Hindumisia in Indian Academia
In an interview with the French state-owned TV news network France 24 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Delhi, an IIT Delhi faculty member, Divya Dwivedi, said, “There are two Indias — There is an India of the past, of the racialized caste order which oppresses the majority population… and then there is the India of the future, that is an egalitarian India which would be without caste oppressions and without Hinduism. That is the India which is not yet represented but is waiting, longing for the world, to show its visage to the world”. Ms. Dwivedi is an associate professor of philosophy in the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences at the reputed IIT Delhi. While her remarks expressing a yearning for an “India without Hinduism” have understandably stirred controversy, they are neither new nor surprising. They only reveal a deep and powerful undercurrent of Hindumisia/Hinduphobia in Indian academic circles.
The term Hindumisia is a neologism coined by combining the word Hindu with the ancient Greek word for hatred, “misos”. Thus, Hindumisia literally means hatred for Hindus. A more popular term, to refer to the anti-Hindu predisposition is Hinduphobia. The term Hinduphobia is inspired by its counterpart, “Islamophobia”. However, it is rare that Hinduism and Hindus are “feared”. It is far more appropriate to use the term Hindumisia, which indicates an aversion to Hinduism and Hindu culture.
While Indian knowledge systems have historically been renowned for diverse intellectual traditions, modern Indian academic discourse since at least the 19th century and up until the present has been laced with a persistent and all-pervasive propensity for Hindumisia. The phenomenon of Hindumisia in Indian academia deserves careful examination due to its multifaceted nature and far-reaching implications. It is important to expand upon the current controversy and delve deeper into the historical roots of Hindumisia, its socio-political dimensions, and the potential role of academic institutions in mitigating this issue.
This article seeks to analyze the bias and discrimination against, and negative stereotyping of, Hinduism and Hindu culture in academic writings. Much of what is presented as Hinduism in academic textbooks and research is superficial, banal, or even outright incorrect. The understanding of India and Hinduism put forth by the academic community is founded on shaky philosophical and methodological grounds, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding of the ancient Hindu texts. There are serious and legitimate concerns regarding the accuracy and biases present in the portrayal of Hinduism and India in textbooks.
Hindumisic scholarship makes sweeping generalizations about Hindu practices and beliefs, often portraying them negatively. It perpetuates stereotypes and often fails to provide a balanced perspective on a subject. While academic freedom allows for critical inquiry, it is essential to ensure that such criticism is grounded in rigorous scholarship and does not veer into bias or discrimination.
Manifestations of Hindumisia in Academia
Hindumisia within Indian academia manifests in various ways. Scholars and educators, often inadvertently and intentionally, or subconsciously, perpetuate stereotypes about Hinduism and Hindus, often portraying them negatively. This may involve making sweeping generalizations about rituals or practices that reinforce misconceptions. Academic Hindumisia dismisses Hindu scholarship and research and paints Hindus as a monolithic and regressive people. Academic discourse often marginalizes or overlooks Hindu perspectives, particularly in the interpretation of historical events or religious practices. This exclusion results in a one-sided narrative and a biased portrayal of complex issues.
Hindumisic historians dismiss Hindu history as “mythology” and Hindu heroes as fictitious. We need to consider this in the context of the “founding” men of Abrahamic religions considered as real persons. Sure, they are of more recent vintage, and therefore the hagiographies and the left-behind traces of their supremacist ideologies are assiduously searched for and “dated”. Hindumisic gatekeepers of academic historiography, however, repeat the sufficiently challenged Aryan Invasion Theory ad nauseam to make the “invasion” of India by “white, Central or North Asian” men the gospel truth. Historians portray Hindu society and culture as backward and ossified. In fact, Hindus have a rich history of contributions to science, logic, grammar, rhetoric, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, aesthetics, morality, and politics, much of which is ignored or downplayed by Hindumisic scholars. They ignore the fact that Hindu society and culture have been ever-evolving and are the most progressive. A brilliant expose of India’s “eminent historians” can be found in Arun Shourie’s 1998 book “Eminent Historians: Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud”.
Hindumisic sociology and anthropology repeat ad nauseam the trope of the “cunning Brahmins” whose brainchild was the nonsensical, irrational, and closed caste system. It is quite another matter that caste in pre-colonial India was quite open and fluid in identity. In fact, it has never been fully closed; just as the class systems in the West have never been fully open.
Hindumisic feminist research reiterates that Hinduism and Hindu society are innately patriarchal and misogynistic, indulging in such abhorrent practices as sati, child marriage, dowry, ill-treatment of widows, and the devadasi system (which is ill-defined as temple prostitution). It is conveniently overlooked that Hinduism is the only major world religion in which since antiquity and till today the daily rites and rituals involve the worship of numerous female deities.
Hindumisic philosophy prizes Western philosophy and rejects Hinduism as an irrational and regressive belief system of mumbo jumbo type chanting in Sanskrit, meaningless rituals, and superstition. It is quite another matter that the true method of philosophy is intuition, which is the hallmark of Indian philosophy. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan believed that this intuitive method of philosophizing is superior to the rationalism and discursive reasoning of the West. He said, “Direct knowledge is incapable of growth, for it is individual and therefore incommunicable. Intuition is the ultimate vision of our profoundest being ….” Even to understand Indian philosophy and scriptures, the mainstream academic approach is to rely upon Western translations and commentaries. It is quite another matter that, as Sri Aurobindo rightly pointed out, the Western interpretations of the Vedas are essentially worthless.
When the Indian economy was not doing well during the Nehruvian era, it was infamously termed by leading economist Raj Krishna as the “Hindu rate of growth”. Never mind that Nehru was a committed socialist and secularist and that there was nothing specifically “Hindu” about the command-and-control economy he advocated and administered.
Understanding Hindumisia necessitates an examination of its historical context. Indian academia has been significantly shaped by the development of Indology in India and in the West.
Historically, the academic study of India began in Germany and laid the foundation for Western interpretations of ancient Indian history and traditions. From the start, such endeavors were beset with questionable philosophical assumptions, anti-Brahminic attitudes, and racial prejudices that have since plagued the social sciences.
The “Sacred Books of the East” was a 50-volume set of English translations of Asian religious texts, including Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts, edited by Max Muller and published by the Oxford University Press between 1879 and 1910. This compendium became key to the Western understanding of Eastern religions. While Muller is a complex figure whose contribution to modern Hinduism has been double-edged – and the essence of his views is captured in his letter to his wife, where he says “It (Rigveda) is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3000 years”.
Another 19th-century German Indologist, Hermann Oldenberg, wrote that Indians are under the tyranny of “the misshapen, wild, cruel, and lascivious Hindu Gods, at their head Shiva and Vishnu”. Since then, Hindumisia has been internalized by generations of scholars who believe that Hindus lack an understanding of the true meaning of their texts. These scholars see themselves as agents of change, much like missionaries, aiming to save the Hindus from their own culture.
The academic quest to define India and Hindu culture in Western, Judeo-Christian terms aligns with the broader European project of epistemicide, or the destruction of knowledge and ways of knowing, which is a key component of the Western drive for power and domination, with similar occurrences in the Arab and Turkic worlds. Western universities have perpetuated epistemicide in the social sciences.
Nineteenth-century figures like Monier Williams, who occupied the Boden professorship of Sanskrit at Oxford University, aimed to convert Indians to Christianity (“While he wanted to have his landsmen to better understand India, he was also all the time thinking the progress of Christian mission in India — according to the original will of Boden!). He proposed a replacement of Indian alphabets with Latin letters even in India”). Lord Macaulay, aka Thomas Babington, played a key role in destroying the Hindu system of education in 1835 by replacing it with English education. However, these scholars and colonial administrators failed to grasp the complexity and resilience of India’s culture and civilization, leading to misleading narratives.
In fact, academic Indology is a form of racism. Western Indologists and their Indian followers suggest that the core premise of this academic enterprise is to educate Indians about their own culture and heritage, implying that Indians are culturally backward, lacking scientific and critical thinking, and incapable of comprehending the “true” meaning of their texts. It is also implied that the original authors of these ancient texts were outsiders, much like the Indologists themselves, and that any perceived confusion or contradictions in these texts are a result of the mingling of the original Indo-European authors with what they consider “lesser” races in India.
The colonial rule also saw the imposition of Western values and the categorization of communities based on ethnic and religious lines. Misinterpretations of historical events contributed to underlying tensions and misperceptions between communities that persist to this day.
Hindumisia in the academic study of India is not solely attributable to the colonial period. After India gained independence in 1947, the convergence of the Indian political left’s desire to modernize India and the academic Hindumisic agenda found patronage within the centralized Indian academic system, leading to a prolonged alliance. Thus, Indian academia has come to be rigidly controlled by those who oppose anything remotely Hindu. Today, the unstated convention in academic circles is to exclude scholars who initiate an alternative path of inquiry that does not conform to the self-loathing ingrained in Indian universities.
Impact of Hindumisia
The consequences of Hindumisia in Indian academia are far-reaching. They alienate Hindu students and scholars and create an uncomfortable and discriminatory learning environment.
Academic Hindumisia seeks to create an inferiority complex among Indians by drilling in their minds that their history, traditions, culture, philosophy, and religion have no value and are clearly inferior to the Western ways of thinking, doing, and being.
Hindumisia also contributes to societal polarization within India, deepening existing fault lines and exacerbating tensions between communities. The recent remarks by Tamil Nadu minister Udhayanidhi Stalin to uproot Sanatana Dharma reflect the Dravida Kazhagam ideology of EV Ramaswamy, with its colonial-era overtones.
The discussion about Hindumisia is often contentious, giving rise to several controversies. Hindumisia leads to curtailment of academic freedom and freedom of expression, stifling rigorous academic inquiry. Admittedly, identifying Hindumisia can be subjective, making it challenging to differentiate legitimate criticism of Hindu culture from bias and discrimination.
Hindumisia in Indian academia is not divorced from the broader socio-political landscape. In recent years, India has witnessed a surge in nationalist sentiments and identity politics. These dynamics have also influenced academic discourse. Scholars and institutions may find themselves caught in the crossfire of ideological battles, impacting their ability to engage in impartial research and teaching.
Addressing Hindumisia: The Way Forward
Hindumisia in Indian academia cannot be wished away. Addressing it necessitates a comprehensive approach.
Scholars both in the West and in India have long pointed out the flaws in the assumptions of Indology and the absurdity of its conclusions. This issue is not about the nationality or background of professors; it transcends such boundaries. Many Western scholars have made significant contributions to the study of India, just as several Indian scholars have produced subpar work. True insight in any field requires humility, an open mind, and the willingness to suspend one’s own biases.
Encouraging open dialogue and debate is essential. Academic institutions should provide spaces for constructive discussions on controversial topics related to religion, history, and culture. Sincere efforts must be made to ensure diverse representation among scholars and educators, including the promotion of Hindu voices within academia.
Among Indian academics, there is a growing realization that there is dominance in the social sciences of those entrenched in the erroneous Hindumisic paradigm. Increasingly, scholars in the social sciences today acknowledge that a significant number of faculty members have become so deeply entrenched in their ideologies and political biases that they have become disconnected from objective reality. While the politico-administrative system may provide overall direction, it is really left to academic institutions to set their house in order and address Hindumisia.
Role of Academic Institutions:
To address Hindumisia effectively, academic institutions must take a proactive role. They can do so by:
- Promoting Inclusivity: Fostering a culture of inclusivity within academic spaces can help mitigate Hindumisia. Encouraging diverse perspectives and creating safe spaces for open dialogue can reduce the alienation felt by Hindu-minded students and scholars.
- Curriculum Reforms: Periodic reviews of curricula should aim to eliminate biases and gaps in the representation of Hinduism. Emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach that incorporates various viewpoints can contribute to a more balanced understanding.
- Ethical Guidelines: Academic institutions should establish clear ethical guidelines for research and teaching. These guidelines should emphasize the importance of rigor, objectivity, and respect for diverse perspectives.
- Faculty Development: Faculty members should be provided with ongoing training that raises awareness about issues related to such biases and discrimination. Sensitivity to cultural and religious diversity should be a fundamental aspect of academic training.
- Engagement with Hindu Communities and Seers: Academic institutions should actively engage with Hindu communities and seers to understand their concerns and perspectives. Building bridges between academia and communities can lead to more informed and empathetic research and teaching.
Hindumisia in Indian academia is a complex issue that requires thoughtful engagement. While concerns about bias and discrimination are valid, it is equally important to safeguard academic freedom and freedom of expression. Balancing these competing interests is a challenge that Indian academia must address. It is imperative for academic institutions to recognize their role in addressing the issue of Hindumisia and take proactive measures to foster an environment of inclusivity, respect, and rigorous scholarship. Only through concerted efforts can Indian academia develop a more nuanced understanding of Hinduism and its place in the diverse mosaic of Indian culture and spirituality.
The recently constituted National Syllabus and Teaching Learning Material Committee of the NCERT to spearhead the overhaul of its teaching content should have on its agenda, inter alia, the removal of Hindumisic scholarship from school textbooks.
Ultimately, the goal should be to promote a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of Hinduism and its role in the multifaceted tapestry of Indian culture and spirituality. This can only be achieved through open dialogue, critical inquiry, and a commitment to academic integrity.
The controversies surrounding the academic study of Hinduism and Indic cultures, particularly in the social sciences, are deeply rooted in biases, misunderstandings, and a failure to appreciate the depth and diversity of India’s culture and heritage. To truly understand India and Hindu society, one must navigate the intricacies of its texts and traditions, which often require an open mind and the guidance of experienced mentors. It is essential to recognize that India’s intellectual and cultural contributions are not confined to any particular class or group but are open to all who seek to explore the profound wisdom and insight within its heritage.