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India’s Right to Cultural Self-Determination

Countries are not just economic administrative spaces—they are homes to unique cultures and societies, which justify their existences separate from other nations. It is not unreasonable for a nation to seek to protect and promote its perceived cultural values: this is why there has been a worldwide backlash against globalization and post-national attitudes.

Though India is not the ethnostate of the Hindu people in the way that Israel is of the Jewish people, there is obviously a special connection between Hindu-majority India and the religions that originate from Indian civilization: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and the closely related Zoroastrianism. (Islam, which now represents about 14 percent of the population, did not come to India until the seventh century.)

Why? First, this is the ancient culture that roots modern India and its civilization, despite subsequent influences. Latin, Greco-Roman symbolism, and Christian religious motifs still play roles in Western cultural life, so naturally Sanskrit and Hindu and Buddhist symbolism occupy similar positions in India.

Second, the Indian religions, especially Hinduism, are Indo-centric in their sacred geography in a way that Islam and Christianity are not, and in a way that Judaism is for Israel. It is natural that the Indian state reflects this to an extent. Virtually all the holy sites of Hinduism, places mentioned in the ancient Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and locations of importance to classical Indian literature, are in or near modern India.  


Third, while there are dozens of Christian- and Muslim-majority states, India and Nepal are the only Hindu-majority countries in the world. Naturally, then, India is better placed than other nations to defend and advocate for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. As Sadanand Dhume asks [1] at The Wall Street Journal, “if India won’t throw these people a lifeline, who will?” There is no contradiction between this sort of civilization-based advocacy and respecting the rights of people to believe and live freely at the individual level.

When these points are taken into consideration, along with the fact that Hindus are the majority of India’s population—around 80 percent [2]—and that secular liberalism never penetrated deeply into the Indian population beyond the Western-educated elite, the reasons for the growth of populism and Hindu nationalism (across all political parties) become clear. These are not as deviations from a multicultural norm, but the culmination of various trends.

As social scientists studying early modern Europe have pointed out [3], modernization, mass media, and increased literacy led to the consolidation of larger ethnic, religious, and national identities. This is happening in India. But states also need mass national identities to maintain their coherence, and in India, for better or for worse, this is Hinduism. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), led by recently re-elected prime minister Narendra Modi, is in many ways a non-traditionalist Hindu party.

Furthermore, as I’ve written [4] at The Diplomat, the BJP has tried to erode differences between castes in order to consolidate a common Hindu identity. This would also be electorally advantageous: that is, if people vote as Hindus for the BJP instead of as members of their castes for caste-based political parties. The perpetuation of rural-based, discriminatory attitudes of caste discrimination is thus to the party’s disadvantage.

India, and Hinduism especially, is coming out of a long period of cultural dormancy that has lasted almost 1,000 years. From the end of the 12th century [5] onward, most of India came under the political domination, via conquest, of Muslim Turks, Afghans, and Mughals, and then the Christian British. Though the majority of Hindus did not convert, royal patronage dried up, and a more superstitious folk Hinduism took hold. Much of the continuity, including those of the kingdoms, universities, temples, and religious institutions that characterized classical Indian history, came to an end [6] during this period. Many major temples were razed [7]—imagine if Notre Dame and St. Peter’s were demolished—and important Hindu sites such as Prayaga were given names like Allahabad [8]. Except for a liberal period from 1579 to 1679 during a portion of the Mughal Empire, Hindus theoretically had to pay the jizya [9], a special tax for being non-Muslim, in order to remain “protected.”

Of course, the Muslim era was full of its accomplishments and wonders, such as the Taj Mahal, the development of new cuisines, linguistic borrowings from Persian and Arabic into modern Indian languages, and some religious syncretism, and these have also become a part of India’s history. But it wasn’t all roses. The conflict between Islam and Hinduism merits a book in itself. Suffice to say that, in many ways, the religions are like oil and water: they have theological and aesthetic perspectives that are diametric opposites. For example, compare the elaborate, carved sculptures that ubiquitously adorn Hindu temples with the total Islamic prohibition on graven images.  

Oddly, the restoration of ancient temples and original Hindu names for cities is often portrayed as a sort of fanaticism and extremism dangerous for minorities, though such activities place no compulsions and burdens upon non-Hindus. Traditionalists and patriots from around the world ought to sympathize with the sentiments of Hindu revivalism. (Where I part ways with Hindu nationalists is in my opposition to imposing on the personal habits of individuals.)

The modern project that seeks to revive Hinduism, and the Hindu nationalism that has grown out of it, is a function of the fact that Hindus are empowered politically in large parts of their own country for the first time in over 800 years (though some Hindu states such as Vijayanagara and the Maratha Empire did manage to flourish during this period). Like the European Renaissance, it is a sort of conscious rebirth from the ruins of a bygone age. India is in the midst of a great intellectual ferment and reawakening, and lovers of civilization all over the world should support this. Conversely, it is very important to push back against the skewed view [10] of Hinduism and India that has emerged in the West. (This, of course, doesn’t excuse the murderous actions of some Hindus, but it does seem that major Western publications [10] are going out of their way to attack Hinduism politically.)

Finally, by no means is Hindu revivalism the only political ideology in India, and it is far from certain whether it will be triumphant. Many political parties in India have caste or regional agendas, while the main opposition party to the BJP, the center-left Congress Party, has a vision of civic nationalism similar to that of many leftist parties in the West.

It is important to remember that while it has learned a lot from the West and from the Islamic world, India also has its own identity and path to pursue. Modern India can strive to be both a democratic, developed, and free nation, and also one that honors its identity.

Akhilesh Pillalamarri is an international relations analyst, and an expert on Indian history, culture, and politics. Follow him at Twitter @AkhiPill [11].

55 Comments (Open | Close)

55 Comments To "India’s Right to Cultural Self-Determination"

#1 Comment By ukm1974 On June 14, 2019 @ 3:28 pm

“Thus, we have been repeatedly told nothing but a bunch of lies about Taj Mahal all these years. Is there any reason, apart from false pride, stubbornness and natural reluctance to change, why historians are not prepared to accept the truth about Taj Mahal?

Yes. Once they accept the fact that Taj Mahal was a Hindu building, they will soon have to start thinking afresh about several other structures and monuments such as the Red Fort, the Jama Masjid and Kutb Minar at Delhi, the Red Fort at Agra, Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur, and almost every structure supposed to have been raised by foreign Muslim invaders.

They will have no other way but to accept the fact that all such structures are of Hindu origin but captured, misused, renamed and simply misrepresented as built by the captors.

As true historians, they ought not hesitate to admit such truth.

The matter does not end there.

The entire history of India for the last 1,200 years will have to be re-written.

That is too much for them to bear.

But why should Indian history need to be re-written?

History of architecture goes hand in hand with history and culture of the people. Architecture represents the resources, capabilities, craftsmanship, imagination, prosperity, grandeur and opulence of the people.

Once we logically and irrefutably conclude that buildings like Taj and other monuments were originally built by Hindu Kings, Generals, Noblemen and others, but were vandalised by Muslim rulers, it becomes evident that history of both races — Hindu and Muslim is quite different in all respects, from what we have been led to believe.

Historians would have us believe that India was a barren land.

Successive invading Muslims brought to India, music, dancing, poetry, literature, painting, gardens, fountains, art, architecture, astronomy etc.

It does not take a genius to realise that all this is absurd and totally false.

Muslim rulers brought nothing but terror, torture, massacres, rape, loot and destruction to India.

Their own chronicles make no bones about it!

They themselves do not claim to have built anything!

It is their second or third generation progenies who make such claims for their Muslim forefathers.”

#2 Comment By KS On June 14, 2019 @ 5:27 pm

Wow we can see the dark side of American Conservatism in the comments here – the dark side of calivinist puritan evangelicanism.

this is the same dark side that saw the native tribes of the American continent to be found as savages in need of extermination; that saw the enslavement of millions of africans to be considered 2/3rds of humans, and that today saw the iraq war (nothing has changed there in the last 500 years has it).

underlying all this is a deep fear of other, especially the other who has darker skin.

Good, good you are showing your true colors. And I thought of donating to this magazine once. Definitely wont be doing that. Though to their credit they did publish this article. I suppose we have to separate the messenger from its followers.

#3 Comment By Josh Kumarijaan On June 16, 2019 @ 1:11 am

It’s interesting that one commentator in the above post (or was it a prior similar article?) mentioned the likelihood of American Hindus being “Manchurian Candidates,” hell bent on “advancing paganism here in the west.”

The burgeoning of various Hindu-based yogas such as “Bikram” etc. in the United States corroborates this “manchurian” phenomenon — but more so since it has long been debunked, by western and Indian media sources, as a valuable exercise: (Google “Yoga dangerous”)

But hey, as many of the illuminating posts above have demonstrated, MOST Indian phenomena is detrimental, to ALL Humans (not so cows and rats…)

Another vivid example of Hindu-based paganism, such as “Tree-Worship,” being gradually anchored in the U.S. is those California loonies (where most Hindus make their living conning the Tech-victims) establishing a Forest where the ashes (sole way in which Hindus are buried) of Dead Humans are mixed with fertilizers to then grow new trees!

Reincarnation in America!

And that the US govt. via the USPS has promoted “Diwali” stamps — that commemorate abject Paganism is disturbing proof of how embedded these manchurian sleepers are. (Except that they are no longer snoozing!)

Incidentally, the growing chasm between the Silicon Valley & Microsoft (mostly Hindus) tech exploiters and the Homelessness in those heretofore “American” neighborhoods alarmingly mirror the caste wretchedness in modern India…

#4 Comment By NY Teacher On June 16, 2019 @ 6:56 pm

These pagan, caste-perpetrating, Hindu ignoramuses just won’t give up on their con-games. Just like prostitution, this world’s oldest religion also aims to convince rational people that human abominations (courtesy of Hinduism) are “normal,” and should be the norm of every civilized nation!

These “tricks” include shrewdly pitching absurd history-revisions, such as the outlandish claims that the Taj Mahal and other muslim landmarks were “actually built by ancient Hindu nobles — none of which are named, nor credible sources offered! The muslims supposedly “just converted these outstanding structures.” And re-wrote history. This, in a land where muslims never comprised more than 17% of the population.

But these perverse loonies-revisionists are hardly the outliers in “modern India.” Indeed, the Irish Times recently noted how the Indian PM himself, along with other politicians sporting scholarly degrees asserted that, “electric cars, aircraft and space vehicles capable of inter-planetary travel existed millennia ago. Warring Hindu kings even left behind a helmet on Mars, which was discovered by NASA scientists!”
Also, insists the Indian PM “plastic surgery, genetic science and stem-cell study existed thousands of years ago in ancient India.” He explained “that was how the Hindu god Ganesha’s elephant head was attached to a human body.”

Ditto for the “Internet being a Hindu invention and utility 1,500 years ago!” Shame on you Al Gore for violating the ancient Hindu patents!

One of 26.3 million online sources for this laughable claim is the Irish Times — where, thanks to Hinduism already taking over the west, the current Irish PM himself is a Gay(lic) Hindu.

Then there is the other buffoon commenter above who tries to argue that the “West’s practice of slavery (150 years ago) is more inhumane than India’s present-day reality where millions die every year from fecal-ingestion. And millions more “untouchable” lives shortened by the prevailing caste system. Every year!

Of course other Hindu pols try to curb India’s unprecedented early mortality by proposing that “our food supply can be better preserved if Indians increase their daily consumption of RATS”

Holy cow!

The American Con? More like Mad magazine, huh?

#5 Comment By Joy.J On July 3, 2019 @ 1:38 am

Modi and Hindu nationalists may be the only political group, who has supported a Hindutva terrorism accused person to become a policy making leader (member of the parliament) in the government. Modi also pointed a leader of a Hindutva extremist group, who were involved in the brutal murder of a Christian missionary and his family, to become a Union minister.

Following reports describe RSS Hindu nationalists as religious hate or Hindutva militant or extremist or terrorist organization:

A. RSS was banned by British and Indian government several times alleged violent activities, collection illicit weapons, exhortion of people to violence, targeted attacks on Muslims, and for spreading “communal poison” that cost Gandhiji’s life.

B. RSS has been listed as a Hindu militant or extremist groups in Canada, Australia and USA (by govt and non-governmental groups).

C. RSS is listed as Hindutva extremist group by by Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in 2003.

D. In 2003, Australian Financial Rwview has reported RSS as militant nationalist organization cross reference from the above Canadian document).

E. In 2014, US-based risk management and consulting company has put the RSS in its “category of ‘Threat Group’ and called it “a shadowy, discriminatory group that seeks to establish a Hindu Rashtra, a Hindu Nation”

F.. In 2018, CIA (USA) has listed VHP and Bajrang Dal as extremist groups. Both these groups are sister organizations of RSS. .

G. “In 2005, the U.S. State Department described the RSS and VHP as “extremist” groups, stating, “Members of the BJP, the RSS, and other affiliated organizations (collectively known as the Sangh Parivar) have been implicated in incidents of violence and discrimination against Christians and Muslims.”

H. US Dept . State 2018 Report states : “Conditions for religious minorities have deteriorated over the last decade due to a multifaceted campaign by Hindu-nationalist groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS), Sangh Parivar, and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) to alienate non-Hindus or lower-caste Hindus.”

I. In 1997, the United Nations reported on “the existence of Hindu extremism, encountered in varying degrees within ultra-nationalist political parties or parties attracted by ultra-nationalism (RSS, VHP and BJP).” Furthermore, the UN warned that “mention must… be made of the activities of the extremist Hindu parties, which are attempting to undermine the communal and religious harmony which exists in India by the political exploitation of religion.”

1. “The RSS has been described as a militant, nationalist organization whose goal is to create a Hindu state in India (Australian Financial Review 27 Sept. 2003)”.
2. India: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS): its objectives, activities, relationship to the government, territorial limitations, and incidents of violence against minorities, especially Sikhs (Sept. 2002-2003)
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada. October 28, 2003.
Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
4. Hindutva’s Poisoned Fruit and the World Hindu Congress – Countercurrents September 25, 2018
5. India Chapter – 2018 Annual Report. (US Department of State)
6. Hindutva’s Poisoned Fruit and the World Hindu Congress – Countercurrents September 25, 2018