A CASE OF MISTAKEN ENMITY

We inhabit an age of unprecedented access to information. We get news about anyone anywhere in the world moments after an elapsed event. We watch closely, and are watched in return. References, analyses, opinions, and revelations are instantly absorbed through the osmotic interaction of fingers and keyboard.

One would think these spectacular advances in communication technology would do wonders for mutual understanding. But the opposite is often true, for one basic reason: Most people want to be transmitters, not receivers.

Misunderstandings escalate with each successive reaction that springs from a rush to judgment and the haste to be heard. Stereotype- and prejudice-driven assumptions grow from self-absorbed dervishes of circular thinking to gale force xenophobia.

 

Rajiv Malhotra’s article “Why Swami Nithyananda Must Resign” (Medha Journal) was his well-intentioned attempt to mitigate the anticipated fallout from the sanyaasi’s televised bedroom antics. Mr. Malhotra’s article and videotaped interview with the Swami were released before the full extent of Swami Nithyananda’s dissembling, evasiveness, and attempts to manipulate public perceptions became known.

Did Mr. Malhotra’s apologetics involve mistaken assumptions? Does his defense represent flawed reasoning? That’s a matter of opinion. Anyone is free to disagree.

But the commentaries of Sandhya Jain [1] and Radha Rajan [2] take criticism and dissent to an entirely new level. In the process of dismantling Mr. Malhotra’s defense of Swami Nithyananda, they construct a febrile and fanciful narrative about the presumed agenda of the “global Hindu” to hijack and colonize the thought processes of “local Hindus” — with the goal of installing Swami Dayananda Saraswati as the anointed Pope of Hinduism.

This vision is absurd enough to qualify as satire –except that its proponents are dead serious.

In Ms. Jain’s mind, the brother, sister, aunt, or cousin who left to pursue a life and career overseas, has turned into a creature that is part Manchurian Candidate, part Orwellian Big Brother – just by virtue of stepping outside a geographic boundary.

Ms. Rajan’s essays demonstrate an impressive grasp of the existential threats to Hinduism. Her decoding of Vatican doublespeak and her careful vivisection and diagramming of the Christian agenda in India are both accurate and admirable.

But it is most unfortunate that she applies her considerable intellect to impugning someone who has devoted his energies to combating the plague of proselytism over three decades. In so doing, she seems to manifest the very same “disunity and crustacean tendency to pull our own down” that she alludes to in one of her essays. [3]

Swami Dayananda Saraswati has spoken of, strategized about, mobilized against, and counseled to pre-empt conversion — since long before he founded a Gurukulam in Pennsylvania and at least a decade before he assumed his current position at the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (HDAS). In formulating creative strategies or in inspiring ordinary people to shake off their apathy, Swami Dayananda has consistently and tirelessly put the cause above his own personal well- being.

It is mind-bogglingly arrogant for those who lack the capacity to walk a mile in his sandals to judge him inadequate and issue peremptory demands for his resignation. The field for activism is wide open. Let those who know better prove it by doing better!

If it were possible to transform attitudes by attending meetings, signing pious proclamations, persuasion by sound reasoning, or amending laws — the world would be a much different place. The reality is that any individual who sets out to be an agent of change finds out that the desired outcome is not guaranteed by impressive communication skills and a valid argument. It is equally dependent on how the listener processes it.

In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes – “the mind of a bigot is like the pupil of an eye: The more light you pour on it, the more it contracts.” But who among us would admit to bigotry? We recognize it instantly in others, but hold our own opinions to be eminently rational.

The German philosopher Nietzsche said “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Sometimes what we perceive as fact might just be a figment of our assumptions.

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