Hinduism is a deeply hierarchical, oppressive religion. – Nivedita Menon (Professor at JNU)
The Earth, bearing upon her many different peoples, speaking many languages, following different dharmas as suit their particular regions. Pour upon us a thousand-fold streams of bountiful treasures to enrich us, like a constant cow that never faileth. – Atharva Veda
For as long as I remember being politically conscious, I have identified with what I would call India’s activist left on all social issues, and many economic ones. I was led to them through my explorations of the writings of contemporary scholars of India, many of whom belong to this activist left. In fact, this blog was originally setup to discuss and understand many of their writings. Indeed, many of India’s grass root activists identify with leftist politics and they continue various struggles against tremendous odds. Needless to say, many of them are close to these scholar-cum-activists and their partnerships form a rich network of resistance against aribtrary policies and decisions of an increasingly undemocratic society.
I had a simple way of thinking about religions and social problems. I thought all religions had ‘good’ and ‘bad’ points, and that modern reform would simply correct the bad points and override religion in those matters. This seemed to be clear when one talked about Hinduism, the ‘good’ was the tolerance and openness, the bad was the notorious caste system, with the bad being comprehensively overridden by the Indian Constitution. I thought of the other religions in a similar way. Growing up in India, Islam was another religion one was exposed to. In Islam, the good (according to me) was the clear definition of God and his message, the bad was the intolerance to other religions and ideas of God.
Since I thought I knew Hinduism pretty well, I set out to fill the gaps in my knowledge about Islam, and understand why exactly it was the way it was. My readings revealed something that startled me. There actually were actually significant arguments to be made in favor of Islam being a tolerant religion. So there was no ‘bad’ , one just had to look at things from a different perspective. Similarly, what I thought of as being ‘good’, was actually much more complex, with a large number of interpretations of what Islam means and how God is to be thought about coming from various Muslim traditions.
While this meant I understood Islam better, it indicated to me that perhaps I did not understand Hinduism all that well. What if, from a different viewpoint, the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ could be inverted from the way I thought about them ? Just like it had happened with Islam. And of course, this did turn out to be the case. There are Hindu texts that clearly try and establish the superiority of one sect, or one school of thought over all others. There were Hindu kings who were not at all tolerant. And on the other side, there are Hindu texts, stories and movements that emphasize equality of all humans before God.
What animates the Hindu right wing troll is the obsessive quest to define that irredeemable ‘wrong’ in Islam, and other religions, that in his/her mind renders Hinduism superior. This is done for various reasons, but most of all for vengeance, vengeance for a fake, rubbish narrative created by European colonialists that belongs to the dustbin of history. But sadly, the same desire for vengeance seems to manifest in the writings of many activists. The project of Constitutional equality, a national vision for the establishment of which many so called ‘savarnas’ (among other Indians) laid down their lives is turned into a hate fest. Where the goal is to show that ‘Hinduism’ is unequivocally a degrading, decadent philosophy, irredeemably flawed due to a hierarchical social order. The inconvenient facts about how Jatt Sikhs treat Dalit Sikhs, hierarchies among Muslims across India and Buddhists in Ladakh and Tibet are brushed aside as side-effects of Hindu ancestry or proximity.
Inequality is the soul and philosophy of Hinduism. – United Dalit Students Forum (JNU)
Almost every statement of a general nature made by anyone about Indian castes may be contradicted. – D.D. Kosambi
The same academy that has deconstructed the colonial mythology of timeless Hindu-Muslim rivalry and the same activism that courageously challenges the demonisation of Islam as intolerant, accept the colonial narrative of a “deeply hierarchical, oppressive” ‘Hinduism’ almost without question. Its as if humiliating those who call themselves Hindu will make Indian society equal. No wonder then, that the right wing is ascendant today. Between an unjust humiliation and a fake pride, people will usually choose the latter.