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Hindu Self Shaming

By: Venkat Lakshminarayan
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(The author is a retired automotive engineer and a resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan)

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Often I hear my Hindu friends express how "ashamed they are about being a Hindu" when they come across some media report about Hindu religious or cultural customs which may not conform to their westernized logic. Or it may be news item of a communal incident in which Hindus are reported to have participated. Western media as well as the English media in India routinely portray Hinduism in stereotyped manner and have rarely shown objectivity in such reports. My friends do not bother to check the reliability of the information when they react with shame. This self shaming is a unique Hindu quality. In contrast, if one asks any of our Islamic brothers if they feel ashamed of their fellow Muslims engaging in terrorist activities, invariably they will respond that such acts are unislamic and those who commit such acts do not represent Islam. They will further add that non-muslims are using such incidents to slander Islam. Similarly, if one puts a question to our Christian brothers about the injustice and cultural genocide done by the European evangelists to African, Asians and Native Americans, they will counter that the victims ought to be grateful for receiving the "gospel and civilization" in spite of all the sufferings they have undergone.

It puzzles me to see this asymmetry in reactions. As Hindus we believe in "Sarva Dharma Sambava", a principle which respects all religious faiths. We do this even when the other religious establishments and scriptures slander Hindus as idolaters, infidels and heathens. But how does one explain this idea of self shaming and slandering by Hindus upon their own faith? Westernized Hindus casually express that their religion is full of superstitions but they cannot even explain the core of Hinduism. In today"s nomenclature the term superstition refers to the beliefs and practices that do not conform to logic or rationality. But none of the popular religions, including Christianity and Islam, pass the test of logic and rationality. If you ask our Christian and Islamic brothers about the logic of their faith, they will respond that faith is more important than logic. But the same argument denied to Hinduism.

The idea of multiculturalism is new to the West but it is an age old idea in India. The concepts of "Sarva Dharma Sambava" or tolerance and respect to all the faiths and "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" or the whole world being one community are unique to Hinduism. This is something that Hindus should be proud of, for, such thinking nurtures tolerance and peaceful coexistence in the modern pluralistic world. Then how does one explain about Hindus who were raised in a tolerant tradition do not show tolerance to their own faith?

The history of India that we learned in our schools is a fiction fabricated by the British colonial government and promoted by the present day Marxists, evangelists and vote bank dependent politicians. During British rule the education in India was largely outsourced to Christian missionaries whose primary goal was not education but Prosyletization. This outsourcing by and large continues today and most of us have been influenced by the missionary school education. The history that is being taught in our schools have nothing good to say about Hinduism while they portray Christianity and Islam as historic, and therefore, superior faiths. We were subjected to propaganda. Our own religious and cultural moorings were erased from us as we pursued the English education.

As an example of the entrenched negative spin of Hinduism by Western interpretation I want to talk about the evolution of Indian caste system in the modern times. The Indian caste system and its alleged hierarchical structure have notoriety around the world as if they are evils originated by Hinduism. Very few are aware that the caste hierarchy as its perceived today is largely a construct of the British colonial administrators. The caste system does not define Hinduism and caste based hierarchy was unknown until the missionaries started interpreting Indian society to the West. Pre-British caste system in India was no more than a system of endogamous divisions (marriages within groups) in a society with dynamic religious traditions and hereditary occupations but without a social hierarchy.

Upon its takeover of India, for administrative convenience, the British colonial government undertook a project to create a hierarchically ranked society similar to their own in the eighteenth century England. Their religious and racial prejudices led them to set their goals to Christianize India and create a social hierarchy with an upper crust of Brown English speakers but it led to the Great Revolt of 1857. The Revolt failed but it temporarily put a hold on the Christianizing attempt. The effort to create the social hierarchy continued.

After the failure of the Revolt the colonials renewed the task of social engineering with the idea of creating the social hierarchy with caste as the basic building block. They introduced the census in 1871 to categorize people on the basis of castes and codify a social hierarchy. Elaborate ethnographic exercises were done to rank the castes in a hierarchical order based on racial theories (Aryan/Dravidian theory), anthropometric research (nose index) and biblical prejudices. In the census the people were identified by their castes and were classified to fit in the new artificial hierarchy. The castes were catalogued in the Gazettes and presumed that the character and intelligence of the people to be functions of the caste they belonged. They even claimed scientific basis for such classification. Some castes were classified as "criminal castes" and people belonging to them were declared to be born with criminal behavior and were penalized with no legal recourse. The ideas of upper and lower castes were pushed into the society. The imposition of hierarchy did not particularly succeed but its remnants poisoned the society and politics and today the caste issue has become an intractable socio-political problem. Hindu religion is being blamed for the "caste hierarchy" that came out of the social engineering by the non-Hindu British rulers. Blame the victim, indeed!

Next time the westernized Hindu reads a report on Hinduism that makes him ashamed, he is well advised to check its reliability and factual basis. Instead of going into self deprecation he will do some good to himself to comprehend the overall issue. Instead of accepting the Westerner"s comment as gospel truth he better do some homework to learn about his religion and along the way about the other faiths as well. If he still feels the shame after such exercises, he is free to move to any other religion of his choice. Hindus will respect his decision. They will still be friends because they believe in tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

Venkat Lakshminarayan

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References & Notes:

The author expresses his gratitude the book: Nicholas Dirks, "Castes of Mind: Colonialism and Making of Modern India", Princeton University Press (2001), for the information on colonial census and efforts to classify and rank castes and people.

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