Part I: Bigotry and Prejudice: the Depiction of Hinduism in the West
I was once looking through the 'Great Books' series from Harvard University: this is widely used as reading material in college. In the introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, the compiler of the volumes says something -- I paraphrase -- to the effect that 'to western ears, this sounds primitive.' I was startled at the prejudice, for, to my eastern ears, the Christian Bible sounds like much blood and violence and God casually smiting people dead and full of implausible contradictions, but I would never say so lest it hurt people's sentiments. No such consideration, obviously, for Hindu sentiments from the 'Great Books' editor.
A recent book by Bart Ehrmann, Misquoting Jesus: The story behind who changed the Bible and why is of the view that the Bible as it stands today, with many absurd incongruities, has been rewritten so much that it has hardly any relation to the original. A former fundamentalist and literalist Christian, Ehrmann became an agnostic when his research suggested to him that the current Bible could hardly be divine as it is today (even if it once had been so), if so many (very human) authors, scribes and translators had modified it so much both intentionally and unintentionally.
An unbiased reading would suggest that the Gita is subtle and uplifting. And how would Archbishop Nikon like to be told that his God (or son of God) is evil and monstrous? Selective quotation, Mathew 10:34-36 (King James Version), might lead to that conclusion.
Sanu, in a forceful analysis of Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia, which is widely used by schoolchildren, showed how the treatment of Christianity and Islam on the one hand, and Hinduism on the other, were like night and day. The former had reverential articles written by believers in those traditions, who went to great lengths to present even illogical beliefs in the most positive light. On the other hand, the article on Hinduism was written by a non-Hindu whose personal penchant for wild sexual fantasies and proclivity to see erotica everywhere had long been remarked upon.
The contrast was so jarring that Microsoft, on request, leveled the playing field by bringing in a more balanced article by a believing Hindu scholar, in the interests of equal treatment to all. Thus many school students using Encarta today no longer get the idea that Hinduism is all about 'caste, curry, cows' and 'bride-burning'. Which is roughly equivalent to the idea that Christianity is all about apartheid, slavery, the Jewish Holocaust, and the burning of women as witches.
Along the same lines, Hindus in California approached the Board of Education in California about textbooks a few months ago seeking fairness. The depiction of any tradition, according to the guidelines given to the Board, are not meant to demean or put down, but to objectively and with understanding view that tradition. State Law [Education Code 60044(a) and Subsection (b)], and the Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content (2000 Edition) clearly state the following guidelines for textbooks:
'1. Adverse Reflection. No religious belief or practice may be held up to ridicule and no religious group may be portrayed as inferior.'
'2. Indoctrination. Any explanation or description of a religious belief or practice should be present in a manner that does not encourage or discourage belief or indoctrinate the student in any particular religious belief.'
Alas, these rules are not in effect for Hinduism as it stands: There are cases of children in California coming home and announcing that they didn't want to be Hindu any more because they were tired of being teased by classmates about the horrible religion it was according to textbooks and teachers.
Besides, Jews and Muslims in California approached the Board with complaints about the depiction of their faiths as well. All 500 Jewish suggestions and 97 Muslim suggestions were accepted without demur (even though the publishers had already cleared their textbooks with Muslim groups ahead of time), but the Hindu complaints -- ah, that's another story altogether.
The details of the long and painful struggle to get a reasonably acceptable picture of Hinduism -- one that would not insult or humiliate practicing Hindus, and indeed one that they could even recognise -- are available at a variety of web sites, and so I will not go into it in detail. I am more interested in the why, not the how, and the dramatis personae. Suffice to say that there are many Hindu parents in California who are appalled at the kind of nonsense the state is filling their children's heads with.
At this site, there is a summary report on the entire affair. This site talks about how Hinduism is given unequal treatment compared to Semitic faiths. This site provides samples of the many errors involving Hinduism and India as seen in current textbooks. This comprehensive document shows how the conflict is not really about academic issues, but about politics.
The prime movers behind the attack on the Hindu perspective are the usual suspects --hostile Indian-origin Marxists in America, whose disgust for Hinduism is hard to explain in rational terms, but then they are not famous for being rational. Typically, they live in a fantasy world far removed from reality. Based on what I have gleaned from their copious and angry writings on the web and in print, the problem -- the only problem, really, according to them -- with India is that Hinduism exists.
If only, the Marxists sigh wistfully, if only they could destroy Hinduism, the millennium would be upon India instantly. Everyone would be a happy camper, secure in 'secular' heaven. The beastly Hindus, who are referred to with great disdain, would no longer be running around doing their communal-divisive-fundamentalist things such as refusing to die uncomplainingly when attacked by the poor oppressed 'minorities'. The poor oppressed 'minorities', that is, Christians, Muslims and Marxists, would thereafter live in peace. Yea, that would be the promised land.
A very pretty picture. There are only a few flies in the ointment. One is that Christians and Muslims are in serious conflict wherever they live next to each other: Indonesia, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Nigeria, the Balkans, Europe. Further, wherever Muslims gain power, they immediately liquidate Marxists or at least exile them. One might remember former president Najibullah in Afghanistan, suffocated with his own genitals, hanged from a lamp-post and used for target practice by conquering Taliban.
I fear that, alas, life will not be all milk and honey in that post-Hindu heaven postulated by the comrades, but we shall let that pass. We will next take a look at the important people in the textbook fray.
Comments welcome at Rajeev.firstname.lastname@example.org
To be continued