Who Is Misrepresenting Hinduism? The Hinduphobic Version of Hinduism
India/Hindustan/Bharath has an ages-old history. Indian culture cannot be described without describing at least in parts the cultures of the Hindu Dharma. The Supreme Court of India defines Hindu Dharma or Hinduism as something which is not just a religion but a “way of life”. We often hear the concept/term — Sanatana Dharma — when we speak about Hinduism. What does Sanatana Dharma have to do with Hinduism? Hinduism works on the basis of Sanatana Dharma (it can be loosely interpreted as eternal values/duties, etc.) which is inclusive in nature. Sanatana Dharma does not teach you to divide, it does not promote forceful conversions, it also does not teach that we are/ our religion is entirely right and that the others are wrong. It points to the One but allows for different ways and different directions to approach the One.
India has a long history of invasions. When I was in school, I used to think about why we were learning history. But recently, I realized why the right knowledge of the history of India was important to garner respect for the nation, its culture, and its values. Sadly, a large part of Indian history was manipulated by the powers that be and that manipulated history was taught to us as the correct version of the past. The invaders who found that India was backed by a rich culture, traditions, and moral values made many concerted attempts to erase or to obliterate or even to hide India’s rich, multi-faceted history.
The existing social circumstances and diverse nature of the country were misused to gain leverage for these invading forces, thereby dragging its citizens towards a disrespect for the past as well as to breed regionalism and communal hatred among the people. Unfortunately, even after independence, we the people of this country, in many cases, have continued to follow this age-old, pro-imperialist education system which was formulated by the colonizing British and later was ratified or further strengthened by other anti-Hindu/Indian groups. Thus, somewhere along the way, we lost the essence of Sanatana Dharma which forms the backbone of Indian culture.
Recently, I have noticed that there is a lot of false propaganda about Sanatana Dharma. I see an overwhelming number of posts on social media that try to undermine Indian culture or traditions and present them as part of a cultural space filled with superstitions and social evils. A large group of people have been brainwashed, undoubtedly, and led to acquire a negative and dismissive attitude towards all things Hindu/Indian. Sadly, a majority of these are the urban middle-class and upper middle-class youth of India, well-fed and pampered, but anglicized and deracinated.
A new concept of Hinduism has been introduced in the public which is entirely different from the original Hindu culture. This new, Hinduphobic version of Sanatana Dharma is presented as the culprit responsible for all the social evils in Indian society.
The Main Features of this ‘Hinduphobic Hinduism”
- Hinduism through the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, the Vedas, the Smritis, the Shrutis, the Nyaya texts, etc., is popularly represented as a religion that promotes casteism and privileged exclusion. The central figures of Hindu culture like Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, and others are portrayed as ordinary people who are partial to those who belong to the higher castes as well as being discriminatory towards those belonging to the so-called lower castes. The asuras or the people who were killed in battle by Lord Rama or Lord Krishna or any deity for that matter, like the demon Mahishasura who was slain by Goddess Durga are often considered to be representatives of these “lower castes,” upon whom the “higher castes” exerted undue influence and were unjust to them. The propaganda is not only false and hateful but constructed to encourage division and conflict.
- The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is often connected with these representations of the Varnashrama Dharma of Hinduism, which has been roughly translated and interpreted as a “caste system”. It is claimed that Aryans were people belonging to high castes who composed the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, other sacred texts to favor and privilege themselves over the rest of the population. Apparently, these Aryans were “outsiders” who “invaded” India and subjugated the aboriginal people of India called “Dravidians,” the present-day Dalits.
- Manipulating history and the cultural memory of Hindus and trying to prove that the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas are mythological, even though these mahakavyas are considered as itihasa by Hindu scholars. Some also point to certain dates from history to argue that the Ramayana or Mahabharata incidents never happened as humans did not even exist at that time. It is basically an outright rejection of the noble heritage associated with these two important texts of world literature. So deep has the rot gone that these outstanding samples of Indian writing are not even taught in most literature departments in Indian universities.
- Hindu culture is shown as being misogynistic with specifically tailored examples to suit this narrative. These include a major falsehood about the prevalence of the Sati custom in India, the prohibition of women to enter temples during menstruation, the prohibition of entry into sanctum sanctorum of the temple of Ayappa at Sabarimala, the treatment of Sita by Rama, and so on.
- It is alleged that the Bhagavad Gita promotes violence or himsa. The Hinduphobic narrative about this great text that has inspired millions of people across the world is that the warrior Arjuna seeks peace, believes war is sinful, but that Lord Krishna was the prime motivator behind the Mahabharata war. This pro-war versus pro-peace narrative seems to aim particularly at diminishing the spiritual stature of the Gita in the minds and hearts of modern Hindus.
- Criticizing idol worship and projecting the Abrahamic ideas of “idolators”. This involves the pejorative use of terms like “monkey god” (referring to Lord Hanuman), “elephant god” (referring to Lord Ganesha), and “unfaithful husband” (referring to Lord Rama).
- There is a tendency to glorify anti-dharma antagonists from these mahakavyas like Duryodhana and Karna, who were killed in the Kurukshetra war. Karna is shown as someone who did a lot of sacrifices and charity or tyaga and dana, but still was killed by trickery that was proposed by Lord Krishna. Karna is also depicted as a character who did not get enough recognition being raised as a “Suta putra,” — socially deprived of his “rightful” status as Kunti’s son. The picture drawn here is related to the first point — that Lord Krishna and the Pandavas are “upper caste” and Ekalavya, Karna, and others who battle on the side of Kauravas are representatives of the “lower caste”.
These points are made repeatedly, insidiously both in media reports and opinion pieces as well as in scholarly work. Short posts on social media platforms, and storylines in films, novels, etc., extend these Hinduphobic narratives. At the end of the day, there is no doubt that young people are challenged about their identity as Hindus, and they begin to ask questions like these:
- Why should I at all try to adhere to Hinduism/Sanatana dharma which, people say and try to prove to be chauvinistic and divisive?
- What is the relevance of reading and learning about Rama, Krishna, Shiva and the pantheon of Hindu Gods and Goddesses currently?
- Why should I respect a nation’s cultural values when its proponents (so called Aryans) have oppressed the aboriginal people (Dravidians) and have established their (Aryan’s) culture in India?
Sanatana Dharma does not advise us to blindly believe in something. It motivates us to explore different aspects about life – from our lowest cravings to our highest quests – both through reason and logic as well as faith and belief. At present, when we try to clarify ideas and matters related to Sanatana Dharma, we are treated as proponents of casteism, of misogyny, and as people who hark back to some “golden age”. The need of the hour therefore is to offer a clear understanding of India’s multifaceted history and to challenge the programmatic attempts to demonize Hindus and Hinduism.
The increasing number of Hinduphobic agencies calls for an urgent need to educate future generations about the fundamental tenets and features of Indian culture and Sanatana Dharma. It is also high time that we change the existing Hinduphobic curriculum for all classes and examinations to prevent the rise in the number of anti-Hindu and anti-India forces. As responsible citizens, let us stop thinking that Dharma will save itself and gear up instead to protect our nation by protecting Dharma.