In The Armchair

S. L. Bhyrappa’s Vamshavriksha

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on August 3, 2009

I had an interesting discussion with Bekaar BokBok recently about writing styles among Indian English authors.  For practical purposes, my first language is English.  It would be lovely to read immersively Indian books that also sport a suave command of English.  A few authors do write this way.  Rushdie does, at times.  Samit Basu and (sometimes) Amitav Ghosh do it.  But it would be fun to see a lot more.

S.L.BhyrappaS. L. Bhyrappa excites a lot of interest in the blogosphere, probably because he tends to write from a traditional Hindu viewpoint — a taboo in today’s “secular”ized media environment.  Bhyrappa writes in Kannada, and unfortunately the translations of his books leave a lot to be desired. It is a hard thing to translate. I’ve read translations of two of his books: Saartha and Vamshavriksha.  One way to describe the translations is that the form of the novels is translated, but not the texture.  That may not be entirely accurate, since I have no idea what the texture of the Kannada originals is like.  But the English translations simply lack texture.  By this, I mean that the writing is utterly unevocative and deficient in beauty of language, milieu details and ambience.  Rather, it is a matter-of-fact narration of the events in the Kannada originals.  It is quite amazing how off-putting this is, even if you get the essentials of the story.

It’s possible that the originals are also written in this style.  Unfortunately, I’ve not read much Indian-language literature.  However, a few Telugu short stories which I have read also seem to have this characteristic.  There is a steady flow of narrative, but minimal descriptive writing.  If someone is in a forest, for example, his surroundings might be described (directly) as dense, gloomy, dark or thick.  But this kind of explicit description seems more common than an evocation of those feelings through a more detailed description of the surroundings.

Bhyrappa-VamsavrukshaAnyway, to get back to Vamshavriksha.  Interesting though it was, this book also belongs to the large body of “open to interpretation” lit.  The events are vaguely connected to a perceivable philosophical undercurrent, but they defy easy categorization.  Neither the underlying philosophy nor the novel’s flow in any one direction.  The story doesn’t have much of a beginning or conclusion.  Events lead to one another rather unsatisfactorily, and there’s rarely a build-up of pace or a sense that something important is happening.

I found even the subject matter of the novel, the stuff in the narrative, unusual and difficult to identify with.  However, this was actually a good thing.  For a change, we have an author who isn’t ashamed to present Hinduism in a positive way in his novels.  Also, while it’s not exactly spiritual, Vamshavriksha is saturated with the spiritual/philosophic attitude of the protagonists.  Every event is evaluated in the light of tradition, the Vedas, Hindu philosophy.  It’s a viewpoint I know many people have (including most of my relatives and almost everyone in my parents’ generation), but I don’t have it, and so this book gives me a window into the way they think.

It’s a book worth reading, intellectually, but I must say the translated version is a tad insipid. A translation with a bit more verve would do Bhyrappa’s readers a great service.

writes in Kannada, and unfortunately the translations of his books leave a lot to be desired.  It is a hard thing to translate.  Bhyrappa
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  1. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 5, 2009 at 4:08 am

    S. L. Bhyrappa excites a lot of interest in the blogosphere, probably because he tends to write from a traditional Hindu viewpoint — a taboo in today’s “secular”ized media environment.
    ———–

    Which is exactly as it should be. I read some of Bhyrappa’s articles on the Net.

    Unfortunately, it has all the characterestics of typical Hindu fundie writing – the moaning and groaning over the ‘Islamo-Christian threat’, the ranting against ‘so called liberals”, blah, blah (actually, I find, if you read the phrase ‘so-called seculars’ in a piece by an Indian writer, you can pretty much predict the rest of the text).

    If you read the evangelical Christian right in the States, you’ll find pretty much the same things, with different placeholders for the ‘enemy without’ and ‘enemy within’.
    (Well, actually, the secular liberals are also the enemy for them. Strange how we always get it in the neck…)

    I really resent how the saffron brigade has equated the concepts of ‘Hindu perspective’ and ‘Hindu fundamentalism’ in the public eye.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 5, 2009 at 1:12 pm

      Bekaar BokBok:

      I’d be interested in reading articles by Bhyrappa — didn’t see any. Can you point me to some of them? In his books at least, Bhyrappa doesn’t seem at all fundamentalist, just religious in the sense of reading the vedas and morning prayers and self-discipline and so on. He also does sound very progressive. Are you sure Bhyrappa used phrases like “Islamo-Christian threat” — or did some Hindutva folk just co-opt his work?

      I think that a more nuanced reading of the “Hindu fundamentalists'” activities is necessary. The Hindu perspective is certainly different from Hindu fundamentalism, but there are two issues here. One issue is whether the problems they talk about (Islamo-Christian threat, pseudo-secular media) actually exist. The other is the Hindu fundies’ commitment to accuracy and the law.

      I think many of the issues the Hindu fundies raise are real areas of concern. The Haj subsidy, induced conversions, separate civil codes for different religions, Kashmir’s special status, government managing temples, disallowing Hindu schools and so on are all real problems.

      The real issue with the fundies is their willingness to twist the truth (also a problem with evangelicals and “ulema” promoters) and take the law into their own hands.

      The Indian case is further muddied because “secular” is completely different in the Indian context. Here it isn’t that the government wants to have nothing to do with religion. Here secular means the government should treat all religions equally. However, the current legislations aren’t secular in any sense. Christian and Muslim schools (madarsas) are permitted, but not Hindu schools. Churches and mosques have full freedom with their funds, but temple funds and properties are managed by boards appointed by government. The government perforce takes a hands-off approach to Islamic civil law (remember the case where Deoband “sentenced” a girl because she married a Hindu and the government kept quiet?) but Hindu and Christian cases are tried in court. In Andhra Pradesh a Christian TV Channel was one of Congress’ election promises. Governments directly try to interfere with religious beliefs — as in the Sabarimala-Jayamala case. (I don’t have a position on whether women should be allowed in that temple — I’m just saying it’s not the government’s business to determine how faith and beliefs run.) And so on.

      The issue is it doesn’t matter if you’re a secular (in the Western sense) liberal who wants to fix these problems. The moment you bring up say regularising madarsas or stopping temple management, you will be branded a Hindu fundamentalist by the media. No one can touch these issues with a 50 foot pole for fear of being branded a Hindu fundamentalist.

  2. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 7, 2009 at 5:13 am

    Armchair guy,
    I just searched Bhyrappa on the Net and read the first couple of articles. They were all translations, so the translator could very well have inserted his own phrases.

    Completely agree with you re: Hindu perspective versus Hindu fundamentalism.
    As I said at the end, I resent how the RSS et al have equated them in the public eye.
    I suspect its very similar to how liberal muslims feel about how Islam is being equated with violence and terrorism thanks to the fundies within.

    The Indian system of different laws just for muslims, is of course, ridiculous and makes a travesty of secularism, whetehr in the western or indian sense. Its obviously a transparent grab for the muslim vote.

    I don’t really follow the media so much on this issue.
    Is it really true that if anyone protests against the dual legal system, they are branded fundamentalists by the media ? Or is that an exaggeration by the fundies ?

    For example, if you see Fox news or read the Christian right media, you’d think there’s a huge secular conspiracy to victimize and marginalize all Christians and destroy their way of life. But it doesn’t stand up for a moment under examination.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 7, 2009 at 12:19 pm

      Bekaar BokBok,

      I mostly found articles about Bhyrappa — not by him. The thing is, I’ve seen an interview (see here) and read two books by him. If anything, he comes off as a liberal. He prefers Hinduism, but has a liberal explanation for that (see the interview). He is critical not of other religions per se, but of very specific aspects of those religions (like the claim that those religions are the only acceptable way of life). I occasionally find his views on Christianity and Islam uncomfortable, but they are well-argued and seem accurate enough. I think the problem is his views are uncomfortable for our “secular” media and leftist scholars, so he gets painted as a Hindutva sympathizer.

      I do think there is a tendency to identify any critics of Christianity and Islam as Hindutva folks. I view the Hindutva viewpoint as a very extreme and often violent version of the liberal viewpoint on Christianity and Islam in India. They are often saying the same things a liberal would, only with a lot of embellishment and extra ideology. That’s where the media is supposed to exercise some discernment to identify liberals and Hindutva folk. But I do think the media have a strong Indian-leftist bias, which is why they are anti-liberal and anti-Hindutva at the same time. And the most common weapon against the liberals who talk about religion-related issues is to simply label them as Hindutva supporters.

      The fundies do exaggerate, but not by much I think.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm

      I just found this translation of an article by Bhyrappa. It seems to mesh exactly with one of Hindutva’s chief agendas. So maybe I have to rethink my opinion on Bhyrappa. But he seems careful to avoid bending the truth and is still far from being a Hindutva proponent. I’ll have to think about it a bit more before I can come to any conclusions…

      Some other links, just putting them here for reference…

      The Hindu article stating that Bhyrappa is responsible for Church destruction

      Similar Hindu article

      Hindu article about Congress protests — Did he say something against Sonia Gandhi?

      Article on “oneindia”

      Blog report on Bhyrappa at a seminar — at a Hindutva blog, which says Bhyrappa called for strong anti-conversion laws.

  3. Kaffir said, on August 9, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    =>
    I do think there is a tendency to identify any critics of Christianity and Islam as Hindutva folks.
    =>

    Exactly! It’s much easier to use labels or guilt-by-association to dismiss a viewpoint, rather than to evaluate that viewpoint or argument on its own merit. Also, the concern of being proven wrong – which would shake our “secular-liberal” foundations plays some part in such behavior. It’d be interesting to see how people adopted their “secular-liberal” viewpoint – whether by closely examining such concepts and comparing them to what’s considered “conservative” or “traditional”, or just because one is single and likes freedom, and there’s a knee-jerk reaction to the limits that a society places on our behavior. We also tend to unthinkingly adopt the dynamics of what goes on in the west (since many of use have experience of living in both places), and use that template in India, not realizing that the western societies had a different relationship with their religion (Christianity) and that relationship doesn’t necessarily apply to India and Hinduism/Sanaatan Dharm.
    Though, these very “liberal” people would oppose Christianity (Intelligent Design, gay rights) when they live in the US, but side with Christianity when in India, when it’s the same ideology and same thinking that’s being preached in India. Very illogical and confusing behavior.

    • Bekaar BokBok said, on August 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm

      Though, these very “liberal” people would oppose Christianity (Intelligent Design, gay rights) when they live in the US, but side with Christianity when in India, when it’s the same ideology and same thinking that’s being preached in India. Very illogical and confusing behavior.
      ——————-

      I think this is confusing a couple of issues.

      If it were Hindus or Buddhists in the US preaching some version of ID or advocating persecution of gays, I’m quite sure the liberals would oppose them.

      Conversely, if Christians in India were insisting on teaching ID in schools or saying homosexuality is a sin, the liberals would oppose them as well.

      Its not a matter of being pro or anti-Christian or whatever religion, its about specific issues being opposed or supported.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 11, 2009 at 2:37 am

      While I do think our media and education systems are biased, I do think our right-wingers do themselves a lot of disservice by being too militant. I’ve got a post about it here: Is Hindutva Good for Hinduism?

      I think pretty much everybody, leftist, rightist or centrist, is hypocritical. 🙂

      Bekaar BokBok and Kaffir, I think both of you have a kernel of the truth. I think that liberals in the US are opposed not to Christianity itself, but to imposition of Christianity. If the same liberals came to India they would be appalled by what Christian missionaries do here. It’s also true that Indian-context liberals are much more forgiving of far bigger ethical lapses (for example, the practice of teaching “Bible History” in schools). If homegrown desi liberals went to the US they would probably be inclined to see American liberals as aggressive people who should leave Christians alone.

      I think what is meant by the word liberal (in socio-religious issues) is heavily dependent on context. In other words, a liberal is liberal only in comparison to his neighbours. So it might have a similar definition, but if you actually “instantiate” a liberal in the US and another in India, in practice they will have hugely different outlooks. They can’t really be compared, I think.

      • Bekaar BokBok said, on August 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm

        See, what I mean by a liberal is what would be called ‘secular humanist’ by some. Most liberals in the west fall under this rough category (and are hated with a vengeance by the Christian right).

        I can’t imagine secular humanists tolerating religious persecution by Christians (or anybody else) in India. I must look more into this, and the exact issues involved.

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 12, 2009 at 3:35 am

          I like secular humanism, and in analytical mode I’m one myself. But in India its political relevance isn’t very high. I’m guessing few particularly hate secular humanists or are drawn to their way of thinking. On the other hand, viewpoints like Marxism and Hindutva excite a lot of interest…

  4. Kaffir said, on August 9, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    AG, perhaps a post on what you understand by “Hindutva” is in order. 🙂

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 11, 2009 at 3:10 am

      Hmm, that is a slippery slope. Maybe I will try, but trying to precisely define fuzzy sets of people is asking for trouble: you get stuck to a definition that may not capture everything you feel.

      I’m not going to distinguish between the ideology and the people; for a short description I don’t see the point.

      Loosely, I view Hindutva as an ideology that is dedicated to Hindu supremacy. Some might say they just want to ensure the “safety” of Hinduism, but the only way to ensure this is supremacy. An unstable equilibrium is not what they are after. Others say they are interested in Indian supremacy, not Hindu, but in practice they equate the two.

      The above includes most Hindutva folk, but it also includes other, much milder people. There are many everyday people who feel this way without giving it much thought. I guess one of the characteristics of the Hindutva chap is that he has brooded over it quite long. Of course there are several who have actually thought about it, and have logical reasons for being in Hindutva. Many Hindutva folk are not interested in their religion; they are in it because of “us vs them” considerations. They want all Hindus to profess Hindutva.

      Let’s get into moral judgment a bit. I don’t like to, but it’s hard to convey much without it. All the above doesn’t seem so bad in itself. But I’m very scared of Hindutva folk. I would be very scared if my mom lived in a small town with lots of Hindutva activity, even though we are staunch Hindus. The biggest problem is not criteria all of them satisfy. Those criteria are often harmless enough. The problems lie hidden in some characteristics of the group. Hindutva folk have a high proportion of rage-driven cadres, seem more inclined towards physical aggression (compared with the everyday Hindu), tend to indulge in gang activity, and genuinely believe that they are not subject to the law.

      That last point can’t be stressed enough. The number of times I’ve got into (internet) arguments with them over their propensity for taking the law into their own hands is no joke. For example, a number of them genuinely, sincerely believe they are justified in smashing the offices of a newspaper that prints something they don’t agree with. They will repeatedly justify this. [I don’t recommend arguing with them, by the way. They are wonderful folk as long as you agree with them, but tend to take it very personally if you disagree.]

      I actually sympathize with many of the concerns that Hindutva folk have. I’m aghast at the sheer volume of conversions to Christianity, and extreme weirdness like the Haj subsidy, separate civil codes, government control of temple properties, and disallowing of Hindu schools. Hindutva could be doing a lot of good. But it is too uncontrolled and capricious.

  5. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 11, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    I need to find out a lot more about all this. The only time I hear about Christian conversions etc are from Hindutva rants which generally put me off with their militancy (as a result of which I begin to doubt their accuracy).

    Are Christians forcibly converting people, or are they doing a good PR job which is bringing in converts?

    What’s this disallowing of Hindu schools? We have a bunch of Ramakrishna mission schools in Kol which seem as Hindu as Jesuit schools are Christian. Aren’t they Hindu schools?

    I get a feeling that many of the weird laws were an attempt to bend over backwards to assure minorities they wouldn’t be persecuted, probably post-independence.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm

      Ok, warning: long haphazard reply coming up…

      Here’s the thing: I don’t actually know much about conversions myself. The problem is it’s impossible to find a trusted source. Hindu fundamentalists are out to prove their case and will exaggerate, the Christians say they’re doing absolutely nothing, the government and media think any attempts to find out real numbers are detrimental to social stability, the academic establishment is also uncomfortable with findings that seem to support the fundamentalists. I’m basing my feelings on very limited anecdotal observations (mostly in Vizag), so take this with a grain of salt…

      Conversions

      I am pretty sure the conversions aren’t forced (in terms of physical force), but they use methods that would in the Western world be considered unethical. Let me try to lay out a few points:

      1. First, they pay their cadres (not clergy, just everyday people who recruit) with foreign dollars. (I know of one family in Vizag who get money this way.) This is illegal in India. Besides, I’m not sure about the wisdom in allowing rich foreign organizations to conduct unregulated social experiments (namely, conversion) in India.

      2. They will target people who are going through a tragedy and then brainwash them thoroughly once they get them in church. I know of one lady (distant relative) whose son ran away from home. She was told he’d come back if she became a Christian. He never came back, but she stayed Christian and pretty much refused to participate in Hindu festivals with the rest of her family from then on.

      3. My aunts get evangelists on their doorstep a couple of times a year. These people are a bit like Amway guys. They are usually recent recruits who believe that they will go to heaven if they recruit more people. Their initial approach is unrelated to the real purpose of the visit, which is revealed after you’re in a position where you have to be rude to send them away. They will try to give you little gifts like calendars — with passages from the bible. My aunts are well-to-do, but it’s easy for a poor person to be attracted by all this.

      4. They give you bibles and other literature. I’m not sure of the ethics of this (it’s one sided, since no one from any competing religion is handing out literature). A bigger problem is the contents of the bibles. There is a bit of hate literature mixed in with the original bible stuff. One statement in a bible (literal translation from Telugu): “Those who worship idols are dogs and foxes”. (Dogs and foxes are supposed to be bad… 🙂 )

      5. The density of churches in Vizag has increased, quite astoundingly. This is very obvious and visible. Nothing wrong with the existence of churches, but the rapidity of proliferation means there are large social changes that are receiving no scrutiny. It’s the result of “church planting” activities. The problem with this is there is no real opposition, so it can sweep the current social situation away. Maybe the new society will be better, but we don’t know that. Personal anecdote: some of my relatives in a small village renovated the local temple and established a trust for a pujari’s salary. Within six months there was a beautiful brand new church opposite the temple with a padre exhorting people to convert. Christianity had ignored this village completely until the temple was renovated. It’s all conducted a bit like a war.

      Scale of conversions

      So is this massive social change real? There are supposedly massive conversions among tribals, but I have no first-hand experience of these things and real reports are hard to come by. The census still says there are 2% Christians in India. But this low figure is by all accounts an underestimate. Christian organizations work very hard to convince converts not to admit they have converted. Often it is to protect the converts, but the problem is we don’t know the real scale of this social change. It’s a bit like an underground movement. The most common claim is that since only 2% of Indians are Christians, there’s no huge social change going on. But recently Christians in A.P. claimed that there are 2 crore Christians in A.P. alone (more than 25% of the population).

      Ethics

      All of these are soft complaints. It’s very hard to clearly articulate what’s wrong with these activities. I find that the best thing to compare with is informed consent ethical guidelines in medicine: see the Belmont report. The Christian organizations in India break every guideline there.

      Schools

      About schools: It isn’t exactly that Hindu organizations cannot run a school. But they don’t have a right to run a school. Current interpretations of Article 30 of the constitution allow a government to shut down or arbitrarily take over a Hindu educational institution. If a temple wants to run a school, first it has to be cleared by the temple board which is controlled by the government; next such a school can be taken over by the government at any time. Minorities (i.e. Muslims and Christians) are guaranteed the right to run a school. That’s why there are so few Hindu schools compared the huge number of Christian schools and Madrassas. The Hindu school has to play a delicate balancing act that keeps everyone happy.

      The Ramakrishna Mission and also Arya Samaj and others have tried to identify themselves as non-Hindu. Many believe they did this because they were afraid of governments interfering. RKM was worried about the W.B. state government taking over their schools. Here’s a super-detailed (pro-Hindu viewpoint) article on the topic.

      Laws

      I think you’re absolutely right; the laws were designed to make minorities feel safe. I think they quite obviously arose out of the two-nation theory disputes and the agony of the 20 years before 1947 when the Congress desperately struggled to prevent partition and made huge concessions to the Muslim League.

      Whew. This comment is much longer than the original post…

  6. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 12, 2009 at 2:37 am

    Man, you could join the comments together to make a new blogpost!

    But regarding the Christianity thing, isn’t this how all religions proselytize? Making converts of people undergoing a tragedy and sending out proselytizers who befriend you and then try to ‘bring you over’ is a long tradition. Which is what makes me rather disdainful of organized religions.
    Plus, they don’t really need to insert hate phrases into the Bible – the Bible itself contains more than enough enough material about hating non-believers and the awful things Jehovah and his followers do to them.

    What you are describing is the ‘marketplace of religions’ in action. Christianity is the foreign competition offering a new brand. To my mind, the Hindutva brigade act like the anti-immigrant parties in the west – Rama, Rama, all these foreigners are taking our market share. Keep them out, keep them out!

    What we really need to ask is, What’s wrong with our homegrown product ?
    For the past several centuries, tribals and lower castes have gone over to Islam and Christianity, because they’ve felt oppressed and/or marginalized. They still do so today.
    Can we offer them something better?

    Maybe we can send out evangelicals to convince them that Krishna is cooler than Christ? What about saying that while they got only one god, we offer a choice of gods customized for your every need? The ideas are endless. 🙂

    Joking apart, this has happened before. The same feeling of oppression by higher castes led to mass conversions to Buddhism from about 300 BC onwards. Historically, Buddhism has been the biggest competitor to Hinduism, and captured far more of the population than Islam and Christianity combined.
    This led to massive reforms within Hinduism during the Gupta age, the rise of the bhakti traditions etc etc. In fact, what we know as Hinduism today is mainly the post-reform version.

    So maybe time for some more reform ?

    Laws: I definitely think the laws are ossified. But from what I see in India, there are a bunch of laws that sit around but people mostly ignore them (like the homosexuality laws for eg).

    Has the government actually gone ahead and taken over any Hindu or virtually Hindu-run schools ? Or is it one of those laws only on paper to act as a pacifier? Is the govt really unable to put pressure on jesuit schools and madrasas if they want to?

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 12, 2009 at 4:24 am

      You’re right, it’s a lot like a religion marketplace. But the way churches operate is a bit like a drug company that claims its drug is better than the competition, but lobbies very hard to make sure there’s no scrutiny of the drug or its marketing practices from the FDA. See, that would never be allowed in a real market. Besides, there’s no real competition. Hinduism simply doesn’t have a conversion dogma. Worse, Hinduism isn’t allowed to compete because of the laws and government control of temple boards. It’s like a market where only some are allowed to compete.

      I think it’s not an ethical marketplace (with what’s at stake, it should be).

      One of the things Hindutva folk are asking for is to unfetter Hindu religious institutions; I think if that actually happened other religions would be swept away because of the sheer volume of Hindus. The TTD, for instance, is supposed to be the richest religious organization in the world after the Roman Catholic Church; countering a few US churches should not pose too much of a problem.

      The original bible has a sort of generic hate for non-Christians, but in India it’s been specialized to target Hinduism.

      You’re right about the population swinging towards Buddhism and back towards Hinduism. I think Buddhism isn’t so heavily anti-Hindu, it’s more compatible with Hinduism, so it doesn’t get so much flak — just as Muslims have worse things to say about Hindus than “people of the book”.

      Caste is no longer such a religious issue; nowadays it’s more about preserving power structures than about religion i.e. more political than religious. SCs are not marginalized any longer. For example Mayawati joined hands with the Brahmins in UP. The religious reform is happening. Hindutva folk are almost militant in suppressing caste prejudice. I’ve read reports that SCs’ social status even within the church remains low after conversion. With tribals it’s another issue altogether. They are still marginalized. Unlike SCs who have a huge amount of political ideology backing them up (even though some of it isn’t accurate), tribals don’t have political consciousness and other intellectual defenses. It’s a trivial matter for a flashy rich missionary to walk into their midst, build a church that costs more than the entire tribe’s income for 10 years, and dazzle them with his claims of saving them.

      As far as laws go, I don’t think they are used so passively. It’s a form of soft control, the way Jews control the media in the US. See, suppose a school or temple doesn’t toe the line. It’s quite trivial to arrest a temple priest or two on trumped up charges and swap out a few board members. (Jayalalitha and the Sankaracharya, remember?) It’s impossible to know what actually happened, it looks fishy but after a while everybody forgets and the new board is toeing the government line. Most temple management is too murky for anyone to know what’s going on. In W.B. the RKM has too well-known and well-defined a hierarchy for the govt to do this. But I remember reading that RKM schools suddenly lost their water supply and such when the govt was displeased…

  7. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 12, 2009 at 7:58 am

    This is getting interesting.
    Let’s see:

    ————–
    You’re right, it’s a lot like a religion marketplace. But the way churches operate is a bit like a drug company that claims its drug is better than the competition, but lobbies very hard to make sure there’s no scrutiny of the drug or its marketing practices from the FDA. See, that would never be allowed in a real market
    ——————–

    But in what sense is there no scrutiny? If there’s no forced conversion, the people converting are themselves doing the scrutiny, no? Does the govt need to get involved?

    OTOH, If you say X-ians are doing good packaging, why don’t we do the same?

    —————————-
    Besides, there’s no real competition. Hinduism simply doesn’t have a conversion dogma. Worse, Hinduism isn’t allowed to compete because of the laws and government control of temple boards. It’s like a market where only some are allowed to compete.
    —————————

    But if we are worried about this, can’t we set up a conversion dogma? Churches are always meeting to make a policy on this or that, including whether Mary was a virgin. Can’t we do the same?
    Innovation is the watchword. 🙂

    Plus why can’t we compete? Can’t we proselytize, can’t we set up conversion mechanisms in the same way as X-ians? How exactly is govt. interference stopping this?

    —————————————————
    I think it’s not an ethical marketplace (with what’s at stake, it should be).
    —————————————————

    Ok, now that you brought this up, what IS at stake here?

    See this is the argument I keep hearing:

    “Beware, beware! The Christians are among us. Lurking in the shadows, aided by the traitorous so-called liberals, they preach, they spread, and one day, one day they…will…. STRIKE!!!” (Oh, the shock, the horror!)

    And do what exactly ?

    After all, our country spent five hundred years under Muslim rule.
    It was an era when an aggressive, evangelical religion didn’t just have the veiled support of ‘so-called liberals’, but the open, active support of kings and emperors. Emperors who could impose jiziya taxes, endorse conversions at sword point and raze temples to the ground.
    And after all this, the vast majority of our country is still Hindu, the religion is alive and even kicking sometimes, and the culture is as vibrant as ever.

    Hindu religion and culture have survived the vicissitudes of history for three and a half millenia and come out stronger. Do we really need to panic in these much more peaceful times?

    I guess the above also covers the issue of Buddhist vs Christian attitudes to Hinduism.

    Must say I’m enjoying this – its the first time I’m engaging in a argument of this sort without things degenerating into rants, conspiracy theories and name calling! 🙂

    My personal view on this, as a secular agnostic, is that what needs to be done is some aggressive proselytizing, not for this religion or that, but for science and rational thinking.
    Hopefully, if this succeeds, people will see spiritual beliefs as a matter of personal/cultural taste, and the organized religions with all their politicking and turf wars will gradually fade into relics of the past. (This includes Marxism, which is really just an organized religion with an unusual dogma. Happily, its already dying.)

    We now have a reliable method to discover genuine truths about the Universe, and ethical systems can be worked out by reasoning and discussion.

    Given that, it really seems pointless to expend so much energy on deciding which severely flawed dogmatic world-view should hold sway!

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 12, 2009 at 1:55 pm

      Good, good!

      —————
      But in what sense is there no scrutiny? If there’s no forced conversion, the people converting are themselves doing the scrutiny, no? Does the govt need to get involved?
      —————

      Let’s take the drug analogy further. You’d never say “if you can convince them, give them the drug”. You’d agree drug marketing requires external scrutiny, so why not marketing of religion?

      —————-
      OTOH, If you say X-ians are doing good packaging, why don’t we do the same?
      —————-

      Partly because Hindus have no budget for marketing; the govt controls all the money.

      —————-
      But if we are worried about this, can’t we set up a conversion dogma? Churches are always meeting to make a policy on this or that, including whether Mary was a virgin. Can’t we do the same?
      Innovation is the watchword. 🙂

      Plus why can’t we compete? Can’t we proselytize, can’t we set up conversion mechanisms in the same way as X-ians? How exactly is govt. interference stopping this?
      —————–

      Various reasons. We can and we are, to some extent. But there are fundamental differences. (1) Hindus don’t think Xtianity is evil or fundamentally repulsive, we just want them to stop actively “harvesting” Hindus. Xtians do think Hinduism is fundamentally evil and repulsive and that Hindus need to be saved. How can you compete with that? Hindus don’t want to start teaching that Xtianity is evil, just that Xtians should learn some tolerance. (2) Because Hinduism isn’t an organized religion. It’s a relatively free religion where no one body tells you what you’re allowed to think. (3) If we create a “church of Hinduism” which orders all Hindus to start believing that Xtianity is evil and Xtians need to be converted, (i) most Hindus will think we’re crazy (ii) if successful we cease to be Hindus.

      Analogy time: suppose there’s a geek and a jock. The jock thinks geeks deserve to be bashed up. What would your ideal world be? Would you say geeks should develop a sense that all jocks should be bashed up? Or would you say jocks should stop bashing up geeks? (Here geeks are not Hindus, but Hinduism. Jocks are not Christians, but Christianity.)

      ——————
      Ok, now that you brought this up, what IS at stake here?
      ——————

      No one knows. But that’s why this kind of social change is preferably gradual. Revolutions (and the Xtian wave in India appears to be one) often have violent results. I guess you have to believe at some level that Hinduism is worth preserving. Am I happy with my way of life getting wiped out and being replaced by something that is hostile to it? Why should I be indifferent to it? Then why stop at religion? Why care about Indian culture, why not simply wipe it out and replace it with Western culture?

      ——————
      My personal view on this, as a secular agnostic, is that what needs to be done is some aggressive proselytizing, not for this religion or that, but for science and rational thinking.
      ——————

      I agree in general terms, but this has proved nearly unattainable even in the US; India is a long way off. Besides, there are some theories that say human societies need or are inevitably drawn to religion, but that’s a different topic. In the meantime, we do need to spend energy on other short-term concerns!

      • Pia said, on August 12, 2009 at 6:53 pm

        Phew, quite a discussion! Okay, am tossing out random points here, some may be relevant and some less so 🙂 First, I live in the deep south of USA, which gives one a forced acquaintance with conservative Christianity. In general, the parallels with Hindutva are striking. In this context, may be worth sharing what has been denoted by some thinkers as the basic characteristics of religious fundamentalism — across religions:

        1) Fundamentalists are concerned with the erosion of religious values (THEIR religious values) and see themselves as a ‘righteous remnant’. Even when they are numerically a majority, they perceive themselves as a minority (and I would add, perceive themselves as the persecuted minority).

        2)They are oppositional and confrontational towards both secularists and “wayward” religious followers.

        3) Fundamentalism is selective both of their tradition and what part of modernity they accept or choose to react against (so the ‘inconvenient’ parts of own tradition are ignored, and modernity is co-opted as necessary. In USA, the classic case is the emphasis of anti-gay passages of the Bible, while ignoring immediately preceding passages which warn against wearing clothes of ‘mixed threads’ or advocating putting gluttonous children to death).

        4) Fundamentalists stress absolutism and inerrancy in their sources of revelation (which is especially hilarious when taken in conjunction with #3, but I’ve been told by Christian fundamentalists that if I was truly saved, then I would automatically ‘know’ which parts of the Bible were more important than others!). They are also fond of Manicheanism — delineating everything into ‘black and white’, ‘good and evil’, with no room for ambiguity.

        5) They believe is some form of Messianism — an end of the world as we know it, a return of THEIR savior, and a reestablishment of ‘righteousness’ as defined by their own set of beliefs.

        BTW, check this site out, end of page has a nice summary of fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism 9I found the Hinduism one to be particularly interesting, especially the co-opting of Sikhism and Jainism back into Hinduism so to speak!).

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 13, 2009 at 10:16 am

          Pia:

          Welcome to the blog! Interesting points about fundamentalism. In a way I think the kind of hypocrisy in (3) is good. Religions often contain distilled ethical principles, but some of those principles lose relevance over time. So for example, Hindutva’s rejection of caste hierarchies is a good thing. Islam is much more resistant to reform, it seems; Muslims find it hard to reject anti-Kaffir sentiment etc. Christians of course have rejected a lot of things in the bible.

          (5) is interesting vis-a-vis Hinduism. There’s the Kalki avatar, of course, but in Hinduism it seems to play a minor role, and Hindu fundamentalists don’t seem to be emotionally invested in the concept.

          It is interesting to note that, while Hindu and Islamic fundamentalists hate to be described that way, many Christian fundamentalists self-identify as fundamentalists.

          The link you were referring to didn’t come through; could you re-up? Thanks!

      • Pia said, on August 12, 2009 at 7:13 pm

        Let’s take the drug analogy further. You’d never say “if you can convince them, give them the drug”. You’d agree drug marketing requires external scrutiny, so why not marketing of religion?
        ******************************************************************

        Well, only if drugs ARE the appropriate analogy.

        What if, instead, we compared religions to cellphone companies, and switching back and forth between providers who could best satisfy your current sets of needs ? Ultimately, a religion has to satisfy a set of spiritual and community needs of a person, and if someone leaves the religion into which they were born, it usually means that the religion failed to do it at some particular time. And they are free to switch yet again at a later time if the religion that they switched to fails in time.

        Drugs are too complicated, since the layperson is usually unable to understand both what is happening inside hisorher body and the full range of the physiological workings of the drugs. Unless one takes a paternalistic view where laypeople are too naive to understand their own spiritual needs — choosing a religion isn’t really all that complicated. You read the bright colored brochure, check out some of the bells and whistles, and go for it. Only thing to watch out for is those pesky apostasy rules, and even those don’t matter too much unless you are trying to switch out of Islam in a place like Saudi Arabia !

        I’m not entirely convinced by the ‘Xtian wave’. India survived 200 years of rule by a Christian colonial power and Hinduism managed quite well. Hard to believe that in an age of globalization where India is an ascending power and where ‘New Age’ and ‘Neo-paganism’ is all in fashion in the western world, that Hinduism is under a serious threat in its homeland. I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that those who were swayed by missionaries and convert to Christianity are usually dirt-poor tribals who have been marginalized by mainstream Hinduism to begin with, or lower caste people who are drawn to a doctrine that stresses the equality of all.

        Heck, I went to Catholic school for 12 years, mouthed ‘Our Father in Heaven’ every day, had ‘moral science’ classes, saw Christmas plays each year, I cannot recall a single Hindu student (all from fairly affluent families) who was sufficiently swayed to convert. If conversion is predicted by socio-economic status and how well or badly the mainstream Hindu society treats you, then altering those — particularly the latter — may be the way to go!

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 1:28 am

          ——————————
          Drugs are too complicated, since the layperson is usually unable to understand both what is happening inside hisorher body and the full range of the physiological workings of the drugs. … choosing a religion isn’t really all that complicated.
          ——————————

          I would argue that the effects of religion change can be very long-lasting and profound, and can’t be predicted easily by even well-educated people. And such changes are often induced in moments of weakness. Drugs may not be the appropriate analogy, but if so it’s because it’s possible to ascertain the effects of drugs to a much greater extent than the effects of religion.

          ——————————
          What if, instead, we compared religions to cellphone companies, and switching back and forth between providers who could best satisfy your current sets of needs ? Ultimately, a religion has to satisfy a set of spiritual and community needs of a person, and if someone leaves the religion into which they were born, it usually means that the religion failed to do it at some particular time. And they are free to switch yet again at a later time if the religion that they switched to fails in time.
          ——————————

          Let’s use the cell phone analogy. I’d say Christianity is like a long-term contract, while Hinduism is like a pay-as-you-go deal. When switching you need to also consider how easy it will be to switch back. I think “church planting”, for example, is a mechanism that creates an environment where it’s difficult to go back. It’s much easier to switch from Hinduism to Christianity than the other way around.

      • Pia said, on August 12, 2009 at 7:32 pm

        I guess you have to believe at some level that Hinduism is worth preserving. Am I happy with my way of life getting wiped out and being replaced by something that is hostile to it? Why should I be indifferent to it? Then why stop at religion? Why care about Indian culture, why not simply wipe it out and replace it with Western culture?
        ***************************************************************

        Fair point. But two things in this context:

        First, this is also the argument of the religionists, those who feel threatened by modern science, globalization, the ‘dilution’ of their way of life by foreign cultures and so forth. At the end, neither religion nor culture is a static concept, and change is inevitable. The ability to absorb change and morph is essential to the survival of both religion and culture (those that are not able to do so die out). Hinduism has an excellent historical record of morphing and adapting and absorbing.

        Of course, one could try to define a ‘pace of change’ that is ideal versus a ‘pace of change’ that is too swift, but I suspect that definition would have to be fairly arbitrary, one person’s snail’s pace change is another person’s warp speed (a conundrum illustrated very well by the opposing viewpoints of progress of gay rights in the US!).

        Second, the duality of ‘Indian versus Western culture’ and ‘Hindu beliefs versus non-Hindu beliefs’ is an oversimplification. I would certainly not be happy if my beliefs were wiped out and replaced by something else altogether. But come to think of it, my Upanishidaic-Tagorean-Brahmo-influenced branch of Hinduism has already died out, I think right now there’s me, my brother, and about 12 other people in the world who still subscribe to that form of spirituality.

        I am frustrated by the fact that, outside my own family, I can find virtually no-one who has read — I mean really read (and not just watched that wretched B R Chopra TV series) — and analyzed the Mahabharata, with whom I can have a wonderful hour-long conversation about the subtleties of one of the many Mahabharata plots. And its not because these folks have all been co-opted by Abrahamic religions, its because they’re more interested in who Deepika Padukone is dating or when the horoscopes say Aishwariya Ray will get pregnant.

        So my culture and my way of life seem to be gone already 😦 😦 And I can’t even blame the Xtian or Islamic movements for it. I suppose I could blame Bollywood. And yet, at the moment, Bollywood is far the most popular vehicle for ‘spreading Indian culture’ across the world, and taking ‘lite-pop-Hinduism’ right into the heart of the Western world — who can forget Krishna giving psychic instructions to the cute dog in Hum Apke Hai Kon. So ironically, a cultural force that may keep Indian culture and spirituality well and alive across the world is what is also stifling MY personal version of Indian culture and spirituality, go figure!

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 1:09 am

          ———————————
          The ability to absorb change and morph is essential to the survival of both religion and culture (those that are not able to do so die out).
          ———————————

          True – but I think Hinduism’s ability to adapt depended to a great extent on the inability of the rulers of the past to regulate it effectively. The Govt of India is very effective at controlling Hindu funds. Hindutva, which is a little too militant and hate-ridden for my taste, seems to be Hinduism’s only major response to since independence.

          ———————————
          one could try to define a ‘pace of change’ that is ideal versus a ‘pace of change’ that is too swift, but I suspect that definition would have to be fairly arbitrary
          ———————————

          Nicely articulated. The problem is we don’t even know what the current pace of change is, and the press and government want to keep it that way for reasons of stability. The cutoff point would be fuzzy, but do we agree that if we find that 25% of the population of A.P. has converted in the last 20 years, it is too swift?

          ———————————
          the duality of ‘Indian versus Western culture’ and ‘Hindu beliefs versus non-Hindu beliefs’ is an oversimplification … my Upanishidaic-Tagorean-Brahmo-influenced branch of Hinduism has already died out
          ———————————

          I’d like to distinguish between “organic” change (Darwinian meme selection) — and “imposed”, directed change. (Of course imposed change is an outcome of organic change, much as human-built machines are just the second iteration of Darwinic evolution. But they are recognizably different.) One viewpoint is we don’t need to distinguish. But I think we do because imposed change typically results in much more rapid change than organic change.

  8. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 13, 2009 at 3:45 am

    I guess you have to believe at some level that Hinduism is worth preserving. Am I happy with my way of life getting wiped out and being replaced by something that is hostile to it? Why should I be indifferent to it? Then why stop at religion? Why care about Indian culture, why not simply wipe it out and replace it with Western culture?
    ***************************************************************

    Now you’ve reached the crux of the disagreement.

    See, I am really not convinced that Hindu religion or culture are in danger.
    As I mentioned before, the religion and its associated culture has survived for over 3000 years in the face of considerable challenges from both foreign cultures (Islam, Christianity) and homegrown alternatives (Buddhism).
    Any system which can achieve this is immensely stable under perturbations, and it is difficult to believe that a few churches with good funding can eradicate or marginalize it.

    So, while i can accept that the activities of X-ian missionaries in India many not be ‘mostly harmless’, regarding the possible eradication of Hindu culture and religion, I’ll still say “DON’T PANIC” !!! 🙂

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 13, 2009 at 10:32 am

      Well, that is one of the cruxes. See, I think past experience is a very imperfect guide to the future. Today’s world is different from yesterday’s. In British times, the rulers were only marginally interested in conversion, and the churches didn’t have the resources required. It’s much more of a grassroots movement nowadays.

      There are many examples to show that we should worry. South Korea, for example, was Buddhist — and Buddhism has survived nearly as long as Hinduism! But today South Korea is overwhelmingly Christian. The near-total change happened in just a few decades. In Pakistan, the population of Hindus went from about 15% right after partition to less than 1% now. (That’s actually a pretty colossal number of conversions.) In Nagaland, the entire state was converted from their primitive religion to Christianity. Now Nagas actively hate Hindus and Hinduism (though the issue is muddled with Naga separatism, I think there’s also huge pure anti-Hindu sentiment taught to them by missionaries). If you observe the changes in Andhra, you will not feel there is no danger to Hinduism. The rapidity of change is startling. I don’t know whether to believe the figure of 2 crore Christians in A.P., but even 1 crore is an alarming change. The churches can’t marginalize it easily — if Hinduism is unfettered. But current laws do make it hard for Hindus to do anything about the conversions. Besides, the churches are extremely rich. I read somewhere that the Catholic church in India, for example, has an annual budget larger than that of the Indian Navy! Besides, I think a very large part of the resistance to conversion is Hindutva! Hindutva seems to be the only buffer available, which I’m not sure is such a good thing.

      I think it isn’t safe to assume there’s no major change going on. We can’t really know what’s going on unless there’s more scrutiny!

      • Bekaar BokBok said, on August 13, 2009 at 2:12 pm

        Yo, Rajeev, can I ask you to do something ?
        There are many many interesting points in this discussion, but its getting a bit lost in the comment threads.
        Can you set up a blogpost joining all the material together – your arguments, the counter-arguments, the counter-counter arguments etc.

        I guess I can loosely say you are ‘pro-Hindutva’.
        Sis and I and most of my friends would fall under the category of the dreaded ‘so-called liberals’. 🙂

        But as you can see, there’s much common ground – we liberals aren’t really indifferent to Hindu culture/spirituality as often advertised. But there’s also some genuine differences of opinion such as whether there really is any threat to the culture and if so, does the govt need to be involved.

        Set up a blog post.
        I’ve advertised you to my friends as a surprising existence theorem – a Hindutva-proponent who makes good arguments ! 🙂 (We have too much experience with the other type, unfortunately.)
        Many of them have much more detailed knowledge about the specific issues you are mentioning than myself, and they all argue very coherently.
        Should be a lot of fun.

        Right in time for Independence Day too !!

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 12:26 am

          Wait, wait!

          I don’t identify myself as a Hindutva proponent. I’ve had month-long arguments against Hindutva ideas with Hindutva proponents!

          For example, I’m not certain about the erosion of Hinduism — just that we should have some real studies determining the extent. I’m not sure that Hindu organizations should be totally free to conduct conversions either — that would result in an effectively Hindu state.

          Let’s just say I’m pro-Hindu instead.

          I’ll try to set up a post!

      • Pia said, on August 13, 2009 at 7:37 pm

        There are many examples to show that we should worry. South Korea, for example, was Buddhist — and Buddhism has survived nearly as long as Hinduism! But today South Korea is overwhelmingly Christian. The near-total change happened in just a few decades.

        *******************************************************************

        Hey AG:
        South Korea isn’t that good an example. Buddhism did not have roots in South Korea the way Hinduism does in India. Specifically, Buddhism was ‘imported’ to South Korea, and it replaced the indigenous Shamanistic faiths of South Korea which has concepts of Monotheistic Father God, and it had three primary governing spirits. Buddhism did not wipe those out entirely, the Shamanistic beliefs continued to co-exist thought they were pushed to the background.

        And then there was some royal dynasty that decided to adopt neo-Confucian beliefs and began a sort of wholesale persecution of Buddhism as it is. And somewhere in the l1800s Christianity arrived, and the lay-people of Korea immediately found similiarities with original Shamanism and Loving Montheistic God as well as ‘father, son and holy spirit.’ Christianity in South Korea was seen not so much as a ‘foreign import’ but as a legitimate return to something that corresponded closely to the ORIGINAL Korean religion which had been suppressed by the ‘foreign imports’ of Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism.

        Pia

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 1:57 am

          Pia,

          Interesting, I didn’t know all this. But are you sure this wasn’t an apocryphal history magnified and made real by people with a mission…?

    • Kaffir said, on August 13, 2009 at 9:29 pm

      As I mentioned before, the religion and its associated culture has survived for over 3000 years in the face of considerable challenges from both foreign cultures (Islam, Christianity) and homegrown alternatives (Buddhism).
      ——
      I read that argument a lot. But how exactly did Hinduism survive? It wasn’t some divine power that intervened – it must’ve been people on the ground who actively resisted the forces inimical to Hinduism, or kept their culture safe and alive. This kind of thinking – that Hinduism will survive, so no worries – could very well be the reason it won’t.

      ***
      Ok, now that you brought this up, what IS at stake here?
      ——-
      The dominance of Christian world-view in the society where non-Christians are considered as inferior that need to be converted. It can – and has – led to violent conflicts in India and elsewhere, as well as destruction of local cultures.

      The disappearance of tolerant world-view as espoused by Hinduism – that non-Hindus need not be converted. I don’t think I want to live in a society surrounded by people who are condescending and patronizing to me, and are after me to convert, or look down upon me. Hinduism’s live-and-let-live approach does play a role in maintaining peace in a multicultural society and having people following different faiths live together without acrimony.

      • Bekaar BokBok said, on August 14, 2009 at 6:04 am

        Hi Kaffir:

        As I mentioned before, the religion and its associated culture has survived for over 3000 years in the face of considerable challenges from both foreign cultures (Islam, Christianity) and homegrown alternatives (Buddhism).
        ——
        I read that argument a lot. But how exactly did Hinduism survive? It wasn’t some divine power that intervened
        ———-

        Hmmm, no “Yadaa yadaa vidharmasya…” then ?

        As usual neither Krishna nor Christ seems to give a damn about whether their vaani prevails or not,– just us ape-descended life-forms squabbling about it.
        Wonder why we bother, but oh well, that’s a different subject.

        it must’ve been people on the ground who actively resisted the forces inimical to Hinduism, or kept their culture safe and alive. This kind of thinking – that Hinduism will survive, so no worries – could very well be the reason it won’t.

        ***********
        The disappearance of tolerant world-view as espoused by Hinduism – that non-Hindus need not be converted. I don’t think I want to live in a society surrounded by people who are condescending and patronizing to me, and are after me to convert, or look down upon me. Hinduism’s live-and-let-live approach does play a role in maintaining peace in a multicultural society and having people following different faiths live together without acrimony.
        ************

        See, I never get this. I always hear this about how our grand Hindu tolerance lets alll live in peace and harmony etc etc.
        But hang on. Aren’t you advocating NOT being so live-and-let live in order to combat all those insiduous X-ians ? So, now if you do that, won’t we be destroying the peaceful multicultural society that we prize ?

        I often wonder what’s the game plan here. We turn aggressive and intolerant to kick out all the competition, then once they are gone and we have a monopoly, we talk about how wonderful and tolerant we all are in our multicultural society ?
        (Oh wait, what multiculture ?)

        Just to clarify, I’m not saying either you or AG are endorsing this. But this is what I often hear and it confuses me no end.

        • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 7:58 am

          ———————————–
          See, I never get this. I always hear this about how our grand Hindu tolerance lets alll live in peace and harmony etc etc.
          But hang on. Aren’t you advocating NOT being so live-and-let live in order to combat all those insiduous X-ians ? So, now if you do that, won’t we be destroying the peaceful multicultural society that we prize ?
          ———————————–

          It sounds all mixed up, sort of a barber’s paradox: if Hinduism is so tolerant, will it tolerate ideologies that are not tolerant? The confusion is verbal rather than real. It’s like asking: “if you’re committed to freedom, shouldn’t those who would curtail your freedom be given the freedom to do so?” Not so: the principle of tolerance is paramount. The idea is to tolerate other ideologies as long as they don’t violate the principle of tolerance. There’s no paradox.

          There’s a simple solution: Christians and Muslims can abjure the intolerant aspects of their religions and we can all get along. But that never seems to be an option…

          • Kaffir said, on August 14, 2009 at 8:22 am

            AG, you have articulated it well.

            BB:
            If a society has certain values, then there’s no conflict in protecting those values from agents that will destroy it. And why this antipathy towards what you term “aggressiveness”? (Just to be clear, I’m not advocating violence.) Sometimes, a firm hand is needed depending on who you are dealing with or for those who are intolerant. My understanding of tolerance doesn’t extend to tolerance of intolerance, or being passive in the face of intolerance.

          • Bekaar BokBok said, on August 14, 2009 at 10:07 am

            ———————————
            There’s a simple solution: Christians and Muslims can abjure the intolerant aspects of their religions and we can all get along. But that never seems to be an option…
            ———————————

            Well, “Thou shalt have no god before me”, is right at the heart of the Abrahamic religions, so not much hope of that.

            To be fair, I would say,that most Muslims and Christians are perfectly tolerant and happy to get along. But the Evangelicals are the ‘sales and marketing’ wing, so it almost follows trivially that they will do some version ‘My product rules, theirs sucks’.

            So, from everything we discussed so far, three choices, really.

            1) Tit for tat: Launch aggressive evangelical programs saying X-ians and Muslims are evil and anybody who follows them will go to hell or at least get beaten up on earth. Sounds like what the Hindutva brigade is doing. But as we all agree, this approach destroys the very aspects of tolerance and bindaas-ness we cherish about Hinduism.

            2) Complain to Big Daddy Govt: That seems to be another approach I hear. We don’t wanna go one-on-one with the Abrahamic evangelicals, let Govt. of India do the dirty work. I don’t know, somehow, I just don’t like the sound of govt getting involved in religious affairs. It rarely is cut and dried, and weird consequences can ensue.

            3) Charm offensive: I guess that’s what both AG and I prefer. Hinduism has such a lot of cool stuff to draw upon, it can really be marketed well. One objection I have with the current pro-Hindu folks is they seem to push for a supremely boring, puritan form of Hinduism which is really a no-starter. (Blogpost on this soon..)
            Plus if X-ians are going for the poor and lower castes with smiles and gifts, surely we can do the same. I’m all for having a bunch of religions competing all-out to help the poor and destitute !

            • Pia said, on August 14, 2009 at 6:06 pm

              Okay, guys, I have decided to limit myself to one post a day in interest of getting some actual work done 🙂 So will try to cover as many things from the various posts that I can (apologies that this messes up the ‘sequencing’.).

              Charm Offensive and ‘Fighting for Hinduism’
              ****************************************************************
              Bekar made point about using charm offesive. Kaffir earlier said that Hinduism had probably withstood Abrahamic attacks because people were willing to fight for it. Absolutely, (I’m thinking of the wave of reformation movements in Hinduism in the Muslim era, and also later in the early-mid-19th century times ) — and the biggest way they fought for it was by tackling the stranglehold of Brahmanical ritual, by focusing on the messages of Divine love AND by ignoring the caste system and aggressively welcoming members of the lower castes to their fold as equals. It should also be noted that most of these reformers — be it Chaitanya Mahaprabhu or Ramkrishna Paramhansa — faced considerable hostility from the orthodox Brahmin priesthood within conventional Hinduism. But they stood their grounds, and established numerous niches within Hinduism where caste rules were relaxed, where rituals were made secondary, and a simple message of Divine Love — be it Krishna or Kali — was the central focus.

              In terms of a ‘charm offensive’ today — well, think of the advantages Hinduism has today over the Abrahamic religions. A Divine feminine !!!! All the people in USA desperately searching for a Divine Mother in neo-paganism, neo-wiccanism, neo-geia-ism etc, would be ecstatic ! And a basic belief of tolerance — that other paths would also take you to Salvation/Heaven. There was a Pew survey in USA just a few months ago, which found that while 70% of Americans subscribed to Christianity, the majority of those Christians did NOT believe that good people from other religions were automatically going to hell. In an era where Gandhi and Dalai Lama are revered figures in the west, the notion of ‘noone gets to the Father except through Christ’ is sticking in the throats of many Christians, and they would love a religion that permitted them to revere the Deities and beliefs of others without actually REJECTING Christ (and nothing says that you couldn’t worship Christ and be a Hindu simultaneously, he simply becomes an avtaar akin to Rama).

              On defining Hinduism
              *****************************************************************
              The problems are myriad I agree. At the same time, an effort needs to be made. Christianity and Islam have 3-line answers which are mostly for the benefit of the OUTSIDER, the person who knows virtually nothing about religion. What happens in Hinduism ? Well, in my experience when the well-meaning inquiring westerner or the second gen diaspora child asks about it, the answer is something like “what is Hindusim — well, let’s see, there are 9 paths to salvantion — well no, maybe 5, and there are 4 primary ways of doing ‘sadhana’ — what do you mean ‘what’s ‘sadhana’ ? Its SADHANA of course ! And the holy book is Gita — wait, it could be the Vedas too, not that you actually have to read either to be a Hindu…you ask why is that ?Well, because its not really a religion, its more a way of life….what do you mean what does’ its a way of life’ mean, I CAN’T make it simpler than that ! Its a way of LIFE, and you immature westerners will never get that !” Frankly, I get the sneaky suspicion that many Hindus plunge into that sort of a verbal torrent because they are actually quite shaky on the definitions themselves 🙂 But again — just a couple of simple pithy lines such as “There is one Truth, but men have called it by many names” (Rig Veda) might be a good equivalent to “There is only One God, and Mohammed is his Prophet”, or ‘God’s only Son died for mankind’s sins’ type bumper-sticker lines.

              On so-called liberals misquoting our holy texts 🙂
              ******************************************************************
              Bekar wrote — “Hmmm, no “Yadaa yadaa vidharmasya…” then ?”.
              Oy, AG, Kaffir, I am shocked, SHOCKED that you let him get away with that blatant misquoting !!!! Bekar, young man, ’tis “Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati bharatam, abhyuthanay adharmasya” etc etc etc, whereupon God takes a stance: “paritranaae sadhunang, vinaashachya dushkritang, dharma sangsthapanarthaya sambabhabaami yugey yugey”. (Nope, I’m not translating, consider that the first step to planning grand revival of Hinduism :)).

              On Mahabharata google group
              *****************************************************************
              Fab idea, let’s do it. I promise to contribute regularly!

              • Kaffir said, on August 15, 2009 at 3:47 am

                “Frankly, I get the sneaky suspicion that many Hindus plunge into that sort of a verbal torrent because they are actually quite shaky on the definitions themselves.”

                ==
                Pia,

                Your suspicion is quite true, IMO. I didn’t formally learn about Hindu philosophy while growing up, so it was mostly imbibing from the environment, reading the gita saar posted on the fridge etc. The other point that Prof. Balgangaadhara mentions in his essay (or talk, I forget) is that while living in India, there wasn’t any need to define Hinduism or one’s beliefs, because no Hindu asks another one about his/her beliefs. Unless one studied at an ashram or grew up in an orthodox family, the chances of a Hindu being aware of a formal definition of Hinduism and able to inform a non-Hindu about it are pretty slim.

                But I wouldn’t be too harsh, because a similar dynamic happens with political ideologies too. If you live in the US, people will use the labels “liberal” or “conservative” to describe their leanings, but if you ask ten different people who describe themselves as liberals as to what they mean by it, you’ll likely get ten different answers/definitions/attributes (there may be some overlap). And people who have such identities, tend to live in cities or localities where others of similar persuasion live, so it’s the same as Hindus – the opportunity to define that label doesn’t arise because they all are aware (or assume) that the other person they interact with is a liberal (or a conservative) too. Very few people adopt political or ideological identities after a thorough study, and it’s one or two issues that push them towards a specific identity. Boston Globe had an article on research that showed how little people know about their friends’ interests and political inclinations, and mostly project on to them their own interests as a way to avoid conflict and maintain friendships.

                But I agree with your point that there’s a definite need to have some talking points and more awareness of Hindu/Hinduism/Sanaatan Dharm, and be able to tell others about it in a clear and concise manner.

  9. Pia said, on August 13, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Hi:
    Okay, trying again with the website:

    http://globalcit.newport.ac.uk/fandfPage.htm.

    Its true that ‘doctrinally’ Hindus only have the Kalki avtaar coming back, but at least among the Hindutva brigade, there seems to be a general concept of restoring the ‘Ram Rajya’ one day. Which of course would be quite unpleasant, since Ram-Rajya sucked if you were a woman whose character someone cast aspersions on, or a lower caste daring to perform functions of the upper castes. But that’s where the ‘selective’ picking from doctrines comes in. Ram-Rajya epitomizes perfection for the ritualistic Hindus, so there!

    In an inverse way, its almost as ironical as Osama Bin Laden and other Muslim fundos dreaming of reviving the Caliphate. Caliphate was great as in it subdued European Christians and was the ‘Golden Era’ of Muslim supremacy. Yet the era of Al Andaluz, golden days of caliphate, was marked by flourishing of music and art and culture and a society that would be considered horrifically debauched by today’s Wahabi and Taliban standards ! And while I’m digressing, if you ever get hold of Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Lions of Al Rassan’, do read it ! Bekar bok bok will make his own pitch for why that’s an excellent thing.

    Okay, back to Hinduism and a couple of practical points. (1) Hindus need to do something about including a conversion clause, seriously. The whole idea of ‘you can only be born a Hindu’ is fabulous if multiple re-births are guaranteed. That failing, there needs to be a way for interested people to convert. I know half a dozen knew agers even here in B’ham who are into Ganesha and Mother Goddesses and would become Hindu tomorrow if given half-a-chance. One even made inquiries at the local Hindu temple, and was told well, sorry! She could only live a good life and hope to be born a Hindu in the next one! I mean, seriously, what kind of lousy marketing plan is THAT ? Hinduism in many ways is much more suited to the modern world than Abrahamic religions — its has an egalitarian set-up with the Divine Feminine as well as Divine Masculine, it has in-built tolerance with the belief that all paths may be equally valid, people LOVE it when they hear those characteristics. But when someone actually want sto become a Hindu — sorry, no deal! Well, if Hinduism dies out because its too rigid to offer a voluntary path of conversion, then its Hinduism’s own fault. Judaism used to be ‘by birth only’, but they have relented and now allow for voluntary conversions.

    (2) Hindus need a clean cut definition of Hinduism, seriously ! This is particularly true in western countries. Its all very well for us who grew up in India in a generic vaguely Hindu atmosphere, but here the second gens are completely confused because when they ask about ‘what is Hinduism, what are we SUPPOSED to believe’, there’s noone who can give them a simple and comprehensible answer that actually makes sense to a 9-yr old. Some organizations are vaguely starting that now, and having Sunday Gita classes and summer camps, but if you go to the average Hindu temple ceremony here in USA, some priest rattles of incomprehensible Sanskrit shlokas at top speed while ringing a bell, throws a few drops of holy water on you and gives you a handful of fruits and nuts as prasad and done. Its a ceremony made for those who are already familiar with absolutely zero zilch attempts to make it comprehensible (let alone welcoming) to someone who is trying to understand the stuff. Imagine if the Christian church were still conducting all its masses in Latin and providing no translations or no greater overview of what it was all about.

    My personal recommendation is that Hindus need to stop hand-wringing and competition from other religions and asking for protectionist policies and instead figure out how to make their own product more accessible and more customer-friendly. Of course, to do that, Hindus would first have to agree on at least three things about their religion, which may be a very tall order 🙂

    Pia

    • Kaffir said, on August 13, 2009 at 9:44 pm

      Its true that ‘doctrinally’ Hindus only have the Kalki avtaar coming back, but at least among the Hindutva brigade, there seems to be a general concept of restoring the ‘Ram Rajya’ one day. Which of course would be quite unpleasant, since Ram-Rajya sucked if you were a woman whose character someone cast aspersions on, or a lower caste daring to perform functions of the upper castes.
      ***

      Pia, I have some questions.
      While I understand the issue of Sita, why – according to you – is the issue of women in Ram Rajya the defining issue of Ramayan/Ram Rajya? Are the proponents of Ram Rajya calling for women to be subjugated, or is their focus more on ethics and duty, and bringing back those values among our leaders? And wasn’t Shabri a low-caste woman? Ram as a character did have many excellent qualities, be it not following his father in marrying only one woman, his relationship with his brothers, diligently doing his duty etc. Perhaps I’m not fully aware of the issue here.

      • Pia said, on August 13, 2009 at 10:23 pm

        Essentially the issue here is that ‘Ram-rajya’ is being used loosely as an allegory for some kind of a ‘perfect kingdom’, but at the same time carefully avoiding the (call it mythological, call it semi-historical) stories about the actual rules of Ram-rajya, which may be quite contrary to modern values of fairness.

        Sita apart, at least one version of the Ramayana tells the story of Ram killing a low-caste man who was performing a yagna, and this terrible violation of the caste system was enraging the brahmins who predicted it would bring all sorts of misfortunes. Not very sporting, by today’s egalitarian standards !

        I’m not entirely sure exactly WHAT the proponents of Ram-rajya see as the role of women, and there may be variations in there opinion on that topic. But there has been a correlation between the whole Hindutva-VHP-proponents-of-Ram-rajya mentality and attacks on women in the name of ‘morality’. The not-so-long-ago incident at the bar where the slogan of attackers were that good Indian women shouldn’t be going to bars, they should be dutifully learning how to make chapattis for their future husbands.

        You could stay that the stress is still on ethics and duty, but its just a disagreement on WHAT good ‘ethics’ and ‘duty’ are !

    • Kaffir said, on August 13, 2009 at 9:51 pm

      For (2), there needs to be unity among Hindus first. VHP* attempts to do that, but then it’s also derided by many Hindus for that very reason. It’s indeed a tedhi kheer with us Hindus being libertarians at heart. 🙂

      * I’m only nominally aware of the organization, so not sure of their methods.

    • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 1:53 am

      On Ram Rajya:

      I think that was just an idiom until the Hindutva folk co-opted the concept and made it literal! By the way, Ram’s act of banishing Sita comes is viewed negatively by a huge proportion of Hindus. Even orthodox Hindus condemn it and it’s never cited as ideal behaviour for individuals. (The usual caveat that a king needs to place his subjects’ concerns over his own is not accepted by many, many Hindus).

      On Conversion to Hinduism:

      I think to be a Hindu you can just decide you are one, start practicing Hindu principles, and that’s it! Of course this is very unsatisfactory to people brought up with ideas of baptism and such, but such things don’t matter much in Hinduism. I don’t think it’s a universal or even common doctrine that you have to be born a Hindu — I wish priests would stop saying that (if they are indeed saying it). I think it’s not that difficult to come up with some sort of ‘Abhishekam’ ceremony where a “convert” is formally taught a few principles or concepts, nothing against that as far as I know…

      On Defining Hinduism:

      I have ambivalent feelings about this. Here’s the thing: I don’t think any religion has a simple, clear-cut definition. Messianic religions have a short description but this is far from being a definition. For example, defining Islam as “a religion based on the teachings of Mohammed” is a great description but tells you nothing about Islam. Each sect of Islam defines it a little differently. Christianity is more loose than Islam, Judaism a little looser than Christianity, and Hinduism is the loosest of the lot. I don’t know that we can legitimately define Hinduism in a way that doesn’t exclude large sections of Hindus. Having said that I think you’re right: we should agree on a comprehensible simplification.

      On competition:

      Hey, the hand-wringing and crying foul is a time-tested strategy for self-preservation. Pioneered by Christianity, self-identifying as a victimized religion is a great and effective way of generating sympathy! I say let’s weep longer, louder and harder — while working behind the scenes to become more attractive! 🙂

      • Bekaar BokBok said, on August 14, 2009 at 6:39 am

        —————————————-
        AG:

        On Conversion to Hinduism:
        I think it’s not that difficult to come up with some sort of ‘Abhishekam’ ceremony where a “convert” is formally taught a few principles or concepts, nothing against that as far as I know…
        ——————————————————

        NOW you are talking. Should be simple, no ? Something involving some Gangajal (or eco-friendly substitute), something cow related and some nice mantras in the background with translations available to interested readers.
        Actually, hey, do you think we two could come up with some good ‘welcoming into the fold’ mantras ? I’m sure there must be some in the Sanskrit lit.

        Then just mention the fact that Jesus was probably died a virgin, while Krishna had 16000 wives, and that Shiva will patronize you if you smoke pot – and the competition is creamed. 🙂 🙂

        —————————
        On Defining Hinduism:
        I don’t know that we can legitimately define Hinduism in a way that doesn’t exclude large sections of Hindus. Having said that I think you’re right: we should agree on a comprehensible simplification.
        —————————-

        But the thing is, our system is not THAT complex. For example, one big question is, monotheism or polytheism?
        Most Hindus immediately start making a big mystery of it, when asked by interested stranger.

        But its not that tough no ?

        Infinitely mysterious Brahman (note ‘n’ at end), right at the top (and bottom and middle) of the heap, beyond space, time, matter, energy,- endlessly manifesting in infinitely diverse forms without beginning or end.
        [I LOVE Brahman !!! Brahman totally rocks !!! No other religion has a God-concept as satisfyingly grand as Brahman.]

        Next level, the Trinity – Brahma (no n), Vishnu, Shiva.
        Also huge bonus,- very cool Mother Goddess in multiple forms.

        And last level, whole bunch of minor devas, mainly for entertainment purposes.

        That’s all you need to say if someone asks. No need to nitpick about the exact philosophical differences of Shankaracharya and Madhvacharya at that stage.

        Its really not so difficult.

        ——————————————–
        On competition:

        Hey, the hand-wringing and crying foul is a time-tested strategy for self-preservation. Pioneered by Christianity, self-identifying as a victimized religion is a great and effective way of generating sympathy! I say let’s weep longer, louder and harder — while working behind the scenes to become more attractive!
        ————————-

        Amen (or should I say Jai Hanumanji ?) to that !! Hindutva bunch are already doing a great job with the whining, hand wringing, crying foul and asking Big Daddy Govt to protect them.
        Some good work on the active marketing and we’ll have Ram-Rajya quite soon.
        Actually, scrap that, Ram-Rajya sucks.
        I want Nandan Kaanan on Earth with lots of apsaras and good quality somarasa. 🙂 🙂

  10. Kaffir said, on August 13, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I am frustrated by the fact that, outside my own family, I can find virtually no-one who has read — I mean really read (and not just watched that wretched B R Chopra TV series) — and analyzed the Mahabharata, with whom I can have a wonderful hour-long conversation about the subtleties of one of the many Mahabharata plots. And its not because these folks have all been co-opted by Abrahamic religions, its because they’re more interested in who Deepika Padukone is dating or when the horoscopes say Aishwariya Ray will get pregnant.

    ******
    Pia, true. But isn’t that partly a result of colonialism where much of the gunk about “there’s nothing good in Hinduism/Hindu culture” is internalized by many to the extent that it’s rejected without even exploring it first?

    BTW, if you want to start an internet reading group for Mahabharata, I’ll be up for it. I’m sure we can find others too, and read some chapters and discuss them online once a month. I know of film blogs that discuss films in a similar manner, with people from different geographical locations participating.

    • Pia said, on August 13, 2009 at 10:29 pm

      Pia, true. But isn’t that partly a result of colonialism where much of the gunk about “there’s nothing good in Hinduism/Hindu culture” is internalized by many to the extent that it’s rejected without even exploring it first?
      **************************************************************

      But why colonialism ? We had that massive nationalistic revive-pride-in-India movement even before the actual Independence movement started. My grand-dad’s generation, who actually lived through British rule, had read the Mahabharata a lot more!

      The Mahabharat-reading blog is an interesting idea 🙂 Let’s see if we can persuade either AG or Bekar to start a thread on that — while I would love to start it, realistically I’ll never make time, not until I retire!

      Oi, AG/Rajeev, up for it ?

      Pia

      • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 2:18 am

        Kaffir, Pia, Bekaar BokBok:

        I would love to participate on Mahabharat discussions. About setting it up: I’m quite happy to put up blog posts but I don’t think I can lead the discussions (I’ve read Rajaji, Ramesh Menon, Kamala Subramaniam, but never analyzed it closely). So you guys would have to take the lead with posting topics of discussion. One possibility is setting up a democratically administered Mahabharat blog in which all of us have posting and comment moderation rights (and we can add more administrators based on contributions). What do you guys think?

        • Kaffir said, on August 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm

          Sounds good to me. Would a blog be better than a google group?
          Also, I’ll have to check with the local library to see which version of Mahabharat is available. Should we discuss based on whatever (different) translations we read, or pick one?

          • Armchair Guy said, on August 14, 2009 at 3:01 pm

            Good point, Kaffir.

            I think a google group would be much more convenient for discussions.

  11. Bekaar BokBok said, on August 14, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Yes, yes, I like, I like. Am right now reading Kaliprasanna Simha’s translation of the original Sanskrit Mahabharat – complete and unabridged.

    Will love to discuss.


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