o keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.
The ultimate vision of our work ... is a perfectly organised state of society wherein each individual has been moulded into a model of ideal Hindu manhood and made into a living limb of the corporate personality of society.
– Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, RSS supreme chief
MIDDLE EAST, India, September 6, 2011–Trying to understand American society and politics without studying religion's role is probably like attempting research on the country’s food habits without considering its fast food addiction.
People in the Middle East and the subcontinent were intrigued by the unexpected inclusion of "Shariah" in America’s national conversation a few months back. Amy Sullivan writing in USA Today on June 12 noted how Republican presidential candidates, “felt the need to speak out against the menace of sharia."
Several prominent U.S. politicians got on and sheepishly off the sharia bandwagon.
They might have had more traction with another issue they should probably nip in the bud– right wing Hinduism in America bent on spreading ‘Hindutva,’ a Nazi inspired philosophy of hate from India. It is the brainchild of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a pseudo religious Hindu organization, which controls the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main political opponents to India’s ruling UPA Congress coalition of Sonia Gandhi.
David Briggs, writing in The Huffington Post (4/28/11) in an article titled, “Hindu Americans: The Surprising, Hidden Population Trends of Hinduism in the U.S.,” notes that in “the first effort to conduct a Hindu census in the United States, the Santa Barbara, Calif.- based Institute of American Religion discovered some 1,600 temples and centers with an estimated 600,000 practicing Hindus.”
“For better and worse, however, the latest incarnation of Hinduism in the United States has gone largely unnoticed by most Americans,” says Briggs, adding, “That number could easily rise up to the estimated 1.2 million who self-identify as Hindus.”
In his “Letter to A Young Hindu,” (www.passtheroti.com) Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, writes: “More than a decade ago, I used the term "Yankee Hindutva" to describe the way Hindu chauvinism came into the United States. Eager to branch out to the Diaspora, the RSS and its subsidiaries ... took advantage of multiculturalism to build their foothold here. Not for the American audience an unadulterated anti-Muslim rhetoric (that would come only in some "safe" spaces, and more aggressively, after 9/11).”
Most Americans do not noticeably relate to other Americans on the basis of their religion as Indians do. My own view is, people are people, not Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, etc. However, not everyone is secure in a plain vanilla human identity – many people must tout a religious face.
Why isn’t humble, authentic faith in God, rather than being hooked to a religion, an adequate identity?
In India, the caste system still controls people; in America, denominational preferences have polarized many Americans.
In both America and India, the resurgence of a religious right wing is obvious in politics and society, but it is absurd to tar the American right with the same fundamentalist brush. It is poles apart from the Hindu right, which is marked by its dangerous fascist ‘Hindutva’ ideology. The assertion of a native Hindu tradition with a profound spiritual heritage is certainly justified, but its current rabid avatar in the RSS’ saffron color makes a mockery of an ancient belief.
Nonetheless, religion is an addiction in both America and India, and its conventions seem to have made one country very sexy and the other very sleazy. Half of all marriages in Hollywood obsessed America end in divorce, regardless of one’s religion. And Hindusthan, the Persian term geographically denoting India, is one of the most corrupt countries of the world.
The cliched ‘born again’ label may be despised by many Americans (and others), but American evangelicals are mainly identified for their strong support of socially conservative policies, being pro-Israel, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, and for sending missionaries worldwide. Not for the murder of minorities on home ground and the unscrupulous fascist politics that ‘Hindutvadis’ are known for in India.
After orchestrating modern India’s first state sponsored anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat as recently 2002, when several thousand Muslims and Hindus were massacred, today the Hindu right wing waits for another shot at power, as the main Opposition Party in the Indian Parliament.
Gandhi died for standing against these right wingers; he was proud of his own Hindu convictions, but he innovated with notably Christian influences, and Jainism, Buddhism and Islam.
Knowing how he rejected the Hindu right, it is distressing to see many middle class Indians reject the Mahatma’s spirituality, by consenting to the same political ideology that took his life.
Growing up in India, many of my closest friends were Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs; only much later did I discern that religious militancy exists in all religions. Fundamentalists carry their baggage with them wherever they go. It is intriguing how a mere suffix to a word, subverts what people believe in. One cannot link violence to Buddha or Christ, but you can find fanatics in Buddhism and Christianity, like you can in Islam and Hinduism.
The danger in India is real: If the fascist BJP plays its cards right, it has every opportunity of coming back to power in India, in 2014.
Is it Sharia that should give Americans cause for concern, or should they keep an eye on Hindutva as a potential Trojan Horse in America?
Amy Sullivan points out that, “politicians who cry "Sharia!" are engaging in one of the oldest and least-proud political traditions — xenophobic demagoguery. One of the easiest ways to spot its use is when politicians carelessly throw around a word simply because it scares some voters.”
American filmmaker Nina Paley who received death threats from the Hindu right in America for her animated movie, Sita Sings The Blues, (www.sitasingstheblues.com) is quoted by Saumya Arya Haas, in The Huffington Post, (7/25/11) as saying, “It's like calling the Ku Klux Klan "Christians." Calling Hindutvadis "Hindus" is especially misleading in the U.S., where people are mostly unaware of violent nationalist groups in India. Last I checked, Hinduism wasn't a religion of hate and intolerance. Hindutvadis' motives are political, not religious, and they hide behind a religious label. Not only does this confuse many Americans into thinking they have some legitimacy, it also, over the long run, harms real Hindus, who are nothing like Hindutvadis.”
Her movie, an adaptation of the epic "Ramayana" mythology, is a feminist interpretation of the epic loved by Hindus. Paley made the film biographical by including her own failed marriage.
Commenting on the opposition to the film’s screenings, Haas, the Executive Director of Headwaters/Delta, warns, “While I support anyone, of any or no faith, who wants to screen and discuss the film, this is a game-changer. These are Hindus being shut down, and shut out, by other Hindus. This no longer about an American filmmaker interpreting the Ramayana, or a feminist perspective on ancient texts. This isn't about colonialism or cultural appropriation. It's about a controlling group trying to bully their opinion into being the only opinion.”
My claim to Hinduism has been rejected by some because I believe [in] and advocate non-violence in its extreme form. They say that I am a Christian in disguise. I have been even seriously told that I am distorting the meaning of the Gita when I ascribe to that great poem the teaching of unadulterated non-violence.
My religion is a matter solely between my Maker and myself. If I am a Hindu, I cannot cease to be one even though I may be disowned by the whole of the Hindu population.
I still hold the view that I cannot conceive politics as divorced from religion. Indeed, religion should pervade everyone one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe.