Hindu Bashing in American Institutions
Beware Of Hindu-Bashing In American Institutions
By GRAYDON CHIAPPETTA
Politically aware Indians have made much recently of the increasing
strain between the U.S. administration and India over positions and
statements on Kashmir. Those expressing this concern, however, may be
unaware of a growing phenomenon currently taking place which has more
profound and far-reaching implications; legitimization of Hindu-
bashing in U.S. institutions.
Influenced and supported by noisy self-appointed Indian 'secularists,'
many Western scholars and government officials are now taking a
position on Hindu revivalism. With very few exceptions, this position
is exceedingly negative. Though this phenomenon is now limited to
those conversant with South Asia and has not yet influenced the
general public's opinions, in time it will. Though there are many
forums for Hindu-bashing currently being opened, I will reserve my
comments here to two recent conferences, one sponsored by the U.S.
State Department and one by the University of Wisconsin.
On July 16 of this year, the State Department held a conference
entitled, 'Hindu Revivalism in India: Position, Prospects and
Implications for the U.S.' Many highly placed individuals were present
including former Congressman Stephen Solarz, Deputy Assistant
Secretary for South Asia John Malott, Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Regional Analysis Phyllis Oakley and a wide range of U.S. government
officials. Scholars were invited to make presentations on Hindu
Revivalism. On the whole, the atmosphere was one of ridicule. There
was a lot of finger pointing at Hindu revivalism as the source of
India's current problems and of potential conflict with the U. S.
On November 5 to 7, at the Annual Conference on South Asia at
Madison, Wisconsin, two panels and many individuals presentations were
devoted to Hindu Nationalism. Every single presentation was negative
towards Hindu Nationalism with remarkable statements being made that I
never though I would hear in an academic institution.
I will detail the presentation of Lisa McKean of the
University of Sydney because she was a featured speaker at both the
University of Wisconsin and at the State Department conference. I
will give a sampling of the statements made by other scholars. Though
I have documented their statements as well, I will avoid references to
the names in this essay.
Lisa McKean claims to have spent a lot of time with Vishwa
Hindu Parishad, enough to make scholarly presentations, anyway. The
basic thrust of her argument is that Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America
is a fascist organization which remits funds to its illegal sister
organization in India. Not mentioned, of course, is that the corrupt,
opportunistic Congress party banned the VHP for its own political gain.
Lisa describes VHP-sponsored groups in America as "front
organizations" for a larger fascist cause. She refers to VHP
activities, including Diwali celebrations and Swami Chinmayananda's
spiritual camps as "covert operations" and to active members as
"militant activists." Lisa called the late Shri Chinmayananda a "
master manipulator" and alleged that he initiated unwanted physical
contact with women, including herself. Not content with merely
bashing VHP, Lisa referred to the monthly magazine, Hinduism Today, as
a front paper supporting militant activities. Global Vision 2000 was
targeted as a fascist assembly. She described Hindus moving into
professional positions as "infiltrators" working for the cause of
Hindu fundamentalism. Hindu Digest, Samskar and the Hindu Students
Council did not escape her censure.
Perhaps, most appalling was the warm hand given to her at the
end of her presentation in both conferences. Praised as a "bright,
young progressive scholar," most of the audience accepted her
statements as fact, particularly those progressive Indian
'secularists.' One even suggested that universities should ban Hindu
Students Council of America. Lisa was certainly not alone and played
to an appreciative audience.
Scholars making presentations at the State Department
conference were less concerned with facts than with making points.
Many erroneous statements were made such as "the Sangh Parivar planned
the execution of Mahatma Gandhi and will stop at nothing. " The
misquoted statement of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray about Indian
Muslims being like the Jews of Europe was used in making the
authoritative statement that "Sangh Parivar underpinnings are just
like those of Nazis."
An example of how criticism of Sangha Parivar activities is
extended to Hindus in general is the statement of a John Hopkins
scholar that "Hindus in the U.S. are very sympathetic and supportive
of fundamentalism. "One scholar even justified discrimination
against Hindus in India itself with the remarkable statement, "Equal
rights for Hindus is equal to absolution of minority rights. " The
scholar made this statement after echoing the hollow line started by
Indian 'secularist' Romila Thapar that "there is in reality no such
thing as Hinduism."
The University of Wisconsin panels were truly pitiful and I
will give only a few quotes from various presentations. One Indian
'secularist' suggested that India was an artificial entity which
"requires fascism to maintain its existence. " A scholar from
Berkeley referred to the "dirty communal imprint" that Hindus leave
on Indian society.
Incredible as the assertions of these misguided 'intellectuals' are,
there is a danger of an appearance of legitimization of these ideas
thorough repetition. These unprincipled 'scholars' would leave no
stone unturned to denigrate Hindu culture and world view.
The complexity of Indian civilization simply overwhelms most Western
scholars and apparently, Indian "secular" scholars as well. They do
not, for the most part, understand that the rhythms of Hinduism beat
in the heart of most "oppressed untouchables" and in the hearts of
much of the minorities as well. One scholar, facing the complexity of
increasing Harijan, Christian and Muslim sympathy for Hindutva, echoed
the true feelings that most Western scholars have always exhibited
towards India. Asked how he could analyze such a complex civilization,
he replied: "When Hinduism dies, We'll do a better job."