So What Really Ails Us?

We Hindus wrote the manual on self-flagellation, so I will not overstate the obvious here. Let me just propose some points for introspection.

Are we saying the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha is the sole make or break agent in securing Hindu interests? Are the remaining organizations, intellectuals, opinion-makers and social activists really powerless to do anything except to follow HDAS around and throw a tantrum whenever this organization disappoints them? Should dissent necessarily be negative, always seeking to bring down or destroy individuals and institutions? Could we instead step forward and constructively supplement that which we find inadequate?

I’m not suggesting that HDAS be held above scrutiny. However, I believe in heeding the Chinese proverb that says: “Do not use a hammer to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead.” It is one thing to criticize, and quite another to verbally assassinate – particularly if one’s target happens to be on the same side.

At the other extreme stand those whose apathy and lack of engagement at critical junctures sends a message to outsiders that many Hindus lack conviction and a strong sense of ownership of their beliefs and heritage. I’ll illustrate this with a personal example.

In 2004, Dr. C. Alex Alexander, a phenomenally erudite retired US Army physician created a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) urging them to amend Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I had the honor, along with three other individuals, of collaborating in this initiative.

Dr. Alexander is a Christian of Indian origin from the ancient Orthodox Church of Kerala, which does not practice proselytization. In the cover letter that I circulated with the petition, he asked to be introduced as “a naturalized American who immigrated to this country in 1962” who was “immensely proud of (his) roots in Indic traditions and its pluralism as exemplified by Sanatana Dharma.”

The language of Dr. Alexander’s proposed amendment read as follows:

…we are hereby appealing to the United Nations as a whole and the UN Commission for Human Rights in particular to adopt an amendment to Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights by expanding it through the addition of a second sentence (capitalized):

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. NO INDIVIDUAL OR ORGANIZATION MAY SEEK TO CONVERT AN INDIVIDUAL OR A GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS, INCLUDING MINORS OR INDIVIDUALS OF LIMITED COGNITIVE ABILITIES, FORMALLY OR INFORMALLY, FROM ONE RELIGION TO ANOTHER THROUGH OFFERING FINANCIAL OR OTHER MATERIAL INCENTIVES; THROUGH PHYSICAL, MENTAL, OR EMOTIONAL COERCION; OR THROUGH THREATS OR INTIMIDATION OF ANY KIND.”

Our goal was to gather 100,000 signatures in the shortest possible time. I drafted a cover letter that explained why this petition was important. I provided available annual statistics on the funds pouring into Christian organizations from overseas. Anticipating the objections of Muslims and Christians, I wrote:

The petition will likely evoke some defensiveness and reserve even from moderate Christians and Muslims. There will be those who view the petition as an attempt to infringe upon their “freedoms.”  They will ask how one defines objectionable proselytization.  A Christian friend asked me how you would curb proselytization except by means of force or manipulation — the very thing that the petition is out to condemn.

I responded by saying that the petition suggests a mandate not against *preaching* but against *coercion.* What I understand by preaching is explaining the virtues of one's religion to the willingly curious. What I define as coercion is the public defamation and ridicule of another's beliefs, or the use of bargaining or bullying tactics to recruit people to one's faith.

I said that after watching some of the local televangelism channels, and listening to the terms they use in reference to Hindus, or reading some of the guidelines for the stratagems to employed by evangelicals, I had reason to question who exactly is at risk for "force and manipulation."

Finally, I included reviews of a book by a western historian who plots the future trajectory of Christian expansionism. Reviews of the book from amazon.com are included in Appendiix 2. I introduced it as follows:

Please note (Jenkins’) predictions for the shifting center of gravity of Christianity. Please also note that in predicting the net outcome of Christianity’s expansion into the Southern Hemisphere, the author does not exactly foresee universal love and brotherhood.

We worked diligently to promote the petition. As the signatures crawled forward, we were initially encouraged to find a number of Orthodox Christian and Muslim signatories on board. But I was mystified by the tepid response from Hindus. A staff member from the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam of Swami Dayananda in Pennsylvania wrote:

Pujya Swamiji had all campers come to the AIM office and sign this past week. Of course that was great, nonetheless, we must contact everyone we know, every Temple, all study groups, all Hindus all over the world to augment the paltry numbers thus far generated.

After months of intense effort to mobilize support, including publicity by the Hindu Council of UK, what do you think the final signature count was? Our dream of 100,000 vanished early — we knew we wouldn’t manage to get to 10,000. We didn’t even make it to 5,000. The final count was a pathetic 3499 signatures.[9]

The petition would send a message all right – just not the one we intended. It would show the majority of Hindus as being indifferent to anything that does not directly affect them.

So we abandoned it.

Consider this: When word leaked out that some soldier on Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down the toilet, the Muslim world exploded in a conflagration of rage. The very next day, the President of the United States called a press conference to publicly apologize to the Muslim world.

If Indians demonstrated anything close to that sense of global fellowship, no power could undermine our shared legacy.

A good beginning in that direction would be to end the manufactured paranoia. There is no conspiracy being hatched by overseas Hindus to make Hindus in India subservient to “Western interests.” Meanwhile, our real adversary benefits from our intolerance of each other. While we argue about who has the right to speak on behalf of the punyabhumi, we would all do well to remember that before Kurukshetra was won on the battlefield, it was first won in Arjuna’s mind.

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