Sangh Samachar

The one-eyed twice-borns

Posted in caste, Hindu American Foundation, hindu fundamentalism, hindutva by ravi on June 19, 2007

S Anand makes a very pertinent point in his recent Tehelka article.

Confronting the extremist fringe of the Right comes easy to the liberal-secular set but it ignores the more widespread casteist slurs by other sections of society.

This has been one of my pet peeves for some time now. It is true not just in India, but also in the United States. Academic conferences on secularism are relatively frequent, but caste continues to be relatively invisible. While this is particularly shameful of desi academics (who ought to know better), their white counterparts don’t fare much better either. For instance, in a lengthy article expressing her Fears for Democracy in India, Martha Nussbaum only makes three cursory references to caste and none at all to Ambedkar. As if caste and Ambedkar had/have little to do with democracy in India!

In the wake of the California textbook controversy, where the Sanghis insisted on referring to Dalits as Harijans (a moniker hated by the Dalits), I couldn’t help wondering how much of this brazen arrogance had to do with the lack of discussion on caste in the diaspora. I did a cursory search on the websites of several South Asia programs (a partial list of programs is available here), and found that caste wasn’t on their agenda. An occasional event here and there on caste (for instance, a talk by Sainath when he is on a US tour), but no prolonged, substantive engagement with caste.

In recent years, Title-VI funded programs in Middle Eastern Studies that don’t toe the official Zionist line have come under fire (see articles in The Nation and Counterpunch), and Palestinian advocacy has become increasingly risky even within the academia (see articles by Madiha Tahir and David Green) — the recent denial of tenure to Norman Filkelstein is a case in point. Are the Title-VI programs on South Asia similarly vulnerable to ideological pressures from their funders? Unlikely, since the neoconservative hawks that control American foreign policy are most likely indifferent to caste; the Christian fundamentalists amongst them might even be perversely interested for they see in the vicious system of caste an opportunity to salvage some souls.

How then does one explain the paucity of research on caste in the South Asia programs in the US academia? I don’t have a definite answer, but the caste composition of faculty in such programs might be a factor. The silence of Hindutva groups like the Hindu American Foundation (whose annual reports on Hindu Human Rights are notoriously silent on caste) is understandable, but that of liberal academia is not. As Martin Luther King rightly observed:

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

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