This article is a summary of an earlier article on Hinduphobia and Hindudvesha in Q&A form for convenience. For a complete exposition, please refer to the original article “Hindudvesha – What is it?”
What do Hinduphobia and Hindudvesha mean?
Both terms are attempts to explain the wide gulf between the West’s image of Hindus and their religious beliefs and the reality as perceived by Hindus themselves. The image, held primarily by institutions such as universities, media, think tanks, and political bodies but also, as a result, by individuals, is provably and often egregiously wrong.
What is the reason? The term Hinduphobia attributes it to a phobia, meaning an irrational fear at the personal level, which also imbues institutions. The term Hindudvesha, from the Sanskrit dvesha meaning aversion or hate, attributes the gulf to enduring institutional or systemic biases that are passionately held and often fiercely defended.
Aren’t the two terms synonymous?
Strictly speaking, Hindudvesha is not a phobia, i.e., irrational fear. It is an organized body of knowledge believed to be true but objectively false. For example, the USCIRF regularly cites India as a country lacking in religious freedom. But a 2021 Pew survey found exemplary levels of religious freedom across majority and minority religions. This disconnect between a power center’s perception and the ground reality is classic Hindudvesha.
Nevertheless, in practice, the terms are often used interchangeably, purely as a convenience. When the difference is significant, the more pertinent term is used.
How does Hinduphobia affect one’s behavior?
Consider a claustrophobic person who takes an elevator. She is afraid and anxious, even though the elevator is perfectly safe. Her behavior is due to her own feelings rather than reality. In the same way, a Hinduphobic person is suspicious and hostile about certain Hindu traits.
Hinduphobia can also affect one’s response to ambiguity. Let’s say there is a communal riot in Delhi, and a Hinduphobic person hears of it. Although he has no facts, he is very likely to believe that Hindus started it. He may even insist that it is so, despite contrary evidence.
How can there be Hindudvesha/phobia? People love Indian culture!
The dvesha/phobia is about Hindus, not about things that Hindus eat, wear, listen or dance to. Indeed, it may not be caused by any actual behavior at all. In practice, it amounts to prejudice against Hindus generally or against specific things associated with them. Hindudvesha/phobia leads people to incorrect conclusions or positions regarding anything Hindus are associated with.
Why does Hindudvesha exist?
Historically, Western institutions have misrepresented the Other, for example, native Americans, blacks, tribes, Arabs, Orientals, and so on. Most such groups have now been rehabilitated by alternative theorists — except for Hindus. Indeed, only Hindus (except those educated and duly credentialed by the Establishment) are denied the agency to speak for themselves. Even more troubling, attempts at dialog are met with rejection and exclusion.
Is Hindudvesha a reaction to Hindu nationalism?
Absolutely not. For example, Anglo-Americans see caste as the very essence of Hinduism, a belief formed in the colonial era. Many dissidents, mostly in Europe, identify caste more correctly as a pliable social institution, not the essence of religion. Hindus familiar with both theory and practice know the latter is correct, but Hindudvesha rejects them.
What are some other examples of Hindudvesha?
Hindudvesha includes any established bias against Hindus. An example is the New Jersey gang called “Dotbusters,” who attacked Hindu women wearing bindis (a decoration on the forehead) and other Indians in the 1970s and 80s. Although the police and the state courts refused to call them hate crimes, the incidents alerted and galvanized the Hindu community.
The dominant biases now are subtler, e.g. that the Muslims in India are marginalized and threatened by the far more numerous Hindus. In fact, the Muslim minority ruled over much of India, and the relationship between the two communities is that of equals. In any event, Hindus have no tradition, tenet, or recorded history of religious conquest.
A more preposterous bias is the claim that nationalist Hindus want to eliminate all 200 million Muslims from India. It’s not based on a single public statement or interview with a present Hindu nationalist leader. It’s taken to be true just because people say it is true.
Broadly speaking, a derogatory attitude towards anything Indian pervades Western scholarly literature. Anything worthwhile in India, from arithmetic to language to zoology, is assumed to have a foreign origin unless painstakingly and exactly proven otherwise.
Can Hindudvesha be simply redressed through dialog?
In principle, yes. But there are practical difficulties.
First, “Hindu studies” was a Western invention. There is no comparable academic discipline created by or for Hindus. The Hindu researchers challenging Western hegemony are generally self-taught professionals in other fields. The West rejects their credentials.
Second, there was almost no Hindu presence in the US until 1965. Faulty theories about Hindus, i.e., Hindudvesha, could freely fester and propagate. The protests of recent Hindu immigrants are so unprecedented and shocking that the response is character assassination. The protesters are called members of a Hindu Nazi movement and self-righteously shouted down.
Although completely irrational – the majority of a model minority cannot all be Nazi genocidal maniacs – the name-calling forecloses any chance of a dialog. The recent Dismantling Global Hindutva conference and Hindus’ responses to it were essentially a shouting match.
Third, there does not currently exist any recognized forum to discuss Hindudvesha. The Establishment has no incentive to talk to practicing Hindus.
Why is it important to fight Hindudvesha?
First, as second and subsequent generations of Indian-Americans grow up, Hindudvesha can expose them to bullying and worse in school, impact professional and business opportunities, and alienates them from their cultural heritage and ancestors. Locating and correcting Hindudvesha is vital to ensure the continued success of our “model minority.”
Second, as India gains importance on the world stage and as a key US partner in world affairs, the US government must receive accurate and unbiased professional advice on India. It is no longer an ivory tower, an Ivy League phenomenon, only of interest to specialists. America and India owe each other to investigate Hindudvesha in-depth and get rid of it.
What are the odds of winning this battle?
The odds are excellent once the battle is recognized. However, at present, the West’s academic, media, and political authorities assert ownership of the truth about Hindus. The complaints of bias by Hindu practitioners and laymen scholars are either ignored or denounced as Hindu nationalist propaganda. Two steps are apparent in resolving this impasse.
First, India needs to establish its own research ecosystem to study religion, history, and culture. This will produce a credentialed corps of thinkers and writers whom the West will recognize. Second, a majority of practicing Hindus, especially in the West, need to be aware of Hindudvesha through portals like this one and express their concerns.