Tag Archives: #beyondoccident

Dharmacracy in Mental Health

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 20% of all teen hospitalizations in the US between January 1 and March 31, 2021, were due to psychiatric emergencies. In addition, a University of California San Francisco study found a “75% increase in children requiring immediate hospitalization for mental health needs” in 2020 over a year before. The study also found a “130% increase in the number of children requiring hospitalization for eating disorders” and a 66% increase in the number of suicidal adolescents (ages 10-17) in the emergency department.  

The Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a ‘State of Emergency’ for youth mental health.

 The last 18 months have been one of the toughest for kids in recent times, no matter how we look at it. However, we can also argue that most of the pain and suffering inflicted upon them during this period have resulted from politics and unscientific policies of school closing. Kids stuck at home; not able to go to school for the whole year; not able to play sports, participate in tournaments, plays, and musicals; not able to visit family and grandparents; not able to see faces hidden behind masks; not able to attend or host birthday and graduations parties —  they all have had a cumulative effect on children’s mental health and overall wellness. 

Add to this the news of socio-political strife; violence; lawlessness; non-stop pictures and videos of burning funeral pyres being played on our TV sets, newspapers, and social media feeds; scarcity of oxygen and other medical supplies for COVID patients, including our friends and family. These combined, present a commentary of a stark, bleak, and gloomy situation of the world we live in.  

How we explain what is going on around us depends on the way we look at the world. Most of our present-day ideas have been shaped by the Western worldview. This worldview is predominantly atomistic that uses binaries such as ‘either/or,’ ‘true/false,’’ ‘left/right,’ ‘for/against,’ ‘liberal/conservative. These antagonistic binaries are in constant conflict with each other. It is also a worldview of excluded middle. 

The ordering of the world, in this worldview, is anthropocentric. Human beings are considered the central entity of the universe where only human life has intrinsic value. In contrast, other entities are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind. 

On the other hand, dharma is the universal law that connects the individual to the rest of the world in a quantum way — that is, it is the same righteous law that binds each element of the cosmos. The Mahabharata defines dharma in the following manner:

  • dharma is so-called because it sustains and upholds the people: hence whatever sustains is dharma.
  • dharma is propounded to secure the good of all living beings: hence, whatever fulfills that aim is dharma.
  • What comes from the love for all beings is dharma. This is the criterion to judge dharma from adharma.

dharma is the spirit of Indic culture. The very essence of a Dharmic life lies in maintaining the equilibrium of the opposites. The opposites, including good and evil, are seen as complementary. Neither can be denied or completely suppressed without running the risk of creating dissonance, both within individuals and in the world around them. This duality of opposites creates and maintains the equilibrium throughout cosmology.

dharma sees conflicts and dissonance as ‘burdening of the Earth,’ which is the disturbing of the equilibrium at multiple levels.  These conflicts are a product of one’s relationship with oneself (not all conflicts are with others) and other elements of the cosmos. Hence a solution must also arise from that relationship. For inner conflicts, one has to look within oneself. Blaming others doesn’t help. Beyond self, as the dissonance and chaos get louder and stronger, the earth gets even more burdened. When the burden gets to unbearable levels, an avatar takes place to unburden the earth finally. Everything starts again afresh. The Dharmic time is circular (kalachakra), not linear.

The concepts of dharma, karma and klesha form the understanding of the cause of all sufferings. The doctrine of karma is defined as the result of an individual’s intentional action through body, speech, or mind. One of the most potent assumptions of the doctrine of karma is that one is in complete control of his/her destiny. Therefore, whatever happens to an individual is a predictable outcome of his/her own choices over time. The theory of karma also states that life does not end at the death of the physical body, and the result of one’s action can be felt in the next lives to come. 

The ultimate goal of life, according to dharma, is Self-realization — the realization of one’s inner Self.

In the Dharmic tradition– Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism– meditation, yoga, and the interplay of philosophy and life occupy a vital place. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (2nd century BCE) explains the yogic techniques to overcome klesha (human misery) and achieve the desired union between self and Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. The source of klesha is raga, the attachment to worldly desires, and dvesh, the repulsion we feel towards objects that give us unhappiness. The two, combined with avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), and abhinivesh (attachment to life and fear of death), are the sources of all kleshas.

dharma has a lot to offer in every possible field and situation, including mental health. But, unfortunately, we tend to gloss over the basic Dharmic tenets and their profundity. However, these tenets take on new meanings when applied with conviction during extraordinary uncertainty and trouble. 


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

Iconoclasm Is an Expression of Fanaticism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

After he was killed by an assassin’s bullets almost 73 years ago on a cold January day in Delhi, the locals found a decapitated statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Davis, California’s Central Park. The 6’3” tall, 950-pound bronze statue that once stood in the same park was mutilated and disfigured on January 27, 2021. The statute of Gandhiji “appeared to have been sawed off at the ankles, and half its face was severed and missing,” reports said. The statue was installed in 2016, a gift from the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

It wasn’t the first time a statue of one of the greatest proponents of ahimsā (Sanskrit, non-violence) in modern times was desecrated and disfigured in the Land of the Free. Barely a month ago, in December 2010, in Washington, DC, another Mahatma Gandhi statue was vandalized. Khalistani groups defaced Gandhiji’s statue that stands in front of the Indian Embassy. BLM Protestors also defaced Gandhiji’s statue in London’s Parliament Square. in June 2020, and wrote “racist” on it.

Iconoclasm is an expression of fanaticism and intolerance, and images are often destroyed for religious and political purposes. The destruction is a crude reminder of a weaponized intolerant ideology currently sweeping through the American landscape and elsewhere. However, the ideology of such brutality has its antecedents in history, which is replete with examples of iconoclastic destructions. Catherine Nixey’s ‘The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World describes in eye-popping graphic details the destruction and gore of the ancient temples of Serapeum in Alexandria and the Parthenon in Athens. 

Chairman Mao Zedong of China ordered the destruction of countless historical monuments and works of art during what is known as the Cultural Revolution. In 2001, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader, ordered the Bamiyan Buddha’s blowing up in Afghanistan. Initially sculpted in 507 CE, this ancient sandstone carving was once the world’s tallest Buddha. Taliban fighters fired at the Buddha with tanks and artillery shells. When that failed, they ordered the planting of explosives to destroy it. Taliban fighters drilled holes into the statue to plant the dynamite. The process of drilling holes blowing up the Buddha image took 25 days to complete. The Islamic State did the same to the temples of Palmyra.

For Indians, Hindus specifically, the massive destruction of temples and the desecration and dismemberment of their deities throughout the past millennia have been an acute source of transgenerational trauma. Among thousands of silent yet an in-your-face reminder of that trauma is the ruins of 26 Jain-Hindu temples in Mehrauli, near Delhi. The Muslim ruler destroyed the temple complex to erect a victory tower and the Dome of Islam Mosque. Meenakshi Jain’s book ‘Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Episodes from Indian History details Hindu deities’ desecration, destruction, and preservation at significant risks by the faithful.

Iconoclasm is, primarily, an instrument of power. Its gore intends to instill an element of fear among the masses. Those who desecrated the Gandhi statues had every intention to terrorize the members of the Indian diaspora (and beyond) and exert political pressure. They did just that. Some of these terrorism techniques manifest themselves into blatant Hinduphobia. 

Members of the diaspora across North America and Europe have also received physical and sexual violence threats from the groups behind the desecrations. A Hindu doctor in California received threats for her strong opposition to the Khalistanis. 

“I am increasingly alarmed by the bloodcurdling sectarianism against India. Particularly against Hindus, for whom empirically the VAST majority support pluralism, progress, and peace,” tweeted Shuvaloy Majumdar, a Senior Fellow with MacDonald-Laurier Institute, the Ottawa, Canada-based think tank.

Suhag Shukla, the Executive Director and Co-founder of the Hindu advocacy group Hindu American Foundation (HAF), also tweeted that HAF “had to shut down offices in DC in 2019 after multiple threats when Sikhs for Justice rallied there. “Leave this country or we’ll take care of you,” they said.” Another member of the diaspora was reported in a newspaper saying: “Hinduphobics now have political shelter. Our safety is in jeopardy.”

Beyond some half-hearted press releases and Twitter statements, some very late, most Western leaders, including many high-profile US politicians, including those from the Indian-American community, have remained mute spectators to this barbaric onslaught on Western values of democracy. 


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Hinduphobia in the Academy

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

A Harvard Kennedy School academic had recently tweeted saying, “Hindus are sick people of India, it is their religious books who (sic) train the mind.” 

A couple of years ago, another faculty at Rutgers University’s history department had tweeted that Mata Sita, in Valmiki’s Ramayana, basically tells Bhagwan Rama that he is a “misogynist pig and uncouth.” 

Yet another faculty at the Uppsala University’s  Department of Peace and Conflict Research had made a “Gau Mutra” (cow urine, a common taunt against the Hindus by the jihadists) comment in his tweet.

  

These Hinduphobic comments are not an anomaly. We are used to hateful comments on social media from a part of the academy. Even within the elite academic peer-reviewed journals, Hinduphobic commentaries are often presented against Hindus, and disinformation is spread under the garb of the academic enterprise and free-speech. 

Western academia also produces a large amount of what Rajeev Malhotra calls atrocity literature. It is a body of literature “with the explicit goal to show the target non-Western culture is committing atrocities on its own people, and hence in need of Western intervention.” 

A Hinduphobic discourse, according to Jeffrey Long, “is a narrative which typically portrays Hinduism exclusively as an oppressive and regressive tradition inextricably bound up with social institutions like caste and patriarchy.” According to Long, a sniff-test for Hinduphobia in a critique of Hindus or Hinduism, academic or otherwise, is to ask the following question: “Is there a scenario, short of their complete renunciation of Hinduism, in which Hindus might address this critique in a way the critic would find acceptable?” If the answer is “no,” we are dealing with Hinduphobia. 

Why so much hate and disinformation against Hindus, one might ask? One of the reasons for disinformation is that Indians in general, and Hindus in particular, have lost agency in the exchange of information about their own culture, traditions, and texts. During the colonial time, the Western scholars started sharing information about Hinduism with other non-native scholars, and the modalities of exchanging information in the study of India became predominantly outsider to outsider. One of the schools that emerged from this outsider to outsider exchange was Indology, with roots in racism.

Indology is the academic study of India, its texts, religions, and culture. It holds a preeminent position in the western scholarly interpretation of Indian texts and traditions. The entire gamut of Indology study isn’t only premised upon Protestant theologizing, but it is also a product of racial prejudice. Indologists dismiss any native perspective as they believe that Indians lacked access to the “true” meaning of their texts. They also believe that Indians never developed “critical” and “scientific” thinking; hence Indian texts should not be read as Indians do. However, what evolved as “critical” and “scientific” in Indology, Vishwa Adluri points out, had emerged from “Protestant debates over scriptures.”

When Adluri sent in his academic work on the Hindu epic The Mahābhārata to Indology professors in Germany, he expected constructive criticism. What he received shocked him. Reviewing his doctoral research, one of the professors wrote: “What I was arguing against in my assessment of your work was your peculiar method to use ‘theology,’ that is, in this case, an Indian religious view of the text, not as the object of research.” 

Adluri, who holds doctoral degrees in Philosophy and Indology, was “traumatized” by the treatment. “The racism I encountered… was more insidious. It was scientific or scientized racism… Indologists enact this discrimination not because they are vulgar racists – obviously, they think they are cultured, enlightened, and cosmopolitan – but because their authority depends on it.” Adluri recounted in an interview.  According to Adluri, “The Indologists really believe it is their mission – as Europeans – to teach Indians to receive their own texts correctly and “critically”… Europeans are mündig (mature), whereas non-Europeans are unmündig and hence candidates for… (re)education.”

The centers of South Asian Studies, across the globe and certainly in the US, have kept the spirit of Indology alive, with Leftists and Marxists joining the bandwagon. These centers have their history in war and evangelism, and several prominent South Asia scholars were the US spies working in the region. Kushagra Aniket, a recent Cornell University graduate, recounted his story where a Cornell professor claimed that The Bhagwad Gitā was a manual of casteist morality that advocated the annihilation of one’s clan if required by one’s caste-based duties. 

When Aniket found out that Cornell offered a course in Philosophy of War that explored the “Just War Theory” in Western theologies, he decided to take it. When he submitted his research paper on “The Concept of Just War in the Gita,” he was challenged for not including any “academic” citations. In his defense, Aniket claimed that he knew Sanskrit and relied on “his translation of the original” for which he should get extra-credit.

The parallels between Adluri and Aniket’s experiences with their professors are indistinguishable.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Insider to Outsider: Reversing the Trend in Hindu Discourse

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

Late last month, days before the US presidential elections, a prominent media outlet published an article on Indian and Hindu-American politics. The piece, full of polemics, was an apparent attempt to promote the stocks of the Silicon Valley, CA, Democrat Ro Khanna. Besides singing paeans to Khanna, the article’s theme revolved around the terms Hindutva and Hindu Nationalism without much context and any nuanced exposition of those terms. The piece also attacked several Hindu groups and individuals alike for their advocacy.

The piece, written by an India-American journalist, drew strong reactions from the diaspora groups, including this tweet response from Saagar Enjeti, a fellow at Steamboat and Hudson Institute.

The piece in question, and the response to it, indicates a phenomenon, a turmoil of sorts, facing the Hindu community around the world. The dissonance stems from discord and disconnect between how the Hindu faith practitioners see themselves and how the media and academia dominated by Western scholarship present them. 

Hindu-Americans have also been fighting an on-going battle against the misrepresentation of Hinduism in American textbooks. Arvind Sharma, the Berks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University, in his paper “Dharma and the Academy: A Hindu Academic’s View” has taken up the issue of this turmoil that, according to him, “has come to be characterized by a sharp debate, which has also spilled over into journalism and the Internet.”

The turmoil Sharma talks about has been brewing for over a decade. It is part of the Hindu community’s ongoing awakening in post-colonial India that has gained considerable momentum since the election (and re-election) of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister. As the turmoil continues, Hindus have not only started resenting the misrepresentation of their culture, faith, texts, and traditions in media and academia, they have also begun to present vigorous disputations against those misrepresentations.  

To get to the root cause of misrepresentations, it is crucial to understand the modalities of exchanging information in the study of religions. Sharma presents a fourfold typology for such an exchange: insider to insider, outsider to outsider, outsider to insider, and insider to outsider. 

In pre-modern times, Sharma argues, most interactions in the realm of religious studies were from insider to insider. In the context of India, particularly during the colonial time, outsider to outsider became the primary mode of transmission for Hinduism. 

During colonial times, non-native Western scholars started sharing information about Hinduism with other non-native scholars (outsider to outsider). “The West, however, began to control the intellectual discourse in its colonies…and the insiders to these traditions began to be profoundly affected, even in their self-understanding of their own religious traditions, by Western accounts,” writes Sharma. This altering of the self-understanding was due to outsider to insider channel. The current tumult, however, is a byproduct of a vociferous attempt by the native Hindus to change the flow of information from inside to outside.

Sharma claims that with the Hindu-American community reaching a critical demographic mass in North America and India, its ‘response threshold’ has been breached. When a faith community crosses its response threshold, it becomes hard for outsiders to ignore the community’s response to misrepresentations. A response threshold is crossed, according to Erick Sharp (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987), “when it becomes possible for the believer to advance his or her own interpretation against that of the scholar.” 

Sharma observes that protests aren’t necessarily about the facts but the interpretation of the Hindu tradition by academia and media. Indian Intellectual Tradition has a long history of disputation among native scholars. For example, Nyaya realism has a tradition of argumentation with Buddhist phenomenalism at both epistemological and ontological levels. In the present context, however, it is crucial to make a distinction between academic/intellectual work and polemics. Upon examination, many Western presentations of the Hindu tradition may fall into one of the various kinds of Hinduphobic discourses

One of the fascinating concepts in quantum theory is the observer effect, which states that by the very act of watching, the observer affects the observed reality. One can apply this notion of observer bias to the study of Hinduism by Western scholars. According to Sharma, this principle “provides a basis for examining the fear of the Hindus that Western scholars may be altering Hinduism in the very process of studying it, and the change thus brought about is not for the better.” 

The current effort by the Hindu faith community must be seen as an attempt to reclaim the agency in representing and defining Hinduism. At the very least, non-native agents cannot be the sole arbitrators of the native traditions.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.