Tag Archives: #Harvard

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 writes frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Adopting Impermanence as a COVID Response

“All conditioned things are impermanent – when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

-Gautama Buddha

In times of chaos and tribulation, it seems wise to refer to the teachings of those who sought to understand suffering. Impermanence is the word that comes to mind, yet humanity finds comfort in permanence. 

At the August 14th Ethnic Media Services briefing on the science behind COVID-19, doctors on the frontlines reaffirmed the motif I had been seeing – a contradictory society seeks change, yet is resistant to it.

This moment of truth in American history requires quick and consistent change. I wonder, can we rise up to the challenge?

Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute remarked “America may have the worst response of any country in the world, to this pandemic” and added that we were in the same position, if not worse condition than Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. Further, he stresses that success with outbreak control has nothing to do with imposing government structures, the culture of the country, or the wealth of a nation. 

Government: Russia’s authoritarian government is struggling with containment.

Culture: East Asian and European countries are dissimilar in their cultural practices but both have managed to lower their COVID rates. 

Wealth: Vietnam, a developing nation, until recently, had avoided COVID-related deaths.

“It’s tempting to look for explanations for why other countries are doing better”, cautions Dr. Jha. He logically builds to the conclusion that where we have failed is in deploying ONE action effectively across all states. That is all that is required. With one-third of the U.S. population on the brink of succumbing to the pandemic, one third already fully at risk, and one-third managing to keep the pandemic at bay, mismatched messaging is wreaking havoc. Without a coordinated response from strong federal leadership, the COVID death numbers will not plateau. 

The onus of information dissemination and access to resources lies heavily on those in positions of power but behavioral change can come from the top-down and the bottom-up. 

Impermanence. The ability to adopt thought that lasts for an undetermined period of time. 

No one wants to be in lockdown. No one wants to wear a mask outside. No one wants to continuously get tested.

Just one of these, fully implemented and enforced, could be the key to end suffering. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, Senior Scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, informs his research from the positive COVID control he has seen in Asian countries where schools remain open. He notes, “Right now there is a false choice between lives and livelihood.” That choice drives contention and spreads misinformation.

What is needed to re-open safely?

Early warning systems, broad & efficient testing, effective quarantine/isolation, adequate treatment capacity, actionable data collection, and vaccines. 

He brings forth antigen testing as the cheaper, faster method to detect COVID. Cost-effective and almost instantaneous results, I am feeling more optimistic as he continues to speak.

Source: U-T reporter Jonathan Wosen

Early warning systems and actionable data collection rely on the immediate transfer of information to an online database to make it accessible. Temperature monitoring using a thermometer linked to the internet would increase the efficiency of detecting COVID hotspots and roll out timely mandates required to limit spread. Dr. Shah’s blend of technology and the pandemic is the obvious way to move forward. Daily reporting is the necessary next step.

Source: Covid Act Now

So why haven’t we already been using this technology?

“We really need to start to think about a fundamentally different approach that protects privacy and lets public health [professionals] do their job”, Dr. Shah frustratedly shakes his head.

He is moving fast and hits a wall with effective quarantine/isolation and vaccines. The U.S. has expended no energy to strategize or provided resources for isolation and most vaccines are a year out still. 

“We are not anywhere close to doing well”, ends Dr. Shah. 

It seems Dr. Shah and Dr. Jha come to similar conclusions – the United States has the resources and the intelligence to rewrite the course we have taken with regards to the pandemic.

A grim message but I leave with positive outcomes. Testing is changing and so is data collection. Mitigation and prevention of COVID is plausible.

Can we adapt? Can we change? Can we make space for impermanence in our lives to end suffering?


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Help Your South Asian Community Respond to DV

We need to pay attention to domestic violence in the South Asian community.

Providing support, resources, and intervention to those experiencing abuse is incredibly necessary, but what do we need to do to get to the point where fewer and fewer South Asian people experience domestic abuse?

Working towards a culture where we begin to acknowledge and break down the hegemonic structures that have shaped our community requires active engagement from all of us, regardless of if our lives have been directly affected by domestic violence or not. In one of the few notable studies on the topic, survivors emphasized the need for community empowerment and education to address gender-based violence in South Asian communities.

This summer, Narika, in collaboration with researchers from Harvard, is conducting a study in order to change this status quo. By collecting this data, we will be able to communicate the prevalence and severity of this issue through statistics, which is essential in engaging the community. 

If you would like to participate in our ongoing research project and help us begin to make this change, you can take the anonymous five-minute survey here, and sign up for an anonymous 10-minute interview here. Participating will also enter you in a raffle for up to $100 in gift cards to a Black-owned business of your choice.

Data shows that South Asians experience domestic violence at higher rates than other groups in America. Information is skewed due to the reality of underreporting in our community –– the variety of social and cultural barriers that South Asian survivors face to even report their abuse, from immigration to familial stigma. 

In one study, 42% of the 160 women surveyed reported that they had been physically and/or sexually abused in some way by their current male partners in their lifetime; 36.9% reported having been victimized in the past year. However, only 11% of those South Asian women indicated receiving counseling support services for domestic abuse.

Organizations like Narika begin to fill this gap of support services by providing culturally-informed counseling and programming for South Asian women and families. But one of the most significant obstacles of this work is how in the dark it is: there is very little academic research on gender-based violence in South Asian communities, despite the unique barriers and situations this community faces. 

This lack of data and statistics to support the necessity of their work prevents us from understanding this issue completely and, by extension, doing all that we can in order to build a culture of empowerment and allyship to address domestic abuse at its root. 

If you have any questions, concerns, or would like to learn more about this work, please contact bhargavi@narika.org.

Bhargavi Garimella is a sophomore at Harvard College studying Neuroscience. This summer, she is interning at Narika where she is conducting research on gender-based violence in South Asian communities.

Anyone Can Become an Entrepreneur

With a billion people becoming connected via smartphones with the computing power of supercomputers, India has the ability to build a digital infrastructure that is as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways. There are opportunities to create dozens of new companies as valuable as Reliance.

Just one thing could hold India back: That the people who should be availing themselves of these opportunities continue to believe that entrepreneurship isn’t for them but is the domain of young college graduates like those from Silicon Valley.

The reality is that even Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs aren’t young and don’t have special backgrounds. They merely saw an opportunity and seized it. Anyone can become an entrepreneur.

I know, because I made the same transition.

I was 33 years old. I had developed a revolutionary technology at First Boston, a New York-based investment bank, and IBM offered to invest $20 million in it — provided that we spun the technology off into a new company. I was asked to take the job of chief technology officer.

I didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family and starting a business was something I never even thought of. My father was an Indian government official; my mother, a teacher. I had no entrepreneurial aspirations and had a wife and two children to support. Taking this position would entail relinquishing a great job that paid a hefty six-figure salary, for a startup that could easily go out of business and didn’t pay well. So it wasn’t an easy decision; but I took the plunge.

Our startup, Seer Technologies, grew to 1,000 employees and had annual revenue of $120 million in five years; then we took it public. The IPO was fun, but the experience thereafter was like a nasty hangover. The excitement had gone. Sick of the big-company politics and the obsession with meeting short-term revenue goals, I wanted out.

Microsoft tried recruiting me, telling me it would offer stock worth a fortune, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of working for another big company. So I chose to start my own company again. Having tasted entrepreneurship, I had become unfit for the corporate world, and there was no returning to it. My only regret was having wasted so much of my life in it. I was 40.

Some people say that my transformation was a fluke; that entrepreneurs are born, not made. They also say that successful entrepreneurs are young and have special entrepreneurial traits. Research — including my own Duke and Harvard team’s — says otherwise. But my health suffered due to the stress of running my second company, and I had to switch careers. I still didn’t want to go back to the corporate world; so I became an academic. And the question of what makes an entrepreneur is one of the earliest I researched.

My Duke and Harvard team researched thousands of American entrepreneurs. We found that the majority, like me, did not have entrepreneurial parents and entrepreneurial aspirations at school or university. They’d started companies through tiring of working for others; they’d had a great idea and wanted to commercialise it; or they’d woken, one day, urgently wanting to build wealth before retiring.

We found that 52% of entrepreneurs surveyed were — just as were Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Naveen Tewari, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — the first in their immediate families to start a business.

While in college, only a quarter had caught the entrepreneurial bug, and half hadn’t even thought about it by then.

Family entrepreneurship, prior interest, and extreme interest, then, hadn’t heavily influenced their successes. So what had? Tertiary education — though not which university they’d graduated from — provided a huge advantage.

But what about all we hear of IIT graduates’ dominating Silicon Valley? It is a myth. My research team found that only 15% of the Indian immigrant founders of tech and engineering companies were IIT grads. Delhi University graduated twice as many Silicon Valley company founders as did IIT-Delhi, and Osmania and Bombay universities both trumped nearly all of the other IITs. Education matters but not the school.

We also found that, in the tech world, older entrepreneurs are not the exception but the norm. The average founder of a high-growth company had launched his venture at 40. Most were married and had, on average, two or more kids. They typically had six to 10 years of work experience and real-world ideas; they’d simply tired of working for others and wanted to rise above their middle-class heritage.

There is no real difference between Indian entrepreneurs and American ones. So if anyone tells you that you’re too old to be an entrepreneur or that you have the wrong background, don’t listen. Go with your gut instincts; pursue your passions. You’ll come to wonder why you wasted your time working for your idiotic boss.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

This article is published with permission from the author.

Unfinished But Undeterred: The Inspiring Story Of Helen Keller

The world hears her first cry as the delivery room light in Tuscumbia, Alabama strikes the new creature’s greystone eyes. With mama and papa’s tears comes a lasting hope that she will be forever safe and healthy. Time passes and the bearer watches her baby stumble over the toy bricks on the carpeted floor and ignore the sweet melodious calls to her warm uncovered arms, dreaming of a day when her baby will jump into them. Days go by, but nothing changes except the ruffled cough from her baby’s small throat. With fear belting in her eyes, she knows something is wrong and the warm oval of water drips down her lover’s shoulder. They rush to the hospital with their 19 month old’s body squirming up and down in their laps. The baby knew not what was happening but only that her ears craved to listen but heard complete silence, and that her eyes dreamed of the bright orange blanket she had left at home but now she would only be able to feel it. The decision was made by God for he had run out of things to give baby Helen when she needed them the most, leaving her unfinished.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Photo credit by Julie Jordan Scott.

What God did give her was the power of passion and courage stronger than any other. Growing up, she heard the unsaid and saw the unseen as the shadows on the playground pushed her out of the way to go down the slide; to them she was an obstacle to get around, but to her, they were motivators she wanted to prove to that she is a fighter. More time passed and then comes her “soul’s birthday”, which she celebrated with dear teacher Anne. Anne gave her an ear to be heard, a mouth to voice her unspoken words, and a friendship to confirm that she was not alone.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. Photo credit by Julie Jordan Scott

This was the moment in time when judgment wasn’t consuming the air, but rather hope. This was the moment in time when she saw her first glimpse of light since that delivery room in Tuscumbia. This was the moment in time when she heard the new version of herself yelling, “keep going”. This was the moment of time Helen became Helen. The bumpy books, the resonating vibrations, and the power of determination ran side by side with Helen day by day with no one other than Anne making sure the laces on her shoes were tied in case she ran too fast and lost her balance. To Helen, Anne was her source of life and made her simple words reach every ground one could walk on for “walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light”. The baby walking with her mother, the child walking with her teacher, the teenager walking with her best friend, and Helen walking with Anne. No child walks into this world with every piece of them perfectly built and polished, but they crawl in hopes of being able to walk with the help of someone holding their hand. Support gives each the ability to walk together in the darkest of times when none can see. Support gives each the ability to walk together in the cries and anguish of a world when no one wants to  hear. Support gives a blind and deaf little girl from Alabama the strength to win a bachelors of the arts degree and go on to make a book inspiring others to overcome their imperfections.

Helen Keller with Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Photo Credit: US Embassy New Delhi

Support makes an African-American woman hold her seat on a bus even when her life is at stake. Support makes the LGBTQ community legally allowed to get married and adopt children they can call their own. Support makes that little baby Helen the woman known today as Helen Keller, and it makes each individual composing their own stories part of a human chorus that the blind can see and even the deaf can hear.

Photo Credit: Archives New Zealand

 

Sonali Shanbhag is a Junior at Saratoga High School and loves dancing, singing and teaching.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor, Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.