Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hindutva Bigotry in America

Two years back I attended an event that featured Subramanian Swamy, a rabid Hindutva demagogue, in New Jersey and blogged about the event as "Subramanian Swamy and his parallel universe". Swamy who had recently been fired by Harvard University for a racist column worries me least unlike the Indian-Americans who were cheering his call for 'viraat Hindu'.

Indian-Americans, who are mostly Hindu, enjoy the liberal secular atmosphere of America. Today the White House celebrates Diwali, the First lady joins a Bollywood jig, Empire State Building lights up in tricolor on August 15th and Indians take out 'India day parade' in many American cities on August 15th gleefully waving the tricolor. Hindu temples, many are extravagantly lavish, dot the landscape across America and are mobbed during Hindu festivals. Schools in Edison, NJ have declared Diwali a holiday. Indians have an association for every language and caste in US with each declaring and fervently believing that they are the most superior. Local libraries, however cash strapped they are, buy Hindi books (and Mandarin and Korean). It is common to see Indians celebrate Diwali at offices replete with women bedecked in garish sarees. Corporate cafeterias serve Indian food. Princeton University Hospital serves Indian food for patients. Indian-Americans have been appointed as CEO's of mega-corps. The Smithsonian museums has organized an exhibition to celebrate the cultural contributions of Indian-Americans, a very recent group of immigrants, to America. E Pluribus Unum, indeed.

The single most frustrating attitude of many Indians is their steadfast and smug refusal to learn anything from America and American culture. Step into any Indian association function and you'd not see it conducted in any way different from how it'd be conducted in Chennai or Ahmedabad. And I don't say that as a compliment. We Indian-Americans enjoy the fruits and liberties of a pluralist society and yet how many even look at our Indian attitudes in the mirror? Indian attitudes on race, religion, caste and language remain very firmly Indian. I've time and again written how unflatteringly and overtly racist references to Afro-Americans and Chinese are made by Indians in personal conversations. All that  pales into insignificance when one looks at the sheer vitriolic hate propaganda by Hindutva brigade in US.

A Hindutva hate monger from US, using a fake ID on Facebook, posted a shameful article titled 'The untold census story' with a picture of a Muslim man driving a two-wheeler with 6 family members as passengers. The article stokes a standard Hindutva propaganda about increase of Muslim population percentage that outstrips Hindu rate of population increase. Its a fact. But to pretend that 130 million Muslims will outnumber 800 million Hindus is sheer fantasy. This trope about changing demographics and its implications for Hindus is a perpetual scare tactic by Hindutva brigade. That Hindu American, part of a million plus and counting influx of Indians, forgot that the US might not be a caucasian majority in 30 years. And that is due to just immigration, most of which is illegal, unlike India where minorities are citizens for nearly a 1000 years. And by the way the word 'minority' is a completely misleading term when we refer to a people number 130 million which is one half of US population.

Muslims have larger families in India and the 'family planning' drives by Government healthcare policies do not reach enough into those communities. An American commentator would look at reasons beyond scaremongering. Poverty and lack of family planning go hand in hand. Most Indian Muslims are stuck in grinding poverty. Also Indian healthcare policies for family planning only target women, given the male chauvinism of Indian males, it runs counter to Islamic principles. Simple but powerful facts that elude a mind filled with hate. By the way I know that entire American neighborhoods have been taken over by Indians driving out Americans who could not afford the rising prices anymore.

'Uniform civil code' is another pet fetish for Hindutva hate propagandists. Oh so innocently they would point to Western countries and ask "don't they have a single code for marriage etc". Western countries, unlike India, did not have to, until recent times, deal with religious minorities to a great extent. Let us take a few simple very mundane examples to see how Hindu Indian-Americans feel when they run into 'uniform' laws.

Americans love religion and religious people. It is common for a church to become famous and outgrow its size when the congregation multiplies. When that happens quite often the church, either by itself or at the request of authorities, would move to location thats suitable to the growing size. America has strict codes for parking spaces, how a large community center can fit into a residential area, traffic impact etc.

A temple in Chantilly, VA grew in size way beyond what was originally projected as possible size of members. Good. Great. Enjoy. With increased numbers comes problems. Indians, as Indians do, parked cars haphazardly in front of driveways of homes. Noise levels increased. Any home owner will be displeased seeing strangers, by the hundreds, streaming in and out of his/her neighborhood. Don't tell me that its not so in India. Complaints started pouring in and county officials requested the temple authorities to move the temple as churches do. Washington Post ran a story on this. The Hindu community dug in their heels saying that as per Hindu custom once the deity is consecrated in a certain place the good lord takes root there and cannot be uprooted. Unlike what Hindutva brigade wants for minorities in India the American authorities did not throw the book but opened a dialogue with the community and tried to work amicably.

Time and again temples run into one problem in America. Expansion. The concentration of Indians in pockets makes temples in that vicinity to grow exponentially. The relative affluence of Indian-Americans makes fund raising a cinch for temples. Many temples roll in considerable wealth. Customarily Americans like to keep their residential areas pristine with least commercial activity and when community centers like churches and temples rise up they would like it to blend into the neighborhood and not tower over it. It reduces property values. When temples present ambitious expansion plans they run into local opposition. Of course, without fail, Indians will cry 'racism'. As if one could construct a church or mosque in a Hindu neighborhood like Mylapore in Chennai. Sure there will be some racist element but by and large both civic officials and judiciaries have been firmly on the side of law. More often than not civic officials engage in dialogues. Nobody dare say smugly "this is America and the law is this go fly a kite".

Jamaica Bay in Queens is a protected site for bio-diversity and it is also the favorite dumping ground for Hindu ritual offerings. Park rangers have been repeatedly frustrated with the pollution of the bay by Hindus who make sacrificial offerings there and sometimes even float dead bodies as they do in Ganges. The bay is indeed referred to 'Ganges'. A New York Times articles notes that that park officials opened, yet again, dialogues with the community to impress upon them the idea that protected water cannot be messed with. A park official told NYT that he appealed to the Hindu spirituality of respecting the environment. Poor guy he does not know that Indians, Hindu or not, have no respect for the environment.
Empire State Building in Indian Tri-Color.
A Hindutva fanatic, from India, claimed that Christian and Muslim heritage in India amounts to only 'interactions' with Hindu heritage and in that too it only amounts to collisions. An American Hindutva fanatic eagerly clicked 'like' for that. I'll save the demerits of that argument for another blog. The American fanatic had learned nothing from America. Indians came to US by the thousands only during the dot com boom and thereafter. A very recent arrival. Yet America celebrates the new kid on the block. American mayors grace Indian association meetings and pay tributes to Indian communities. Carnatic exponent Chitraveena Ravikiran organizes a unique blend of Carnatic and Western classical music called 'Melharmony' with active participation from Wisconsin based musicians. Wisonsin has now declared a 'Melharmony day'. I've, as usual, my own carping about that but the point is how America is eager to embrace new cultures and how somebody living in America has failed to imbibe that trait.

The Smithsonian recently organized an exhibition on the most popular cultural export of India, yoga. In that occasion historian William Dalrymple, author of best seller 'Last Mughal', reviewed four books connected with yoga in New York Review of Books. He points out that Muslim scholar Alberuni had translated the yoga sutras of Patanjali. It was under the aegis of Jahangir, then Salim, that Hindus wrote and painted the asanas. Chief among them was, Dalrymple says, Govardhan. The Smithsonian exhibition was based on those paintings. Dalrymple also reviews two other books which pokes a hole through this myth of yogis being docile and peace personified. 'Sinister yogis' by David Gordon White and 'Warrior ascetics' by William Pinch speak of very little known violent side of Hinduism beyond the well known violence of casteism that is. Whether it is the inability to appreciate Gandhi or the achievements and failures of Nehru or the complex histories of religion and conquests I'd blame, squarely, the pathetic Indian education that not only fails to prepare the student's mind for subtleties but instead teaches dumb truisms. I am livid with rage and feel like puking at the illiteracy of my fellow Indian-Americans about how cultures overlap, influence each other and contribute, even if unwittingly or unwillingly, to each.

Indian languages are a recent entry to US and yet, thanks to efforts of community enthusiasts, American schools now accept proficiency in parents mother tongue by children as 'proficiency' in a foreign language and give educational credits. I disagree with that as policy but its a common 'trick' by many ethnic communities. Again, the point is how America embraces diversity.

Many Brahmins in UK and USA eagerly shared on Facebook the news that a British school was teaching Sanskrit to its pupils. I saw nothing for Indians to be proud about. How many Brahmin run educational institutions would teach Urdu, a language of enviable richness for poetry, a language with hundreds of years of history in India itself? Indians love to beat their chests when somebody else adopts theirs ideas or culture but rarely do they feel they too need to not just return the favor but enlarge their own narrowness.

One American argued with a Tamil writer that Jesus Christ was a 'myth' and not 'history'. I just wish that he held his beloved BJP to the same standards and asked why bother about a temple for a mythical character. Hindutva brigade in California raised a ruckus over how India and Hinduism is portrayed in California textbooks. Of course, historical accuracy or the lack thereof is an inconvenient irritant when it comes to ones own cherished beliefs. Thankfully American educational system, which is adept in beating back Christian fundamentalists denying evolution, with support from Hindus with better sense beat back such an attempt. These are the same people who look at Muslims smugly for seeking to ban unflattering texts in India. These bigots tried to make an India out of America.

Oh, by the way these bigots might smirk at the attempts of some Christians to subvert the teaching of science but completely forget that a totally spurious subject called 'Vedic Mathematics' is peddled across Hindu neighborhoods in America.

Another pet peeve of Hindutva bigots is screaming about how Indian Muslims would cheer for Pakistan in a cricket match. It does happen and as much as I dislike it I'd not condemn it altogether because that is not as simple an issue as it is often presented. But how do Indian-Americans acquit themselves on the issue of loyalty to America? In other words shall we subject Indian-Americans to the same litmus test that the bigots want for minorities?

Whether it is 9/11 or the Devyani Khobragade issue I've heard and read Indian-Americans nonchalantly mouth anti-American idiocies. Most Indian-Americans still look at America through the prism of its foreign policy as they would judge a foreign country.

The India Day Parade held in observance of August 15th is the most faction ridden, we are Indians after all, and mostly Hindu flavored. Christians and Muslims have little or no presence in these parades which are dominated by Gujarathi Patels. In New Jersey two factions went to court seeking injunction against the other party from taking out a rally. The court informed the factions that it is un-American to prohibit anyone from taking out a rally. How little those Indians had understood America is evident in that lawsuit. This applies to the various Sangams too. I've not heard of Tamil sangams celebrating Christmas or Ramadan. In fact non-Hindu memberships in Tamil sangams is abysmally low. It does not even strike the organizers that this needs to be addressed. Diversity is still an alien idea to Indians as a concept to strive. Indians enjoy the fruits of the American idea of diversity without imbibing it as an idea in their own lives.

Macaulay had more appreciation of the richness of Indian heritage, Hindu and Islamic, than what any of the Hindutva bigots have, in 21st century, for other cultures, both foreign and domestic. Indians prattle endlessly about the racist tendencies of the colonizers but gladly indulge today what some, not all, dim witted Europeans showed towards others.

If one perused the headlines of New York Times and Washington Post over the last 5 years one would find articles that worry about growing income inequality, need for all kinds of diversity (gender, racial and ethnic) in books and movies, diversity at workplaces. An Indian-American heads Microsoft, women head IBM and GM and are now breaching combat operations in the army.

One of the articles in Washington Post dealt with whether women should be integrated into combat units of the army and addressed if women can do the same physical exercise benchmarks as men. An army commissioned report said that many of the physical exercises in the army tradition are practically designed with men in mind and bare little relevance to real military situations hence could easily be altered to accommodate women. This is how diversity is practiced in America. If glass ceilings should be broken then we need to question paradigms. Hate mongers live life in rearview mirror hashing out how to frame policies today remembering what Ghazni and Aurangazeb did 500 years ago. On that score a few myths need to be laid bare and some selective outrage need to be questioned. All that in coming blogs.

In deep red-neck Texas a University hosts a Muslim fraternity complete with prayer halls. America's universities were once headed by christian theologians and hosted chapels. Princeton University Chapel is a gothic grandeur. Today, Yale, Princeton, North Western and Georgetown universities have Muslim chaplains. JP Morgan Chase offers investments that adhere to Sharia guidelines. A New York Times article highlighted how Muslims are entering Wall Street now and 'shaking up' the old boys network.

Couple of years ago I spoke to the fake ID guy and broke up saying "I can say that if Muslims happen to work under you they will not be treated fair". I was reminded of that remark when I recently saw his Facebook posts and patted myself for my prescience. This guy who huffs and puffs hatred in every post about every imagined danger to Hinduism has not posted a single news article or comment about the inhuman treatments meted out to Dalit Hindus even today across India. That clearly show that selective outrage is targeted only at his imagined enemies.

Challenges remain and any country or any society can always do better and so should America. Amidst these changes these Hindutva bigots are a blot on a great religion and a great country (I mean America).


1. "Hindus find a Ganges in Queens, to Park Rangers Dismay" - New York Times -

2. Subramanian Swamy at 'Hindu Unity Day' in NJ

3. My blog on Subramanian Swamy

4. 'Fraternity life, Islamic style' - New York Times -

5. 'Muslims on Wall Street, Bridging Two Traditions' - New York Times -

6. Book Reviews by William Dalrymple - 'Under the spell of yoga' - New York Review of Books -


Prasanna said...

Brilliant.. Expecting more debunking on 'Frequently circulated points' by hate mongers against minorities to spread hatred..

Anonymous said...

"tanSEN was bengali my dear friend, so were a lot of other people! want to see the entire list as it stands today? so was subash chandra bose and sri aurobindo :) and i can name a million others and i am proud to say our greateness can be exerted beyond our national borders. we are the fifth largest speakers!

we bengalis have won pretty much every award in the world stage you name it we have it and we are damn proud of what we have :)

its the only country in the world which took rebellion because it couldn't speak its mother tongue and it won! and won so hard that the UN had to adopt that day as the international language day, which celebrates languages from all over the world.

did you know that the FAMOUS SEARS TOWER is architectured by another bengali?"

MBA, IMT Ghaziabad
Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

anilkurup59 said...

Wonderful. It takes honesty and forthrightness to say our back has dirt.
Yes I agree with all that you said. Great writing