Hindu American Foundation’s motivated ‘report’: Cast in hubris and deception –
Posted on January 7, 2011 by "Bharar Bharati." (courtesy Bharat Bharati with permission of the author.)
At the outset the writer places on record that she has not read even a page of the report except to read the “statements of support” and encouragement issued by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Sri Ravishankar and Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, among 13 others, and has no intention of reading it anytime either; the writer’s outright rejection of this document is based on the intent, as articulated by HAF in an email sent to some of us informing us of this report. One does not have to read every page of this less-than-mediocre report to discredit it on grounds of dubious intent and on the issue of locus standi, not to speak of poor understanding of Hindu society and international politics of religion. – Radha Rajan
A bunch of American PIOs belonging to an all-American advocacy group for the minority Hindu community in America, calling itself the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), along the lines of the Indian Muslim Council USA (IMC USA) has issued a ‘report’ on caste in India; an exercise for which this group has neither the competence nor the locus standi. The issue of moral authority does not even arise.
Hindu nationalists will reject any attempt by Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), who for whatever reason no longer reside on Hindu bhumi, to define or describe Hindu dharma with the intention to change, amend or redefine it; this presumptuous ‘report’ therefore has to be publicly discredited not only because it has the audacity to call for eradicating what it calls ‘caste’ in India, but also because it arrogates to itself the authority to educate Hindus on this soil about what constitutes “Hinduism when practiced genuinely”. And HAF offers the Bhagwad Gita (and the Bhagwad Gita alone) as the Hindu bible for “Hinduism when practiced genuinely”.
The HAF is attempting to semiticise dharma, not only with its one book prescription but also by daring to label aspects of dharma ‘right’ and ‘wrong’; with breezy insouciance the HAF declares that while it would like to issue short responses to sharp criticisms of the report already beginning to be heard both from within the country and without, its first three comments are ‘read the report, read the report, read the report’ in its entirety before commenting upon it.
At the outset the writer places on record that she has not read even a page of the report except to read the “statements of support” and encouragement issued by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Sri Sri Ravishankar and Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, among 13 others, and has no intention of reading it anytime either; the writer’s outright rejection of this document is based on the intent, as articulated by HAF in an email sent to some of us informing us of this report. One does not have to read every page of this less-than-mediocre report to discredit it on grounds of dubious intent and on the issue of locus standi, not to speak of poor understanding of Hindu society and international politics of religion.
Besides, the operative part of the report as described in the introductory email sent by an HAF member to several Hindus in India and elsewhere, makes abundantly clear the total confusion and/or deliberate intellectual sleight of hand which uses ‘caste’, ‘caste discrimination’ and untouchability interchangeably; the non-Indian political purpose for undertaking this exercise; and the intent behind seeking to redefine our dharma.
The introductory email is revealing in that HAF cannot speak about caste without the suffix ‘problem’; this group’s intent is underscored by repeated use of the phrase ‘caste problem’. Readers are urged to read the excerpts from this introductory statement attentively.
1. There is a very personal story here.
2. The report is five years in the making and rests on … profound soul-searching of HAF team members as devout and proud Hindus.
3. That 13 of today’s leading religious and spiritual luminaries submitted statements of support and encouraged HAF to proceed should not be taken lightly or overlooked.
4. Caste is not intrinsic to Hinduism.
5. Hinduism, when practiced genuinely, can be the solution to the caste problem.
6. We also have 13 major Hindu religious and spiritual leaders and organizations who say essentially the same thing.
7. We need to say what we are because caste has become a major international issue.
8. And allow you as a leader to get into the caste debate when you meet your local Congressmen when he votes on Dalit Freedom Network’s bill in Congress or when your reporter asks what you are doing about human rights of Hindu Dalits.
9. HAF hopes to have credibility and standing to speak out and say that yes, jaati arose in Hindu society, but caste discrimination has not been supported by major Hindu religious leaders and organizations, or by Hindu scriptures.
10. In fact, Hinduism can be the solution to the caste problem if people follow the Hinduism that you and I know – the religion of the Bhagavad Gita.
11. When people use the Manu Smriti to attack Hinduism, they don’t know Hinduism because it’s not a text that anyone I know has read – have you?
(Excerpts from introductory note [press release] on HAF report)
Hindu nationalists like the writer will not dignify this group of self-important American PIOs with an intellectual argument on jaati, kula and varna; the HAF report has boiled the three fundamental principles of dharmic Hindu society in the melting pot called ‘caste’. Contrary to the bizarre claim made by this bunch of PIOs that caste is not intrinsic to Hindusim, jaati, kula and varna are not only intrinsic to Hinduism, they are in fact the cornerstones of our society; a self-respecting and respectful Hindu does not wish away aspects of his dharma or apologize for it.
While individuals or individual families may give up by choice, their jati, kula, varna, gotra, bhumi and even their mother for their own reasons, as indeed have innumerable English-educated, upwardly mobile and deracinated Hindus around the world, the very idea of shaking or dislodging the three cornerstones of jaati, kula and varna of an entire society is diabolic because this is actually an attempt to denude Hindu society of all civilisational values contained in jati, kula and varna dharma. Forces which know very well the place and role of jati, kula and varna in Hindu society, want to discredit and eventually destroy them, so that they can fill the ensuing vacuum with one of the Abrahamic monotheisms or Abrahamic economic ideologies.
It is jati, kula and varna which makes Hindu society diverse and Hindu dharma an ever-relevant and dynamic principle. Without them, we would be just another intolerant monotheist culture. Hindu society remains largely autonomous, power is broad-based and culture is diverse only because of jati, kula and varna. To melt them all down to Portuguese ‘caste’ and then destroy it is Abrahamic evil intent; and this group of American PIOs is playing right into its hands.
Fear of being confronted by accusations of discrimination and hierarchy by their Christian inquisitors in the US has compelled American Hindu PIOs to travel a tortuous path and arrive at the erroneous conclusion that caste is not intrinsic to Hinduism, and Hindus should all give up caste and follow the Hinduism of the Bhagwad Gita. Simpler would have been for HAF to pose the counter question to the local Congressman and the local reporter if they had rid their personal lives, their polity, and their societies of hierarchy and all discrimination before launching the Hindu Inquisition!
PIOs may choose to live in the political margins of countries not built on the foundations of dharma, but that is not the destiny of Hindus who reside on Hindu bhumi; because unlike ‘problem’ which is the preferred suffix to caste in the HAF report, jati, kula and varna bear the suffix dharma in practice – jati dharma, kula dharma and varna dharma. To ask Hindus to give up jati, kula and varna is to actually ask Hindus to give up their dharma.
And this is what HAF has dared to do; and this it has dared to do by hiding behind a few Hindu religious leaders, neo-vedantins all of them, and some of them busy in international circuits; but not a single Mathathipathi, Adeenam or Mandaleswar of ancient lineage has endorsed the report in their names. The writer would have been extremely surprised if even one of our traditional religious leaders had lent the names of their Mathams to “support or encourage” the attempt by HAF to discredit and disown aspects of our dharma. Which is why the writer was surprised to see the statement of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, in his capacity as Convener of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, appended to this document.
As listed in the points above, HAF wanted a written document to show the local Congressman, the local small-time tabloid reporter, and maybe, just maybe, the self-anointed global busybody the US Congressional Committee on this that or the other, and glory of glories, maybe even the Secretary General of the United Nations, exactly where this group of patriotic American PIOs stands on the issue of caste when it falls upon them to engage these dignitaries in debate (read offer exculpatory self-flagellating apology) over Hindu India’s ‘caste problem’.
To cap it all, HAF states that it intends to conclude its engagement with local non-Hindu nosy Americans with the Parthian shot that they should not judge Hinduism on the basis of Manu Smriti, a text which this American PIO holds has not been read by “anyone I know – have you”? This writer has and places on record that for self-respecting Hindus Manu Smriti and all other Smritis, Itihaasa and Puranas hold the same place in Hindu dharma as does the Bhagwad Gita. We reject outright the one prophet (Srikrishna), one book (Bhagwad Gita) and one god (God of Krishna or God as Krishna) prescription.
Now let us see if we understand this group of self-flagellating American PIOs correctly –
HAF sent some of its members to live in India among the Dalits to gather first-hand information about the ‘caste problem’ so that it can prepare a dossier which can be used by all of them as the defining document on caste in India which will serve as handbook in all their engagement with their government, local political representatives, and local media. And it is here that HAF has intentionally blurred the lines between caste and caste discrimination and between caste discrimination and untouchability.
If HAF had wanted to prove ‘caste discrimination’ it should have sent its members, not to live among the Dalits but to live with Brahmins, Goundars, Mudaliars, Pillais, Reddys, Naidus, Lingayats, Vokkaligas, Saiva Vellalars, Rajputs, Thakurs and Kayasthas. But HAF lived for a while among the Dalits and wrote a document allegedly not about the unforgivable sin of untouchability but about the “caste problem”. If this document is about untouchability then it cannot be about caste; and if it is about caste discrimination, it cannot be about untouchability; not unless this document is about questioning the very character of Hindu society as a whole. To speak of untouchability and the “caste problem” interchangeably is some intellectual acrobatics!
What we get is a confused-thought khichdi cooked in the kitchen of “personal story” and “profound soul searching of HAF team members as devout and proud Hindus”; what this group is implying is that HAF undertook to documenting what it calls the ‘caste problem’ as a soul-cleansing personal cathartic exercise on behalf of all soul-dead Hindus on Hindu bhumi. Having completed their catharsis, HAF is now insisting that Hindus on Hindu bhumi give up their castes as sign of having tasted the guilt flavour of their khichdi and insist that they have come forward to condemn our jati, kula and varna dharma in the name of caste.
And like those pesky salesmen selling us lemons in gilt foil, HAF is selling us the idea of “caste problem” wrapped in the statements of support and encouragement of “13 of today’s leading religious and spiritual luminaries”! Now that should hopefully silence vocal critics like the writer.
HAF’s intent was not to live among the Dalits to ameliorate their condition; or live in their midst to find ways and means of ending untouchability at least in one village or rural community; or to improve the quality of life and share with them ideas about ways for sustained social and economic growth. Dear me, no; their intent was to document instances of “birth-based hierarchy” (whatever that means), compile a handbook on the nature of victim-hood of the Dalits in the name of “caste discrimination” and present it as a handy manual on India’s ‘caste problem’.
That this document may well fall into the hands of busybodies like the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and the UN Commission for Human Rights should have been considered by this group before embarking on this misadventure; but so compelling was their ambition to meddle in the internal affairs of this country that this possibility was either overlooked or they actually welcomed it. The HAF authors of this outrageous report on caste are thus no different from Angana Chatterjee, Akhila Raman, Teesta Setalvad or John Dayal and Cedric Prakash. They are submitting my religion, my country and my society to external audit; to entities who have neither the locus standi nor the moral authority to demand such an audit in the first place.
The HAF may protest all it wants to the contrary, but it is almost certain that this anti-Hindu ‘report’ will be the document which our adversaries will cite in every forum at home and abroad, including as HAF admits, in inter-faith summits, a favourite pastime with a section of American and British Hindu PIOs and some globe-trotting sanyasis. As stated by this HAF member in his first email informing us all about the report, HAF undertook to study the issue of caste in India because, “we need to say what we are because caste has become a major international issue. With the new US Congress having majority Republicans, many of whom are Christian conservative tea party candidates, caste will be raised again by Christian missionary groups who claim to represent Dalits but only represent missionaries”.
This is a problem which PIOs, if they choose to continue to want to live in the US as American citizens, must deal with as being internal to their country. Hindu PIOs having to deal with Christian loonies in the US is not India’s problem, much less the problem of Hindus on Hindus bhumi. What is cause for greater concern is that American PIOs seem to accept the fact that “caste is a major international issue” and rather than making any effort to challenge the right of the US or anyone else as to why it is a major international issue and challenge their self-claimed right to meddle in the internal affairs of Indian Hindus, this bunch of PIOs is begging to be invited to the Christian High Table by redefining dharma to suit their international geo-political agenda.
The PIOs who authored this half-baked report claim audaciously, “caste is not intrinsic to Hinduism”; and then proceed to claim even more audaciously and mendaciously that “we also have 13 major Hindu religious and spiritual leaders and organizations who say essentially the same thing”. And this is their fig-leaf! They claim that 13 major Hindu religious and spiritual (what is spiritual in Hindu dharma without being religious?) leaders have validated their report which says caste is not intrinsic to dharma, no one reads Manu Smriti and only the Bhagwad Gita is the American Hindu PIO acknowledged exegesis of “Hinduism practiced genuinely”.
To test the truth of their statement that not only had 13 Hindu religious and spiritual leaders given them statements of support and encouragement, but that these religious leaders through these statements are essentially saying the same thing as the HAF, the writer read the statements of three religious leaders with curiosity. The first question that pops in our minds is – did the 13 religious leaders offer these statements of support and encouragement after they read the document or much before, merely because they are overseas Hindus and an affluent constituency?
The second thing that strikes us is that there is not a single religious leader belonging to traditional mathams who has offered support and encouragement in his name or in the name of his sampradaya. Considering what this report has attempted to do, the writer would have been surprised if the mathathipathi of the Ahobila Matham, Pujya Pejawara Swami of the Udipi Matha or the Kanchi or Puri Sankaracharya or any of the Mahamandaleswars would have signed a document which reduces jati dharma, kula dharma and varna dharma to caste and then proceeds to discredit it.
Sri Sri Ravishankar is a popular invitee to inter-faith summits and he conducted his own well-publicized, patented version of the truth-and-reconciliation exercise with Dalits and upper-caste Hindus in Delhi, the political capital of the country; which would surely have drawn the attention of the American Embassy, the European Union, and perhaps even the United Nations. One must wonder if this truth and reconciliation exercise was not triggered by the HAF intention to come to India to document “caste problem” and this intention, by HAF’s own admission, is more than five years old. Perhaps Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Delhi exercise was intended to be a page in the HAF report – that Hindu society has seen the error of its ways and is turning over a new leaf.
As for Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, this was the sanyasi who participated in the infamous inter-faith meet in Shri Advani’s house in New Delhi with the Catholic clergy in the wake of the murder of Pujya Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and who offered to rebuild in any one village all the churches and prayer houses burnt down by enraged tribal people. So, the writer was curious to read what Swami Chidananda-ji had to say about the “caste problem”.
While Pujya Swami Dayananda-ji issued a statement, Swami Chidananda’s endorsement did not come as a statement but as a report of an interview. And nowhere does the HAF expose its dubious and even duplicitous intent more than in the questions posed by their member to the Swamiji. To a pointed question on why Gujaratis who have been residing in the US for several years and even decades have still not given up their caste consciousness and why do they still perform the marriages of their children only within their caste and if Pujya Swamiji approves of this caste discrimination, Swamiji neatly sidesteps the question.
This was not about Dalits or about untouchability; and nothing about soul-searching by “devout and proud Hindus”. This was about the caste consciousness of American Gujarati Hindus; and this consciousness was not a problem in itself ,but a problem with the politically ambitious American Hindu PIOs who did not want the taint of caste upon their names simply because their Christian Inquisitors had given caste a bad name!
They would have liked nothing better than to showcase their lives to the US Congressional Committee as being exemplary for its castelessness, where everyone married everyone else. But Swamiji knowing full well that he was treading a minefield and that he may be asked to explain any answer not confirming todharmic traditions, sidestepped the question on caste and told the interviewer that ideally, marriages stand a better chance of starting off well if there are many factors of cultural compatibility between partners and that is why generally Gujaratis married Gujaratis and Punjabis married Punjabis!!
Now why should not Hindus on Hindu bhumi carry this argument further and state unapologetically that it is for this very reason that arranged marriages look for as many factors of compatibility at the very beginning and that jati, kula andvarna happen to be some of them. Unless HAF has prepared this report with the understanding that the US Congressional Committee, the local Congressman, and the local reporter, now have the authority to tell Hindus who they should marry, with whom they should dine and what they will dine upon. HAF should begin telling the writer why this question on Hindu marriage was posed to the Swami in what was meant to be a statement of support and encouragement to proceed with their document on India’s “caste problem”.
The third most striking feature of the statements of these three religious leaders is that none of them mentions jati, kula, varna, untouchability or even caste by name! Given that these wondrous statements of “support and encouragement” name no names they can be speaking as much about untouchability as about the “caste problem”; and that is precisely the problem which the writer has with these endorsements.
Had Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati named jati, kula and varna by name and mentioned the practice of untouchability by name, such questions would not arise and HAF would not flaunt these statements as validation of their document. To cite just one example –
HDAS is aware that what started as rural kinship, creating a sense of security and identity in communities, developed over the centuries into entrenched social practices, particularly in deep rural areas. Consequently, complete elimination of such practices will take time. Therefore, concerted, sustained and proactive action at the grass-roots is required to rid our society of these birth-based unfair discriminations.
(Excerpt from Statement released to HAF on behalf of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha on caste issues in India
Pujya Swamiji has issued this statement on behalf of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha which effectively means he is issuing this statement on behalf of all the traditional mathams and ancient sampradayas which constitute the Acharya Sabha. It is unimaginable that Pujya Kanchi Sankaracharya or any of the Mahamandaleswars would state that Hindu society needed to eliminate jati, kula and varna; they would not arrogate to themselves a right that was denied by Bhagwan Vishnu to Acharya Ramanuja himself.
In the paragraph quoted above, it is not clear if Pujya Swamiji is referring to untouchability, or jati, or kula, or varna. And when Pujya Swamiji is talking about “complete elimination” and ridding “our society of these birth-based unfair discriminations, is he talking about Goundars not marrying Mudaliars, Naidus not marrying Reddys, Brahmins not eating anywhere else except in their home, or is Pujya Swamiji talking about ending untouchability? All three religious leaders whom the writer has cited have not named jati, kula, varna and untouchability by name in their statements to HAF.
It is possible that Pujya Swamiji may have issued the statement long before the HAF finalized its report and stated its intention so articulately in the first email about local Congressmen, local reporters and the US Congressional Committee. Why should the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha be concerned about any of these entities and why should the Acharya Sabha issue any statement to PIOs whose intent is to redefine dharma?
As for the HAF, if it really wants to serve dharma and Hinduism, it should sit down across the table with all those entities it has cited in its mail and ask them to give up religious conversion, jihad, interfering in the domestic affairs of foreign countries like Iraq and Afghanistan considering it is their monotheism which has destroyed entire civilizations, religions, peoples, nations and countries.
When the HAF receives the assurance that Christians will give up religious conversion, that Islam will give up jihad, and that western nations will give up meddling in the internal affairs of other countries, HAF can ask Hindus to give up caste. So until such time, as devout and proud Hindus, HAF must persevere with attaining this objective and place the report in cold storage.
The author is editor of www.vigilonline.com
On Jan 2, 2011 Swami Dayananda sent the following letter to the HAF president Dr. Mihir Meghani:
I have been reading some of the E-mails regarding your recent report “Hinduism: Not cast in caste”. I am very happy to learn hat different people are reviewing the report. One of them I know, is revising the whole report. So I request you to withdraw the report immediately from the website until we have a consensus among all the Hindu leaders. Thanks.
[Sd. Swami Dayananda]
See also “Political Implications of the Hindu American Foundation report on Caste and Hinduism” by Gautam Sen
See also “Trans-national Hindus: Seeking vicarious redemption!” by Sandhya Jain