The West's categories have been force-fitted on India making our civilisation seem crude and archaic.
Debtanu grew up in a Bengali Brahman household listening to stories of the French Revolution and Europe from his maternal grandfather. One of the very first novels he read was Gorky's 'Mother' which romanticized the Russian Revolution. An avid Marxist in school, he became a free market radical in college because of disenchantment. He became interested in Indian thought having read the Classics after passing out. He not only believes that Indian Civilization should be preserved but that it can hold a mirror to the current Western Civilization where it has never been hit; its philosophy of materialism. His interest lies in Biology, Evolution, Economics, and Politics. You can follow him at @parshu_rama.
Recently, there was an outrage over how Netflix depicted Hinduism and India. If you haven’t watched the trailer of ‘Leila’ yet, here it is:
What is exactly wrong here? Professor Balagangadhara and Dr. Divya may have an answer….If that TV series is a maths exercise, “As Others See Us” is the geometry toolbox we need to analyse it properly.
Co-written by Professor S.N. Balagangadhara and his student Dr. Divya Jhingran, the book is written as a dialogue like most Indian texts are. It walks us through how Indian phenomenon and symbols get misrepresented in the West and in return, Indians get alienated from their own cultural experience. It also opens the door for a common Indian to explore the Western way of thinking.
The whole focus of the book is on multiplicities. India as a civilisation has her own categories and its own interrelations. However, in the Western gaze, these categories are transformed to their perceived equivalent in their civilization. Consequently, even when two “educated” Indians discuss India, they discuss Indian categories whose meanings and interrelations are dictated by the Western context.
Thus, to them, “Hinduphobia” is not so much a conscious effort to undermine their civilization. It is to see India in this Western template and then be very afraid of the degradation in society. The degradation is again judged on parameters set by the West themselves. It discounts the native thought process and superimposes alien understandings of these things/actions/processes as the true understanding.
The context of Hinduphobia is this:
God gave us religion. All of us. It is of course, Hinduism. Why did he give us Hinduism? To be with Him who created us. Problem is, there is another guy called Satan who does not want us to be anywhere near Him. So, he lures us from the path of Dharma and encourages us to Sin. Once lured, we fall back into the pit we were originally in. There is such a thing as True Hinduism. It got sabotaged when Brahmin priests were seduced by Satan into idolatry. That there are thousands of Ramayana and Mahabharata is not a sign of plurality but a sign of decadence. Once in the maze of Satan, Satan dilutes the word of God, his revelations and plays around with God’s creations. But God is merciful. He cannot bear to see his children in despair and so mahapurush are born in such darkness. In fact, Christianity is actually Hinduism that was given to Christ. The Goan Inquisitors were good Hindus who were trying to bring back fellow Hindus into True Hinduism. Abuse of power? Hardly! They got powerful because they were True Hindus. False Hindus under the influence of Satan can hardly resist the will of God. India being colonised by True Hindus, the Britons is a sign from God for Indians to revert to Hinduism without the impurities added over the ages. Post-independence, it is now the job of educated Hindus to convert everybody to this True Hinduism. They proclaim Secularism because the job of the Monarch/President is to rule the kingdom of Flesh, not the one of the Atman which is to be judged by God.
In the above-composed passage, the meaning of Dharma, Mahapurush, Atman are hardly the same in the Indian context vis-à-vis the Western Context. This is, however, precisely how one civilisation engulfs another. This distortion is not at all conscious but happens because the underlying epistemology is being replaced. The simplest definition of epistemology is how we know the things around us. This varies minutely across individuals but drastically across civilizations. Once epistemology is replaced discreetly through continuous interactions between individuals of the two civilizations, the inter-relations of these words or categories are shuffled and re-ordered. Thus, the meaning these words confer in the new order inadvertently become blatant distortions of their original meaning.
In this madhouse, people who scream ‘Hinduphobia’ are hardly innocent. By saying that Hinduism is a religion, and that it is being misrepresented, they are falling into the trap laid by the West. They complete what our Protestant colonisers set out to do; transform our civilisational ethos into a sanitized form of Christianity, or True Hinduism. For the authors, Hinduphobia is not an invitation to activism but for introspection, of understanding ourselves and the West through our lenses. The present framework for religious debate is set by Christianity, which is a problem. Christianity as a religion has a conflict of interest presently due to it being the hegemonic benchmark of what a religion is. It is like the first boy in the class sets the question paper and checks everybody’s exam copies!
The Western understanding of the world is driven by theory, text which prescribe certain actions like their religion. Their learning of society is initiated by divine revelations which in secular parlance becomes Theory. In India, this initiation into society is driven by ritual practices in 'a learning' by doing processes. Learning is passive and Indians may follow them without ascribing any meaning to those rituals.
Now, let’s look at how the makers of the TV series constructs their dystopia borrowing from the Western Context. Prayag Akbar, the writer of the novel it has been adapted from had his education outside India.
This exercise will use tools from the book;
1. The Fatherland and Aryavarta
In the Bible, God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendant Jacob about the land and their descendants who were to be referred collectively as a nation. When he became Israel, his ‘nation’ began to be called Israel.
Genesis (15.8): ‘In that same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, form the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’
Genesis (28:13, 14): ‘And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’
God gave everybody religion, a.k.a. Hinduism remember?
Thus, God must have also promised this land of India to somebody. We may have lost that information thanks to rabid interference in God’s revelation.
However, just like Jews have a promised land in Israel, Hindus must have had a promised land in ‘Aryavarta’.
Truth be told, ‘Arya’ means noble or virtuous. ‘Varta’ refers to doing menial tasks that bring income and employment. Aryavarta thus can roughly mean something like Economy of the virtuous; nothing about any promised land in the terminology!
However, God is a stepping stone to religion, religion a stepping stone to Nation, Nation a stepping stone to Nationalism, Nationalism a stepping stone to Hyper-nationalism. If actions are intended to fulfill God’s Plan, we know how Hitler’s Final Solution played out. The Israel-Palestine conflict is also rooted in this rhetoric of promised land.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander! Thus, the glaring difference in civilisation notwithstanding, the makers of the TV series harp on this name to stop the imminent dystopia from happening in India.
Israel and Palestine are separate states precisely because the religious past was excavated. Why not nip the bud in India and stop secessionism in its tracks? These good people thus contribute to uniting India. India should never be viewed as a religious fatherland but as a cosmopolitan place.
That’s how you fulfill divine will and implement God’s plan on Earth.
Down with Aryavarta (whatever that means)!
2. Discrimination and Made-snana
Made-snana is a ritual performed in certain temples in Karnataka. It involves rolling over food consumed communally. Since its ban, people perform the ritual with food offered to the deity. This is called Ede-snana. Needless to say, educated people consider it caste-ist and exploitative.
Why? The answer is immorality, it prevents equality. The makers of the TV series here are in their minds doing the right thing showing disgust at the ritual. The answer is not so innocent when you understand why it is considered immoral.
Christianity grew and prospered with malice against Jews. Jews were chastised for not accepting Christ as their saviour in spite of his being born as a Jew. In Nazi Germany, Christians terrorized Jews on the birthday of theologian Martin Luther, in what is now called Kristallnacht!
The Jews were divided into tribes which had a hierarchy. The Levites were priests in the Jewish Society. They held the hereditary office of God, conducted sacrifices and often emphasized purity in their affairs.
Exodus 19:6 says ‘you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
When the first European travellers like Pietro Della Valle and Abraham Rogerius came to India, their accounts drew similarities between India and Israel with respect to these diverse functional groups. Brahmans became the Levites of India. These Western travellers transformed the ritual practices we now call Hinduism into a variant of the Jewish religion*. This was more scandalous as it also involved idolatry.
Christians, on the other hand, emphasized acceptance of Christ as the road to salvation open for all. They consumed bread and wine as the flesh and blood of Jesus for their salvation. An equal road to salvation! With India’s colonisation, Hindus were viewed with the same disgust as Jews. People individually refused to convert or even if they did, went back to the customs of the family structure they came from. For Christians, this was due to religion, more specifically the varna system prescribed in the text. Never mind that thousands of collectives, jatis, did not identify with any varna. Brahmins apparently coerced them into the ritual by implanting fear into their mind.
Somehow the purity of Levites is attributed to Brahmins and made- snana is seen as a way to renew the purity-pollution gradient of the caste system. Christians, smarter than the natives are however unable to tell whether the caste-system causes made-snana or made-snana causes caste-system!
In its secular form, this is thus a reason versus superstition problem! The only problem is it stereotypes people who perform the made-snana ritual as dumb idiots who do not have a rational mind. The movement against caste inevitably stereotypes voluntary participants as stupid natives who are swayed by the word of the heathen priests. This again stems from the theory-practice nexus of Christianity. In Asian cultures where religion does not exist, tradio or rituals are not related to logic or reason. Made-snana is absolutely devoid of any step towards salvation.
The makers of the TV series, the flagbearers of True Hinduism thus paint Made-snana participants as dumb village idiots not given to reason! So, that they stray away from false Hinduism!
This is not the first and certainly not the last TV series or film that will see Hindu Culture from a Western Christian Perspective. This is a wonderful book, written in a simple language for young adults, costs a minute fraction of a ‘good’ social science degree that will see you through such nonsense with a smile on your face!
* For a better description of how Caste System was mapped from Judaism, see De Roover’s work “A Nation of Tribes and Priests: The Jews and the Immorality of the Caste System”.