How can North American Hindu temples help in fighting
‘Hindu phobia’ in the American classrooms?
By Dhiru Shah
Following the Hindu Dharmic traditions, Hindu temples have been used for thousands of years not only as sacred meeting place for the community to practice spirituality, but also as centers of social, political, economic and intellectual activities. Most Hindu temples in North America today are doing an admirable job in offering a wide range of activities to their devotees besides spiritual services.
While primarily temples are meant for worship and perform Dharmic rituals, the Hindu temple management needs to realize that Hindu children growing up in America today are struggling to find their own identity in a multicultural but predominantly Judeo-Christian society. Further, in the American classrooms, they face anti-Hindu biases in their textbooks leading to their becoming victims of bullying and harassment.
Following the neo-colonial orientation, the Western academics define India and Hinduism in terms of caste, cow, curry, Sattee, dowry murders, "devil worship" and immorality. Whereas Judaism, Christianity and Islam are treated favorably and in positive terms in classroom books, Hinduism does not get a fair and equitable positive treatment and is presented inaccurately and in a biased manner. A couple of quotes below from the Sixth grade books in California will show how Hinduism is negatively projected in the American classrooms:
"One custom shows how the lives of Indian men were considered to be more important than the lives of Indian women. In India, people were cremated, or burned, when they died. When a man from a prominent family died, his wife was expected to leap into the flames. This practice was called suttee. If the wife resisted and did not kill herself, it was a great shame. Everyone would avoid the woman from then on." (Glencoe, Discovering Our Past Ancient Civilizations, Chapter 4, Early India, p. 245)
" A dedicated Hindu believes that the people in a higher caste are superior and that they are supposed to be on top." (Glencoe, Discovering Our Past Ancient Civilizations, Chapter 4, Early India, p. 248)
A vast number of books and articles depicting Hindu Gods and Goddesses in the most vulgar and offensive manner get churned out by high profile non-Hindu academics. Some of these academicians represent the prestigious Ivy League American universities. In 2004 a committee of ‘Concerned Hindus’ from Atlanta submitted a critique to Emory University on the sexualized abusive representation of a Hindu God in a book, ‘Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginning’ authored by Prof. Paul Courtright in the department of religious studies. A few quotes from this "reference book" for the university students studying Hinduism will show how perverse and insensitive it is:
* “Its (Ganesa’s) trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of ‘Siva’s linga. It poses no threat because it is too large, flaccid and in the wrong place to
be useful for sexual purposes.” (P.121)
* “Although there seems to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa
explicitly performs oral sex; his insatiable appetite for sweets may be
interpreted in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear
erotic overtones.” (P.111)
Another blatantly abusive and biased anti-Hinduism scholarship comes from Prof. Wendy Doniger of Chicago University in her 780-page book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” (Penguin 2009). She has sexualized and eroticized passages from the Hindu epics and scriptures. She finds in the sacred Rig Veda incest and adultery with a pregnant woman in a verse praying to God for protection and safe delivery. In ‘Philadelphia Inquirer’ Prof. Doniger once commented: …”throughout the
Mahabharata…Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war… The Gita is a dishonest book; it justifies war.”
Such negative attitudes and stereotypes about Hinduism can have a devastating impact on the tender psyche of young Hindu students. It makes minority Hindu students in a class filled with predominantly Christian students feel embarrassed and ashamed of their ancestry. As a result, not only Hindu students face hate crimes and bullying in their schools, but also it gives them a sense of insecurity and inferiority complex and in some cases mental depression. Some of them start hating their own faith believing ‘Hinduism is a ‘filthy’ religion, or that Hindus worship the devil’ and get converted to Christianity in order to get acceptance in the main stream America.
According to the results of a bullying survey of 230 middle school and High school students (grades 6 to 12) conducted by Hindu American Foundation between August 5 and Sept.30, 2015: “(1) one in three Hindu students have reported being bullied in public school classrooms due to their religious beliefs and approximately half indicated that they felt socially isolated. (2) Many of those surveyed highlighted a sense of alienation for being a different religion; particularly one not understood well in most US classrooms or textbooks. As a result, some respondents said they hid their religious identity in order to prevent or stop bullying. In addition, one out of every four students surveyed said she/he was put on the spot or singled out by a teacher when the section on Hinduism was discussed”.
While a few Hindu/Indian organizations supported by a handful of Hindu temples have been engaging state education boards like California, Texas and Virginia to rectify inaccuracies and negative portrayal of Hindu Dharma in classroom textbooks, their efforts alone will not be sufficient to defeat the well orchestrated anti-Hinduism campaign led by the Western academics and supported by several anti-India and anti-Hindu entities. The need of the hour is to awaken the Hindu society to join in this battle. It is here that temples can play a very positive and active role by harnessing the collective strength of their devotees
In order to create this collective mass awareness to protect Hindu children from the Hinduphobic classroom curriculum, the temple management needs to include the following additional activities in its routine programs:
1. Organize regular monthly talk by Hindu scholars and academics familiar with anti-Hinduism curriculum in school textbooks and advise parents how to engage school management to correct any biases about Hinduism.
2. Encourage young parents to carefully study their children’s social science and history textbooks that may contain distortions and denigration of Hindu traditions and culture.
3. Conduct regular classes for young devotees and students to teach them the basics of Abrahmic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) as well Indic Dharmic religions like Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Such comparative religious study will help children to fight back against bullying in classrooms and outside.
4. Encourage devotees to support actively Hindu organizations, scholars and activists who are engaged with various state educational authorities to correct the schoolbooks curriculum.
Such activities mentioned above are not considered as ‘political’ in nature and therefore they will not affect their non-profit status with IRS. All other religions too conduct such activities openly and do not face any IRS penalties.
The time has come for temples to follow the famous verse: "Dharmo rakshati rakshitah” meaning “Dharma protects those who protect Dharma”. In the long run, refusal by temples to participate in the defense of Hindu Dharmic traditions, culture and history considering it derogatively as political activity will eventually hurt the temple movement in America. It will not be too long before the next generations of Hindus start abandoning their faith, leaving temples to become only showpieces like historical museums.
Author is President of India Awareness Foundation, Director/Treasurer of World Association for Vedic Studies and President-elect of Global Indian Business Council with 40 years of International Business experience