In The Armchair

Is Hindutva good for Hinduism?

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on May 28, 2007

The golden ages of Hinduism began ending around 1000 CE, when Ghazni and other invaders realized that rich plunder was to be had and turned their sights towards India. Since that time, Hinduism has been in decline for a millenium, suffering periods of intermittent persecution and defamation at the hands of various Muslim dynasties and Westerners.

Hindutva rose as a response to such persecution and defamation during the independence struggle. Hinduism had survived centuries of Muslim rule, only to be defamed by the British who were motivated by multiple factors: orthodox Christian distaste, a need to justify colonialism, and the need for a divide-and-rule wedge between Indian Hindus and Muslims. Several Hindus evolved a body of thought which ascribed positive qualities to Hinduism, recognized its past and strongly opposed its orchestrated erosion and systematic denigration. Today, Hindutva is represented by organizations such as the Shiv Sena (SS), Bajrang Dal (BD), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHS) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The stated goals of the Hindutva bodies seem reasonable: stop conversions of Hindus to other religions, ensure a level playing field for Hindus in India and stop denigration of Hinduism in popular media. Some of the functions that these organizations perform are essential if Hinduism and Indian culture are to survive. However, they often adopt methods that turn them into liabilities rather than assets to Hinduism.

Why Hindutva is Good for Hinduism

  1. Proselytism. Hindus traditionally did not proactively combat erosion via proselytism, restricting their opposition to resisting conversion. With the well-developed propaganda techniques and large funds available to Christian and Muslim organizations in India, a strong anti-conversion stance is required within Hinduism to prevent erosion.
  2. Scholarship. During the years of Hindu decline, Hindu scholarship was widely neglected among the Hindu population. This is in contrast to most of the other major religions, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It resulted in a dearth of articulation for Hindu viewpoints, and most scholarly voices on Hinduism were those of Westerners. Hindutva provides a Hindu-point-of-view critical evaluation of non-Hindu viewpoints on Hinduism.
  3. National Unity. The Hindutva movement strongly espouses the integration and non-differentiation of castes within Hinduism. In this sense, it acts as a counterfoil to parties like the Congress, which profit by splitting the country along caste lines. The Hindutva movement’s solution, involving integration of all castes into leadership positions at all levels and fluidity of caste definitions, is preferable to the divisive policy of crystallizing caste lines by providing hard caste definitions and differential benefits to different castes.

Why Hindutva is Bad for Hinduism

  1. Proselytism. While Hindutva serves as a foil to proselytism, the methods adopted by Hindutva parties, which sometimes include physical violence, threats and rioting, lead to an unsympathetic attitude towards them. By association, any anti-proselytism movement, and sometimes even Hinduism itself, is viewed as violent. A major problem is that this viewpoint can take root even among Hindus (especially educated ones), who then distance themselves from any anti-proselytism stance.
  2. Scholarship. Hindutva provides critical evaluation of Western commentary on India. However, a lot of Hindutva scholarship and argument is of the quack variety. Unfortunately, it is clear from their writings that most Hindutva commentators have reached their conclusions even before examining the evidence, and the evidence is often manipulated and partial. Even respectable scholars whose views happen to agree with Hindutva positions are immediately suspect because of this. Additionally, Hindutva proponents are wont to subject scholars and artists they disagree with to violent defamation and even physical threats. This completely erodes any credibility that they might otherwise have had, since they are unable to participate in critical discourse. Again, Hinduism as a whole suffers, by association and because of errant behaviour by its self-proclaimed champions.
  3. National Unity. Hindutva actions are a form of feudalism that tend to polarize the nation. It is an ineluctable fact that India has large minorities of non-Hindus. This is not likely to ever change. The extreme steps taken by Hindutva organizations tend to create divisions along religious lines. While Hindutva organizations seem to work for Hindu unity, they simultaneously cause inter-religious rifts.

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Dera Sacha Sauda versus The Sikhs

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on May 28, 2007

The recent violence in Punjab and Haryana over the Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s choice of dress highlights one of the most fundamental problems in India. This is a problem which runs deeper than something like corruption or overpopulation (not to play down the importance of those issues).

The Sikhs (or anyone else) have no right to tell anyone how to dress. Blasphemy, in any form, is not an offense in any civilized society. Everyone should have the freedom to say and do whatever they please — as long as it is not designed to cause disturbances. Unfortunately, the Sikhs in Punjab have failed to recognize this.

The recent incidents are neither isolated nor unusual. Second year students in colleges think they have the right to rag incoming freshmen. RSS and VHP activists think it is their right to smash the offices of newspapers that publish anything they disagree with. Naga christians think they have the right to chase Hindus out of Nagaland. National governments think it is perfectly fine to imprison and torture anyone who says anything against a minister (an outstanding example: the Emergency of Indira Gandhi). Soldiers think it is normal to torture Kashmiri kids, and kill them if they refuse to cooperate. Muslim organizations think it is their right to serve death sentences on authors who disagree with anything in the Quran. The Naxalites think they can dispense social justice to (maim and kill) anyone they don’t like. Marathas think they have the right to prevent non-Marathas from working in Maharashtra. The CPI(M) thought it was within its rights to order its cadres to cut thumbs off villagers who don’t vote for the party. Indians everywhere thought they could attack any Sikh in the aftermath of assassination in 1984. The police everywhere think it is their right to thrash and torture everybody in jail cells.

This lack of respect for individual civil liberties is characteristic of India. Individuals and organizations suffer from a God complex: “if it is within my power, I have the right to do it”. The Dera Sacha Sauda incidents just serve to illustrate a greater malaise.

Getting back to the Dera Sacha Sauda affair, police have registered an FIR against the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda. This may be proper procedure when complaints are made against him, but it is surprising that the police is doing nothing about the rioting hordes who mortally threatened Dera members.

So, what are civil liberties worth? One of the questions we Indians must ask ourselves is this: “Do we serve our collective national soul better by granting civil liberties to others who disagree with us, or by aggressively enforcing our own opinions?”

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The Natures of India and the U.S.A.

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on May 28, 2007

In the U.S.A., there is a sense that India is on the brink of something like a world takeover and is about to catapult itself into advanced-nation-dom. Many Indians have also started believing that this will be so, without paying attention to the fundamental systemic differences between the natures of the so-called advanced countries and India. This belief is no doubt spurred by the rapid expansion witnessed since economic liberalization in 1991.

But I think our pre-1991 economic structure accounts for only part of the backwardness. The rest is due to our ancient social structures. A long time ago, Indians invented a social structure that ensured stability and internal safety and removed much of the uncertainty associated with everyday life. This had its merits, but it also led to a society that is non-confrontational, too scared to assume leadership roles and afraid to innovate if it involves taking risks. Oh, it’s easy to come up with counterexamples: in a country of 1.1 billion people, there are bound to be some who do all those things. But the average Indian is more likely to be a sheep than the average American, and less likely to be a lion.

Looking at this whole issue through a Dennett-ish Darwinian lens, one can see pseudo-evolutionary forces at work everywhere. Indians are probably among the most inbred people on the planet, and it shows in the number of congenital diseases and the general state of health. Our safety nets, which include nearly guaranteed intra-tribe marriage, seem to have nibbled away at our gene pool over the centuries until we remain a tired and spent population. In social terms we remain “safe”, preferring life paths that lead to stability rather than achievement. Removing the bonds of what Gurcharan Das calls the License Raj is only the first step. The important question is, can we shed the bonds of our own degenerative culture?

The answer seems to be in the affirmative, as Western influences and the powerful new media wear down cultural barriers and our own Bollywood films encourage us to rebel against ancient socio-cultural mores. Cross-cultural marriages and heterodox life patterns are increasingly taking hold. But in adopting such novelties, is India headed towards a major shark-jump? Will the India of tomorrow be so different that it is not recognizably Indian? I think the answer is yes.

The U.S.A., in contrast to India, is founded on principles of evolutionary efficiency. America is not just a country, although it is strongly tied to its real estate. America is a meme, a concept: a country defined by the intelligence and ability of its inhabitants at any given point of time. The inhabitants themselves are less important than what they can contribute to this Amerimeme. An immigrant is only as important as the brains or labour that he or she brings into America; amazingly, this also applies to its citizens. The state gives citizens the opportunity to be useful — but if they’re not, they (and likely, their bloodlines) are doomed to oblivion.

India is a little more forgiving. A less-than-important man may, and usually does, father a multitude of offspring, some of whom may end up useful. No doubt this happens in America, too — but less frequently. America is less forgiving of inefficiency and error than India is.

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(Plantain Curry, Dry) Aratikaya Koora

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on May 27, 2007

Cut 3 aratikayas (plantain, raw banana) into small pieces, semi-cook, covered, in microwave.

In a saucepan, take oil, 1 tsp methi seeds, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and splutter. Add 6 peppercorns and 4 cloves, ground into a powder. Add 6 curry leaves, fry. Add cooked plantain, begin frying. Grind 8 green chilis, a handful of coriander leaves and 4 tsp coconut and add along with salt and pasupu; mix well. Keep frying until crisp and cooked.

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Vegetable Korma

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on May 27, 2007

This is a versatile family of recipes with a tomato base. The tomatoes are cooked until they form a sauce and a variety of ingredients can be added. I’ve found that Campbell’s Tomato Soup, available in most grocery stores in the USA, has an excellent texture along with a mild corn syrup sweetness that works well in these recipes. Paneer can be added alone to make a tasty paneer gravy dish. Vegetables such as beans, peas, carrots, potatoes and capsicum can be added with or without paneer for a variation. Adding cream or milk and roasted cashew nuts changes the dish into a vegetable korma. These dishes can be made with or without onions and with a variety of spices.

We start with a base recipe which can then be modified to form several variants.

Base Dish: Tomato Gravy

Ingredients

Campbell’s Tomato Soup (1 small can)
Coriander powder (2 teaspoons)
Red Chilli powder (1/2 teaspoon)
Mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon)
Curry leaves (6 leaves)
Asafoetida powder (a pinch, 1/10 teaspoon)
Ginger, crushed or finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
Vegetable oil (1/2 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Method

In a saucepan or “mookudu”, heat 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add a pinch (1/10 teaspoon) of inguva (asafoetida) and 6 curry leaves. Let fry for about 15 seconds, then add 1 tsp finely chopped ginger and 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic. After another 30 seconds of frying, add 1 can Campbell tomato soup. When it begins simmering, add 2 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste). Mix well and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve over rice.

Variations

Paneer in Tomato Gravy

Ingredients

Campbell’s Tomato Soup (1 small can)
Coriander powder (2 teaspoons)
Red Chilli powder (1/2 teaspoon)
Mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon)
Curry leaves (6 leaves)
Asafoetida powder (a pinch, 1/10 teaspoon)
Ginger, crushed or finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped (1/2 teaspoon)
Vegetable oil (1 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (200 gms, about a 3x2x2 inch slab)
Turmeric (a pinch, about 1/10 teaspoon)
Onions, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

Method

In a saucepan or “mookudu”, heat 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil on medium heat. Add the paneer cubes and 1/4 tsp salt and let fry until golden/light brown, turning cubes frequently to fry evenly and prevent burning. About a minute before paneer is done, add a pinch of pasupu (turmeric). Remove paneer from saucepan and set aside.

Add another 1/2 tsp oil and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add a pinch (1/10 teaspoon) of inguva (asafoetida) and 6 curry leaves. Let fry for about 15 seconds, then add 1 tsp finely chopped ginger and 1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic. After another 30 seconds of frying, add about 1/2 cup finely chopped onions. When onions are golden, add 1 can Campbell tomato soup. When it begins simmering, add 2 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste). Mix well and add in the paneer. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve over rice or with chapattis.

Note: The amount of Campbell soup/tomato puree can be varied by how much gravy you like. The gravy will thicken considerably when cooled.

Tomato-based Vegetable Korma

Ingredients

Campbell’s Tomato Soup (1 large can)
Coriander powder (3 teaspoons)
Red Chilli powder (1 teaspoon)
Mustard seeds (1/2 teaspoon)
Curry leaves (8 leaves)
Asafoetida powder (a pinch, 1/10 teaspoon)
Ginger, crushed or finely chopped (1 1/2 teaspoon)
Garlic, crushed or finely chopped (1 teaspoon)
Vegetable oil (1 1/4 teaspoon)
Salt (1/2 teaspoon)

Paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (200 gms, about a 3x2x2 inch slab)
Turmeric (a pinch, about 1/10 teaspoon)
Onions, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)

Carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/2 cup or 2 carrots)
Green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
Green peas (about 4 teaspoons)
Potato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 1/4 cup)
Capsicum, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 1/4 cup)
Heavy or whipping cream (1/4 cup)
Milk (1/4 cup)
Cashew nuts, coarsely chopped (6 teaspoons)

Method

Place chopped vegetables in a bowl, cover and microwave until slightly cooked but still crunchy. It may help to cook potatoes, carrots for a bit more time than beans, capsicum and peas. If a microwave is not available, any other cooking method, including simply frying or sauteeing, is fine. Set aside.

While vegetables are getting done, add 1/4 tsp oil to a saucepan or “mookudu” on low heat, and fry 6 teaspoons of cashew nuts until golden/light brown. Set fried cashews aside.

While vegetables are getting done, heat 1/2 tsp of vegetable oil on medium heat in a saucepan. Add the paneer cubes and 1/4 tsp salt and let fry until golden/light brown, turning cubes frequently to fry evenly and prevent burning. About a minute before paneer is done, add a pinch of pasupu (turmeric). Remove paneer from saucepan and set aside.

Add another 1/2 tsp oil and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds. When they splutter, add a pinch (1/10 teaspoon) of inguva (asafoetida) and 8 curry leaves. Let fry for about 15 seconds, then add 1 1/2 tsp finely chopped ginger and 1 tsp finely chopped garlic. After another 30 seconds of frying, add about 1/2 cup finely chopped onions. When onions are golden, add 1 large can Campbell tomato soup. When it begins simmering, add 3 tsp coriander powder, 1/2 tsp red chilli powder and 1/2 tsp salt (or to your taste). Mix well and add in the paneer and vegetables. Add in 1/4 cup cream and 1/4 cup milk and mix well. Allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Serve with rice or chapattis.

Note: The amount of Campbell soup/tomato puree can be varied by how much gravy you like. The gravy will thicken considerably when cooled. You can add more paneer, cream or cashews for a richer dish or less paneer, cream or cashews for a lower fat dish.

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Dera Sacha Sauda versus The Sikhs

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on May 21, 2007

The recent violence in Punjab and Haryana over the Dera Sacha Sauda chief’s choice of dress highlights one of the most fundamental problems in India. This is a problem which runs deeper than something like corruption or overpopulation (not to play down the importance of those issues).

The Sikhs (or anyone else) have no right to tell anyone how to dress. Blasphemy, in any form, is not an offense in any civilized society. Everyone should have the freedom to say and do whatever they please — as long as it is not designed to cause disturbances. Unfortunately, the Sikhs in Punjab have failed to recognize this.

The recent incidents are neither isolated nor unusual. Second year students in colleges think they have the right to rag incoming freshmen. RSS and VHP activists think it is their right to smash the offices of newspapers that publish anything they disagree with. Naga christians think they have the right to chase Hindus out of Nagaland. National governments think it is perfectly fine to imprison and torture anyone who says anything against a minister (an outstanding example: the Emergency of Indira Gandhi). Soldiers think it is normal to torture Kashmiri kids, and kill them if they refuse to cooperate. Muslim organizations think it is their right to serve death sentences on authors who disagree with anything in the Quran. The Naxalites think they can dispense social justice to (maim and kill) anyone they don’t like. Marathas think they have the right to prevent non-Marathas from working in Maharashtra. The CPI(M) thought it was within its rights to order its cadres to cut thumbs off villagers who don’t vote for the party. Indians everywhere thought they could attack any Sikh in the aftermath of assassination in 1984. The police everywhere think it is their right to thrash and torture everybody in jail cells.

This lack of respect for individual civil liberties is characteristic of India. Individuals and organizations suffer from a God complex: “if it is within my power, I have the right to do it”. The Dera Sacha Sauda incidents just serve to illustrate a greater malaise.

Getting back to the Dera Sacha Sauda affair, police have registered an FIR against the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda. This may be proper procedure when complaints are made against him, but it is surprising that the police is doing nothing about the rioting hordes who mortally threatened Dera members.

So, what are civil liberties worth? One of the questions we Indians must ask ourselves is this: “Do we serve our collective national soul better by granting civil liberties to others who disagree with us, or by aggressively enforcing our own opinions?”

Tagged with:

The Natures of India and the U.S.A.

Posted in India by Armchair Guy on May 4, 2007

In the U.S.A., there is a sense that India is on the brink of something like a world takeover and is about to catapult itself into advanced-nation-dom. Many Indians have also started believing that this will be so, without paying attention to the fundamental systemic differences between the natures of the so-called advanced countries and India. This belief is no doubt spurred by the rapid expansion witnessed since economic liberalization in 1991.

But I think our pre-1991 economic structure accounts for only part of the backwardness. The rest is due to our ancient social structures. A long time ago, Indians invented a social structure that ensured stability and internal safety and removed much of the uncertainty associated with everyday life. This had its merits, but it also led to a society that is non-confrontational, too scared to assume leadership roles and afraid to innovate if it involves taking risks. Oh, it’s easy to come up with counterexamples: in a country of 1.1 billion people, there are bound to be some who do all those things. But the average Indian is more likely to be a sheep than the average American, and less likely to be a lion.

Looking at this whole issue through a Dennett-ish Darwinian lens, one can see pseudo-evolutionary forces at work everywhere. Indians are probably among the most inbred people on the planet, and it shows in the number of congenital diseases and the general state of health. Our safety nets, which include nearly guaranteed intra-tribe marriage, seem to have nibbled away at our gene pool over the centuries until we remain a tired and spent population. In social terms we remain “safe”, preferring life paths that lead to stability rather than achievement. Removing the bonds of what Gurcharan Das calls the License Raj is only the first step. The important question is, can we shed the bonds of our own degenerative culture?

The answer seems to be in the affirmative, as Western influences and the powerful new media wear down cultural barriers and our own Bollywood films encourage us to rebel against ancient socio-cultural mores. Cross-cultural marriages and heterodox life patterns are increasingly taking hold. But in adopting such novelties, is India headed towards a major shark-jump? Will the India of tomorrow be so different that it is not recognizably Indian? I think the answer is yes.

The U.S.A., in contrast to India, is founded on principles of evolutionary efficiency. America is not just a country, although it is strongly tied to its real estate. America is a meme, a concept: a country defined by the intelligence and ability of its inhabitants at any given point of time. The inhabitants themselves are less important than what they can contribute to this Amerimeme. An immigrant is only as important as the brains or labour that he or she brings into America; amazingly, this also applies to its citizens. The state gives citizens the opportunity to be useful — but if they’re not, they (and likely, their bloodlines) are doomed to oblivion.

India is a little more forgiving. A less-than-important man may, and usually does, father a multitude of offspring, some of whom may end up useful. No doubt this happens in America, too — but less frequently. America is less forgiving of inefficiency and error than India is.

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