“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.
- Donate to FCRA approved organizations by verifying at https://fcraonline.nic.in/Home/index.aspx
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.
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.
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