One benefit of world religions that are ‘history centric’ in their theological progression, is that they have a defined line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. In fact, some of them have developed a detailed narrative of “blasphemy”, to the extent that entire sections of their clergy and many centuries of their existence have been spent policing those narratives. The entire dark ages in Europe and pretty much all the Caliphates in the Middle East devoted a major section of their resources to these pursuits.

Hindu Dharma however, uniquely stands apart from the other major religions of the world, in the way its epistemology and theology evolved. Unlike Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Hindu Dharma has stayed resilient without a concept of ‘blasphemy’. It oscillated between contrasting philosophies, through time and geography, all the while embracing the extremes on all ends, while staying rooted in the middle. Though this resilience can largely be credited to its evolutionary nature and ‘open architecture’, the fact that major areas of Hindu societies survived colonization and enslavement for centuries at length, may have helped them achieve robustness in their ability to adjust to contrasting philosophies and variety in traditions.

The current millennium, with its post colonial moorings and universalization of morality brings with it however, a whole new set of challenges. Unlike the past thousand years, large sections of the Hindu society is free to think and live today. We are free to travel around the world and do business. But today’s Hindu society faces a whole new set of diatribes and misrepresentations channeled through the most powerful weapon of our times, the popular mass media. Left to its own device, and in its worst form, it threatens to detach the very evolution of Hindu Dharma, for its future generations.
Below, I look at three types of diatribe generators that lead to angst and agony among many Hindus.

1. Hindu haters by any other name

This group of people are easy to identify and relatively simple to define. They approach Hindu Dharma from a position of hate, and Hindus from a position of disdain. Their reasons could be theological, political, historical or geopolitical, or a combination of them. Many of them represent religions and ideologies that were the cause of colonialism the past millennium. Many represent ideologies that see Hindus as cannon fodder for their post-colonial experimentation and ambitions.

2. The Hindu who meant well

This group is a more complicated one, and is by far the most numerous of all the cases I have come across in the past two decades. Let me give you an example to explain this category. A few Indian businessmen (all practicing Hindus) got together and set up a swanky bar in Las Vegas. In an expression of what they thought was personal reverence to their deity, they put Lord Ganesha, Devi Lakshmi on a pedestal, right in between a row of expensive scotch and vodka bottles. To the owners, it felt like an expression of their devotion to their deities, but it offended many Hindus to no end, that such a place of reverence could be placed right in the middle of bottles of alcohol.

3. The one who didn’t know

This group could easily come from within the Hindu society and is often a victim of its own ignorance. The diversity of traditions, and the plethora of iconography, the varied ontological hierarchies, all contribute to create a cacophony for someone who is not a practicing Hindu or is brought up in a ‘secularized’ narrative of Hindu Dharma, that is the hallmark of the Indian education system. As a result, every time someone uses creative liberties or presents satirical takes on Hindu traditions, or deities, without understanding the historical and epistemological roots of it, feathers are ruffled and emotions flare in some other more traditional sections of Hindu society.
And rightfully so, on occasion.

Our challenge

So, it is often very hard for the Hindu community to deal with controversies arising out of those who belong to the second and the third groups, as was seen when a morphed picture of Lord Vishnu that originally appeared on the cover of Aerosmith album. What looked like a case of disrespect to many Hindus in India was actually seen by some members of Hindu community in America and Europe as a homage to Lord Vishnu. Similarly, there have been occasions when certain acts of display of Hindu symbology has been vetted through one section of the Hindu community, or a major Hindu organization, but is taken as a sign of disrespect by another Hindu organization. This kind of dichotomy leads to the weakening of resolve in the Hindu community to project a unified retort to many of these real and perceived misrepresentations.
Ergo, it allows those in the first group, to get away with both disrespect and hatred against Hindus, their traditions, and their iconography.

Our responsibility

Our goal as leaders of our Hindu communities, should be to ensure a better understanding of the three groups mentioned above, and evaluate which of these groups caused the misrepresentation or abuse. At the same time it is important that we make a universal effort to educate the media industry about Hindu Dharma, bringing forth the knowledge latent in our Gurus, priests and ascetics. Those representing the Hindu faith should be encouraged to experience the practice of Hindu traditions from its practitioners and not merely from the libraries of elite institutions or known Hindu haters. Movies and television shows on topics concerning Hindus should be reviewed by practicing-Hindus who are experts in history and theology, before they are aired. Above all, we must uphold the time tested tradition of intellectual discourse that gave us the gift of rationality and dialectic, when the rest of humanity was still searching for wood to build the proverbial Ark.

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