Saturday, February 27

Hindu Nationalism in UK and the VHP

This was a very curious paper that I read. It was even more curious, because just a day before I got this paper, I read this note which was published in Outlook. I have to admit that I am in some sympathy with the views of Roover, but how it is taught in the west is something that I find a bit strange. At the very least, I would have expected some reasonable facsimile and similarity in the ways it is taught compared to Judaism, Christianity, etc., but this is specially in the USA, much less in the UK. I have personally had several experiences of this. Anybody saying anything good about Hinduism or its philosophy or any thing like that is almost automatically considered to be a raving Hindutva casteist rage boy. I have seen this happen far too many times. I strongly suggest you read that article and here’s a quote:

In one sense, then, the picture for students of India is even grimmer than the one Tripathi sketches. In another sense, there is hope, because times of turbulence also hold the potential for intellectual change. As students of India, we will have to take seriously the growing discontent among Hindus about the ways in which their traditions have been depicted. Some of this is inspired by an attempt to sanitise the Hindu traditions according to the model of Islam and Christianity and the prudishness of middle-class morality. However, other strands express a deep sense of grievance towards the secularist hegemony and the academic allergy to Hinduism. As long as reasonable and well-educated minds do not address these grievances, Hindu nationalism will be able to tap into the growing anger among Hindus and manipulate this to its own benefit. To address such problems, one needs to work towards a climate of intellectual freedom that has too long been absent from the study of India.

So while I am quite interested to read about the scholarship that is done about Hinduism and India, I am not 100% sure about the academy. Do not get me wrong, I think the Hindutva chaps are a bunch of goons themselves and they come up with serious stinkers. In any case, they and their bunch of merry men are most certainly against academic freedom (witness the cases against the beef book, etc. etc., read my friend’s book on this issue. I can't say much more than this, as I think I am biased in favour of Salil’s book.

Usually my net scraper for the “Hinduism” keyword throws up very few scholarly alerts but this article piqued my interest. The author is assessing the role of Hindu nationalism in the development of Hindu identity in Britain. And to do that, he delves into the VHP UK organisation. After some 10-15 pages, I am not very sure where he ends up. This is the abstract:

This paper assesses the role of Hindu nationalism in the development of Hindu identity in Britain. Some accounts argue that the authoritarian network of Hindu nationalist organisations apparent in India is reproduced in Diaspora contexts, especially in the west. The paper argues that this degree of organisational intentionality is not always borne out by evidence in the UK. Although Hindu nationalist organisations have achieved some success in establishing their presence, in national arenas they frequently give way to umbrella organisations such as the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) and the Hindu Council UK (HCUK). The paper argues that Hindu nationalist organisations nevertheless operate vigorously in multilocal contexts, fuelling a 'Hindutva effect' which has a broader ideological influence. The paper examines some of the positions taken by the HFB and HCUK to demonstrate how this influence is played out in national arenas, before reflecting more broadly on the implications of these dynamics for the development of diaspora identities.

There was one event that the VHP organised 20 years ago, but since then, it has been remarkably quiescent. Their website is basic, its members aren't represented in the organisations which deal with civil society, etc. So he talks about all this and then says that the VHP is a serious organisation spreading a nebulous underground version of Hindutva. He called the VHP arranged sammelan as a tamasha. That was a cheap shot frankly, not worthy.

Then the chap starts talking about conversion. And I am seriously surprised that the author does not understand the importance of conversion to a Hindu. I mean, isn't this obvious? We are talking about a religious identity, and a factor which goes directly against this identity and reduces it will be considered to be a threat. So when the Hindu elders in the UK were raising their concerns about Muslim gangs converting Hindu (and Sikh) girls, the British Police considered that as a legitimate problem. But the author thinks that this objection to conversion is an expression of Hindu Nationalistic thought. Erm, no!

Then furthermore, he goes forward and says that this is a subterranean inflection towards Hindutva. I totally disagree. This is going to the core of a Hindu’s identity and it has no political leanings at all. So I am not sure where he is getting the subterranean bit from or where he is seeing Hindutva. It's like seeing a commie under every bed.

The next result that he finds is that to protect against the threat of conversion, one has to “wake up” Hindu Unity. This apparently demonstrates the presence of Hindu nationalist ideology. Again, this is a massive over reading into the word “wake up”. If I say that we need to do jagran, then it is the same. It is making visible, bringing up, to awaken, to rise up. Obviously he doesn't link this to Swami Vivekananda who said, “Arise, Awake! And stop not until the goal is reached”. Or how about his poem? I quote:

The Song of the Sannyasin

Wake up the note! the song that had its birth
Far off, where worldly taint could never reach
In mountain caves and glades of forest deep,
Whose calm no sigh for lust or wealth or fame
Could ever dare to break; where rolled the stream
Of knowledge, truth, and bliss that follows both.
Sing high that note, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Strike off thy fetters! Bonds that bind thee down,
Of shining gold or darker, baser ore;
Love, hate; good, bad; and all the dual throng,
Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free
For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind;
Then off with them, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Let darkness go! the will-o’-the-wisp that leads
With blinking light to pile more gloom on gloom.
This thirst for life, for ever quench; it drags
From birth to death, and death to birth, the soul
He conquers all who conquers self. Know this
And never yield, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
‘Who sows must reap,’ they say, ‘and cause must bring
The sure effect; good, good; bad, bad; and none
Escape the law. But whoso wears a form
Must wear the chain.’ Too true; but far beyond
Both name and form is Atman, ever free.
Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
They know not truth who dream such vacant dreams
As father, mother, children, wife and friend.
The sexless Self! whose father He? whose child?
Whose friend, whose foe is He who is but One?
The Self is all in all, none else exists;
And thou art That, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
There is but One – The Free, The Knower – Self!
Without a name, without a form or stain.
In him is Maya, dreaming all this dream.
The Witness, He appears as nature, soul.
Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Where seekest thou? That freedom, friend, this world
Nor that can give. In books and temples vain
Thy search. Thine only is that hand that holds
The rope that drags thee on. Then cease lament,
Let go thy hold, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Say, ‘Peace to all: From me no danger be
To aught that lives. In those that dwell on high,
In those that lowly creep, I am the Self in all.
All life both here and there, do I renounce,
All heavens and earths and hells, all hopes and fears.’
Thus cut thy bonds, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Heed then no more how body lives or goes,
Its task is done. Let Karma float it down;
Let one put garlands on, another kick
This frame; say naught. No praise or blame can be
Where praiser praised, and blamer blamed are one.
Thus be thou calm, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Truth never comes where lust and fame and greed
Of gain reside. No man who thinks of woman
As his wife can ever perfect be;
Nor he who owns the least of things, nor he
Whom anger chains, can ever pass thro’ Maya’s gates.
So give these up, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Have thou no home. What home can hold thee, friend?
The sky thy roof, the grass thy bed; and food
What chance may bring, well cooked or ill, judge not.
No food or drink can taint that noble Self
Which knows itself. Like rolling river free
Thou ever be, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Few only know the truth. The rest will hate
And laugh at thee, great one; but pay no heed.
Go thou, the free, from place to place, and help
Them out of darkness, Maya’s veil. Without
The fear of pain or search for pleasure, go
Beyond them both, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
Thus, day by day, till Karma’s powers spent,
Release the soul for ever. No more is birth,
Nor I, nor thou, nor God, nor man. The ‘I’
Has All become, the All is ‘I’ and Bliss.
Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold! Say –
    ‘Om tat sat, Om!’
— Swami Vivekananda

Composed at Thousand Island Park, New York, July 1895.

I mean, if just the term “waking up” got him so excited, I wonder what he will do with the song of the Sanyasin? Will he consider Swamiji as a raving Hindutva militant revolutionary? He also says that the 1993 Global Vision 2000 conference in Washington DC was “ostensibly” a centenary celebration of Vivekananda’s visit to the USA, but he thinks this was a key moment in the development of the US Hindu nationalist movement. But he does that without any follow-up explanation, and we are supposed to swallow it.

In other words, the author simply does not prove that Hindu identity is nationalism at all and even lesser are the links to the VHP. There might well be Hindutva effects, but he does not consider the other factor which in many ways is more powerful than the Hindu identity factor. This is the linguistic/cultural factor. Hindus in the UK are more defined by their Asian Gujerati or Punjabi background or their Indian background, rather than something that is a broad based tent. For example, there is a shed load of professional (doctors, accountants, nurses, technology professionals, etc.) Indians who have come over directly from India who do not belong to any of these groupings of Punjabi or Gujerati chaps.

So no, I am not impressed with the forced identification by the author. There is no such thing as an overarching British Hindu identity. The Hindu organisations in the UK are primarily religious and cultural, and very rarely do they step into the political area and for the author to try to attribute Hindutva to this society is simply not borne out by the facts that he quotes. The people on the left and in the academy must realise that they really cannot go about publishing pap like this. Like the climate science academic research imbroglio brewing, their reputation is suffering significantly.

No comments: