My Sweet (non-Hindutva) Lord

The conference organisers, generally more liberal and left-leaning, have obviously been assailed by right-wing institutions
Last Updated : 25 September 2021, 22:13 IST
Last Updated : 25 September 2021, 22:13 IST

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George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord was the biggest-selling single of 1971, and the first number-one song by an ex-Beatle. The song’s recurrent chanting of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness’ maha mantra in the midst of an upbeat pop groove gave a big fillip to mainstreaming the ISKCON movement, both in the West and in India.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama/I really wanna see you!

After all, it’s one thing to see whirling, bald-pated White kids, with a tilak on their foreheads and their necks wrapped in three strands of tulsi beads, dancing around with tambourines in saffron robes – always worn slightly too short for some odd reason – singing bhajans at New York’s Times Square or at LAX airport, and it’s another altogether for a groovy ‘Vaishnava Beatle’ to be rocking out a global number-one hit on a slide guitar.

And it is both a touching and a catchy tune. Certainly, a better song than the Chiffons’ 1963 hit He’s So Fine, that Harrison had purloined the melody from – or, as the judge ruled in the ensuing copyright infringement lawsuit, had “subconsciously” plagiarised. Substituting the transcendental Hare Krishna refrain for a meaningless doo-lang doo-lang doo-lang from the Chiffon’s song obviously elevated the musical spirit.

What a number-one pop hit is to the music world, a massively popular global conference supported by Harvard University, Princeton, Columbia, etc., with over 10,000 persons registered, would be to the academic world. It is just this kind of chart-buster that we have witnessed since September 10, when the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference launched.

The DGH conference seeks to raise awareness about the corrosive nature of Hindutva, the far-right ideology undermining India’s secular and democratic traditions and stifling academic freedom in India and all across the globe. The diasporic organisers are especially eager to ensure that the White world understands that the Hindu religion is quite distinct from Hindutva ideology.

The conference organisers, generally more liberal and left-leaning, have obviously been assailed by right-wing institutions, Sanghis, and others who argue that Hindutva is not a fascist ideology and that the DGH crowd is grossly misrepresenting both Hinduism and Hindutva.

I think that both sides have a point.

On the one hand, favouring the DGH organisers, Hindutva ideology is indeed a corrosive form of nationalism designed to threaten secular, pluralist democracy, just as its early proponents (e.g., Savarkar, Golwalkar) themselves had articulated. But, on the other hand, favouring the Sanghis, the DGH collective do seem to be grossly misrepresenting the overlapping elements shared between Hinduism and Hindutva. Unlike the human face that the saffron team would like to paint on it, however, these shared elements are not salutary and uplifting ones. Rather, they are their shared anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic practices of caste hierarchy and discrimination.

Oh sweet Lord, yes, I said it. In the process of righteously battling Hindutva, the diasporic Brahmins of the American Ivy League are sweetening Hinduism to conceal its underbelly of caste. And caste hierarchy is a foul underbelly of Hinduism itself for which Hindutva bears absolutely no responsibility.

But to be fair, just as George Harrison only “subconsciously” pilfered from the Chiffons, perhaps the all-upper-caste NRI Hindus behind DGH do not consciously whitewash Hinduism in the process of exposing the toxicity of Hindutva. As they say, “The conference is guided by an ethical commitment to protecting the rights of minorities, dissidents, and ordinary people whose very existence is under attack by Hindutva’s proponents.” But, what about an ethical commitment to protecting the rights of Dalit-Bahujan, whose very existence is under attack by Hinduism’s Brahmanical practices?

Granted, the globalisation of Hindutva is an urgent and compelling problem. But eventually, we are also going to have to face the question why, at all the elite American universities supporting DGH, there are no tenure-track Dalit-Bahujan faculty, especially considering the burgeoning Ambedkar Chairs and well-funded subaltern research agendas. For, who could forget those immortal words of George Harrison (hey, I know, I know):

Gurur Brahmā, gurur Viṣṇu/gurur devo Maheśvaraḥ/guruh sākṣāt, paraṃ Brahma/tasmai śrī gurave namaḥ

Published 25 September 2021, 18:31 IST

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