The dangers of a “centralized” Hindu voice
One of India’s key strengths through the ages has been its ability to defend its way of life against all odds, whether it was in 1857 or the centuries and millennia before that. Today, India, and India alone, has an unbroken continuity of its land, its people and the stories that have been retold across generations. No other ancient civilization, not even China, has this unbroken continuity.
India’s strength and ability to survive and withstand the innumerable assaults on its way of life derives from what is mistakenly perceived to be a weakness. The standard refrain is that Hindus lack unity and do not organize themselves under one centralized umbrella. Yet, time and again, Hindus have shown an ability to stand-up and safeguard what they know is precious. However, what makes Hindu defence different is that there is no unified answer to what is being defended or what is considered worthy of defending. In fact, Hindus who have stood firm have usually had their own idea of what they perceived to be precious and what they were preserving. Without a centralized doctrine, dogma or authority, controlling Hindus was never easy. Combine that with an innate desire to maintain their way of life, which was as varied as the hundreds of customs, languages and traditions, Hindus mastered the art of a distributed resistance.
Hindu groups in India recognize this distributed nature of their strength and have structured themselves to leverage this characteristic. They have encouraged individuals and myriad groups who represent Hindu ethos in a variety of spheres to flourish.
Hindus in America need to derive strength from this knowledge and reject any attempts by any organization that wants to become the voice of Hindus in America. Unlike organized religions where there is a hierarchy, Hindu thought is rooted in Adhyatma(the supreme self) – where each individual takes primary responsibility for oneself. This innate self-reliance allows Hindus to stay outside any organized doctrines and yet successfully defend their way of life.
Goodbye Adhyatma– Hello “newness”
Unfortunately, an organization called as the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which has constantly clamored to be a voice of Hindus, does not seem to recognize that Hindu thought is rooted in Adhyatma. In fact, in their seven guiding principles listed on their website, which includes words such as Ahimsa and Nutana, they leave out Adhyatma as a principle. It is unlikely that there is any Hindu who would consider that Nutanaor “newness” is a guiding principle that should be used in lieu of Adhyatma.
This not only shows that HAF is out of touch with Hindu values, but it also explains why they resorted to attacking Hindus by publishing a report on caste that portrayed Hindu Dharma in negative light. Their report simply repeated Western stereotypes and thereby furthered an anti-Hindu agenda. Individual Hindus are familiar with correcting misconceptions about topics that misrepresent Hindu ideas and customs. However, HAF, with a propensity to look “balanced,” justified their actions and chose to accommodate several factually incorrect accusations made by those hostile toward Hindu thought. This pseudo-balance that accommodated the stereotypes was added to the report in order to get accepted by those in power and gain that coveted seat at the table.
In a top-down system where decisions are made at a “table,” the need for a seat at the table is understandable. However, Hindus do not organize themselves in a unified religious order; therefore they should neither allow decisions about them to be made at any table, nor have anyone claim to be their voice at the table. Consequently, the motives of anyone who claims to be a voice of Hindus, and desires a seat at a table, need to be questioned.
Seats at the tables and opportunistic self-promotion
HAF’s pseudo-balanced caste report may have earned them seats at several tables in the areas of their mission, which include “human and civil rights, public policy, media, academia, and interfaith relations,” but it was detrimental to Hindus.
[pullquote]Today, India, and India alone, has an unbroken continuity of its land, its people and the stories that have been retold across generations.[/pullquote]
They found their way to the interfaith table and a place at lunch and dinner tables with Senators and Congressmen and at academic conferences. Hobnobbing with those who are already in power is a common trait among self-promoters and hangers-on. The true character of an individual or an organization is best witnessed when the chips are down, both through their actions and inaction. In the years and the months preceding Narendra Modi’s electoral victory, a multitude of forces hostile to Hindus, from academia, and media to politics, had raised their anti-Modi rhetoric to a fever pitch. During this period, it was not HAF, but individual Hindus who successfully countered the negative propaganda. These individuals not only organized protests but were also the first people to secure the support of American politicians for Modi.
It is common for centralized organizations to take credit for work done by individuals and claim it as their own. Hindu activists who often work in small groups or as individuals are the most vulnerable in this regard. HAF has already demonstrated its penchant for issuing self-congratulatory press-releases and promoting its “achievements” to further aggrandize its position as a centralized voice of Hindus.
In the infamous matter related to the California textbooks a few years ago, when the state rejected the edits proposed by Hindus, the strength of Hindus manifested itself not from being centralized or organized but in the form of ordinary Hindus putting in their time and energies. No sooner had a lawsuit resulting from the effort of a small group gained momentum that HAF rushed to the scene, filed its own lawsuit, garnered press coverage, stayed in the limelight, but quickly wound up their lawsuit without producing any meaningful result. The small group continued their effort and spent years exposing the connection of several churches involved in the controversy, and secured a favourable ruling related to the edits proposed by Hindus.
Shepherds of political opportunism
It seems that HAF is using the facade of issues that are important to Hindus, to centralize Hindu representation and appropriate a position that should never even exist to begin with. Furthermore, if one evaluates their relative priorities on issues, it seems that they are attempting to shepherd Hindus and convert them on behalf of “progressive” political forces in the West, especially the Democratic Party in the US, which explains their fondness for “newness.” This shepherding and the ideology that they represent is in direct conflict with the principles of adhyatma and self-reliance.
On the day of Vijaya Dashami, many Hindus honor weapons, including guns, just as Arjuna honored weapons during his exile. Hindus believe that honoring weapons on Vijaya Dashami, prevents weapons from being misused. Hindus represent a unique position that juxtaposes honoring weapons while simultaneously rejecting himsa and oppression, which explains why even Mahatma Gandhi described the English act of disarming India as their blackest deed. This Hindu position, therefore, does not lend itself either to the left or to the right of American politics.
[pullquote]Hindus do not organize themselves in a unified religious order; therefore they should neither allow decisions about them to be made at any table, nor have anyone claim to be their voice at the table.[/pullquote]
HAF, by opposing this age-old Hindu tradition and adopting the positions of an American political party, and then further attempting to preach to Hindus about these political positions, has demonstrated that they are out of touch with the Hindu mind-set. They fail to realize that Hindus are not sheep and cannot be shepherded, either left, right or centre.
Adhyatmik flexibility and Sanatana strength
Through the ages, Hindu thought and the way of life have gone from strength, survival to strength without institutional or centralized structures to represent them. Having an organization to represent the voice of Hindus not only contradicts the basic principle, but given their penchant to appease to hostile forces, HAF is a particularly bad example of a representative voice.
Several articulate and energetic individuals are a part of HAF today. The interests of Hindus would be best served if these dedicated individuals step away from this self-promoting, opportunistic monolith, and work as small, flexible groups or continue their hard work as individuals who value the sanatanaprinciples of adhyatmaover newness of a “progressive” voice that has failed to understand, let alone represent, Hindus.
Hindu expertise in distributed resistance is akin to a stranded cable, made up of thousands of small wires whose strength is often underestimated if one views the strength of each miniscule wire. The individual wires provide the flexibility and the common purpose provides strength. Centralized organizations like HAF, are like hollow pillars that appear stronger than they are in reality.
[pullquote]This Hindu position, therefore, does not lend itself either to the left or to the right of American politics.[/pullquote]
Hindus should recognize that decentralized nature is their strength and does not depend on diktats or representative voices. It is built upon a common purpose that is rooted in the way of life. This Adhyatmik flexibility is the unique legacy of Sanatana strength. Hindus can coordinate their activities, but that does not need to happen under the umbrella or representation of any monolithic organization. As several groups in India have successfully shown, representing the Hindu voice is best achieved by multitudes of individuals and groups that can coordinate their activities as and when needed.
Coordination, not centralization should be the Mantra for Hindu thinkers and activists in the US.