India’s government has rejected the findings of a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that criticized the treatment of religious minorities since it came to power last year. The commission’s 2015 report said that since Narendra Modi’s party took over, religious minorities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked with his Bharatiya Janata Party, violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups.
The irony is not lost when one considers the ‘communal’ problem which America itself has been experiencing, most recently in Baltimore. While these problems have been seen through the lens of race and poverty, there is a strong religious element. America was founded by English immigrants, the Pilgrim Fathers, Puritans so extreme they thought that Oliver Cromwell was too soft on Catholics and dissenters from the core Protestant ethos.
The Calvinist doctrine of the elect of God, damns people as ‘born losers’ should they get trapped by poverty. America prides itself as a Christian nation, and was seen by the whites who dispossessed the indigenous inhabitants of their land as the New Jerusalem, a Promised Land where one could build this divine utopia and await Christ’s Second Coming. Indeed the land has been home to many millenarian movements such as the Mormons.
The Christian ethos was used to justify slavery and racism, an attitude that remains until this day. It is no coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan adopted the burning cross as its emblem. Racism and piety have often gone hand in hand.
The Native Americans were stripped of their beliefs as well as their land, to be reduced to living on reservations as mere tourist curiosities or on the cinema screen where their decimation by white marauders so inspired Hitler in his total war campaign against inferior Slavs.
Alcoholism and other forms of social malaise have plagued these once proud people ever since. Africans slaves were uprooted from their land, their surviving beliefs denounced as voodoo. This psychological trauma and rootlessness is the ancestor of modern gang culture and the wanton violence associated with it.
If one understands this, then the castigation of India becomes all the more sinister. Right-wing Christian extremists such as Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network are but the tip of an iceberg.
Despite the attacks on it by jihadis from their ally Saudi Arabia, the Bush administration thought it more important to ban Narendra Modi from the country back in 2001. The attacks of 9/11 led to a wave of violence against people of Indian origin as easy scapegoats, most notably the cruel murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi.
In America worship of Christ and the dollar go hand in hand. But this free market of ideas is as flawed as the free market of laissez-faire economics. Just as subsidies protects American farmers from competition, socialism for the rich protects banks for their own failures, and politicians are mere marionettes of the lobbyists that fund them, so again there is a tariff wall in terms of religious belief.
Robertson and other demagogues are vociferous in their stand that even yoga must be banned from America. Yet in India there has always been religious diversity. Christians and Muslims enjoy their own personal law separate from any uniform civil code. Does the USA have this? In America Piyush Jindal had to become Bobby Jindal to have any chance of success. Similarly Nimrata Kaur Randhawa became Nikki Haley.
While these aforementioned figures have undoubtedly worked hard to enjoy political success as state governors, they could only do so by embracing Christianity. In India there have been minority presidents and others persons of influence. We might then ask exactly who should be preaching religious freedom and tolerance here. Were the motivated by some divine spirit? Or the fear of being called heathens and being ’different’?
When Rajen Zed gave Hindu prayers in Congress he was mocked by powerful Christian extremists in that very chamber. President Obama is variously called a Muslim extremist, secret Muslim, a Jew and a Hindu worshipper of Shri Hanuman. Are these not derogatory comments?
The report on religious freedom reflects the constant anti-Hindu bias of Christian organisations and lobbyists. India is a market for souls as much as it is for fast food and soft drinks. That is the bottom line. It is all for profit, material and pseudo-spiritual. It reflects no understanding of the culture to which the old racist and colonialist stereotypes not only exist but have been enhanced.
The alcoholism on the native reservations, lack of affordable health care for millions, drug wars, spiralling debt, increased homelessness with ordinary decent hard-working Americans being forced to live on the streets, and the recent violence associated with gangs, racism and police brutality should make us ask is this the dysfunctional future which India should adopt as the alternative?