Wednesday, April 26, 2017

CNN's Faux Pas on Hinduism is not as Innocent as It Looks

CNN’s faux pas on its first segment based on Hinduism may not be as innocent as it looks, it has the potential to evolve in to structured discrimination of Hindus. CNN’s Believer’s first segment on Hinduism reminds one of a dangerous precedent from the past. This is exactly the type of misrepresentation with partial and selective expositions that could lead to misunderstandings, which can eventually lead to discrimination and mistreatment of fellow human beings. In case of Hindus this had already happened once with regards to Roma ( who were considered heathens during the early modern period while subjecting them to discrimination and mistreatment across Europe, this discrimination only increased later pushing the Roma into gas chambers during Nazi era. The Roma are still subjected to continued discrimination across Europe ( Roma are the untouchables of Europe, tucked away from public gaze. Roma are not allowed to live in decent neighborhoods, not hired for jobs, and their children are constantly subjected to harassment and bullying in society and educational institutions. Television series like the Believer aired on CNN last night does nothing to further understanding of spirituality in Hinduism, but can create and perpetrate similar discriminatory attitudes towards Hindus across the world. The footage is filled mostly with disgusting imagery, containing filth, disgusting images, comical drama, that appeared distasteful, uncultured, and bizarre. Aslan’s explanations of caste, karma, and sect are all misinformed, amateurish at best. Karma binds soul to the world of maya. How can one understand karma without understanding maya? This is exactly the central issue with learning about Hinduism, which is subjected to selective interpretations to push well-known categories and classification introduced by colonial administration with a view to control the masses of India. It presents only half of what the theory karma purports according to Hinduism. I am not going to discuss caste, maya, and karma here for lack of space, but part of the problem also rests with the current system of knowledge, which only offers partial and misleading representations of Hinduism.

The film is located in Banaras, focusing on understanding the Aghori tradition from inside out. It involved the author mostly roaming through Banaras, zooming in and out of shots taken on the banks of Ganges, interspersed with snippets of interviews with whoever agreed to talk to Aslan. The theatrics of Aslan’s conversion with Aghoris on the banks of Ganges is beyond reprehensible. Although Aghori sampradaya (Saiva monks in Kapalika tradition) known as a tradition beginning five hundred years ago, much of its history is shrouded in mystery; its media discovery and fascination is only recent, dating to only the last two decades or so. Although there were a number of other media expositions on Aghori tradition, none are as amateurish as this one. Another film on the same subject, National Geographic’s Taboo, is much more carefully filmed and contextualized philosophically. Although the series, Believer, is billed as a documentary, its presentation on Aghoris, is sloppy at best and can be described as a failed attempt to understand the current state of Hindu faith. As much as it begins with the faulty assumption that any one can go on a short trip and learn about any religion by immersing oneself in esoteric rituals for a short time, its failure is apparent in its format of TV presentation. This assumption is further exasperated, when such experience is filmed for worldwide showing, which qualifies as reality TV rather than documentary. To top it off the whole process is marred by immature presentation and explanations filled with mistaken notions of Aslan that can lead to dangerous consequences. If there is anything that came out of this bizarre theatrics on the banks of Ganges, it is that Aslan emerged as a competent reality TV star.

Even though a first look at the film leaves one horrified, as most of its footage contains shocking imagery to elicit sensation, even a bit of disgust, a careful second look of the film confirms only mediocrity and lack of authentic research on the part of its maker. With such sloppy sensationalist approaches it is unlikely that it might have any perceptible benefits of informing the public of religion. It is questionable if he had any goals for this episode on Hinduism rather than indulge in his comical trip through the most esoteric sects one could find.

All that is accomplished by Aslan in this episode is confusing class (varna) with caste (jati). The classification that he showed of the five castes is a mistaken system of classes adopted from Western understanding of Hinduism, long debunked by Historians (see Bernard Cohn, S.N. Balagangadhara, and Michael Wood). I don’t know if it demonstrates the naiveté or utter lack of knowledge on the part of Aslan that asserts caste is about purity and pollution, while in reality it is about professional divisions. Also the pyramid Aslan showed in regard to castes is in fact classes (varnas) and not castes (jati). Another important feature Aslan ignores is that, caste is a cultural feature of India common to all religions of India, and not specifically Hindu in its nature. FYI Aslan, Islam also has castes in India, and Islamic lower castes are given reservations based on caste system by the government of India. The current understanding of caste is brought on by colonial systematization of caste in India while neatly arranging it in a tiered system akin to that of the medieval social system found in Europe. Showing this tiered diagram to explain caste is as faulty as explaining feudalism in the medieval European society with a similar tiered diagram. Caste is dynamic and diverse across India. Caste is neither uniform across India nor tiered as neatly as demonstrated by Aslan on the show. I suggest Aslan read social scientists such as Bernard Cohn (An Anthropologist Among Historians; Structure and Change in Indian Society) and Sumit Guha (Beyond Caste) to understand the nuanced and diverse social structure of caste in India.

More over India has moved away from caste 67 years ago when it adopted its new constitution in 1950, which provides most sweeping and generous social program of the world based on caste. The reservation system mandated in the constitution provides, scheduled castes, tribes and backward castes with a reserved 50% of seats in all educational institutions for all available specializations, as well as in all government jobs, and public offices. Students based on their status of belonging to schedules caste, tribes or backward castes performing well below average are admitted and educated at no cost to the families with generous scholarships and provided jobs, and job related promotions. This is not limited to one generation or first generation college students, but for all people belonging to the scheduled castes, tribes, and backward castes. Nowhere in the world is such a generous program of social benefits ever enacted in the history of mankind. It is one of the bedrocks of Indian democracy even though it creates a system of privilege for reserved categories in public office, employment and promotions.

The filth and dirt of the ghats and Ganga River may have been cleaned by the temples if only they had the resources and wherewithal to do so. Alas they are prevented from doing so by the government of India, which took over their resources and management, taking away the donations of Hindu temples, while at the same time all minority religions of India are allowed to administer their religious and religiously affiliated institutions independently with tax free status ( What would be the uproar in the USA if such act were to be passed in the USA in which government takes over all the Churches and their resources, freely using their resources to support other minority religions such as Islam and Judaism? This skewed system of religious institutions act of India 1951 unfairly treats Hinduism and Hindu temples, rendering Hindu organizations helpless, fending for themselves on meager resources, while Hindu temples and sacred spaces are not maintained and face utter negligence under government administration. State governments monopolize the income from Hindu temples using it for any purpose they may deem fit, even allocating funds to other minority religions such as Islam. Endowment boards are corrupt, thus further in the mismanagement of funds.

Overarching remarks in opposition to Hinduism, such as the one in which Aslan says,“more and more Hindus are attracted to ideals of Aghoris,” making it seem like social service and caring for the fellow beings are the ideals of only Aghoris and not part of Hinduism in general. The ideals that Aslan so painstakingly characterizes as Aghori ideals are merely Hindu ideals, which have always guided all Hindus for over 5 thousand years. Hindu social service is not negated merely because Aslan refuses to acknowledge it in this film. Does that mean all the social service activities undertaken by all of the Hindu organizations for thousands of years suddenly come to naught as soon as he discovered the Aghoris? And that too only one person, an Aghori, reformed (Bhagavan Ram) at that remains to be the sole representative of Hindu ideals and inspires others? What about the rest of the billion Hindus? What about Ramanandis, Srivaishnavas, Chaitanya traditions? What about the present day sadhus, Sri Sri (founder of Art of Living), Sadhguru (Isha Foundation), Chinna Jeeyaswami, and many more Hindu sadhus known for their service?

What this show is trying to accomplish, by presenting contradictory aspects of Aghoris simultaneously, is to drive home unsubstantiated criticism of Hinduism:  On the one hand the show accurately presented strange practices of Aghoris, depicting it as one of the most bizarre sects of Hinduism, not commonly an acceptable practice among Hindus. On the other hand, he inaccurately presented Hinduism as callous towards the underclass. In addition, Aslan also tried to present Aghori as the most moral sect of Hinduism, negating all other benevolent practices and ideals of Hinduism, thus rendering mainstream Hinduism as heartless. Aslan at times took drastic measures to present Aghori as the most benevolent practice of Hinduism, while negating all other services and ideals held by Hinduism and numerous Hindu practitioners and Sadhus with sweeping generalizations. Monastic traditions across India accept followers and serve without placing any limitations on caste; several groups also have female orders. His shortsighted presentation only reveals his utter lack of knowledge and lethargy to consult current research and subject experts.

Effectively what Aslan is doing in this film is incorrect. It cannot be considered an inadvertent faux pas committed by Aslan, since he is experienced with writing and media presentation. It seems that he intentionally presented Aghori as the  option of Hinduism, successfully adding one more stereotype, in addition to the stereotypes that already exist in connection with Hinduism. Hence, the blame rests equally with Aslan as well as the CNN that chose to air the show. It seems to suggest that as bizarre as it might seem Aghoris may be one of the best options of Hinduism. He repeatedly and mistakenly characterized Hinduism as based on caste and hence not caring for its fellow beings. With one sweeping generalization he negates the 5 millennia of history of Hinduism to push his agenda of presenting Aghoris as the only acceptable spiritual practice among Hindus. What does this do for Hindus across the world? It presents them as insolent, apathetic, given to callous tendency bound by karma. What is the consequence of such far-reaching conclusion in presenting a strange sectarian group of monks as holding higher ideals than the whole of Hinduism followed by approximately one billion Hindus? This faulty presentation outlines mainstream Hindus to be subjected to ridicule and discrimination.

An immediate and short-term solution for this issue is that Hindus and Hindu leaders must not shy away from asserting their own practice and denouncing what is presented on this show. Even better, Hindus must banish CNN, its falsehoods and misrepresentations. Hindus and friends of Hindus (may they be Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Jewish Indians) must boycott CNN-IBN channel as well as their annual awards as a symbol of their insincere coverage.

The only long term solution for such misrepresentations and stereotyping is in offering more education on Hinduism. A good beginning would be to start with reforming educational curriculum in primary and secondary schools. Hinduism should be taught as the benevolent religion that it is, rather than a callous faith with rigid caste boundaries.

Previously published on 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Is It Time For India to Spearhead the Indian Ocean Treaty Alliance

Is It Time For India to Spearhead the Indian Ocean Treaty Alliance

Asia needs a powerful regional treaty alliance for defense cooperation. Asian nations should cooperate not only in trade, but also in military and defense strategy, jointly developing techniques to counter terrorism and regional military threats. Asian Treaty Alliance might be the answer to a number of geo-political issues of Asian nations especially the South Asian and the Southeast Asian countries. Fragile foreign relations also affect the economic relations thus hampering growth and development of the region. It is the only way like-minded nations with similar political structure can come together to impact change in the region.

Asian nations are still locked in the political and economic relations handed down to them in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through their colonial rulers. Even though most of the nations obtained independence in the twentieth century, they still fail to utilize self-determination in their foreign relations. India should aim to correct its course of history by re-aligning itself with long lost friends in the Indian Ocean region. It is time for Asian nations to think beyond their geo-political neighborhood and foster an Asian Treaty alliance aimed to preserve peace and prosperity in the region.

India if it plans to be member of an association for economic and defense cooperation it should look towards the Indian Ocean. India should take lead in developing an association similar to the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) by including other states on the Indian Ocean economic zone. Indian Ocean Treaty alliance could include democratic nations such as Japan, Thailand, Australia, Phillippines, Vietnam, and South Africa.

China is landlocked on its northern borders and is limited in its sea access by its close neighbors. In this close China is resorting to techniques to force its neighbors to surrender to its expanding sphere of influence. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Brunei have competing claims on South China Sea. As its international arbitration bid failed recently, China is coming back with a renewed vigor to establish superiority in the region, which has recently faced a setback in the international court of arbitration with Philippines. With China militarizing heavily on its land and water borders, it is more than ever necessary for Asian democratic nations to not only come together in temporary gesture of cooperation, but a permanent treaty alliance.

India is in a geographical bind, surrounded by states that are steeped either in political turmoil brought on by terrorism (Pakistan and Bangladesh) or crushed under the weight of totalitarian regimes (China and Iran). India’s immediate neighbors, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, although considered democratic states, suffer under the shadows of military coup in their recent past. Brexit has recently proved that a nation does not always have to remain in alliance with its immediate neighbors, but could foster relations with far off neighbors in order to optimize economic progress and development. Any association dictated by geographical proximity rather than political, social and economic ideals is bound to fail in the face of crisis. Therefore, India must look beyond its geographical border to foster stronger relations as it embarks on its path of progress and development.

India’s geographical fate is further complicated by the international economic and political cooperation (SAARC- South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and NAM-Non Aligned Movement) groups it is part of, which also include some of these troubled countries in its neighborhood. SAARC (South Asian Association for Cooperation) represents an acronym that could not be easily understood. The acronym is a true representation of the hodge-podge of states that it includes. Other than geographical proximity of its member states (India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Pakistan, Srilanka, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan) are completely different from each other in political, economic and social structures. It is strange that Myanmar is still not a member of this group. Similar is the case with NAM. India joined the Non Aligned Movement with Nehru's initiative with lofty goals, but due to the nature of states that joined it, there is very little that it accomplished. It exists only in name, while a number of its members are currently in conditions that are similar to civil war, no diplomatic or military initiative is ever undertaken by this group. Emerging crises have rendered the NAM become an association that holds periodic meetings with no significant contributions. Half of the nations that are members of this group, such as Algeria and Egypt are struggling with internal terrorist organizations, while some states such as Zambia, Cuba, and Iran are still struggling to establish democratic states. India is the only stable, and established democracy in this group of nations. With the internal and external terror threats, and border disputes, it is impossible for NAM to progress beyond the basic economic cooperation. 
Any association dictated by geographical proximity rather than political, social and economic ideals is bound to fail in the face of crisis. Half of the nations that are members of this group are struggling with internal terrorist organizations, and some are still struggling to establish democratic states. India is the only stable, and established democracy in this group of nations.

Hence it is time for India to look beyond its geographical region to think strategically and join a treaty alliance with a view to obtain military and diplomatic cooperation in addition to economic development. India if it plans to be member of an association for economic and defense cooperation it should look towards the Indian Ocean. India should take lead in developing an association similar to the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) by inviting democratic nations on the Indian Ocean economic zone such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and Japan. Asia needs a powerful regional association of cooperation. These nations should cooperate not only in trade, but also in military and defense strategy, jointly developing techniques to counter terrorist and military threats. 

Published Previously on MyInd Makers:

India Should Embrace Its Lost Children

India Should Embrace Its Lost Children

Each major historic event in India left a number of Indians displaced and lost to History. The first waves of such lost children of India begins in the tenth century with the beginning of Muslims raids into India under Mohammad Ghori and Ghazni and only continue under British rule until the 20th century. A thousand years of displacements and disenfranchisement left millions of Indians across the globe. It is time for India to recognize and grant its lost children some type of overseas citizenship.

Caribbean and African Diaspora Hindus of the 19th and 20th Centuries

British colonial government permitted numerous colonial enterprises to use exploitative recruitment tactics to lure young men and women seeking work. They transported them long distances across the oceans. Such workers were called indentured laborers and were only provided minimal facilities. Wherever it is possible the British companies or landlords posted the newly arrived indentured laborers at barracks only then evacuated by the slaves on numerous plantations across the world from Eastern African countries and South Africa to the West Indies. The story is not much different from Fiji to Guyana. It is the same exploitation. The indentured have no way of connecting with their families back in India, nor did they have facilities to practice their religion or culture. Most of them lost touch with their families and the place of their origin. They did not even know that India achieved independence or that they had any opportunity to return to India. They are the lost children of British colonial India. Colonial governments forgot about them, while India had no accounts of their situation and issues.

Hindus of Pakistan and Bangladesh

People were not given an opportunity to choose where they may live. British colonial regime divided the country without conducting a ground survey. India is divided into two countries by drawing a line on the map, without conducting ground survey, which divided the country arbitrarily overnight. In Some places the border went through houses, and sometimes through land belonging to a farmer, putting half of his land on one side and the other half of his land on another side. In a complete disregard for the lives of the common people British regime did not provide security forces on the borders leading to chaos and murder spree, which was equal to perpetrating genocide on the part of Britain. Numerous people found themselves stranded in the country they did not seek to live. Whatever Pakistan might say it is the responsibility of India to provide an opportunity for its Hindus to return to their homeland. Pakistan was created for Muslims to give a separate nation for Muslims. If Indian Muslims desire to go to Pakistan they must be free to do so also.  Pakistan must accept Indian Muslims freely.

Bangladesh (East Pakistan) is another case. Bangladesh is ethnically uniform even though it is a Muslim majority country. Bangladeshi Muslims also spoke Bengali (although they call it Bangla), practiced syncretic style of Islam and had nothing in common with West Pakistan. However, that does not mean that Hindus are treated any better in Bangladesh than Pakistan. Hindu population is mistreated and declined gradually since 1950 (28%), currently at about 8% according to the 2011 census. Being ethnically and linguistically homogeneous has not prevented ethnic cleansing and mass killings of Hindus in Bangladesh.

It is heartening to note that India is considering steps to allow relocation the mistreated minority groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh to resettle in India. Similar facilities must be extended to Hindu diaspora across the world.

Hindus in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian Countries

Hindus entered and flourished in Southeast Asia since 3rd century C.E. Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Philippines derive their early empirical foundations from India and its early Hindu and Buddhist groups arrived from India. More Hindus brought since the 16th century by successive states of India join these ancient Hindus. British colonial regime brought more Hindus to work in plantations across Southeast Asia. However, the current status of Hindus in these countries is precarious. Although native to Indonesia, indigenous Hinduism is not allowed to be practiced in Indonesia, while Malaysia treats Hindus as unwanted citizens. India should recognize the diaspora and grant overseas citizenship to all the Hindus of Southeast Asia.

Roma across European and Eurasian countries

Another forgotten long lost diaspora of India is the Roma living across Europe and Eurasia. Roma were forcefully removed and taken away from Indian regions conquered by the Muslim raids from 10th century onwards for fear of rebellions in their conquered territories. Roma are the first diaspora of India. Hence, India should embrace this group of people immediately. Roma across Europe and Eurasia suffered discrimination lasting over a thousand years. Recent removal and resettlement of Roma in Ukraine (An event similar to the Babyn Yar Tragedy of WWII) drew criticism from Israel and Holocaust Museum of USA (, but no statement from India, which shows missing place of Roma from the national conscious of India.
Being treated as refugees in lands where they settled for close to a thousand years haunts the Roma across Europe and the Eurasian region. Roma are largely missing from public debates on human rights violations. Numerous Roma across Europe were discriminated and killed during the Second World War alongside Jews, but Roma massacres did not draw any attention from international community. Initiatives to create and bring awareness to Roma issues in Europe are helping raise awareness in the recent years (
India could be forgiven for its lack of empathy towards its diaspora in the past since it was also under colonial rule lasting for a thousand years until 1947. However, as India enters a new phase of development and place of strategic importance in the international sphere, attention should be paid to its lost children. India must support and embrace its lost children from across the globe.

Published previously on MyInd Makers: 

British Construction of Race and Caste in India

One of the greatest and successful invasions as far as colonial regimes are concerned is the invasion Azteca (Mexico) by the Spaniards, in which a few hundred soldiers successfully crushed a large civilization, looted enormous amounts of gold and silver, while inflicting huge loss of life on the Aztec, and Mexican populations, wiping out an entire civilization. Loss of cultural heritage is almost complete. With their emperor burned at stake, their books destroyed, their languages, cultures and life styles vanish in a mere hundred years. What is left of this forceful Spanish occupation is a mixed South American people and culture, commonly referred to as Latino culture a non-European Spanish civilization, with unique elements of Catholicism mixed with native understanding.
         This fifteenth century historical incident of invasion, occupation, and replacement of native culture on the continent of America, has inspired colonial historians to apply this to any culture any where in the world. Its mutations can be found in colonial dual race theories perpetrated across the world on every continent from Africa to Australia.
         All of the invasion theories have some common elements although they are customized to fit to each region. The invaders always came from north, fair skinned (at least fairer than others), tall, rode horses, brought the Neolithic package (seeds, wheel and steel). Even though contrary evidence exists in the regional cultures, it was overruled to establish that the migration theories explain the establishment of culture and civilization in each region. Genocide of Rwanda is a direct result of these invasion theories. Although sharing a language and culture, colonial theories of invasion led the Tutsi and Hutu believe that they belong to distinct racial groups. These groups that existed in peace for thousands of years earlier were pitched against each other since the 1800s as conquerors and the conquered finally culminating in ethnic cleansing leading to the worst genocide of the 20th century. According to this theory of invasion, conquest and settlement, first setttlers of Rwanda were Hutu, who were conqured by the pastoral Tutsi (cattle keepers) from the north possibly of Cushite origin, and hence Caucasian and superior to the Hutus. Hence the successive colonial regimes employed the Tutsi for in administrative positions between 1880-1950. Therefore, it is a privilege to be recognized as Tutsi under these colonial regimes, which separated the Tutsi and from the majority of the population while using them as ramparts of the colonial regime against the native populations. One can only imagine what would happen once the colonial regime fell and Rwanda became independent.
         Similar system of invasion theories is employed successfully in India to create fault lines within the native populations of India. The first is the Aryan invasion theory- based on the linguistic theories. This is the most imaginative application of invasion, conquest, settlement model adopted by the West. In order to make this theory seem real a number of corrections were needed, which were carried on very deftly by the colonial history writers. First issue is that the Aryans were never mentioned as a race in the Vedas. All that the Vedas talk about is Aryas, an educated elite. Arya (its another form is ayya) is still used in India to refer to elders and educated elite. It is changed to say Aryan a known race of Iran. Then it gets more confusing. Aryans are considered to have conquered Dravidians (Dravida-Dramizha-Tamila). But then who are these Aryans and Dravidians. No such races exist by those names either in India or anywhere else. Now wild theories are constructed on who the Aryans might have been and from where they might have come from. Then there is also the second part of the theory, who are the Dravidians, but for the theory to work they must be indigenous, and also poor and uncivilized. The Dramila (so called Dravida) are neither uncivilized tribes nor poor. Anotehr issue is that numerous elements of South (Dramila) are prevalent in Vedic texts and Hindu practices and religion. Therefore, some new scapegoat has to be found to fit this poor, uncivilized tribe styreotype. As an offshoot of this necessary theoretical imbroglio, the Dalits were fit into this mold. Some more theories were proposed which were enthusiastically lapped up and embraced by modern day lower castes of India, the Dalits. With one stroke of genius the colonial regime divided India vertically into opposing sections without any regard for its history, culture, or tradition. Professional castes of India including the leather workers (chamars) were neither low nor poor in pre-colonial India. It was only after the colonial regime introduced the mill-made goods for sale in India that the professional castes of India became poor and disenfranchised from their professions. Aryan and Dravidian languages are theoretically not that different, but pronounced different by the colonial regime to facilitate its program of cultural division, and racial segregation to fragment India. The British regime did not rest easy with such broad fragmentation. It further divided India in to various ethnic categories based on race characteristics, calling them Martial races, etc.

The question is does all the people speaking a single language belong to a single race? The answer is no, when one examines language historically.