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Washington Post - THE FOLLIES OF HINDU DENIAL by Prof. Vamsee Juluri

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The follies of Hindu denial

By Vamsee Juluri
Professor, University of San Francisco
The Washington Post
May 5, 2010

I wonder if the followers of any other faith in America have to live
with the absurdity of hearing constantly that their religion does not
exist. Add to that an irony: you see images from the religion that
supposedly does not exist showing up everywhere, as ornaments, as New
Age paraphernalia, and, insultingly, even on toilet seats. Worse,
there's an exception to the general denial of your religion: when it
does get talked about, it is only to get blamed as the sole cause of
every evil in the land of your birth.

That is how it feels as a Hindu in America today, and that is the
right context to see the debate between Dr. Aseem Shukla and Dr.
Deepak Chopra.

The issue is not whether Hindus "own" Yog as much as the growing
denial of Hinduism in American media and intellectual culture. This
denial exists in many forms; in bookstores, where we find shelves for
Islam and Christianity but not for Hinduism, in academic writing,
where the word Hindu is quote-marked into high degrees of concerned
irony to imply that it is nothing more than a fabrication of fascist
fundamentalists, and of course, in the booming new age culture of
America where "Namastes" are heard but never the word "Hindu."

this, like many Hindus, I believe in the plurality of Hinduism and
its basic belief that all faiths lead to God. But as an academic who
studies the causes and consequences of media misrepresentation, I
feel that there is a growing culture of Hindu denial. Curiously, this
culture has found its sustenance from opposite ends of the American
political-intellectual spectrum. Religious conservatives condemn
Hinduism as paganism, much as the first colonizers did when they set
forth to save us. But what is new is that enlightened New Age
liberals, American and South Asian, shun its mention as if every
person who identifies as Hindu is a fundamentalist.

The reasons for this response lie partly in recent Indian politics.
For many Hindus, identifying as such was once unimportant and perhaps
even un-Hindu. I grew up in India in the 1970s in a devout family and
being Hindu was not a subject of conscious discussion. That began to
change in the late 1980s. Hindu identity became important in daily
life (in large part because of television) and in politics (it was a
time of identity politics in general and religious identity, just
like caste and regional or linguistic identity, entered the political
mainstream). The ideas of Hindu nationalism spread through the Hindu
middle-class imagination in India and abroad by the 1990s, and so did
opposition to it. On American campuses too, students were often
divided, calling themselves either "Hindu" student groups or "South
Asian" groups. This polarization has become so widespread now that
any debate about Hinduism turns into a single-issue fight about

What these debates often forget is the American context. America sees
the world sharply in terms of religious identity (unlike in India
where other identities also matter). It saw more Hinduness in Indian
immigrants than even we ever did, and not always kindly. Over the
decades Hollywood and Washington had made Hindus synonymous in the
American mind with Indiana Jones-style depravity. Hindu children
faced this contempt in school, and in time took it upon themselves as
Hindu Americans to set things right, the civil way at that.
Unfortunately, they now face a misplaced backlash against
fundamentalism that dismisses even legitimate efforts to address
concerns about Hinduism as a misrepresented faith in America.

Many great Hindu spiritual leaders have, in the best spirit of their
faith, rarely enjoined the use of the term "Hindu." However, we must
also not unwittingly de-Hinduize them. It has become fashionable to
"borrow" from one of Hinduism's many traditions and then disavow it
altogether, as if Hinduism only refers to the residue of undesirable
stuff that got added onto some pristine preexisting spiritual
condition like the practice of Yoga. If one does not like Hindu
politicization, commercialism, or superstition, by all means one may
and indeed one must reject those specifically, for these are all
undesirable features that can sully any faith. But it is neither
accurate nor ethical to speak of Hinduism as a reality only when
criticizing it while denying its existence altogether when enjoying
or exploiting, as the case may be, its gifts of wisdom to the world.

Vamsee Juluri is Professor of Media Studies at the University of San
Francisco and the author of three books, "Becoming a Global Audience:
Longing and Belonging in Indian Music Television" (Peter Lang, 2003),
"The Mythologist: A Novel" (Penguin India, 2010) and "The Ideals of
Indian Cinema" (Penguin India, 2011). He has written previously about
Hindus and Hinduism in America for Hinduism Today and the Huffington

By Vamsee Juluri - May 5, 2010; 7:56 AM ET

More at:

Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi
Om Shanti

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