#Hinduphobia #Hindubashing #SOAS
SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies. Anyone who has had the privilege of studying at this unique University of London institution can attest to how special this place is. Here you will find specialists in the languages, cultures, societies and religions of Africa and Asia, carrying out research and teaching in a depth found at few other places. Now one of the major features of SOAS is its library.
While every college and university has this, the SOAS library is again unique and special with the materials it has, needing catalogue specialists and other staff familiar in those languages. Indeed it was in this library that I leant far more than what I had in lectures and seminars. There are books here that you simply cannot find at other places. This is the case even in this connected world where Google search and social media feed is the resource of information for millions. To find rare, special and novel materials the SOAS library remains world-class.
The same can be said about the staff. Here we have specialists in ethnomusicology, in languages that originate from that part of the world, people who dedicate their lives to subjects where the only reward is the love of the topics concerned.
SOAS prides itself on being a vibrant, diverse and inclusive institution. The mix of different people and ideas here is incredible. However, SOAS itself was established to train colonial officials to rule Britain’s imperial realms in Africa and Asia. Bizarrely enough aspects of that remain with regard to Hindus. This time however it is not about ruling the native savages but portraying them as an anathema to ‘progress’.
South Asia is a geographic term to encompass what was once called the Indian subcontinent. As a more neutral term, it is descriptive and even benign. Hence in SOAS we have specialists in languages and music of South Asia. The area of Hindu law was virtually founded here. However, more recently, this geographic term has lost some of its political neutrality and gone beyond the merely descriptive. It has become a political tool in many institutions to downplay the significance of India and Hindu culture in all this.
Even when I was at SOAS much of the communal issues were blamed, however subtly, on Hindu fundamentalism, fascism and general intolerance. This was most pronounced of course when studying modern politics of South Asia. Other areas of South Asian studies of course did not touch on this and were immune from this negativity.
Nevertheless where or when this anti-Hindu sentiment did arise it was vociferous, not least because SOAS attracts scholars from around the world, and has immense respect for what it is. If the premier world institution on Africa and Asia is allowing these elements to go mainstream in certain aspects of its teaching and research then that explains why so many institutions mirror each other in terms of their negative approach to Hindu issues in history and politics. It was therefore ironic perhaps that while I was being taught one thing, it was in SOAS’s very own library that I first encountered books by Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup and Koenraad Elst.