I, an Indian-American, and my girlfriend are engineering students at a big US university. We need to take a culture class as part of the degree, so decided to punish ourselves with “Intro to South Asia.” Let me share what the college is teaching unaware ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis) about Bharat (India).
The first red flag is that it is called ‘intro’ to “South Asia” but I guess we just have to live with that term now.
Second red flag is that the professor is a “proud JNU graduate,” and the teaching assistant (TA) is a British (Hindu) Indian who went back to Bharat to be a social activist against Islamophobia from 2014-2019. Who says Modi isn’t making jobs! Surprising thing is they are both originally from Hindi belt. Professor is a Rajasthani, TA is from MP.
In the first actual lesson, he brings up Aryan Invasion Theory as irrefutable fact, and then introduces Out of India Theory as a “Hindu nationalist gimmick”
Prof. said that Bharat was first unified as a country by the British, then one student had the audacity to ask “what about the Mughal empire?”
At least the professor accepted that Islam was a colonizing force in the subcontinent and I was genuinely surprised to hear that. This man has mentioned “Hindu nationalism” over 5 times in one class. It is like Hindus live in their heads rent-free.
The second lesson has me actually heated. He started talking about Kashmir, and to be fair he mentioned that Pakistan invaded first which caused the king to accede to Bharat.
But there was no mention of terrorism in the region nor any mention of the Kashmiri Pandit exodus. And when my friend brought up the exodus, he waived it off as “communal riots that scared off a minority in the region”. Of course these were communal riots, but Delhi was a ‘pogrom’.
The TA has me crying when he said, “The Mahabharata and Ramayana were written after Buddhism and Jainism started, to combat conversion out of Hindu.”
In the Caste lessons, he said that “Caste hierarchy may have started with the Hindu varna system, but birth-based discrimination is now seen in all religions in South Asia, even those who preach equality.” One of his more sensible takes though*.
In the third class about language origins, he said that, “Sanskrit was developed outside of the subcontinent and brought to South Asia by the Aryans” and “Dravidian languages are older than Sanskrit and were native and widely spoken in South Asia before the Aryans came.”
“Pakistan adopted Urdu as an official language because the strongest support for an Islamic country came from the Muslims of North India”. Well, at least he got one thing right.
A strange thing about the class is that there is no textbook. The professor assembled a bunch of different sources into a 200 page “reading packet.” I know if it happens in the other classes too, but I have still always found it strange. Not that official textbooks are much better anyway.
This was a glimpse from the first week of class while there is an entire semester left.
(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread of @BihariAmerican with light edits to improve readability
(Featured image: Representative only)
The notion that Hindu varna system mandates birth-based discrimination aka ‘caste system’ is wrong. The varna system never talks about a hierarchy where some groups dominate others. It talks about organization of society and duties of each social group to create an efficient and harmonious whole. Those who lived outside the varna system, such as vanvasis (forest-dwellers), were never persecuted but co-existed following their own unique Dharmic belief systems and practises.
When a civilization spread over a vast area exists for millennia, and especially when it faces the stress of repeated invasions, there will be periods in specific regions when one group exploits the others. Certain practices get distorted, and people stray from the path of Dharma. This happens across all human societies. Like any other society, Hindu society is not always perfect in praxis but its ideals are egalitarian and common for all humanity.
Hindu Dharma says all living beings have a divine spark within, all humans should follow the 4 purusharthas, and all humans are capable of attaining moksha (liberation) through good karmas (actions) and by following the path of bhakti/gyan (devotional worship / knowledge and meditation). On the other hand, some exclusivist religions which claim to preach equality actually dehumanize unbelievers (those who doesn’t believe in their religion) and condemn them to eternal hellfire.
So to say that birth-based discrimination is seen in all religions in the Bharatiya subcontinent (aka South Asia) due to the Hindu varna system is erroneous at best and malicious anti-Hindu propaganda at worst. As still largely agrarian societies, subcontinental countries are still grappling with feudal hierarchies. And birth-based discrimination against the ‘other’ is far worse in regions like Middle East – for eg. how Arabs treat black and south Asian Muslims, or Sunnis treat Shia and vice versa.
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