This Month (April 2020) in Hinduphobia

Discrimination and violence against Hindus and Hinduism is real, yet they are under-represented, down-played, or even normalized in the popular media.

On April 16th, 2020, a mob brutally murdered two Hindu holy men in plain view of the police in Palghar, Maharashtra, India. The sadhus, Chikne Maharaj Kalpavrukshagiri (70 years old) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35 years old) belonged to Shri Panch Dashnam Juna Akhara in Varanasi. They, along with their 30-year-old driver Nilesh Telgade were traveling to attend the funeral of their guru when they were stopped at a police checkpoint and then accosted and assaulted by a mob carrying sticks and axes. Although police reports indicate that they tried to save the victims but were forced to flee, the disturbing bystander video tells a different story, showing a police officer escorting an obviously elderly and already bleeding Kalpavrukshagiri out of a building and into the mob who then mercilessly beat him to death, with no police intervention.

Four days later, leftist media source The Wire ran a story suggesting that the sadhus were not Hindus (despite acknowledging their affiliation to the Juna Akhara) because they were from a nomadic Gosavi tribe. This claim, which appears to have been manufactured to color the narrative as a story about Hindu oppression of Adivasis (indigenous Indian peoples who were probably of non-Hindu ancestry), was debunked here. Even The Print, another traditional leftist source, identified the Juna Akara as a Śaivite sect connected to one of the mathas founded by Śrī Ādi Śaṅkarācārya.

This story, like many others before it and doubtless many others to come, illustrates the reality that being a Hindu (even an elderly Hindu saint) in a Hindu-majority country like India, is no guarantee of safety or even respect. The complicity and apathy of the police, the media, and local politicians indicate that the lives of Hindu holy men are far from sacred, being of concern only because “communal” Hindus have a troublesome habit of objecting to people murdering them.

Dharma advocate and Education Doctoral Candidate Indu Viswanathan shared this announcement from Harvard University Press on social media regarding the ever-clichéd subject of caste in India.

What is of concern is the graphic on the cover of a book, the problems with which Viswanathan eloquently summarized as follows:

Because hatred for Hindus never takes a day off, check out Harvard University Press’ tweet about a talk about Indian democracy which focuses solely on…wait for it…caste! Because obviously the seat of Dharmic civilization has NOTHING else to contribute to the conversation.

But even better, LOOK AT THE IMAGE.

It is unmistakably a Brahmin priest clad in saffron robes. The same saffron worn by the sadhus who were lynched a week ago. The same color that the allegedly “secular” Indian has weaponized for their fear mongering: Saffron Terror.

In the image, the white skinned priest is gripped by a skeleton ominously stirring a caldron as darker-skinned, ostensibly lower caste (or non Hindu) people suffer below in the saffron flames.

(For the record, there are plenty of very dark-skinned Brahmins. This is beyond caricaturization. It’s an intentional misrepresentation to cement the falsehood that there is no difference between caste and race as we know it in the US.)

This is what Harvard is tweeting about Hinduism. Nearly every single colonizer theory neatly packaged in one image. (Meanwhile, of course, Harvard has a robust business based on Hindu studies. How else do you justify colonial knowledge extraction? Literally demonize the indigenous stewards.)

In other words, Harvard lazily regurgitated vile, foreign, colonial-era stereotypes about caste and Hinduism and repackaged them into a single image portraying an entire class of Hindus as evil oppressors. It is insightful of Viswanathan to note that the imagery is clearly meant to evoke impressions of White-on-Black racism in the West, as if Harvard is arguing against all scholarly credibility that the imaginary Brāhmin oppression of “lower castes” is a similar phenomenon. This politically-convenient fiction is out of sync with the reality that Brāhmins are in fact a minority, constituting no more than 4-5% of the Indian population, and that they were traditionally among the poorest of Hindu communities, with over 50% of them living in poverty today. How does a small and resource-poor minority group that traditionally eschewed royal power nevertheless muster the resources to exploit people who outnumber them? We certainly do not know, but that does not stop Brāhmins from being blamed for all of India’s problems in a manner that is disturbingly reminiscent of Nazi-era propaganda against Jews. One would think that in this enlightened day and age, liberal-minded academics from an institution of higher learning would frown upon the painting of an entire class of people with broad brushstrokes. Should blame and merit not be individual, instead of transferred by implication to one’s kin and community? Perhaps Brāhmins would be granted this courtesy given so freely to others, were it not for the disturbing tendency of Hinduism critics to consider Hindus as a class to be incapable of empathy, and thus requiring lectures on morality from a privileged, foreign-educated, elite.

This chauvinistic attitude of moral superiority towards Hindus is prima facie absurd. We have written before about orthodox Hindu attitudes towards caste relations here, specifically noting how the Hinduism of scripture as practiced by the orthodox differs markedly from the caricatures of Hinduism and caste that are popular in media. Harvard’s Western chauvinistic elite will have trouble logically reconciling how scriptural utterances like, “He who injures living creatures, injures Him; for Hari is all beings… Keśava is most pleased with him who does good to others, who never utters abuse, calumny or untruth; who never covets another’s wife or another’s wealth and who bears ill-will towards none; who neither beats nor slays any animate or inanimate thing… who is always desirous of the welfare of all creatures,” (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 3.8.10-18) and “I account a Cāṇḍāla (a pariah) – who has dedicated his mind, speech, actions, wealth and life (itself) to Him – far worthier than a Brāhmaṇa that has turned away his face from the lotus-feet of Lord Viṣṇu….” (Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa 7.9.10) were authored and preserved… by Brāhmins. It is well-known that historically, the Brāhmins depended for their livelihood on members of the other three varṇas. Theirs was the responsibility of performing religious rituals as well as teaching the message of the scriptures, and the broader Hindu community were the beneficiaries. It is beyond absurd to portray them as a class of oppressors when their entire reason for being was to spiritually uplift everyone else. It is shocking and disappointing that a previously prestigious American university would so casually dabble in such Hinduphobic propaganda.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is “an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to freedom of religion or belief abroad.” It recently designated India as a “Country of Particular Concern” regarding its alleged treatment of religious minorities in a report that the Indian government rejected as biased and one-sided. It came out recently that USCIRF’s chairman, Tony Perkins, is himself an evangelical Christian with a long history of discriminatory remarks against religious minorities in the United States. Perkins objected to a Hindu priest offering an invocation prayer on the floor of U.S. Senate in 2007, calling it an “abomination” and later stating that, “Zed enjoys religious freedom in this country, but does that mean it is appropriate for him to open the nation’s highest elected body in prayer? I think not.” Perkins has also stated that U.S. Marines should not use yoga and meditation to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder because, in his words, they are “goofy” and “getting in the way of a personal relationship with God,” by which he obviously meant the Christian god.

That a hypocritical, religious bigot like Tony Perkins can find a platform in a commission that condemns religious discrimination is troubling. It illustrates the sad reality that many sectarian opportunists use allegations of religious intolerance in other (read: heathen non-Christians) countries as a shield to advance their own religious interests. These include promoting Christian missionary activity and downplaying Christian atrocities and hate-speech in those very same countries. Obviously, religious discrimination is always bad, but sectarian parties refuse to appreciate that Christians, Muslims, and Hindus have been both perpetrators and victims in religiously-inspired, vigilante violence in India. Portraying one community exclusively as the victim, and the Hindu majority as oppressors, merely paves the way for the adoption of policies that will act to the detriment of one of the last few Hindu-majority nations on Earth, whose dominant religious community still struggles against colonialist, Hinduphobic biases embedded in their own government and media.

When is a fruit shop in India merely a fruit shop, as opposed to a criminal enterprise that merits police attention? Apparently when the fruit shop identifies itself as a Hindu fruit shop, it becomes a sinister agent of communalism, as multiple media sources reported. In a country where both Hindu and Muslim shop owners have identified their stores with religious names for decades, it defies the imagination to explain why this is suddenly a problem, except perhaps that some individuals raised a fuss over it using social media:

“…wearing one’s identity on their sleeves did not sit well with the Jamshedpur police which acted on a complaint raised by one Twitter user, Ahsan Razi, about the overt manifestation of religion by the shop owners. The police reached the spot and got the banners removed.”

It is difficult to understand how a privately-owned shop could be faulted for exercising its freedom to use religious imagery in its marketing. But then again, these weren’t just any privately-owned shops; they were Hindu fruit shops!

Hopefully, the residents of Jamshedpur feel safer knowing that the police are protecting them from the horrors of Hindu fruit, and not wasting their time instead on trivial concerns like catching rapists, terrorists, and murderers.

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