Saffron is the new black! American scholar writes an open letter to Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Dear Lloyd Doggett,

You have been my treasured Congressman for almost 30 years. Even when my 10th district got Tom-De-Laid, my home was luckily in that tiny strip called Windsor Park, and I got to keep you as my representative. Btw, your beautiful, brilliant daughter Lisa was my beloved doctor for over a decade (Hi! Lisa!). For years, I used to tell Lisa that you were the ONLY elected official in DC who represented my points of view.

You may remember participating in the International Day Without Violence held in Austin on April 4 for several years in the late nineties. Professor Les Kurtz and I conceived that citywide, international event, in which you marched in our parade, spoke at the capital, and kindly photographed with my two sons. I gave you a t-shirt with people holding hands in a circle around the world: The Day Without Violence.

Introductions aside Mr. Doggett, there is an issue of great international interest, and also, considering the high number of Indian-Americans living in Texas, of domestic importance, too. For me personally, as well as professionally, it is of importance since I have a PhD from UT Austin with a specialization on education in the Indian Subcontinent. I am very close to the matter because I am currently residing in India, writing a book. Luckily, my two sons, who are also big Lloyd Doggett supporters, are living in my house on Trafalgar Drive.

Recently a group of US Congressmen sent a letter to Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. In my opinion, the letter had a sanctimonious tone, chastising Mr. Modi for presumed mistreatment of minorities. Responding to this letter could serve as an important moment in Indo-US mutual understanding.

See the letter from the US Congressmen: http://www.rediff.com/news/report/ensure-religious-minorities-are-protected-us-lawmakers-write-to-pm-modi/20160227.htm

While you are pondering this and hopefully contemplating a more internationally appropriate rejoinder, I want to point out a few important aspects to better understand trends and subtleties of India’s popular media as well as the prevalent academic approach to Hinduism. I think the best comparison that can be made is that the mainstream media in India is to the BJP, what FOX News is to the Democratic Party in the USA. There are some politicians in the Opposition who are so against Modi, that they are willing to harm the nation to make him seem to fail… sound familiar?  (Re: Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress?)

Additionally, another subtle background quality that colors India’s internal politics, is that for over sixty years in post-Independence India, virtually all heads of all departments and agencies were selected from intellectuals following in the footsteps of Nehru’s brand of socialist anti-majoritarianism. Because these early leaders were leaning towards communism, there was an official shunning of religion, as well as a studied fear of nationalism and patriotism.

Many patriotic Hindu citizens did not follow these dominate Marxism-influenced paradigms and were thus labeled Rightwing by those Leftists who occupied chairs in academic and governmental bodies. The word ‘saffronization’ is now being thrown around as the new form of ‘Black-Balling’ as was practiced by the House on Un-American Activities. Saffron, the ochre or orange color of the flags often flown on top of Hindu temples, has become anthropomorphicized as the threatening ‘Other.’ Saffron is the new black!

The words religion and nationalism bring us to one of the assumptions made by the US Congressmen, about the RSS, a national service organization that decades ago helped Narendra Modi get an education, and thereby rise from working at his father’s makeshift tea stall near a railroad station to becoming the Prime Minister of India. It is too complicated to delve very deeply here but, suffice it to say, the RSS is very controversial. I can only compare the twisted understanding of the meaning and purpose of the RSS with the wrong understanding of the original meaning and purpose of the Black Panthers, who came into being to protect black neighborhoods and feed school going children regular meals. The media hype and hoopla concerning their more militant views about discrimination and injustice, have forever colored the public perception, and their greater success story is unknown. See: http://www.civilrightsteaching.org/Handouts/BPPhandout.pdf, and http://spartacus-educational.com/USApantherB.htm

Similarly the RSS has its verbose and convincing distracters. There is a media-savvy core group of intellectuals and writers who passionately hate all things connected with Hindu nationalism. Here we go again, with those two evils: Religion and Nationalism! Regardless of the spin of the paparazzi, the RSS is first to respond to national disasters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes. Additionally, they support thousands of small schools in remote areas. Certainly more like the Boy Scouts or the Red Cross than the Taliban!

A week after the letter from the US Congressmen was sent to Modi, I read a letter from a 38-year-old Indian citizen, addressed to the US Congressmen. While reading the letter from Mayuresh Didolkar, I was reminded of all the ways that India actually has a better track record upholding and protecting the rights of minorities than does the USA. See Mayur’s rebuttal letter at: http://indiafacts.org/dear-american-lawmakers/

It was Jesus Christ who said, “Take the log out of your own eye, before you take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.’

As I compared our two countries, asking whether India passes the ‘American standard’ of human rights and minority rights I immediately thought of America’s huge issue regarding prisons, some of which are for profit prisons, with little desire to prevent recidivism! The US government has a larger percentage of their citizens in prison than does any other country in the world, even China that has no ‘Bill of Rights.’ Shamefully, the prison population is about 60 per cent African-American whereas African-Americans only represent about 12 per cent of the general population. That’s a discrepancy of 48 per cent, almost 50 per cent higher than the norm.

To review the statistics, only12-13 per cent of the American population is African-American, but they make up 60 per cent of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison. African-Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population in the USA.

African-Americans have nearly six times the incarceration rate of whites.

One of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. People killed by US police officers in 2015 shows rate of death for young black men was five times higher than white men of the same age. See: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men

Looking at similar statistics in India shows a similar trend but a greatly reduced rate of discrepancy: Three communities in India—Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis add up to about 39 per cent of the population. Their share of prisoners is at 53 per cent, a combined 14 per cent difference.  Far cry from the USA at almost 50 per cent difference between demographic percentage in the general population and percentage of prisoners.

In 2013, India had 4.2 lakh (420,000) people in prison. Nearly 20 per cent of them were Muslims although the share of Muslims in India’s population is about 13 per cent. Dalits make up 22 per cent of prisoners, almost one in four.

Their proportion in the population is about 17 per cent. While Adivasis (tribals) make up 11 per cent of prisoners, their share in the general population is 9 per cent. So the discrepancy is thus: 7 per cent, 5 per cent, and 2 per cent greater representation of the three minority groups in prison than in general population. An even further cry from the similarly derived prisoner to minority statistics in the USA.

As in the USA, as in India as well, these minority communities do not necessarily commit more crimes. But rather they are often economically and socially under-privileged and therefore unable to fight costly cases or often even pay for bail. Additionally, in the past two decades due to the unfortunate increased jihadist influence in the Muslim world, the percentage of Muslims in custody has gone up slightly.

I was also reminded of government programs to help raise traditionally downtrodden groups up the social ladder. In this capacity is reflected by Affirmative Action in the USA compared to Reservations Policies in India. After the Civil Right Bills in the mid-1960s, during the 1970s there were court-led efforts to correct the disparity in hiring that had made the police and fire departments virtually all white. Some progress was made, but it wasn’t long before Affirmative Action was watered down and discontinued. Cases from the UT School of Law come to mind.

On the other hand, India has a system that reserves jobs and educational opportunities to all sorts of minorities, religious, linguistic, caste-based groups, etc. India continues to increase that allocated percentage regularly. Americans will not be able to believe this, but Indian laws actually discriminate against the majority Hindu community. This can be seen in Articles 25-30 of the Indian Constitution, minority communities have rights that the Hindu majority community does not. Many forward-thinking people in contemporary India hope to repeal these amendments, which would not deprive any rights from any minority groups, but just give those same rights to Hindus as well. In the implementation of the disastrous Right To Education (RTE) Act, un-secular, anti-majoritarian implementation methodology is playing out in a destructive manner due to the legal loopholes allowed to the minority religious communities, rights and privileges that are not granted to Hindus.

The most profound difference between the attitude of elected and/or politically appointed officials in India as compared to the USA, can be highlighted by the efforts of some Republican politicians to prevent or obstruct minority citizens from voting, by closing down polling places in minority communities. This restrictive attitude can be compared to India’s heroic efforts to bring secure voting machines to small villages even by ox cart if necessary to be sure that each and every citizen has an opportunity to vote.

So now, Mr. Doggett, could you please educate your colleagues and level the playing field? Then equipped with knowledge, let the US Congressmen talk to India about democracy and human rights as equals!

Thank you, Lloyd Doggett for reading this long letter.

Yvette Rosser

 

P.S.: A little info about some of the accusations that are regularly lobbed at Mr. Modi.

In 2002, six weeks after Modi assumed the position of Chief Minister in the state of Gujarat, sectarian violence broke out on a very large-scale, a reaction to the torching of a passenger car full of Hindu pilgrims at the train station at Godra in Gujarat.

There were efforts on the part of activists such as Teesta Setalvad to pin the rioting on Modi. She initiated several law cases but ultimately she was charged with bribing witnesses, tampering with evidence, and misusing funds meant to pin crimes on Modi. But Modi was found not guilty by numerous tribunals and courts.  See these two excellent essays by my colleague, Nicole Elfi: http://www.jaia-bharati.org/nicole-elfi/ni-godhra-ang.htm, and https://bharatabharati.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-godhra-riots-postscript-the-masterminds-nicole-elfi/

In 2005, Narendra Modi, then the Chief Minister of the large Indian state of Gujarat, was denied a tourist visa to come to the USA to deliver a talk to his fellow Gujaratis (NRIs living in the USA). In that capacity, Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy, and Angana Chatterji rallied to gather forces to block Modi’s visit in 2005.

See Angana Chatterji’s claiming her centrality to Modi’s visa denial: http://www.countercurrents.org/guj-angana220305.htm

Please note Angana Chatterji was dismissed from her university teaching/research position due to coercive activism strategies.

My mentor and old friend Lloyd Doggett, beware, there is a never-ending barrage of ‘hate mail’ type propaganda levied at Narendra Modi, the RSS, the BJP, and Hindu Nationalists in general. I urge you to see past that, into the soul of India’s future. I remember in 1997 when I was working with your office while planning the Day Without Violence, I told two of your assistants that the BJP was going to win the next election, and would be viable political force in India. I mentioned this to your assistants because during one of my research projects in 1996, an annotated survey of local supporters of the BJP in Texas, I was told that a few representatives from the BJP had come to Austin to meet with government officials but the rather influential faculty in the Department of South Asian Studies discouraged meeting with them.

This brings us to a whole other topic of the strange and unexpected anti-Hindu bias often employed in the teaching about Hinduism. I know it sounds weird, but I have been investigating this strange phenomenon and it is identifiable, see: “The Last Tasty Morsel of Official Bias in the American Melting Pot: Academic Hinduphobia” http://yvetterosser.com/2015/01/22/the-last-tasty-morsel-of-official-bias-in-the-american-melting-pot-academic-hinduphobia/

There are many other objective scholars who are writing about this topic, such as Vamsee Juluri and Rajiv Malhotra.