Academic Hinduphobia

The Hindus have begun to protest that Western scholars for "distorting their religion and perpetuate negative stereotypes". Historically, such stereotypes were promulgated during the British Raj by several Indophobes in South Asia as a means to aggrandize sectarian divisions in Indian society, part of the divide and rule strategy employed by the British.

The root of Hinduphobia

Indian studies in the West (especially the US and the UK) are overwhelmingly hostile to their object of study. In the first place, ethnocentric and parochial perceptions will usually dominate when one culture critically evaluates another. And once the resulting interpretative canon becomes firmly established through common consent, prolonged practice and appropriate imprimaturs, it becomes painfully difficult to dislodge, even if it is motivated by an intellectually disingenuous political rationale. In the case of the contemporary Western critique of India, and increasingly Hinduism, its rationale and sheer perversity can be attributed to mundane political reasons and international power politics.

'Scorched earth' techniques of 'academic' investigation are typified by the disgraceful and (as it also happens) dubious scholarly methods employed by an American academic, who engaged in gross abuse of the Indian Saint Ramakrishna. Some morally bankrupt Hindu psychoanalyst (the closest modern social science gets to witchcraft) supported this author deviously, though without the courage to do so explicitly. He took out political insurance for himself by confessing that he had portrayed a fictional character inspired by Ramakrishna sympathetically, in a novel. Such scholarly discourse is equivalent to stripping someone's mother naked in public because it merely violates the taboo of shame and causes no actual bodily injury.

British colonial roots of Cold War hostility towards India

An unbroken straight line can be drawn, from this burgeoning British hostility towards Hindus over a hundred years ago to the constant fabrications of British journalists and editors in the print media and television about India today. These contemporary lies will one day transmute into 'unassailable' archival material, cited in journals by academics to assert the superiority of their research methodology and dismiss the amateur investigator.

The long-standing Anglo-Saxon critique of Hindu society and independent India has roots in the visceral British hatred of the educated Hindu elites of late nineteenth century Bengal, whom they themselves had originally sponsored. The resulting confluence of British imperial interests and subsequent Muslim politics in India is too well known to require detailed recounting. The British inaugurated twentieth century sectarian Islamic politics in India as a counterweight to the pan-Indian and secular Congress, which was seeking basic political rights for all Indians. They also partitioned Bengal in 1905 to vent their anger against ‘native’ protest at their oppressive and racist rule over all religious communities (cf. The Imbert Bill). An unbroken straight line can be drawn from this burgeoning British hostility towards Hindus over a hundred years ago to the constant fabrications of British journalists and editors in the print media and television about India today. These contemporary lies will one day transmute into ‘unassailable’ archival material, cited in journals by academics to assert the superiority of their research methodology and dismiss the amateur investigator.

The late nineteenth century British critique of Indians and their struggle for emancipation was to become fatefully embroiled in the anti-Communist politics of the Cold War, led by the US. As an outstanding study by C. Dasgupta (Sage, New Delhi 2002) has demonstrated, Pakistan’s importance as a base for control over the Middle East and prosecution of the Cold War against the Soviets was recognised in the late 1940s by the British. This conviction was subsequently accepted by the US and successive administrations have subscribed to this belief ever since. So sacrosanct is the relationship with Pakistan that the crime considered to be the most heinous in modern international relations, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to unstable regimes is being accepted by resort to the most blatant lies. Significantly, Dasgupta’s unpolemical, measured and scholarly book has been sunk, almost without trace by the academic establishment, despite its impeccable professional pedigree, i.e. written by a Cambridge-educated diplomat.

WWII was a catastrophe for the survival of the British Empire and forced Britain’s leaders to recognise that Indian independence could not be avoided, because the natives had become capable of expelling them physically, if need be. But they were anxious to ensure that independent India did not slip out of their sphere of influence completely. What they wished to leave behind was a weak federal India that would be politically divided and susceptible to external pressure, i.e. an India with a broken-back. Their game plan was an India composed of sovereign princely states, jealous of their parochial prerogatives and looking abroad for guarantees, and constant domestic political strife because of Hindu-Muslim differences. For them, partition turned out to be a most unfortunate outcome, despite any initial gloating that the natives had been robbed of an intact legacy, because it resulted in the eventual expansion of Soviet influence in the Indian subcontinent. Although Pakistan has constituted a major source of distraction for India, the failure to keep their old nineteenth century Russian adversary out of what might have been part of the British sphere of influence was judged a failure.

Thus, the sustained and multifarious assault on independent India, Hinduism and all its works by the Anglo-Saxon Indian studies academic establishment, must be viewed in the context of the profound US-led Western antagonism against Soviet communism and wider power political issues. As a corollary, the end of this struggle may also presage a change in the largely unsympathetic representation of India. But when the life-and-death struggle against communism was going on, and it was exactly that, with the palpable fear of nuclear annihilation and the possibility of total defeat in the process, issues of truth and fairness became secondary. The world of Islam and Pakistan were political and military allies, possessing oil resources and run by anti-Communist Islamic dictatorships, installed in power by US intervention. By contrast, India was considered the enemy, described by the US State Department in the late 1940s as a potential imperialist threat to its interests akin to Japan during the 1930s (a canard repeated as late as 1992). It was also viewed as an unscrupulous Soviet camp follower.

This urgent power political calculus and the attendant purposes of the US State imbued Indian studies in the US. The purpose was to undermine India politically by de-legitimizing its cultural and religious values. The neutering of Indian culture and its civilisation became an unthinking adjunct to the vindication of the Cold War imperative of projecting Pakistani verisimilitude. It fitted seamlessly into a deep-rooted and uncomprehending Semitic political and religious aversion towards the pagan and polytheistic. Successfully portraying India as a vicious civilisation, riven by the racism of caste, which routinely burnt widows (Sati, described recently as if it was widespread) and brides in the bargain, is a victory by default for Pakistani claims to a place in the world. Interestingly, a search of all the journals listed below[1] turned up one solitary scholarly article on ‘Islam in India’ and over two hundred directly or indirectly related to the term ‘Hindu’, overwhelmingly critical of either the politics of India or vehemently imputing a sectarian character to all Hindu socio-political activity. There was virtually not a single discussion of slavery in a global search of journals, presumably because it might reveal unpleasant truths about the fate of Hindus under Muslim rule. Mass enslavement has course been the norm for Islamic conquests everywhere.

Source: Academic researchers versus Hindu civilization, by Gautam Sen, Svabhinava

Attempts by academics to injure Hindu civilization

The ‘expose’ of Indian Hindu ‘mumbo jumbo’, the irrationality of its licentious and sensual religion also serves to defuse India’s significance in the public imagination. The exotic may be fascinating, but it is not a legitimate way of life recommended for emulation in the sane real world. Such a hostile portrayal cannot be accomplished by half measures that allow serious alternative sympathetic versions. Of course, a paid bureaucrat does not orchestrate such a venture from some central control centre. What is required is the generation of negative socio-cultural perceptions that form the backdrop to antagonistic political outcomes, consistent with State policy. This is achieved by influencing key academics and university departments, manned by professional scholars. The control over the principal sources of funding for academic work and research remains crucial in this regard. And the official nature of major charitable US academic funding agencies is not a matter of serious dispute. Much of the rest follows through peer pressure, from the potent impact of validation by prestigious institutions and the celebrity academic stars that occupy senior positions within them.

It is a useful counterpoint to the idea of scholarly ‘objectivity’ to note that such professional scholarship in the humanities is like a chameleon that can change colours radically (i.e. depiction, interpretations and associated political implications) and still remain legitimate in the view of peers. The same Ramakrishna portrayed by suspect scholarship and sleight-of-hand as a pederast could be recast, if the scholar chooses, as a ‘sensual’ individual sublimating desire in the way recommended by the Vedanta.

The linguist and interpreter of myths has wide latitude and may display immense skill in imaginative reconstruction, but reconstructed myths do not become historical facts or provide a basis for reliable scientific inferences about contemporary societal mores and processes. Myths, ultimately, remain myths. But they can be made to appear distasteful and the civilisation that produced them odd at best. Serious comment on the subject matter of comparative mythology requires scholarship and is outside the scope of the present analysis, but it may be argued that the faithful themselves are unduly sensitive to the suggestion that religious mythology is not equivalent to historical fact. The fusing of truth with fantasy or myth is an entirely legitimate universal basis of socio-cultural identity and self-perception that should not distress the faithful.

However, Wendy Doniger, who espouses the parochial and historically contingent category of Western feminism for intellectual inspiration, also wielded unashamedly to justify imperialist wars by her own native Christian country, let the cat out of the bag by confessing to disquiet over alleged Hindu fanaticism. Is this the deeper political motivation that lurks underneath allegedly lofty scholarly purposes? When a supreme interpreter (Wendy Doniger) of myth, with vast evident knowledge of Hinduism and Hindu society, casually espouses the oxymoron of Hindu fundamentalism as a conceptual category, one’s confidence in her wider scholarly competence begins to waver. Some/many Hindus may be bad people, their politics may be reprehensible, they may be extremists, violent, but the notion of religious fundamentalism, which has a very specific meaning about the relationship between literal textual interpretation and behavioural norms, does not advance the understanding of Indian society and politics.

Source: Academic researchers versus Hindu civilization, by Gautam Sen, Svabhinava

The collaborationist Indian left and the West

Allied to the designs of US Cold War politics and its academics, an overwhelming majority of India’s English speaking native scholars has been mobilised in a veritable campaign against the alleged dangers of a Hindu awakening in India. These ‘coolie’ scholars and their assorted domestic allies wield influence disproportionate to their numbers, a counterpart of the anglicised Indian consumer, who, despite numerical paucity, generates vast advertising revenues for India’s English newspapers, though this too is changing as the pockets of the ‘untutored’ bulge with cash. What are their motives?

An uncharitable view might be that India’s current political dispensation is a source of deep anxiety for the English-speaking cosmopolitans because the untutored (and unwashed?) traditional denizens of India’s provincial towns have wrested political control of mainstream politics from them. All sorts of political alliances are therefore afoot, not least with sectarian Islam, the only reliable bloc vote in India unequivocally opposed to the growing voice of the Hindu majority in Indian politics. The disadvantaged marginal Hindu groups are proving unreliable because they are insufficiently exercised by the equity of committed religious stake holders in Indian politics to wish to disrupt India Inc itself; their leaders merely want to supplant others in order to usurp a larger share of the spoils for themselves.

A more charitable interpretation is that, if you believe in the class struggle and seek revolutionary change to liberate the masses, horizontal societal, as opposed to vertical class, divisions among toiling Indians of different religious communities have to be opposed, by whatever means necessary. The Chinese Communists have been undermining this already improbable reverie of late by unleashing the full force of the coercive apparatus of their State on unpaid workers who dare to strike and even commit suicide, in public displays of despair. That apparently embarrasses the workers’ government, which begins to look increasingly familiar as a classic example of fascism, ruthlessly directing a corporate society and the all apparatuses of State power through a political party, without any public accountability or hint of apology.

Be that as it may, a few lies, subterfuges and resort to the help of international sympathisers for such a noble cause, which is permitted by revolutionary theory anyway, is hardly criminal. The idea that some of these international academic sympathisers might enjoy cordial ties with their own governmental agencies, which are hostile to Indian national interests, as many clearly do, is deemed an invention of the despicable Indian State, representing the oppressor classes. Never mind whom the infinitely more powerful US State and its imperial collaborators represent.

Once these certainties are established, the burden of accepting financial rewards and prestigious appointments from abroad is a cross that has to be borne courageously, for the sake of the eventual liberation of the masses from fascist oppression. The struggle stretches way back, beyond the Sangh Parivar to Indira Gandhi, nay her father. Indeed, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru faced a more hostile international press than his daughter or the redoubtable Atal Behari Vajpayee. However, India’s English speaking ‘leftist’ elites had a more ambiguous relationship vis-à-vis the Indian State under Jawaharlal Nehru, since the more elitist Indian social order of the period was consonant with their conception of their own place within it. Dissent was accordingly choreographed.

Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s really serious infraction in the eyes of supposed ‘international opinion’, the highest court of appeal for the reverential Indian left, was the nuclear tests of May 1998 that ensure India a position of virtual impregnability in a potential conventional military engagement on two-fronts. One leftist Indian author, Sunil Khilnani, quoted in the London FT, evidently espoused some form of bankrupt intellectual confetti, decrying Indian military adventurism and belligerence towards Pakistan, a country ruled by a military dictator and waging relentless war against democratic India.

Source: Academic researchers versus Hindu civilization, by Gautam Sen, Svabhinava

Anti-Hindu bias in the scholarship of Western academics

This article is adapted from Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, edited by Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas and Aditi Banerjee, Rupa & Co, 2007.

Invading The Sacred: Questioning the accuracy and objectivity of research on Hinduism at U.S. universities, by Krishnan Ramaswamy, Ph.D.

America's relationship with Indian culture is a complex one. Many people embrace Indian ideas like vegetarianism, yoga, mediation, etc., but the American establishment remains wary. The classic image from history is that of Martin Luther King Jr, who admired and adopted Indian political methods, such as satyagraha, while the establishment of his time saw "passive resistance" as hypocrisy and unmanly.

How does America imagine and create images of India that are simultaneously positive and negative? As a cultural and religious minority this is an important question for Indian Americans to ponder. Our future in this country is affected by what others believe about us.

America, unlike Europe, is a deeply religious land, and many Americans see the world through a religious lens. What they think of your religion influences at least in part what they think of you. The academic study of religion in the USA is a major discipline involving over 8,000 university professors, most of whom are members of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). The study of Hinduism is an important and influential discipline within this group.

The academic study of religion informs a variety of disciplines, including International Studies, Women's Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Literature, Journalism, Education and Politics. Thus the research and writings of religion scholars go beyond the discipline's boundaries, penetrating the mainstream media, and directly impact the American public perception of India via museum displays, films and textbooks.

For instance, the famous Walters Museum in Baltimore featured the following description of Ganesha below a large and beautiful 11th century carving: "Ganesa, is a son of the great god Siva….Ganesa's potbelly and his childlike love for sweets mock Siva's practice of austerities, and his limp trunk will forever be a poor match for Siva's erect phallus." Since such a description of Ganesha, is not found anywhere in the richly varied Hindu tradition, one has to wonder why such trivialized portrayals of Indian Divinity are acceptable in a prestigious American forum. Such public explanations are important, the writer Alex Alexander has noted, because many school tours visit the museum, and through art, kids learn about Asian culture. Scholars have traced this idiosyncratic and misleading characterization of Ganesha to an award-winning book by Prof. Paul Courtright, who claims to use Freudian psychoanalysis and "evidence" from Hindu texts to arrive at his conclusions.

Peer-Review versus Censorship

Before reacting to scholarship on India or Hinduism as being "hurtful," "insensitive" or "biased," one has to examine a work and see if it passes reasonable tests of scholarship. Just because one disagrees with or dislikes a particular scholarly conclusion, does not mean that the scholarship is invalid or must be "stopped." That is dangerous and can rob us of cherished freedoms.

The only way of determining whether a particular work passes the test of scholarship is to review it in detail, taking into account the data, the evidence, the methodology and the matrix of assumptions on which its conclusions are based. This is what scholars do when they conduct a peer review, before the publication of scholarly papers and books. This is a vital quality-control step designed to prevent bias and fraud. Academic freedom, enormously vital in the human quest for understanding, is different from artistic license, as it is always balanced by a fealty to facts, ethical norms and to quoting one's sources accurately.

So are these checks and balances working in academic studies of Hinduism? The Indian American intellectual Rajiv Malhotra believes that the process is broken. As someone who has worked closely with American academics for over ten years and has funded them to the tune of several million dollars, he should know. Because many scholars are closely inter-related and actively exclude the voices of practicing Hindus, the peer-review process has been compromised by a closed, culturally insular cartel. Thus powerful scholars, with the power to promote or harm careers, ensure that their work or the work of their students cannot be questioned by others. This has disastrous consequences for original thinking about India and Hinduism, because it limits the diversity of perspectives, silences scholars who do not conform to the academic orthodoxy and promotes shoddy scholarship.

For instance, an independent scholarly review by Vishal Agarwal and Kalavai Venkat of Courtright's book Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings found literally page after page of major errors, unverifiable citations and even evidence of invented data. Just a couple of examples: Courtright claims, for example, that Hindu scriptures look upon human beings as the excrement of God: "Some Puranic sources maintain that demons and human beings have come from the divine rectum"(page 53). He cites passages from the Linga Purana and Bhagavata Purana (and his mentor Prof. Wendy Doniger's papers) as his hreferences for this demeaning claim. But Agarwal and Venkat show that there is no such passage in either text; instead human beings in the Purana are born from the mind of God. Thus Courtright simply perpetuates Doniger's unfounded allegation. Little wonder that Christian missionary groups in the United States use such works to claim that Hinduism is a "dirty, dignity destroying religion."

Even more egregiously, Courtright claims that the Devi Bhagavata Purana records an incestuous rape by Daksha of his own daughter, the Goddess Sati: "[Daksha] made love to his daughter Sati in the manner of a mere beast. This shameful action drove her to burn her own body, that is is, commit sati…" (page 37). This is in conformity with a favorite academic theme of an allegedly deep-rooted sexual pathology and depravity in Hinduism. Again, independent peer review would have exposed this claim as being totally fabricated. There is no such passage in the Purana.

These are not minor errors. Imagine what would happen to the career and reputation of a scholar who claimed that passages in the Bible record that the Virgin Mary was raped by her own father and then was unable to produce proof of this? Even though there are numerous other stories of patriarchs committing incest in the Bible, such a "discovery" about a major figure would be examined very closely. The peer-reviewers would have checked and double-checked before allowing this defamation of Christian texts to pass into academic literature. But apparently, the peer review process was easily short-circuited in the case of an Indian religion.

Just as journalists are hauled up by their peers for manufacturing data and inventing sources, so should academics. But as our book Invading the Sacred documents, so far Courtright has never had to answer to academic watchdogs for these numerous inaccurate claims. Nor has he ever hrefuted point-by-point the scores of disturbing findings of the independent peer-review. Instead with the help of powerful colleagues in the religious studies establishment, he has succeeded in crushing dissent by claiming that his critics are "Hindu radicals" or prudish "puritans" who threaten academic freedom. A few isolated angry postings threatening Courtright by anonymous persons claiming to be Hindus on the Internet have been very effectively used to deflect attention from a serious debate on substantive issues and his factual inaccuracies. While threats can never be excused, does the academy not have a responsibility to investigate issues of ethics, quality and bias? It is important to note that Courtright's work is far from an isolated instance of shoddy and biased scholarship.

Old wine in new bottles

Scholars surveying how Indian culture is viewed in the West (as well as by highly westernized Indians) have noticed a pattern. With some variations, these portrayals have had, in a relatively unchanging way, the following features familiar to many of us from much of international media and colonial and missionary literature: Indian culture is defined by a series of abuses, such as caste, sati, dowry murders, violence, religious conflict, instability, immorality, grotesque deities and so forth. The problems in India are not seen as historical and economic in origin, but as essences of the traditions, cultures and civilization of India, making it a "chaotic and even desperate country." In other words, India's problems are in its DNA. Indian culture's own ongoing responses and solutions to these problems are rarely taken seriously, even though Indian history is filled with self-correcting hreform movements from within and this process is actively at work today. In its most insidious form, this view implies that unless Indians are rescued from their culture by external intervention, they are doomed. What is startling is that these ideas, which formed the keystone of moral rationalizations offered by the British for colonialism and exploitation, continue to enjoy wide academic respectability in the West today. What has changed over time, as the noted anthropologist Balagangadhara of the University of Ghent has noted, "is the intellectual jargon that clothes these 'analyses.'"

Thus, while psychoanalysis has become passé and suspect in most disciplines, Dr. Alan Roland, an American scholar and noted psychologist who has studied Indian culture, finds that it is used willy-nilly in the interpretation of Indian texts, myths and symbols. Cultural differences are ignored and bizarre interpretations based on western cultural chauvinism are imposed on Indian themes. Prof. Kapila Vatsyayan, doyen of India Studies, also finds it troubling that "some academics in some departments have chosen to undertake such studies with a single-minded pursuit of reading myth and symbol at particular level, i.e. sexual."

This happens because all the richness and complexity of Hinduism is filtered "through a single perspective of a Freudian psycho-analytical approach applied to the exclusion of the others." Vatsyayan is dismayed by the narrowing of the American mind with respect to Hinduism based on this excessive reliance on a questionable methodology. An additional problem is that even leading American scholars are often poorly trained in Indian languages and cultural nuances, but this does not stop them from writing authoritatively about the "evils" of Indian culture.

Certain Hinduphobic evangelical groups feed off this shoddy research environment and use this "evidence" to teach American churchgoers about the dangers of Hinduism. Prof. Jeffery Long, chairman of the department of religious studies at Elizabethtown College, has voiced concerns about the consequences of such misinformation: "How many children will grow up believing Hinduism is a 'filthy' religion, or that Hindus worship the devil? When they grow up, how will such children treat their Hindu co-workers and neighbors? Will they give them the respect due to a fellow citizen and human being?"

The American academy needs a serious debate on the shoddy and questionable scholarship of so-called eminent Hindu scholars, which for too long has been blocked by insular academic cartels.

Source: Invading The Sacred

Shoddy Research Leads to Bias

While at the level of University research, factual errors, fabricated sourcing and theoretical biases need to be identified and combated by academe, the problem is slightly different in schools and undergraduate textbooks. Since these textbooks tend to be overviews, not in depth studies, the core issue is what gets emphasized and what gets left out.

Infinity Foundation's Rajiv Malhotra argues that this bias, which he calls Hinduphobia, is widespread in school and college textbooks. Thus, a popular and basic undergraduate textbook, Awakening: An Introduction to the History of Eastern Thought, tells students that Shiva temples are strange places, whose primary meaning is sexual. "Linga/yoni veneration was not the whole of it… Young women, known as devadasis, were commonly connected with Shiva temples… In a degraded form the devadasi became nothing more than temple prostitutes." Then the book casually informs students that some Shiva temples were "notorious [for] ritual rape and murder".

The imagery of these "strange and terrible things" gets filtered through the students' Eurocentric lenses, and consciously or unconsciously, remains a part of the students' life-long mythic view of Indic cultures.

At the introductory stage of an American student's learning, depictions and stories about Hinduism should be carefully put into proper context. For instance, discussions of Shiva/Shakti can explore symbolic ideals, such as the transcendent meeting of the male and the female. It is more accurate for students to understand and remember Shiva as Divinity encompassing both male and female - a primary teaching about Shiva shared across India - rather than exotic obscurities about Devadasis that are not central to the religion's practice.

Let us reverse the situation to make the point: consider a hypothetical book titled Introduction to the History of Western Thought that presented a similar discourse about pathologies inherent in Christianity in a non-Christian country like India or Pakistan? The hypothetical textbook would certainly hrefrain from blithely dwelling on the historically not infrequent occurrences of sex, rape and unwanted pregnancies in nunneries or the recently exposed epidemic of pedophilia among Catholic priests and evangelical ministers.

Devadasis, who are married to God, and nuns who are married to Christ are interesting analogs of each other. Of course, one was expected to be cultured, vivacious, non-celibate and altogether a local superstar, while the other was often hidden away, self-denying, theoretically celibate and withdrawn. But our hypothetical textbook would hardly include statements. such as, "Being the bride of Christ and crucifix-veneration was not the whole of it. In a degraded form, some nuns were little more than church prostitutes, available to the powerful among the priesthood as well as the laity."

Nor would one condone a statement like, "Catholic churches are notorious for all kinds of extreme practices from rape of children to official protection for the rapists over decades." Objectively, this could be backed by data. In the United States alone, hundreds of Christian priests have been implicated in molesting children. The victims are in the thousands and the problem stretches back at least a half century. I think we can all agree that such information has little place in an introductory work on Christianity.

Yet, in an introductory college textbook on Hinduism for American students they are nonchalantly and without credible evidence informed that Shiva temples "became notorious for all kinds of extreme practices, including ritual rape and ritual murder." One has to wonder at the asymmetry and the Hinduphobia that allows such asymmetry.

California school textbook biases against Hinduism

by Rajiv Malhotra

The recent California Department of Education hearings on sixth-grade textbook portrayals of religions and cultures have put the spotlight on the politics of identity negotiation in America. There is a clash between the Hindu Diaspora and a group of academic scholars claiming to be "the experts" on Hinduism. The latter are neither specialists in Religious Studies nor do they understand the politics of identity formation of immigrants in American history.

The table below compares how California textbooks treat Hinduism and other major religions. Every religion has both positive and negative aspects, and someone has to choose which information to present to children. For instance, every religion needs to improve its treatment of women, minorities and those of other religions. Yet every religion also has great exemplars and textual references to inspire good citizenship. Every religion has beliefs that cannot be proven in a scientific manner using empirical evidence, thereby making it imperative that such beliefs should be explained consistently across all faiths. Every religion's own leaders project a positive self-image, while there are differing views of those who are on the outside, especially those who hold a grudge against a given religion for whatever reason. Each religion has its "enemies" and its "victims."

Topic How religions are treated in textbooks
Islam Judaism Christianity Hinduism
Women are shown equal to men? Yes Yes Yes No
Oppression of certain groups is discussed? No No No Yes
Beliefs are considered as historical fact? Yes Yes Yes No
Own leaders' interpretations are emphasized? Yes Yes Yes No
Treated as a world religion independently of the social/political issues of any foreign country? Yes Yes Yes No

The question then becomes: What is appropriate to be taught to the 11-year old school children in California, who often have very short attention spans, and whose tightly packed curriculum has precious little time allotted to the study of other cultures? California's official educational standards contain policies on this important question and require that, "No religious belief or practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be portrayed as inferior," and that, "Textbooks should instill a sense of pride in every child in his or her heritage." These standards must be applied equally and consistently to all religions.

As the table above demonstrates, the textbooks do not comply with the California standards when it comes to Hinduism. For instance, the textbooks say that Hinduism considers women to be inferior to men, but ignore biases against women in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The textbooks focus on Hindu atrocities against certain groups, but do not point out that Islamic, Christian and Jewish societies have similar problems. The clergy in Islam, Christianity and Judaism are treated as credible experts and their religious texts are assumed to be stating historical facts, while Hindu texts are depicted through the pejorative lenses of critics.
Impressionable sixth graders with hardly any understanding of America's minority faiths are unlikely to study these religions ever again in their lives. So the impressions created by these textbooks will be lasting in shaping America's future society.

Academicians smear Hindu participation in the hearings:

To remedy this, some Hindu American groups and individuals did what Islamic, Jewish and Christian groups have been doing for many years: they reviewed the textbooks and initiated dialogue with the educational authorities who hold public hearings every six years in order to update textbooks. While the activism by Islamic and Christian groups drew no protests from scholars, similar activism by Hindus is being virulently attacked by some American scholars from prestigious colleges who brought in a bandwagon of Indian scholars eager to impress them. Most of these academics are not experts of religion, do not even belong to the Hinduism Unit of the American Academy of Religion, and claim their authority largely on their academic affiliations.

The emphasis of the academicians' counter-attack was not on the contents of the textbooks, on the official standards published by California, nor on the philosophy of education for our children. Instead, they attacked the people involved on the Hindu side, calling them "fascists," "fundamentalists," "nationalists," "chauvinists," and so forth. They tried to link these groups to violence overseas with sensationalized warnings to the California educators that their proposed amendments would encourage international terror. In other words, scholars who claim to be defenders of intellectual freedom and teachers of critical inquiry fell short on both counts in their own conduct.

I do not agree with many of the changes petitioned by the Hindu groups. My issue is with the prejudice with which Hindus are being treated as compared to all others.

Hindu petitions not treated equally:

The following table shows that while all religions have their own lobby groups advocating changes, only the Hindus are attacked by these scholars. Furthermore, the California authorities, in a move which is now being challenged legally, heard a parade of anti-Hindu voices as "expert witness," while there were no similar dissenting voices invited to criticize Islam, Christianity or Judaism. The scholars fighting the Hindu Diaspora frantically arranged to fly in witnesses who testified about the horrors of Hinduism, while no similar witnesses were brought to testify against the horrors of Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Only in the case of Hinduism was the politics from the mother country dragged into the California proceedings. The fact is that Hinduism is a world religion with followers in many parts of the planet besides India, and the social-political problems in India do not reflect on Hindus elsewhere such as the millions of Euro-Americans practicing yoga/meditation who claim Hindu or quasi-Hindu identities or the second-generation Indian Americans.

Public Process How the California process has worked
Islam Judaism Christianity Hinduism
Organized community groups are lobbying for change? Yes Yes Yes Yes
Have academics protested against the community's activism? No No No Yes
Did Education Board bring hostile academics as advisors? No No No Yes
Are advocates of the religion being branded as "chauvinists", "fundamentalists", "nationalists", etc.? No No No Yes
Is politics from the mother country driving the academic scholars? No No N/A Yes

Political correctness towards non-Hindus only

While attempts are being made to teach about "Hindu horrors" against minorities, the same scholars are not lobbying to include "Islamic genocides," in South Asia, "Islamic terrorism" worldwide, or "Christian holocausts" of Native Americans: The non-Hindu religions are coddled with political correctness and "sensitivity."

South Asia experts also know that Islam is a major South Asian religion, that it has more followers in South Asia than anywhere else in world, and that South Asian based Islam (i.e. in Pakistan-Afghanistan) has bred international terrorism. Therefore, to be true to their field of study, South Asian Studies scholars should apply the same "human rights" criteria to depict Islam in textbooks as they do to Hinduism.

While these scholars champion sympathetic portrayals of minorities in India, they do the opposite in the case of Hindu minorities in America.

Scholars should respect the mandate of California's Social Studies Standards, that "Textbooks should instill a sense of pride in every child in his or her heritage." In this capacity, textbooks should also include Hinduism's major contributions to America: yoga, vegetarianism, the transcendentalist literary movement in the 19th century, and the many influences on American pop music, cuisine, film, dance, etc.

"Human rights" used as a weapon of imperialism

Like all other traditional societies, Indian society can be seen as a "patient" that needs to be cured of maladies. But academic activists argue that Indian society should be "exposed" in America. However, they have failed to answer the following questions: Are Western institutions qualified to "cure" Indian society? What is the past track record of Western powers intervening in third-world domestic issues? What accountability do they have as "doctors"? Does the West have a superior human rights record? Are human rights definitions and case selections biased? Are Western agendas constructing categories of "cultural crimes"? Do Indian globe-trotting activists have personal vested interests?

Young children exploited as pawns

The sixth-grade classroom is the right wrong to prosecute an American minority culture or a foreign nation. Among these students, perhaps less than one percentage will pursue careers as Christian evangelists slandering Hinduism to convert, or as government officials using "human rights" as a weapon to gain leverage against India. For this tiny number of potential specialists, there will be opportunities in higher studies to embark upon a comprehensive study of India's positive and negative social qualities.

Challenging history is one thing, but intentionally undermining self-respect at an impressionable age is a form of psychological child abuse. The political activism of a cartel of elitist scholars is invading innocent children: It harasses Indian students in class who feel embarrassed and ashamed of their ancestry, especially since American society valorizes identities and traditions. It handicaps the non-Indian students who will grow up to work in a world in which India must be taken seriously and not dismissed as a patient to be cured by the West.

Source: Debating the California Text Book Controversy, by Rajiv Malhotra, Hinduism Treated Unequally In California Textbooks. Rajiv Malhotra is a public intellectual living in Princeton, N.J., heads the Infinity Foundation.


2. Academic researchers versus Hindu civilization, by Gautam Sen, Svabhinava.
3. Debating the California Text Book Controversy, by Rajiv Malhotra, Hinduism Treated Unequally In California Textbooks.

Further Reading

  • Hinduism Misinterpreted, Encyclopædia Britannica insults Hinduism by Amit Raj DHAWAN. This article will highlight some of the misinterpretations of Hinduism in Encyclopaedia Britannica, many of which are very offending to any Hindu reader and those who know and respect Hinduism. The author has based this article on the contents of article on Hinduism in Encyclopaedia Britannica 2009 Student and Home Edition.
  • Are Hinduism studies prejudiced? A look at Microsoft Encarta, by Sankrant Sanu, A point-by-point examination of the popular encyclopedia's treatment of Hindu beliefs. An article by Sankrant Sanu compared the way Microsoft Encarta treated Hinduism negatively with the way it treated Islam and Christianity positively. The prejudices against Hinduism were so serious that Microsoft requested the Diaspora’s assistance in rewriting the entire section on Hinduism. Wendy Doniger’s Hinduism section in Encarta has now been removed completely and replaced by a new one written by Professor Arvind Sharma.
  • Courtright Twist And Academic Freedom, by Sankrant Sanu. There has been considerable controversy about Prof. Paul Courtright's book on Lord Ganesha. At the center of the controversy are several assertions within the book, that have caused outrage among devout Hindus, including assertions that Ganesha's trunk represents a limp phallus in contrast to Shiva's erect one, that Ganesha's fondness for sweets is a substitute for oral sex and so on.


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