We study the genuine sense of malaise among suburban youth (the
condition that Paul Goodman called "Growing Up Absurd"), but we
also tend to the way in which "Asia" functions as an alibi for a
politics to transcend the condition of the suburb.
A bumper sticker
that says "Free Tibet" seems to offer an entry into a transcendental
politics, far removed from the social melancholy of suburban life.
Does Tibet or Hinduism offer a coherent program to reconstruct the
oppression of suburban capitalism? My own sense is that it
facilitates an escape from the rigors of our world.
The conceit that
whites have no culture and that they can get cultural from this tryst
with Asia also contributes to the continued fascination with the
surface and/or spiritual level of Asian cultures.
When Gwen Stefani of No Doubt or Madonna can wear a bindi and get
accolades for it, those thousands of South Asian girls and women who
get teased in school and at work for the "dot" on their forehead feel
rightfully bitter and angry.
I've got nothing against cultural
borrowings because I believe that culture comes without boundaries,
without discrete origins and it does anyway move across the frail
boundaries set-up by one cultural orthodoxy or another. Polycultural
existences or cultural fluidity is inevitable.
But what do we do about the romantic entry of suburban whites into
Hinduism when many of the organs that disseminate the faith are
linked to the groups that conduct pogroms against Muslims in India?
Are "curiosity" and "respect" sufficient grounds for the entry of the
suburban white into the theocratic fascism of these variations of
In a perfect world, yes, but not in this one.
For about a decade, Biju Mathew (best known for his work with the New
York Taxi Workers' Association) and I have conducted research on the
Hindutva Right in the US and we've found that millions of dollars
travel each year through illegal and legal networks to finance right-
wing activity in the subcontinent.
This long-distance theocratic fascism was part of the destruction of
the mosque at Ayodhya in 1992, the anti-Christian riots in Gujarat a
few years ago, and now, certainly, in the state-engineered pogrom
against Muslims in Gujarat where at least two thousand people died.
Kanwal Rekhi, a neoliberal entrepreneur, co-wrote a powerful opinion
piece in the Washington Post (22 May 2002):
"Many overseas Indian Hindus, including some in this country,finance
religious groups in India in the belief that the funds will be used
to build temples, and educate and feed the poor of their faith. Many
would be appalled to know that some recipients of their money are out
to destroy minorities (Christians as well as Muslims) and their
places of worship. Mr. Vajpayee could deal a severe blow to such
covert causes by simply labeling them as terrorists."
What Rekhi missed was that it was not only "Indian Hindus" who
financed the pogrom, but also many suburban whites who uncritically
join temples and other such organizations. They give the Hindutva
Right money certainly, but also the much needed legitimacy of white
followers in the movement.
Of course the bulk of the saffron dollars comes from the Indian-
American community, but the suburban whites who don the robes of
Hindutva give prestige and legitimacy to the movement. The legacy and
persistence of racism provides respect to any artifact or institution
of color that is worn or frequented by whites.
This was the reason, for instance, why it was so important for the
erstwhile right-wing Dharam Hinduja Indic Research Center at Columbia
University to attract large numbers of white scholars for its project
to whitewash Hindutva.
Many came, mainly white women ,who study
various aspects of Hinduism and are themselves very well known and
otherwise respected scholars of Indology.
Eager for cash, they
disregarded the role they played for Hindutva, just as those whites
who become Hindus in this day and age do not actively engage with the
crucial role Hindutva plays within global Hinduism.
Let's stay with the Hinduja institute. Funded by the arms-dealer and
industrialist S. P. Hinduja, the center is named for his late son
Dharam. Dharam, a Wharton graduate, fell in love with and married an
Anglo-Indian Catholic woman whom he wanted to marry. Adamantly
opposed to it, the family chased him off and, as a result, he
committed suicide in 1992.
Those so-called "Hindu values" that would not accept the child's
desire to live as a human being in a complex world were now to be
cruelly sanctified in a research institute that bears his name.
Even as Columbia University abandoned the money after sustained
protest by secular forces, Cambridge University continues to host
such a center (there is also one in New Delhi).
And the suburban whites in the Hindutva Right movement are not only
followers, because a few of them are important leaders.
come as no surprise to those of us who have been accosted by ISCKON
workers (the "Hare Krishnas") in airports and other places. Two of
the main grandees are men who converted to Hinduism, became important
intellectuals of the Hindutva movement and now flog the ideology via
the Internet, in their books and periodicals:
(1) David Frawley, aka Swami Vamdev
Frawley is affiliated with various theocratic fascist organizations
such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Hindu Students Council
(HSC) and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) - all three arms of the
global Hindutva movement whose teeth were bared in Gujarat recently.
In 1996,Frawley traveled across England as an honored guest of the
From Arise Arjuna (1995) to Hinduism and the Clash of Civilizations
(2001), Frawley offers a Huntingtonian analysis of the clash between
Islam (bad) and Christianity (almost good), with Hinduism being the
necessary ally of the good.
The anti-Muslim tenor of his books is
also evident in his works on ancient India (such as Gods, Sages and Kings, 1991) where Frawley joins a series of theocratic fascists to
argue that Vedic India was bliss and that everything since then has
been a disaster.
(2) Satuguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami and Satguru Bodhinatha
Founders of the magazine Hinduism Today and of the ashram in Hawaii
that houses the Hindu Heritage Endowment (HHE), these two swamis (Satguru
or Gurudev has since died) have very close ties to the VHP. Their
materials regularly quote approvingly from VHP documents and the
money raised by the HHE goes toward Hindutva activities.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with the pursuit of
spirituality under the sign of Hinduism; indeed there is perhaps much
to be gained from it. However, as Hindutva-style cruelty devastates
the landscape of Indian life, it is imperative for those who claim
Hinduism to offer ruthless criticism of global Hindutva.
If you attend a temple, ask the priests and others about their
relationship with the pogrom in Gujarat: and don't take their denials
at face value. Demand to see the account books, investigate the
guests who come and speak to the members, find out if any group like
the HSS runs the show.
Do not allow liberal multiculturalism to give
global Hindutva cover from secular forces.
Finally, as global Hindutva tries to get United Way clearance and as
its front organs try to pose as charitable organizations, be ready to
fight them all the way.
The current exchange rate is fifty rupees for
one dollar. Even a few greenbacks translate into crucial resources in
impoverished zones and become a saffron bludgeon against the Indian
Vijay Prashad is Associate Professor and Director, International Studies Program
, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, USA and author of Karma of Brown Folk (Minnesota) and Untouchable Freedom (Oxford). His most recent books are
The American Scheme (Three Essays Press) and Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism.
This piece first appeared on Znet
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