Skip to main content

Global Hindutva: Repercussions of 'strident' anti-caste narrative in US felt in India

By Aviral Anand* 

A very interesting struggle is going on in the United States right now. It is, to my opinion, a great example of a sustained and focused struggle at many levels and the utilization of a variety of tactics of resistance and voice-amplification.
While mainly Indian-origin anti-caste activists in the US have been engaged in highlighting issues of caste discrimination in India, they have been supported by anti-caste fighters from other regions of South Asia as well, especially Nepal.
For a while now they have also taken on the various manifestations of casteism in the US. This might sound strange to those unfamiliar with how caste manifests wherever those who practice caste travel. One might expect that in a foreign land, certain practices from the "old country" might have no scope of existing and flourishing. But contrary-wise, it appears that deeply ingrained biases are not shaken off even in entirely new landscapes and territories.
One of the big battlegrounds early on (2005, 2016-17) was the representations of caste and the Hindu religion in school textbooks in the state of California in the US. The anti-caste activists had pointed to the centrality of caste in the Hindu religion. 
They had appealed to the state education committee to depict Hinduism as not an egalitarian faith (which was how the proponents of a certain version of Hinduism wanted it) but one riddled with the inequalities of caste hierarchies. 
A spirited struggle was waged to enable an accurate depiction of realities of Hinduism and the battle, so to say, went to public hearings before the California education/textbook committee.
Recently, instances of casteism in practice have been reported among Indians in US work environments. The prominent case in this regard was in the computer company, Cisco.
Along with the workplace, there were accusations of casteist behavior on US college campuses as well. Both American work environments and educational institutions are home to a large number of members of Indian origin.
As a result, caste as a category of discrimination has become a topic of discussion -- and even change in statutes and laws -- in American companies and educational institutions. At both such sites, there is a process on to understand issues of caste among employees and the measures needed to prevent further occurrences of the same.
What is important to note in this regard is the persistence with which the anti-caste activists in the US have waged their struggle. Initially fighting deep-rooted perceptions in the US about a spiritual, other-worldly nature of Hinduism, they nevertheless stuck to their guns to offer the other side of the popular image.
While the forces opposing them kept organizing in retaliation and were better funded, the anti-caste activists chose methods that were simpler and proved more effective. They formed alliances with other marginalized groups in the US, especially the African-Americans. 
They leveraged social media and also carried on a strong case of advocacy among young Indian-Americans, who were anyways getting sensitized to issues of privilege as they grew up amidst the Occupy and the Black Lives Matters movements.
Such consistent outreach has proved crucial in broadening their work among the youth and even the more liberal-minded among South Asians. In addition, one cannot fail to mention the constant and dedicated ground work done in the US by various Ambedkarite organizations which have formed connections in civil society and academia, gradually spreading the message of Ambedkar and the workings of caste.
There is an alarm in caste-based and caste-minded groups in India and abroad. They have been caught off-guard
What is worth noticing is that they have managed to shift the narrative to an extent. Many forms of Hindu organizations -- from podcasters, virulent youtubers, and organizations such as Hindu Universities (yes, there is one!) -- are now featuring programs, webinars and discussions on issues of caste with an acute urgency, and one might even say, desperation.
In a globalized world, especially of global Hindutva, the repercussions of a strident anti-caste narrative is felt back in India as well. Several organizations which espouse and promote some kind of back-to-the-glories-of-Hinduism projects, if not outright Hindutva, are taking notice. 
A flurry of events -- talks, lectures, articles, conferences (links here and here, for instance) -- have come up, examining caste and Hinduism from every aspect, including nitty-gritty issues of jati and varna. The aim is the same across all these attempts -- to somehow explain away the implication and identification of caste as understood historically in relation to Hinduism.
What is evident is that there is an alarm in caste-based and caste-minded groups in India and abroad. They have been caught off-guard by the relentless organizing and the challenges posed by anti-caste activists, and they are now having to find more considered responses -- even to their own audience - to justify the social presence of caste within Hinduism. They are in crisis mode, one can quite easily conclude.
As mentioned earlier, none of this has come easy. The general image of India in the West is associated with its spirituality, the practice of yoga, kirtans etc. To show another, seamier, less savory side of that system which espouses the loftiest intellectual and human goals, is not easy. 
Yet, very slowly, this has been achieved. The dogged organizing has also resulted in attracting newer members and energy, leading to wider campaigns. It has been an uphill battle to even come so far, but the organizers never lost sight of their goals. To resist an iniquitous system and discrimination, and fight for a more egalitarian future. Dr Ambedkar would have nodded in approval.
*Social activist based in Delhi



Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Delhi HC rules in favour of retired Air Force officer 'overcharged' for Covid treatment

By Rosamma Thomas*  In a decision of May 22, 2023, the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of petitioner Group Captain Suresh Khanna who was under treatment at CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, between April 28 and May 5, 2021, for a period of eight days, for Covid-19 pneumonia. The petitioner had to pay Rs 3,55,286 as treatment costs, but the Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS) only reimbursed him for Rs 1,83,748, on the basis of government-approved rates. 

'Enough evidence' in Indian tradition to support legal basis for same-sex marriage

By Iyce Malhotra, Joseph Mathai, Sandeep Chachra*  The ongoing hearing in the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage provides space for much-needed conversations on issues that have hitherto remained “invisible” or engaged with patriarchal locker room humour. We must recognize that people with diverse sexualities and complex gender identities have faced discrimination, stigma and decades of oppression. Their issues have mainly remained buried in dominant social discourse, and many view them with deep insecurities.

Religious divide 'kept alive' with low intensity communalism in Gujarat's cultural capital

By Rajiv Shah  A fact-finding report, prepared by the Mumbai-based non-profit, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS), has cited the Vadodara Ram Navami violence of March 30 as yet another example of how, after the BJP consolidating its hold on political power in Gujarat post-2002 riots and at the Centre in 2014, the nature of communal riots has changed, underlining, as opposed to high-intensity violence earlier, now riots have become “more sub-radar and at a smaller scale, more localized”.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Urgency for next pandemic? But Mr Health Secretary, you're barking up wrong tree

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD*  The Union Health Secretary, Mr Rajesh Bhushan addressing the Health Working Group of G20 India, at Hyderabad on 05 June 2023, cautioned that the next pandemic would not wait for us to make global treaties and called on countries to work together.

76% Odisha govt school infrastructure in dilapidated state, 'undermine' RTE norms

By Our Representative  As many as 75.86% (5,421) elementary schools in Odisha do not possess a playground, depriving students of physical activity opportunities. Also, 75.68% (5,408) of schools require minor or major repairing, undermining the norms and standards stipulated in the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

Caste, impact on Ayodhya area 'halting' BJP rulers to act against Brij Bhushan Singh

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Finally, the #WrestlersProtest has got international attention. The United World Wrestling (UWW),  condemning the treatment and detention of wrestlers and expressing its disappointment over the lack of results of the investigations against Brij Bhushan Singh, accused of sexually harassing women wrestlers, has urged the "relevant authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation."

Why continued obsession with adding more 'water guzzling' coal, nuclear power plants?

By Shankar Sharma*  The true concerns over water inefficiency in coal power plants have been known and have been highlighted many times in the past. A highly relevant study report by Prayas Energy Group had highlighted this fast looming threat to our society many years ago. But our authorities have been acting as though there can be no issue with water supply, and that additional coal power plants can be added indefinitely; even without any true relevance to climate change.