• Hinduphobia in Yoga World

    “If you’re trying to ‘social justice’ yoga without addressing, acknowledging, or disrupting the Christian/Western onto- epistemological hegemonic framework of social justice, you’re literally, actually advancing colonization.” – Indu Viswanathan

    Hinduphobia manifests itself in many ways and, unfortunately, it is also common in the yoga world. Whether conscious or subconscious, this is very disturbing to practicing Hindus across the world. The selective pick and choose from Dharma and the call for social justice to reform dharma that suits the western lens is ever prevalent in yoga in the West and has once again come up during the Covid crisis.

    As a person who practices and believes in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, “All life is yoga,” a Dharma practitioner from birth, a student of Ashtanga yoga, an Indian currently residing in the US, and a mother of a 5-month old, the erasure of my ancestral history through Hinduphobia distresses me and the millions like me. The idea that my daughter would hear the same colonial distortion that we have been force-fed is extremely unsettling. That is why I am compelled to speak up every time I see it.

    Speaking of the second-wave Covid situation in India, there is no denying the mismanagement by the central state government. However, the way this has been covered in North America and Europe is with a neo-colonial gaze. India was in very bad shape during the second wave and just starting to recover. The reason it got to this state is a lot more nuanced and not as single-pointed as it has been shown in western media.

    As though our collective trauma right now isn’t enough, our pain is now showcased by the Western Media sharing our sacred death rituals and cremation photographs captioned crudely as “Stunning.” This is sensationalism and bias at its best. Shown below the example referenced.

    Instead of the Western Yoga Industry calling out the Western Media for showing our “exotic” crematoriums, some (mostly white) yoga teachers have been sharing these very images for their own fundraisers and classes without realizing that they are perpetuating distress porn that harms people of Indian descent, both within India and in the global Indian diaspora. The western gaze still looks at the funeral pyre as a barbaric ritual while leering at our tragedy. Anyone practicing Dharma knows that these Indic rites are sacred to Hindus and have a deep personal meaning. In India, both life and death are sacred. Sharing these images shows a complete lack of respect for the dead and is extremely dehumanizing. It shows a complete disconnect to life. Calls for help showcasing these images stem from the common troupe of white saviorism and do not serve the path to true equality.

    Most Western yoga teachers have not commented on how the Biden administration withheld the raw material necessary for vaccine manufacturing in India and only released these materials after the NSA intervened The Western Yoga Industry that benefits from India’s knowledge stayed completely silent instead of calling out their own governments’ faults.

    Worse, when Hindus have protested and spoken out on social media about this we have been labeled as Hindutva, a word that is being used negatively against Hindus instead of having a scholarly data-driven debate on the issue at hand. That’s that, and people move on. But, this label is problematic because Western scholars, who rely heavily on colonial-era scholarship, are quoted in pop culture for anything Hindu and then cry Hindutva whenever Hindu scholars confront or critique their work. Western yoga teachers and scholars appear to do everything in their power to maintain colonial privilege and weaponize Hindutva to attack their Hindu critics and hide their shortcomings. These very Indologists’ scholarships are used to further propagate colonial narrative and destroy the Dharma back home. This same pattern of crying Hindutva when Hindus protest the Western yoga world’s treatment of Hindus during the Covid crisis is evident.

    Cry Hindutva can be seen when practicing Hindus say that casteism isn’t Hindu, that Brahmanical Patriarchy isn’t Hindu and Sanskrit is not elitist. If Hindus talk about it and defend it, Western social justice warriors and yoga teachers just cry Hindutva. The neo-colonial narrative prevalent in most Western discussion about Covid in India focuses on the Indian government’s mishandling and uses the above terms that are not native to the land. This is virtue signaling in the guise of help. This is telling us, “you don’t know how oppressed you are from time immemorial, hence, your past thousand years of colonization is totally justifiable.” This is the same argument that the British used to “civilize” our “heathen culture.” This is also the same argument used by our very own brown Babus and MemSahibs, who are the elite reminiscent of the continued British education system leaving us mentally colonized to this day. This is a complete erasure of who we are.

    This erasure is observed over and over again and it hurts. For example, in a popular yoga conference, any voice that questioned the presenter’s apparent Hinduphobia was shut down. The organizers conveniently hid behind people appearing of “South Asian” descent.

    If you’re trying to ‘social justice’ yoga without addressing, acknowledging, or disrupting the Christian/Western onto- epistemological hegemonic framework of social justice, you’re literally, actually advancing colonization. – Indu Viswanathan

    The deafening silence and complete lack of awareness of the erasure of Hindus is another major issue the dharma practitioners have. Western yoga teachers hardly ever acknowledge the atrocities that have been committed on Hindus. One of the biggest Genocides and Exodus in history, the 1971 Bengali Hindu Genocide where 2-3 million people were killed, a hundred thousand women raped, and 10 million Bengalis fled, just for practicing Dharma. This is hardly common knowledge in the Western Yoga Space. This was systemically whitewashed and gaslighted to have zero media coverage in India and elsewhere.

    See this video to find out more about the “Bengali Hindu Genocide” (NOTE: This video cannot be embedded in the post click the video title to watch it directly on YouTube.)

    What can Western yoga teachers and students do?

    • Western Yoga must start looking beyond Western Anglophone Media and focus on center Indigenous Dharmic voices by honoring Yoga Stewards.
    • Follow Kaya Mindlin, Shivani Hawkins, Indu Viswanathan and Hindus for Decolonization Facebook Group who are actively working towards decolonizing the yoga space.
    • Speak out when you see Beer yoga, Goat yoga, Bible compatible yoga and the likes to preserve the sanctity of the practice.
    • Educate yourself about the atrocities faced by dharmic folks.
    • Call out Yoga journals and influencers who try to alienate Yoga from its Dharmic roots.
    • Come forward and give back to the land that you benefited so much from in its time of need.

    https://www.artofliving.org/in-en/projects/corona-relief-work 

    https://covid.giveindia.org/

    https://shivgangajhabua.org/campaigns/covid-19-support/ 

    https://tinyurl.com/HelpIndiaBreath 

    Please use discretion while donating. India has the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 (FCRA) to ensure foreign funding does not affect the internal security of the country. NGOs who have indulged in forceful religious conversions, incited communal tensions and embezzled funds are no longer approved.

    I hope, through this, at least some indigenous voices are understood. I wish, this critique will act as a small step in encouraging the Western yoga space to begin its introspection of its unconscious bias. I dream of the day this neo-colonial gaze ceases to exist. And as a practitioner of Hindu Dharma, I pray for the Light to encompass the Darkness, always.

    Reference:

    1. https://shaktitva.org/blog/2021/6/21/yoga-in-america-eating-the-hindu
    2. https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2021/04/23/covid-cremations-india-jba-lon-orig.cnn
    3. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/americans-first-us-defends-export-ban-on-covid-vaccine-raw-materials-to-india-2420686
    4. https://www.academia.edu/40082617/Cry_Hindutva_How_Rhetoric_Trumps_Intellect_in_South_Asian_Studies?fbclid=IwAR18YV-Qg9sT9-OqOaHR9gTMNyzkC1b54I6Khp4YX5v5BUUNR404LejWaqQ
    5. https://www.facebook.com/induv37/posts/10157748399821196
    6. https://jhiblog.org/2018/05/30/what-did-europeans-contribute-to-the-caste-system-in-india/?fbclid=IwAR2lOixmS4KlwL8S3Oy-s8rzyY-GE7aGisTwHr6_YpiakY4RkIcaZq2Oj0w
    7. https://indalt.com/do-brahmin-lives-matter/?fbclid=IwAR0KacmrjmA2E5PjFkC48eeuPO3S7zkcMjUKMgETKsn_qOrb3xZDbulYehQ
    8. https://www.huffpost.com/archive/in/entry/caste-covid-19-india-coronavirus-lockdown_in_5ee4ade3c5b61387f005e8d8
    9. https://www.academia.edu/30937643/Jews_and_Hindus_in_Indology
    10. https://browngirlmagazine.com/2019/03/how-a-popular-decolonizing-yoga-summit-became-a-colonizing-one/?fbclid=IwAR0nyDowL9RQDyHIfA7JJtP-ZKHFeK_BmOXOFk3x0a-B7isImpNb7MKcX_Q
    11. http://swatantramag.com/hindu-genocide/
    12. https://www.asian-voice.com/Opinion/Columnists/Kapil-Dudakia/Bengali-Hindu-Genocide-of-1971 

    By Sushma Kondapally

    Sushma is an Indian Hindu, currently living in the US. She moved to the US at the age of 21. Having practiced yoga from early on in life, her exposure to yoga in the US and the associated Hinduphobia came as a shocker. Now, as a mother of a young child and understanding how detrimental the effects of Hinduphobia on Hindu children in America can be, she is speaking up.

    Photo by Marlon Trottmann from Pexels

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  • The Covid Crisis in India

    In India, we are fighting the government AND Covid. There is a pandemic that involves a virus however, it is exacerbated by the toxic social environment, that results from an authoritarian fascist government.

    India has been rocked by a deadly second wave of the virus (double mutant variant or B.1.617). Indians are facing a tsunami of infection that has pushed the country to the brink of collapse.

    The latest wave is sparking a health crisis & human tragedy in India. It is far surpassing anything seen, anywhere in the world.

    A string of missteps has dogged the Central government’s response to the pandemic. Policy paralysis, politics, huge religious gatherings & election rallies gave heft to the start of the rolling second wave. These occurred on the backs of already existing issues like the lack of transparency in the usage of the Rs.1.3 Billion PM Cares Fund, building a new parliament costing Rs. 20,000 crores & a temple in a pandemic year, when the huge surplus allocated should have been invested in upgrading the healthcare – building oxygen capacity, hospital beds, paying doctors, ramping up vaccinations etc. The government also failed to act adequately in response to news of the double mutant variant in October 2020.

    An air of ignorant complacency, lack of empathy & denial has been evident in every response from the Central government.

    At this point, India is literally gasping for air. Hospitals are running out of oxygen & bodies are stacking up in crematoriums and grave sites, that have been running round the clock.

    There are major disparities between official death counts and the actual reported figures. Reports suggest the actual fatalities may be upto 20 times what the authorities state.

    Regular folk must now sift fact from fiction, relying on independent journalists (who are often risking their lives) to report true facts and information.

    As local volunteers scuttle around on social media raising awareness, finding hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and more, a year after the pandemic first hit India, it is difficult to see any evidence of any real plan or work done by those elected, to run this country. Public memory will recall being told to bang ‘thalis’(steel plates),  study ‘cow science’ and offered Ayurvedic treatments to beat the virus.

    Simultaneously, any criticism directed at the central government is treated with contempt at best and, armies of social-media trolls at worst. These efforts to hide inadequacies and mismanagement are directed at anyone, who dares speak truth to power, whether they are doctors, journalists, members of political parties, activists or influencers.

    Result? A truly polarised population.

    Hyper-nationalist voices attack anyone drawing attention to bureaucratic incompetence using lynch mob tactics and name-calling – ‘anti-India’, ‘tukde-tukde gang’(gangs breaking up India) ‘negative’, anti-national just a few of the names that can be printed.

    Why am I writing this? In India, we are fighting the government AND Covid-19. There is a pandemic that involves a virus however, it is exacerbated by the toxic social environment, that results from an authoritarian fascist government.

    Our ‘pandemic’ of hate and vitriol has slowly been consuming this country for about 7 years now. It is as lethal as the virus itself.

    Indian citizens are dying of Covid but we are losing and have lost many lives to the political tussles between the Centre and States. Oxygen supplies are subject to political whims. Hospitals in the national capital, New Delhi, have had to shut admissions at times (leading to several deaths) for want of oxygen even as the neighbouring state led by the BJP government, blocks oxygen trucks on their way. It beggars belief that major private hospitals like Max Hospitals have had to approach the Delhi High Court for oxygen. Doctors have made heartrending pleas on Twitter to have oxygen trucks released. Private hospitals keep having to post the depleting status of their oxygen reserves and are moderating oxygen flow between patients. Many Covid patients have died because the oxygen supply was just cut off, as the hospital had run out of oxygen. Many patients are just dying in ambulances outside of hospitals as admissions are closed for those who need ICU beds or oxygen beds.

    One of the leading party’s politicians has been accused of hoarding life-saving Covid-19 medicines, denying State governments and hospitals access to it.

    The mental trauma of what we have had to endure, given that many of us have been following the science, and have been sheltering-in-place and locked down in cities like, Mumbai and Delhi, is just difficult to explain.

    As we struggle to protect ourselves, our personal and public channels of information inform us that so many people we know have Covid; relatives friends, people in the yoga community, entire families including little children. The biggest myth that if you are fit and have immunity and that you will be spared of Covid-19 has been busted – the virus has spared no one! Except those who were vaccinated-they have had less severe infections or didn’t require hospitalizations.

    India spends less than 2% on health care. The last one year could have been spent on building healthcare infrastructure, providing PPE to doctors, building oxygen supplies and most importantly, vaccinating the entire population of 1.3 billion Indians. India has successfully vaccinated for polio in the last century because of the primary healthcare initiatives of previous governments. The centre just did not leverage the system and instead gave away vaccines to other nations when its own population needed it the most.

    As a person of privilege, it has been mind-numbing to realise that a hospital bed would be difficult to get, or oxygen impossible to procure, or if something were to happen to me or my family we would not be guaranteed help. Suddenly, we the privileged didn’t have access to a hospital bed, oxygen or life saving medicines. Patients are being accommodated in the lobbies of major private hospitals in Mumbai. Patients have been turned away, ambulances have been accused of fleecing customers… testing kits have turned scarce, results delayed.

    What the poor, those without contacts, Internet, money are going through, I cannot even fathom. It feels like living in a dystopian fiction. Sadly, it is reality. The collective mental health of many of us here in India, has taken a severe beating. We are feeling grief, anger, rage, helplessness and fear.

    The government is taking down tweets of those asking for help or seeking accountability from the centre. Countries around the world are closing their borders to India. That almost makes us feel like we have no escape. Many of us have questioned our own reasons for staying here in India, when we had opportunities to move overseas in the past.

    Our beloved country, India, is unrecognisable. To admit that there is a voting majority that would still make excuses for the incompetence, nay callousness, of this current government is a bitter pill to swallow. The fact that for much of this majority, the blind belief comes from Hindutva is even more depressing.

    Still, in all of this despair, what we are holding onto is – each other. Strangers turned comrades. Everyday folk across cities, cultures, creeds have bandied together on social media and on the ground; helping source beds, medicine, food, funds, in some cases, just a shoulder to cry on.

    Humanity is finding its most reassuring expressions on Twitter and other social media even as, predictably, we’ve had to deal with blackmarkets and opportunistic scamsters. Despite it, the kindness has still managed to shine through.

    Regular folks are crowd sourcing funds for oxygen cylinders and concentrators, PPE kits for doctors, food and help for those affected by those affected by Covid. It is important to keep in mind that India’s economy had also taken a beating due to the lockdowns last year, with the migrant and daily wage labour having been the most impacted by it. The economy was barely spluttering to life, when the second wave hit us.

    If you wish to help India, here are some of the ways that you can:

    1. If you are a yoga teacher do consider doing free group meditations, guided visualizations classes for Indians around the world. (Many from the diaspora are panicking as their families are back in India, and they feel helpless. Do check in with them too.)
    2. If you are a qualified mental health professional do consider offering sliding scale fees/ free therapy to Indians. Do share with us on True Bay India, if you are able to so, so we can amplify your handles on social media for people to reach out to you.
    3. Ask the elected representatives in your country to help with equipment, vaccines etc.
    4. Raise awareness about the Covid crisis and the lack of the Indian government’s response to it.
    5. Read up about Hindutva politics and the violent nationalist groups and Brahmin supremacy/casteism in India and create awareness of the human rights issues in India.
    6. Donate – If you wish to donate, the links mentioned in the website of https://www.truebayindia.com/covid19relief are organisations/hospitals and citizens doing actual work on the ground.

    Please do not feel compelled to only, donate for oxygen. The poorwith no access to medical aid/food, tribals, marginalised women with no access to menstrual products, migrant labour hit by lockdowns etc, also need your help.

    1. Independent Indian Media Outlets and Journalists to Follow and Support:

    Reading:

    https://scroll.in/article/992537/india-is-running-out-of-oxygen-covid-19-patients-are-dying-because-the-government-wasted-time

    https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/pranavdixit/indian-government-using-tech-destroy-democracy

    https://time.com/5957118/india-covid-19-modi/

    https://twitter.com/mehdirhasan/status/1386710902691569666?s=21

    https://twitter.com/nicolacareem/status/1384979001324748805?s=21

    https://twitter.com/BBCIndia/status/1386530348381573120?s=20

    Views expressed are in a personal capacity of the author of this article.

    By Protima Rodrigues

    Protima Rodrigues is the founder of www.truebayindia.com.

    Instagram : True Bay india

    Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash