The Thread

Several unconstitutional laws in India repress its citizens. A reading list from the EPW Archives.
This reading list examines the culpability of the British Raj in causing the Bengal famine of 1943.
A reading list examining the state of freedom of press in contemporary times through EPW’s archives.  

Discussion Map

In this feature, we map the discussion around Chinnaiah Jangam’s 2016 article, “What’s at Stake in Rewriting California State Textbooks?” which argued that since the Indian diaspora comprises primarily of caste Hindus, a bias towards a nostalgic and celebratory view of Hinduism is inevitable.

CHINNAIAH JANGAM, 2016

WHERE THERE ARE HINDUS, THERE IS CASTE

 

Jangam writes that the petition against changes to the school curriculum stems from the diaspora’s anxiety surrounding their culture and history.


 

The caste Hindu diaspora in the US uses the West’s obsession of eastern spirituality, which has its origin in colonial discourses, and the atmosphere of anti-Islam in the West and North America to project itself as vegetarian and spiritual. In contrast, the roots of Hinduism, which the caste Hindu diaspora is trying to resurrect as a sane and spiritual order, historically stand for inegalitarian birth-based caste hierarchies/inequality, as well as exclusion of and violence against marginalised castes and women.

This attempt by Scholars for People is a replication of the Hindu right-wing government’s attempt in India both at provincial and federal levels to rewrite the historical narrative of India from the nostalgic Hindu Brahminical hegemonic perspective.

Even though some of the signatories are university academics, none of them, including Juluri, is a trained historian. It is telling that the advocates of the Hindu/Indian perspective did not find a trained historian to advance their cause. Moreover, all the signatories and associates of the Scholars for People are privileged caste Hindus. There is not a single Muslim, Parsee, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh or Dalit.  

Caste is a critical edifice on which the very idea of Hinduism exists—without caste, everything crumbles. It is this realisation of the centrality of caste to Hinduism that made Gandhi defend it as the dharmic practice and describe the separation of untouchables from Hinduism as a threat. Beginning with the Purusha Sukta of Rig Veda in 1500 BC, many have produced convoluted ideas to perpetuate caste. It is not surprising that the caste Hindu diaspora’s sanitised version of Hinduism makes the same argument.

In their version of history, Indus Valley civilisation, the anti-Brahminical religious traditions such as Buddhism, Sikhism and anti-caste Bhakti saints, are part of Hindu lineage. This Brahminical version of history by caste Hindus is another instance of epistemic violence in which alternative struggles get erased.

The caste Hindu diaspora aspires to retain the historical and cultural heritage of Hinduism as the spiritual and peace-loving religion that assimilates all Indic religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism into its fold. The diaspora does not want its children and non-Indians to know about the religion’s exploitative legacies.

By learning critically about their forefathers’ checkered history, children of the diaspora will become better advocates of equality and justice, relating their own past with the everyday predicament of race and the racial prejudices they face.

 

Read the article.

 
VAMSEE JULURI, 2016

HINDUISM IS NOT THE ENEMY

 

Hinduism should not be studied solely through its inequities.


 

The mandate of Scholars for People from the beginning was neither Hinduism nor caste, but fundamentally to debate the fashionable academic notion that India did not exist before 1947, and to challenge the belief that the late Cold War concoction “South Asia” was somehow more accurate and inclusive instead.

I also urge Jangam to take a look at the other important scholarly interventions he skipped mentioning: the Social Science Faculty Research Group, consisting of over 40 US scholars, including Diana Eck, Francis X Clooney and Barbara McGraw, who have also called for a change in how caste and Hinduism are depicted in the textbooks. I wonder if he skipped mentioning them because their “castes” do not quite lend themselves to his sort of analysis, or simply because their intervention affiirms that the textbooks issue is an American minority issue rather than some Indian right-wing project.

...there is an issue of inequity in the depiction of Hinduism when compared to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the curriculum... there is virtually no critical discussion of any other faith (such as their role in global imperialism, conquest, genocide and slavery), but Hinduism alone is studied entirely by its inequities.

What Jangam and other impulsive commentators have missed out is the fact that questioning the present form in which Hinduism and caste are taught in California does not mean we oppose a factual, precise, and age-appropriate discussion of caste in California ... Our position very simply is that there needs to be honesty and fairness in the textbooks, and one cannot simultaneously whitewash imperialism and violence associated with global monotheisms while continuing to demonise Hinduism, and even its liberal interpreters so viciously.

 

Read the article.

 
CHINNAIAH JANGAM, 2016

HINDUISM PERPETUATES INJUSTICE, IN INDIA AND ABROAD

 

The author dismisses Juluri’s accusations and emphasises the study of Hinduism through its fault lines.   

 

 

I write this rejoinder in the backdrop of a painful reality of unfolding violence against Dalits by caste Hindus across India ...  It cannot and should not be overlooked that Hinduism, as practised as a religion and philosophy, through its often violent and violating ideas and practices, has perpetuated injustice and inequality and denied basic human existence to millions.

I was born and educated in India and like any other Indian I do not have to guess anyone’s caste. I am aware of how names and surnames are proudly flaunted by upper caste Hindus to legitimise intellectual authority, among other things.Caste Hindus have a nostalgic perception of Hinduism because for centuries their inherited privileges have been sanctioned by Hinduism; but a Dalit, with his/her everyday experiences of humiliations and violence will not talk about Hinduism in the same way.

For English educated caste Hindus, it is easy and convenient to pretend that they do not believe in or have a caste, while continuing to reap the benefits, material and intellectual, overtly and covertly, through the power of their given names and caste networks.

Juluri claims that the petition campaign by the Scholars for People had the support of more than 25,000 people, including “several non-Hindu, and even non-Indian persons,” and also that “several academics and secular public intellectuals joined the Scholars for People forum.. The majority of them are caste Hindus of privileged backgrounds who have never borne the burden of caste stigma and never experienced violence and humiliations imposed by Brahminical Hinduism. Can Juluri get even a hundred Dalits to sign his petition?


 

Read the article.

 

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