Last week, I received an inquiry from a Christian theologian interested in showing that “the postures of Yoga” (asana) are directly tied to Hinduism and thus, cannot be easily incorporated into daily life by Christians. While the origin of yoga is undoubtedly tied to the Hindu sacred texts, the Vedas and Upanishads, I struggled with his […]
Principled opposition is expected when litigating issues in the public square, and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) , for which I serve as the Senior Director, has at times faced stiff opposition from the right and left of the ideological spectrum in response to various positions, reports, and statements released by HAF. Recently, in our campaign to oppose what we believe to be a Hinduphobic, Anti-India Resolution, (H. Res. 417), an ostensible coalition calling itself the Coalition Against Genocide, and made up of far fewer member organizations than it claims, struck again. It has lodged some pretty inflammatory allegations against HAF — calling us “Hindu Supremacists” and trying to link HAF with the Hindutva movement in India. While those of us amongst the old guard at HAF are used to ad hominems from time to time, I was especially touched by the reaction shared by Nicholas O’Connell, a member of of our Executive Council, who will soon join the master’s program in South Asian Studies with a concentration in History at Columbia University, has been a long-time blogger , and is really the next generation of HAF’s leadership. So, I share his thoughts with you.
The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) recently authored a report, in which they seek to associate the Hindu American Foundation with various Hindu Nationalist organizations, and furthermore brand us with the unflattering label of “Hindutva supremacist.” The accusations are serious, but thankfully easy to refute. We take our commitments to uphold pluralism, defend human rights, and maintain our political independence very seriously, and our track record speaks for itself. However, since this is not the first time the CAG has come forward with such allegations, their claims warrant a detailed examination.
According to the CAG, the fact that some of HAF’s leadership was involved with Vishwa Hindu Parishad America affiliated groups during high school and college is evidence that we are a Sangh Parivar front group with a narrow, Hindutva perspective. They allege that we make an effort to “eliminate the voices of the oppressed majority within Hinduism- Dalits and women” and conceive of Hinduism as “a political rather than a religious identity where India becomes the ‘natural’ and exclusive home of Hindus.” This Hindutva supremacism is what allegedly inspires much of our activism, particularly our challenge of the portrayal of the Aryan Invasion in California textbooks.
Hindutva Affiliation: Firstly, it is true that a few HAF leaders participated in VHPA affiliated student groups during high school and college. This is not surprising, considering that the vast majority of well-organized, national Hindu student organizations that existed in the 1970’s and 1980’s had VHPA affiliation. This speaks more to the dearth of active Hindu groups in the United States at that time, than to the present ideological orientation of our organization. I had the opportunity to attend more rigorous philosophically oriented Hindu camps in rural Pennsylvania, for example, but those opportunities simply did not exist 25 years ago. Some HAF leaders were indeed among the thousands of teens who attended VHPA affiliated summer camps, and volunteered in their affiliated student groups, but CAG’s conclusion that as a result HAF promotes “Hindu supremacism” is truly strange. HAF’s current team spans both the political and religious spectrum, most of whom have a distaste for Indian politics of any sort, and none of whom espouse Hindutva politics. Never have my colleagues pressured me ideologically, and such pressure would certainly be seen as bizarre and unacceptable by our staff.
I personally find left and right wing politics to be equally distasteful, but I do have strong sympathy for reform oriented Hindu movement such as Arya and Brahmo Samaj. Spiritually, I find the most meaning in schools such as Samkhya, Tantra, and the Naastikas, which are all minority viewpoints in current Hindu discourse. On my website I frequently offer critiques of traditional Hindu gender roles, and write on such subjects as Lokayata(materialism) and Muslim feminism. Given my spiritual and political stances, I, along with most of my colleagues, would probably be purged from an organization which actually promoted “Hindutva supremacy.”
Caste and Women: The CAG asserts that in the eyes of HAF, Dalits are “not seen as deserving of any defense.” A simple search of our website will turn up multiple statements advocating for Dalit access rights to Hindu temples, a statement commending the U.S. Congress for drawing attention to the plight of Dalits, and multiple statements by Hindu religious figures condemning of caste discrimination. Pravrajika Vrajaprana perhaps put it best in her observation that, “It is a tragic irony that Hinduism, whose scriptures contain soaring evocations of the unity of existence and the oneness of all life, should also have been the locus of caste-based discrimination…The Hindu traditions assert that the divine dwells within the heart of every being. Knowing this to be true, those in the Hindu traditions should join together to remove the stain of this long-standing injustice.”
Similarly, a simple search of our website will turn up articles advocating the empowerment of women, and condemnations of misogynistic violence. Claims that we are an anti-Dalit and anti-women organization are made all the more absurd by the medical aid which the HAF has provided to Pakistani Hindu refugees, whose female population is notoriously vulnerable to rape, and the vast majority of whom are Dalits.
Aryan Invasion Skepticism: The authors of the CAG report assert that HAF’s effort to contest the dominance of Aryan Invasion theory in public school textbooks must be fundamentally rooted in Hindu Nationalist ideology. The claim seems to be divorced from the intellectual history of the Aryan Invasion concept. To take a notable example of how the CAG narrative misses the mark, the highly respected Dalit activist, and Buddhist leader, B.R. Ambedkar, was an early opponent of the Aryan Invasion theory. In fact, Ambedkar’s primary opponents were Hindu Nationalists who sought to glorify their Aryan ancestors as a race of heroic conquerors. Ambedkar undercut Brahmin and Kshatriya supremacism by arguing for the common genetic lineage of all Indians.
While the final answer to the Aryan puzzle may be yet to come, in the scholarly community Aryan Invasion theory has already evolved from a narrative centering on warfare and subjugation, to several different competing theories of Aryan Migration. In light of modern genetic research, Aryan Migration theory also has to contend with the possibility of Indigenous Aryans. The notion that our efforts to compel public schools to present the full range of scholarly opinion on Bronze Age Indian history constitutes “Hindutva supremacism” seems ludicrous.
HAF has already put out a report exposing CAG’s affiliations with violent groups. It is true that many leaders of the Coalition Against Genocide have advocated violence, either in the name of proletarian revolution, or jihad. However, in my estimation it is likely that many members of CAG’s constituent groups are genuinely concerned with social justice, and the alleviation of oppression of minorities. I would encourage those individuals to actually read some of HAF’s material and determine for yourselves if we are truly your enemy.