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Indian Culture And Traditions

How Does The West Look At Indian Culture
By Vimla Patil, 2007 [[email protected]]

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SPECIAL FEATURE FOR THE 60TH INDEPENDENCE DAY OF INDIA – NO. 5

HOW DOES THE WEST LOOK AT INDIAN CULTURE TODAY?

While Britain, Canada and Europe have accepted multi-culturalism as the future of the world, the U.S. continues to remain comparatively orthodox. While Britain is right now planning India Now – a fabulous event to showcase the many-splendoured culture of India – and Canada has just inaugurated the biggest Hindu temple/heritage centre in Toronto, unfortunately, US academia is systematically demonizing Indian culture and religion unforgivably in research work that is highly prejudiced and offensive, say Indian intellectuals in the US and India!

Just a few weeks before India celebrates the diamond jubilee of its Independence, Britain has paid tribute to this country’s colourful and rich culture by launching the India Now festival. At its inauguration, a huge replica of the Taj Mahal was floated down the grey and cold Thames River in London. “India Now recreates the best of India in London in a multi-cultural symphony that resounds with ragas and Bollywood beats,” says the event’s publicity blitz, “Events, concerts, exhibitions and street fests laid on by more than 200 cultural organizations including some of London’s best-known museums and galleries are a prominent feature of the festival. Over 1,500 Indian themed events will be celebrated all over London and a million people are expected to participate in the festivities.”
Farther westwards, Canada’s handsome Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just inaugurated the biggest Hindu temple and heritage complex in Toronto, in the presence of lakhs of invitees including the Indian High Commissioner, the Mayor of Toronto, the chief minister of Ontario and hundreds swamis of the Swaminarayan Panth, whose head gifted the fabulous temple to the people of Canada. “This beautiful temple is a symbol of Canada’s multi cultural future where people following all religions will be equal and will contribute to the great future of Canada as a nation,” said Harper as he paid homage to India’s religion and culture.

However, in this international atmosphere of revelry and celebration for the diamond jubilee of India’s Independence, the US has introduced a really sour note. “Compared to the UK, Europe and Canada, the United States is orthodox and though it has a huge population of highly educated and affluent Indians and though the US is the world’s most powerful democracy, they have not fully embraced multi-culturalism as the future of the world,” says Rajiv Malhotra, founder of the Infinity Foundation and a community leader and retired industrialist living in the US, “While wandering through the halls of American academia, I came across the works of a group of highly regarded American professors who have written scholarly tomes on Hinduism that makes it sound like a mix of voodoo and pornography. They have put Hindu deities through Freudian analyses to establish such bizarre conclusions that they shocked me and many other Indians. For instance, their research says that Ganesha’s trunk represents a flaccid phallus and his love of sweets, an inclination towards oral sex! Further, according to them Ganesha has an Oedipal Complex! They further demonise saints and scholars like Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Vivekananda by saying that the former was a paedophile and sexually abused his disciple. Shockingly, these are professors who teach South-Asian experts and comparative religion at the best universities in the United States. Their books and research are found in the best of libraries and huge grants for research are given by committees on which they preside. I was horrified to learn that among their teachings are such abominable falsehoods like ‘Brahmins drink the menstrual blood and other human fluids to follow Tantra and that Shiva temples are dens of vice where priests routinely murder and rape unsuspecting pilgrims’.”

Malhotra was so concerned with the proliferating influence of this section of American academia, that he began to gather like-minded people around the world – and specially in the US and India – to counter this demonisation of the Hindu religion and Indian culture in the best universities of India. “These so-called experts on Hinduism would have no power if they were not helped by many Indians who support their ignorance,” says Malhotra, “It is a pity that India has not prioritized the setting up of a national or corporate foundation to fund and support the correct interpretation of our religious or cultural heritage. For centuries, we have depended upon British, European or other research to interpret our religion and culture as it is taught even in our universities. Thus we leave ‘others’ to teach about ourselves. Look at China. They will not allow any other society to undermine their way of life or their cultural or religious heritage. No other country can tell them what human rights are, or teach them how to interpret their culture, literature or art. They have introduced a national version of a made-in-China religion that combines Buddhism, Confucianism and local religious trends to make every Chinese person proud of his/her heritage and identity.  In their national education system it is not outsider’s who get to interpret Chinese culture and religion, because they rely upon on their own scholars funded by the Chinese foundations.

“The story of India is shockingly different. According to reports, in a conference that Amartya Sen attended recently in Chicago along with ‘Hinduism experts’ like Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum, he backed the idea that Hindu fanatics were a bigger threat to Indian democracy than the Islamists.  Nussbaum added, “In India, the threat to democratic ideals comes not from a Muslim threat, but from Hindu groups!” This sounds like a joke but it’s not entirely funny. The current government ruling India is supported by Marxists according to whom Hindutva is a bigger threat to India than Jehadi Islam. “In pursuance of this belief,” says Tavleen Singh in her recent essay in the Sunday Express, “Our Marxist parties support Iran’s efforts to make a nuclear bomb but oppose our own.  The damage they have done goes beyond the political for it is largely on account of ‘secular’ leftist pressure that Indian civilization remains untaught in our schools and universities.”

Malhotra, who works relentlessly in the US and India to bring about an awareness of the demonisation of Indian religion and culture in academia in both countries, is distressed that Indian students have to go to foreign universities to study their own religion and civilization. “Many US scholars grossly misinterpret Indian religion and culture and this helps to create what may be called Hinduphobia which spreads like a poison. This projects Hinduism as grotesque and dangerously over-sexualized! There is rarely a serious study of our Dharma Shastras. The great saints and gurus of India are demonized. Indian scholars are rarely given parity with their Western counterparts to debate with them on an equal basis because they are ‘colonised’ mentally by their Western sponsors. We are not, like the Chinese, assertive about our culture and in control of the global discourse of our civilization. I have lived in the US for 36 years and have worked for 12 years to fight this war on the misportrayal of Indian society in American academia. The way some American academicians view non-white and non-Christian cultures is a distortion. Our young people are subjected to the study of such material in foreign universities and that is destructive for their identity. The funding agencies and foundations in the US attract our young scholars to often produce biased interpretation of Indian religion and culture. Since there is insufficient alternative material in teaching culture and civilization, we are in danger of losing our national identity and pride. Unless one pushes the issues beyond the politically correct superficial levels, which is so typical of Indian media, one never comes to terms with the complex realities. I hope my experiences will encourage others to pursue this inquiry and I hope that Indians will fund mechanisms to compete with Western funding of the humanities so that we may develop a ‘home team’ of scholars who are rooted in their own culture and not desperate to sell out in order to impress the West! ” I don’t believe in censorship or blocking others’ points of view. All I ask for is that we also compete in the free market of ideas with our own funding and scholarship.”

Malhotra’s writings have recently led to a new book, by American and Indian scholars called “Invading The Sacred”, to counter this horrendous and scurrilous effort by American academia and their Indian supporters to vilify, Indian religion and civilization. The editors of the book are Krishnan Ramaswamy, a scholar of Vedanta, Antonio de Nicolas, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York in Stony Brook and Aditi Bannerjee, a practicing attorney in New York, who holds a magna cum laude B.A. in International Relations from Tufts University and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Aditi has several books on this subject to her credit.  “Invading The Sacred” was recently launched in India by scholars who would like the people of India to stand up and support a quiet, academic and dignified movement to restore balanced status to Indian civilization and its original grandeur. “Not so long ago, India’s cultural influence was evident from Japan to Thailand, from Mongolia to Sri Lanka,” says Malhotra, “Now our nation has been cleaved into three countries – India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh. We have to be aware of the dangers in the future. Our own corporates houses should create foundations to sponsor research and literature that would be more authoritative. We should interpret our culture from our worldview and disseminate it in the world’s academia. We should oppose all scurrilous interpretations of our civilization, religion or culture that cause damage. We have every right to interpret our civilization and cultural heritage in our own way. We should be proud because India is the original multi cultural society of the world. It has historically contributed more to true secularism and humanism than many other countries.

“Invading The Sacred” is published by Rupa & Co, New Delhi. Those interested can visit www.InvadingTheSacred.com for more information and to support this initiative. 

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