Intro: According to Prof. Juluri, the aim of this book is to
provide intellectual ground work for media students, academics, and sentient human beings who care about the world and its lives, to expand their horizons and imagination.
In his book, Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence, Professor Vamsee Krishna Juluri focuses his ire and his disapprobation on Western academics and media for a calculated campaign to malign Hinduism and Hindus
A professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, in USA, Prof. Juluri in his latest book, Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence while making a passionate, inspired and courageous attempt to go deep into Hindu beliefs, practices and faith in his book, focuses his ire and his disapprobation on Western academics and media for a calculated campaign to malign Hinduism and Hindus. He does not spare the Indian Left/liberal elite either for their participation in this demonisation and marginalisation campaign and argues that only with a celebration of the timeless values enshrined in Hinduism can the world discover afresh the essence of life and love.
He terms the distortion of Hinduism and Hindus in academia and in the media as Hinduphobia. He says, “The fact remains that objectively speaking there is a systematic distortion and misrepresentation of Hinduism and Hindus in the media that has never been challenged by activists or academia in the way they have challenged misrepresentation of other groups.”
He observes the assumption of power by Narendra Modi as a turning point in the History of India, as it was the victory of intelligence. He says that six decades after seeming collapse of the great promise of the Mahatma, the nation is back in the realm of intelligence once again. He is of the view that what really won the day in 2014 was intelligence. He said, “It is simply about returning to the core of our civilizational self-understanding, which is to respect intelligence, and let it guide our action and affairs.”
In his book, he says that “Hindu culture’s existence is a triumph of survival” and that “we came from a world of wisdom we can barely fathom in today’s terms.” When asked to elaborate on this point, he said, “Colonialism wiped out most other world views. Ours has still survived. It is amazing that a set of ideas, values, stories and symbols have been coming down for several centuries now, across generations, without changing, but somehow using change to restore what is important to our sense of self. It is a stunning accomplishment as far as Hinduism is concerned. The important thing to notice is that, “the way we survived was not through brute force but through a particular kind of intelligence, a way of knowing the world that is beyond mere doctrines.”
The cover image of the book is the Narasimha statue in Hampi, whose one hand is missing but he is trying to write something. Prof. Juluri says that this symbolises the predicament that the Hindu community faces now; we wish to write our history but don’t have a hand. He urges Hindus to be able to write their own history instead of passively receiving Eurocentric histories of Hinduism that often lack sensitivity and cultural understanding.
He says the book argues that petty dismissal of Hinduism as “cow worship,” “caste—based discrimination” run the risk of eschewing the potential solutions that India has for the consumptive lifestyles of America and Europe.
The aim of this book, according to Prof. Juluri, is to thus provide intellectual ground work for media students, academics, and sentient human beings who care about the world and its lives, to expand their horizons and imagination. He goes on to say that his book is not a conventional academic book, and while it reflects years of reading in Hinduism, Gandhian thought, nature and animal studies, it is in the end a short, direct expression of pain, anger and hope-It is about righteous anger, anger born not out of self-concern but out of outrage against whatever is wrong in the world.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Kerala based senior journalist Pradeep Krishnan:
- How you got interested in Hinduism and Hindu way of life?
I grew up in a devout Hindu family and appreciated the rich cultural life of Hinduism. I developed an intellectual appreciation later when I was doing my PhD, first through the example and teachings of my Guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and later through research and teaching on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
- What promoted you to write this remarkable book “Rearming Hinduism.”?
A profound sense of outrage about the distortion and vilification of Hinduism and Hindus in academic and journalistic circles, and a sense of urgency that without a renewed Hindu vision the Hinduphobic world of today will destroy the planet, life, and nature very quickly.
- How far Hinduism is relevant for today’s world?
We are perhaps one of the only major sources of philosophical thought and cultural practice in the world that can be adapted along with other cultures; Hinduism comes from freedom and spreads only freedom. It is a very useful cultural resource in an age when coercion and intolerance are ripe. Plus, Hinduism is traditionally a very nature-friendly tradition. We must revive that globally.
- You say, “Only by eloquently and forcefully answering knee-jerk criticisms of the eternal dharma can the potential of this millennia old religion come to the fore.” Please explain?
A few generations ago when Hindus were living under British colonialism our survival strategy was silence and accommodation. We ignored criticisms and slanders. Today, it is a different world. Even though some Hindus think all is well and we can just let ‘barking dogs bark’, the situation calls for action. Today the world is dominated by media discourses, and politics is all about definitions. Silence and complacence are not options. We can renew ourselves only if we understand where criticism of Hinduism is coming from accurately and disarm it.
- How can Hinduism offer an alternative to large scale destruction of planet Earth taking place all around?
By understanding the ideas of karma, satya, and ahimsa; by recognising how our modern global way of life has a devastating environmental footprint. By encouraging everyone to find the best in their traditions and recognise the need to change the course of history, especially the history we have been caught up in since colonialism.
- What does it really mean to be a Hindu today?
It means to rise up to the greatest challenges of our time, and to walk a very fine line in being able to speak for ourselves, defend our integrity, and at the same time also speak for the welfare of all, nations, cultures, and living beings without getting reduced to others' terms of petty interreligious rivalries.
- You say, “One of the biggest intellectual challenges we face today is in distinguishing between myth and history.” Please elaborate.
The greatest treasure of Hinduism is the deep devotion we have for our gods through stories about them. Today there is a lot of commentary on what they really mean, and whether they are ‘myth’ or ‘history.’ We must recognise that our god stories are bigger than both these categories. They are not myths in the sense of fairy-tales for entertainment for sure, but at the same time, we cannot reduce them to simple narratives about kings and conquests. The aesthetic, emotional, and ethical dimensions are essential.
- How do you view the assumption of power by Narendra Modi in 2014?
Satya and Maya have never before been as clearly polarised in recent times as they have during the 2014 elections. The language of Maya is powerful, persistent; it has the backing of sixty six years of postcolonial privilege in India, and five hundred years of colonial support; it is the language of the powerful, even if it speaks about empowering the powerless and protecting minorities and such. It has become deceitful, that it has been rejected, even if those who have rejected it risk the stigma of being labeled as fascists, dictators, haters, and worse. What we have won now is not merely a chance for India to catch up with illusions of progress as defined by those who do not know better, but the opportunity to assert Satya, truth itself, over an age defined by the illusions of mass media.
- Do you agree that due to centuries of distortions-some intentionally perpetrated by colonists, missionaries and the so-called left historians-Hinduism is widely misunderstood?
I think instinctively, people don't misunderstand Hinduism at one level; when they do Yoga, when they chant shanthi mantras, and feel kind about themselves and others, they are living our spirit, even if they are not even technically Hindus! However, the conversation about Hinduism today, in media, academia, and other important institutions is badly stacked against us. We were not allowed to decolonise the old racist narrative about us in India or globally, even though other formerly colonised people have all done so. We have a lot of catching up to do.
n How do you view the works of Freudian, Marxist and other academicians, like Jeffrey Kripal and Wendy Doniger, bitter critics of Hinduism?
I think it is important to examine their work and to discuss the problems with it. They don't see themselves as our critics but our friends. If they are our friends then they really need to recognise why so many of us are not happy with their work. The first half of my book responds to some of their ideas and shows how they are based on a lot of inaccurate assumptions about Hindu identity, history, and culture; again, old racist and colonialist myths about us that they never got over.
- What is the basis of your argument that the challenge to Hinduism comes not from armies and governments but from academics and journalists and you call this Hinduphobia.
Hinduphobia is deeply entrenched institutionally. It is not open hostility or interreligious rivalry, they don't say their religion or culture is better than ours (and that is why the response of Hindu activists and intellectuals too needs to be universally framed, and not as a simple interreligious rivalry). The academic consensus today, and one widely reflected in media too, is that Hinduism is (a) just an invention, and there is no such thing and (b) the source of all social ills in India is caste and gender discrimination. It’s a profound contradiction and needs to be exposed.
- What do you mean when you say that “Hindu culture’s existence is a triumph of survival” and that “we came from a world of wisdom we can barely fathom in today’s terms”?
We have to understand our own journey through time as a civilisation better. It is a miracle that we survived two imperial invasions deeply motivated with pseudo-religious hostility and have come this far. Today we don't have the intellectual investment yet in understanding how we have come this far and determining where to go next. We must take higher education and academic work seriously.
- Please explain your statement “even the terms on which we argue about history need to change.”
It is not enough to argue about things like Indus Valley and Aryan Invasion, and whether or not Krishna and Rama were historical figures. We need to get into a much bigger, richer, and more useful way of narrating prehistory and natural history as well. How did our ancestors see the world? What did they feel when they chanted the mantras we still chant? How did they balance their duties between their own elders and towards their children? What did water and food mean to them? How did they see the living world? What I have tried to do in my book is to get us think more about how the past few centuries of colonisation (and Macaulayisation) have warped not just our identity, but the way we look at nature itself.