Mainstream scholarship in Hinduism: Challenges and solutions
I accept the following:
1. There has been, and continues to be, a deep antipathy against Hinduism amongst the academics, and those who occupy the intellectual space. This exists particularly in the departments of the Hindu and the comparative religions.
2. This space is considered to be mainstream academics, and the people within are often called on for speaking and writing about Hinduism in a supposedly authoritative way.
3. These teachings have affected many Hindus, particularly those who have had a Western or Westernized education, into thinking badly about Hinduism
4. Those who have empathy towards Hinduism (both who are born as Hindus and those who have not been so blessed) have been kept out of the system because they have an empathy towards Hinduism.
5. Much of this space is financed by society money, both in the West and in India. They also receive donations from Hindus, who are influenced as per 3. above.
What I do not accept is:
1. That they have really been all that successful in the past.
2. That they continue to be moving forward in the same apparent relentless speed as they seem to have done.
3. That their numbers are growing.
Even in the past, there were many Western or Westernized, educated people, who have written about Hinduism in a deeply empathetic way. Some important scholars who had projected Hinduism in a perverted way, have had change in minds in their later years. This has happened, I think, because the opposition to their views had made them think and re-evaluate what they wrote and said. For example, one should read Max Mueller’s “India: What it can teach us”, which consists of the lectures that he gave to the civil servants that were going to India to ‘rule’.
And, of course, the scholarship in Indian languages was overwhelmingly unaffected. Some of these scholars had sufficient knowledge of English to be able to converse in an intelligent manner with those who had little or no knowledge of the Indian languages.
The Hindu studies were adversely affected by the Marxist ideology, because the ‘intellectuals’ amongst the Hindus adopted this ideology as a means to resolve issues facing the society in our country. These issues were not just to do with the social aspects, but also the economic.
Today, the situation is very much changed. There are, according to me, two reasons for this:
1. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement increased the level of consciousness amongst the Hindus in a massive way. This was not just at the ‘street’ level, but also amongst those living above this level. I also think that the massive outpouring at the ‘street’ level gave confidence to those living above to speak out what they were always believing at the sub-conscious level.
2. The internet allowed dissemination of information and perspectives relating to Hinduism in the way the Hindus thought about themselves, by bypassing the censorship applied by the mainstream ‘intellectuals’. In fact, I believe that the latter were aghast that their influence even amongst the educated Hindus was only at the superficial level.
Amongst the mainstream academics, there are voices being heard indicating that there is a rising level of resistance to the intellectual terrorism that has been the norm so far. For the terrorists, this is a new experience, since there was virtually no dissent to their thoughts at the mainstream level. Students are gaining courage to ask questions in the class, even if they appear to be lone dissidents. And they are finding, often privately, that they are really not loners.
Much of this movement of resisting the intellectual terrorism is happening outside the mainstream academics. The funding of these movements is from the same traditional sources as mentioned previously. The scale, of course, is nowhere near what the mainstream is getting, even from Hindus who should know better. But then, considering the forward movement of authentic Hindu thought, it seems to me that spreading of truth really does not require that much funding. And, of course, the internet is a great help.
I recognize that our enemies (and that is what they are, not opponents) are still there, and they still get media coverage, etc. But I would like to contend that they are a dwindling lot, and they are not getting new recruits to their cause. In fact, the new recruits are coming to the authentic Hindu thought section.
I do not in any way minimize the threat of our enemies. They have had a very comfortable life style which has been financed by the society, whom they have been able to fool, so far, into believing that they are genuine scholars, and not agenda driven ones. They have lead a parasitic life style so far, and have found that this was a lazy way to make a very good living. They are now being questioned, not just by the Internet Hindus and from within the academics, but also by those whom they have been trying to influence so far. This is a very uncomfortable situation for them, because they now have to really work hard, something they have forgotten from their college days. They also realise that they have been spouting falsehoods (in case of those who genuinely believed in the brainwashing by the intellectual terrorists) since they have realised that they do not have logic on their side. And those who have been spouting falsehoods deliberately, they realise that the game is up.
In case of the former groups, there is a ferment, and they are trying to re-evaluate their position. This is being done gingerly, because they think they will be hurting their ‘friends’ otherwise.
In case of the latter group, this has caused them to:
1. Fight back by calling those whom they have determined to be their enemies as fascists, fundamentalists, etc.
2. Use even more perverted arguments to apparently bolster their case.
The first is not succeeding because of the urbane behaviour of those who have empathy for Hinduism. The arguments put forward are based on facts and logic, and the language and idiom used is something that people at large relate to as well as do not find objectionable. There are some on the internet who could do with lessons on politeness – but the number of these people is quite small. The second is tying them in even greater knots than now.
I am of the considered opinion that the anti-Hindu propaganda in the English media and amongst the mainstream academics is badly affecting the Hindu leadership. This leadership is not just orgnaisational, like the Sangh parivar (to which I belong), but also those who have taken it upon themselves to write and speak on behalf of the Hindus. This, I believe, has made some of these leaders feel negatively about the situation. In the process, their energy levels are coming down, or they are expending much of these energies in arguing with the enemies on a logical basis. The effectiveness of their leadership role is thus reduced.
There is a lament that well-to-do Hindus are doing very little to promote authentic Hindu studies. I do not quite agree with this for the following reasons:
- Whatever is being done for the authentic Hindu studies is financed by Hindus, even though you may not see many prominent well-to-do Hindus amongst the supporters. This is particular the case with the non-English, India-based Hindu studies.
- A larger point is about the accountability of those in the mainstream Hindu studies presently. Since they are financed by the society, they should be questioned and asked why they have not been professional in their approach.
If we broadly accept what I have said above, then I think we can do the following:
1. Instead of being defensive, take an assertive position. For example, if we have to deal with idol worshipping, instead of saying that we worship god through the idol, we ask what is wrong with it. The first answer has been given by the Hindu sants and sages for at least a couple of hundred years. The fact that it is still being put on the table, indicates an agenda and not a genuine intellectual inquiry. So, let us respond at that level.
2. Another issue is when we object to books written by those who are in the mainstream academics but having a deep antipathy against Hinduism. Often we are confronted with the question whether we have read the book. We should counter with the question whether our enemies have read the detailed objections put forward by those with empathy towards Hinduism.
3. We, therefore, need to equip ourselves with responses of this type, which puts the other on the defensive. And these responses have to be made with an understanding that our enemies are not conducting an intellectual debate, but one based on an agenda where truth has no role to play.
4. Let us not fall into the trap of responding to labels. The easiest argument made against Arun Shourie is that he is a Hindutva ideologue. He responds by sayings that assume he is. Now, please respond to the points made by him! In this way, he is able to get the enemy to discuss the content and not his label.
5. We should not trivialise or demonise the efforts made by those who are defending Hinduism in their own way. We accept that the language on the internet has a tendency to be irreverent, which the Internet Hindus are also subjected to. We point out that this is a very small corpus of the arguments put forward in favour of Hinduism, and point the discussion towards those who are making factual and logical arguments on issues. Even if one disagrees with some of the defenders of Hinduism, let us do it with respect.
To give an example of the egg thrown at Prof Wendy Doniger. My way of putting this forward is as follows:
i. The irritation of the Hindus has been increasing over a period of time, because of the unwillingness of our enemies to engage with us in a proper manner.
ii. When we were first told that the Shiv Ling is a phallic symbol, we were amused and said that this is not the way we think of it. Then we are told that Shri Ganesh’s tusk is a limp phallus. We were annoyed, and asked our enemies not to be silly. Then we are told that the Bhagvad Gita is a dishonest book, we got angry and asked our enemies not to be idiots. Thus, our response is continuously escalating, but still well within the norms of decency.
iii.When our enemies refuse to deal with us in the logical and polite manner that we deal with them, the anger would boil over amongst some, and they would think that throwing the egg is a legitimate response. Most of us are not happy about it, but there is little we can do. Furthermore, this type of response is an exception and not the rule.
iv.Even as the egg is thrown, the attempt to engage at the academic level continued. And the attempt continues to be frustrated.
v. We should point out that Prof Doniger is using the strategy of playing the victim, instead of accepting that she is the aggressor.
We should understand that there are many streams of responses that are going to be made. As some of the Hindu scholars have pointed out (rightly in my opinion), Hinduism has survived because of its multiple centres, and when one centre becomes weak another takes up the task. Furthermore, at the academic level, responses have to be at different levels and different aspects. So, when we talk about caste, it is not just the theological issues, but also the way electoral politics has used it to the advantage of some groups.
Let us remember that Shri Krishna tried many peaceful methods to achieve peace between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. When they failed he did not advise the Pandavas that they should accept that they will not get justice and accept their humiliation. He advised them to fight. The fight today is not in terms of coming to the streets. It is throwing an egg and missing.
Over the last few years, the Sarsanghachalak of the RSS has been saying that the Hindu movement is on the way to victory. It is not a question of if, but when. If we continue with our present level of efforts it may take a little longer than if we remove the despair in our minds and move forward with renewed energy. I concur with this perspective.
It is not that I am suggesting that we ignore the negatives. We have been dealing with them within our own Hindu civilizational norms. But let us look at the positives also, and do more of it. Not only will we move forward faster, but also take care of the negatives in a manner that we have enduring solutions.