This really bothered me last night.
It’s the global culture of casual disrespect towards Hindus. There’s no excuse for the Wall Street Journal here. This is not 1950, but 2020. I’m sure the WSJ has met enough Indians to know that Ramayana is one of the world’s greatest epics. This is a deliberate, calculated putdown for Hindus. A way for WSJ to literally stomp in Hindu faces and show how little they care.
When I first put this up on Twitter, some leftists came to defend. So what, they asked. It’s “factual.” Isn’t Ramayana on DD really an “80s TV show”?
Yes, it’s factual. But this trick in the liberal book has been duly cataloged and understood before. Anything can be described in any number of factual ways. You could describe Marie Curie just as “factually” as the wife of Pierre Curie. Or you could describe her as the discoverer of radium, as well as the winner of Nobel Prize in BOTH physics and chemistry. Which one you choose shows your attitude.
I remember some years ago when The Economist introduced the Amarnath lingam as a “penis shaped lump of ice.” Their defense? That it was factual.
I think it was Vamsee Juluri who made the point brilliantly when he replied that the Economist could just as well be described as “precycled future toilet paper.” While 100% factual, it is clear that describing the Economist this way is an insult.
The WSJ chose to describe Ramayana in a way that diminishes its stature as one of the world’s great epics. This was a deliberate snub.
The question is why. Why pick on Hindus like this? I put this question on Twitter and received hundreds of responses, which may be divided broadly under following headings.
(1) Hindus are not united.
I agree but I also disagree. Faultlines do exist within every community. Obviously, being disunited doesn’t help. But even so, other communities, especially the “peaceful” community, are able to extract respect from the world.
(2) Abrahamic religions look down on pagans
I believe there is more truth to this one. The world is dominated by two big Abrahamic faiths : Islam and Christianity. And there’s Communism which has absorbed all aspects of another Abrahamic faith.
When I say Christianity, I also include what can be called “cultural Christianity.” It is hard to imagine New Yorkers or Parisiens caring a whole lot about Jesus. Despite their lack of faith in the Christian god, the cultural beliefs endure. And one of the cornerstones of that belief is the idea that pagans, the ones with “many gods” are somehow less evolved, less intelligent and in need of enlightenment.
(3) Post-Colonial complex
One significant problem is that anyone looking to bash India or Hindus will immediately find a large and well-connected group of allies within India, who come from Hindu backgrounds. These are people whose self worth is based on how far they can pretend to be from the cultural roots of their own country.
Have you seen the elite journalist who conducts interviews wearing a bow? In the real world, they would think he has escaped from either a traveling theater or a traveling circus. But in our media world, he is seen as an intellectual, his ridiculously outdated accent seen as something valuable.
This problem is hardly limited to media. Starting with the fetish for “missionary schools” and “convent education” the problem goes deep. Nothing inherently wrong with either. Just that much of our society is still living the social structure of an empire that has long ceased to be taken seriously.
I would add something here. I would blame the “nationalist” side just as much for the post-colonial complex. A few years ago, there was a video of Shashi Tharoor at some debate at some crummy club in England, where he was making a case for colonial reparations or something. The video was viral and was shared quite enthusiastically by the Indian right as well as the left. Look, Shashi showed ‘them.’
I remember squirming with embarrassment as I watched Shashi Tharoor in that video. All I saw was a circus monkey performing for his masters, acting out tales of their past glory to pad their ego.
Yeah, we know lots of weird things happened in the past. Britain ruled over India. There was a time Rome ruled over Britain. There was a time Spain ruled like half of the world. The British know its over. All they have left is circus monkeys like Tharoor. With his pretend anger, Tharoor makes the British feel big and important. Instead of complaining, why don’t we put an arm around the British and have a beer with them? And laugh together about the time they ruled us. You know, like when everyone in the kitchen is running circles around a tiny mouse? Trust me, this attitude is the real revenge.
So let me ask you. Why do you think Hindus get singled out and insulted?