This past week I participated in a webinar on Hinduphobia organised by the Hindu University of America. The two other panellists on the program and I discussed whether we should use the term “Hinduphobia” or whether we should label this hatred and baiting of Hindus and Hinduism (which themselves are contested terms) differently. Koenraad Elst has argued that phobia denotes fear and that those who target Hindus and Hinduism are not afraid of either but instead indulge in mockery, baiting, and spreading hate. But others have said that phobia is not just about fear but also aversion and that those who bait Hindus and mock Hinduism are deeply averse to Hinduism. However, it is also possible that Hinduphobia, the fear of Hinduism, is actually deep-rooted and is indeed an actual fear because Hindu philosophy, tenets, and understanding of the cosmos and human life does indeed make the Christian, the Muslim, or the Marxist quake in their faith-boots and ideology uniforms: for what else can be more threatening to the monopolist/supremacist faith groups whose claims to god, heaven and truth and the perfect society are so obviously unverified and unverifiable than a disciplined enquiry into all these matters, as Hindus have been involved in, and whose major claims are all based on verifiability, validity, and reliability? But how can we account for and understand the two millennia-old quest by these monopolist faith groups to make the world Christian or Muslim, or the more recent attempts by Marxists/Communists to find and establish a godless utopia? The fear that the world will discover their God does not wear clothes or that their class and materialist ideology is bound to lead to deadly violence and dehumanisation could indeed account for not just Hinduphobia but fear of science and of the dread of reason. Thus, the barely concealed attempts to find and destroy all things Hindu. Possibly.
Prof Jeffery Long has written about Hinduphobia, crediting Rajiv Malhotra and Hindu Human Rights of London for the neologism, a coinage we know is based on the older concept of “Islamophobia” that Iranian fundamentalists were said to have made popular in the late 1970s, but which in turn was based on Alain Quellien’s 1910 thesis. The Islamophobia concept also found traction in Prof Edward Said’s books “Orientalism” and “Covering Islam”. Prof Long’s analysis of Hinduphobia in academia is a must-read for anyone who is serious about understanding how Hindus and Hinduism have become targets in Western academe. These academics have trained their students to read and analyse Hindu texts and rituals and have them understand modern Indian events within this Hinduphobic framework. Prof Long warns us to tread carefully when we lump together these academics as Hinduphobes because their Hinduphobia is of different levels and has different characteristics. He points out to what he calls “Apparent Hinduphobia” (within which there are two sub-categories: Tone Deafness and Genuine Disagreement) and “Real Hinduphobia” (within which are two sub-categories — Open Hinduphobia, and Deep Hinduphobia). That his work has not found traction among his colleagues not only goes to indicate the prevalence of these varieties of Hinduphobia in academia but also the power imbalance within academia that allows for ‘South Asia’ scholars and ‘Indologists’ to ignore and silence such criticism and commentary.
Media and cultural critic Prof Vamsee Juluri has an ongoing series of analyses and commentaries which he has titled “Today in Hinduphobia” where he carefully deconstructs media reports and opinion pieces for their Hinduphobic content. Mainstream American and European media have ignored his trenchant analyses and continue to peddle their Hindu-hate without concern either for truth or fairness in journalism. Once again, the silence of the powerful can kill.
Hinduphobia has its consequences. Scholars who have not studied Hinduism, but who write about race, ethnicity, communication, sociology, or political science borrow from the religion scholars and ‘Indologists’ and become secondary channels for spreading Hinduphobia. Thus, an author of a popular intercultural communication textbook wrote that “Hinduism is the most inegalitarian religion”. Having asked him directly for the reasons to include such an inflammatory comment in an intercultural communication textbook that purportedly was written to help students navigate this new world, and not hearing back from him, I demanded of the publishers that they reconsider what they publish and who their internal reviewers are for such books. Over a period of two years, and after presenting my concerns at a couple of academic conferences, I wrote a detailed analysis of this example of Hinduphobia which is soon going to be published in an academic journal. What little traction it may find will be buried under the daily bilge of “Hindu atrocity” literature and media reports.
In this context, a few days ago, I read a news item about a young Indian American professor of law and history at Yale University being awarded a Carnegie Fellowship. It is natural to take pride in the work and achievement of our own, and so I looked up his profile on the Yale University website. A product of the National Law School, Bengaluru, and Princeton University, New Jersey, he has written about the Indian Constitution and who and whose concerns about what have shaped the Constitution over the decades. Fine, I thought. I then found these two articles listed on his university website — “The Value of Bull Shit: The Juridical Invention of Bovine Value”, and “Cow and Constitutionalism” — and realised, once again, that mocking anything to do with Hindu concerns or Hindu values gets good purchase in Western academe. I don’t know what Prof De will use his $ 200,000 from the Carnegie Foundation to study but I have a sneaking suspicion it is about something that Hindus value and that he finds of little “secular” purchase.
Finally, one more example of the treatment of Hindus and Hindu contributions to the world: I have read a couple of Roberto Calasso’s books, including his exotic “Ka” and the deeply delightful “Ardor” (both dealing with the mind of Vedic seers and the rituals they designed to tether their minds to the cosmic grid) and so ordered his new book — The Unnamable Present — about the shapeless and aimless modern society whose goals of utopia is an empty materialist pursuit ending in nameless dread and searing loneliness. Having read a couple of good reviews in Western newspapers/magazines, I came upon a review of the book in The Hindu. Ah, I thought, here I might find a review that will at least help tease out for the reader some of what Calasso alludes to in the book — of the ‘Vedic’ man’s world order (rṭa) and his burdens/obligations (rṇa) and how secularisation has made individuals live unobligated lives — merely following laws or rules that have no doctrinal precepts undergirding them. “Homo saecularis owes nothing to anyone. He stands by himself. He has nothing behind, apart from what he himself does,” bemoans Calasso while pointing out that rṭa and rṇa grounded and rooted the ancient Hindu. Those few modern Hindus, wedded to their rituals and to the disciplined following of the rules and obligations of purusharthas, walk on firm ground, see their connection to the cosmic order, pay their dues. Alas, Keerthik Sasidharan, the reviewer has nothing to say about it, and I then realised the paradox and the obvious Hinduphobia: in a newspaper named The Hindu, a Hindu reviewer of a book that mentions Hindu goodness deliberately ignores the Hindu. We live in Hinduphobic times, but the cosmic cycle, the world order, rṭa, will ensure that this too shall pass.