, is actually true). And it alienates Middle Hindus.
So, think about it. On the one side, let’s say there is a writer who presents facts (say, about temple destruction), writes with competence and flair, and has all but won the debate, but calls himself “RW.” On the other side, there is a writer who fudges all the facts, sanitizes temple destruction, but calls himself a Hindu suddenly, and his opponent a Right Winger. Which way is the vaguely liberal, undecided Middle Hindu going to swing? He will most likely buy into the idea that being a good Hindu means forgetting all about temple destruction, and also that condemning temple destruction is something only extremist RW people do (also remember, the RW label has been effectively defined by the Establishment as a trans-religious, trans-national one; they use it equally for Hindu keyboard strokes as they do for AK 47 bullets and rusty-nail-filled pressure cooker bombs by others).
Narrative strategies aside, “RW” is also possibly highly inaccurate as a label for us. Here’s a quick way to figure out just how RW the Hindu movement actually is. Make a list of some of the well-known people you follow on Twitter or Facebook, and try to locate where on this grid their positions may lie: (illustration forthcoming)
I mapped this out and what I found it is that most of my friends in the top (Hindu) part are probably in the center or slightly to the right of the top part. Most of my professional colleagues in academia and in journalism are probably in the lower left corner (Secular-Left). I believe there are also quite a few voices on the lower right quadrant (the Secular-Right) who sometimes swing towards Hindu grievances but mostly swing the other way (I believe the phenomenon is charmingly called “Monkey Balancing” on Twitter).
We needn’t completely avoid the words Left and Right, but we need to represent their place precisely. I would see the Hindu movement as the ground, and within that make place for voices that go in either direction. That’s us.
If we make “Left-Right” (or even “Nationalist”) the ground, then being Hindu somehow becomes reduced to a subservient place in an alien, colonial framework and doesn’t really help change things.
“Hindu” is a strong enough label for us to live with and live by I think.
On Guru Purnima day, let us vow to make our words worthy of the culture and ideals we hope to serve with them. Take a pledge to call yourself Hindu, Indian… anything you like really, but let’s stop the self-defeating “Right Wing” label starting from today!