HAF Replies to Dalrymple's "Rush Hour of the Gods"

Fremont, CA (June 10, 2010) - The Hindu American Foundation submitted the following Letter to the Editor to National Interest.  To date, the letter has not been published.
Mr. William Dalrymple's article "Rush Hour of the Gods" (published 4.20.2010), is occasionally a thoughtful assessment of the tension between ancient diversity and modernizing uniformity within Hinduism. However, his central thesis, that Hinduism and Islam are becoming increasingly homogenized in parallel ways, is patronizing and wrong.
Mr. Dalrymple fails in the first place to adequately establish the homogenization of Hindu tradition. If the wandering Bhopas he highlights stop telling their version of the Ramayana, Hindus will have to content themselves with one of the remaining versions--perhaps the original by Valmiki, or the enormously popular one by Tulsidas, or the ones by Kamban or Eluttacan or Premanand amongst numerous others. Or perhaps they will have to dip into the versions told in Burma, Thailand, or Indonesia. Or perhaps they will compose their own versions, as their ancestors have been doing for millenia. Or perhaps they will do all of the above. Modern Hinduism’s main problem is not a lack of diversity.
Mr. Dalrymple’s implications regarding the insidiousness of the epic television serials are even more absurd. The Ramayana serial was a labor of love, not unlike Tulsidas’s Ramacharitamanas 400 years before it, drawing on numerous telling to craft its own interpretation. Like Tulsidas’s work, the Ramayana serial achieved enormous popularity because it resonated so well with what Hindus already believed, not the other way around. This version of our epic, easy to absorb and widely available, is simply more popular than other versions, though this may change again in 50 years. It is hardly evidence for homogenization in Hinduism.
Where Hinduism is being homogenized, the process is driven largely by economic considerations. The son of the idol-maker wants to become an engineer to have a better life. The Bhopas have stopped telling their stories because storytelling no longer helps them make ends meet, partly because their primary audience itself has migrated to urban centers to find work. It is frankly irresponsible to claim a sinister motive behind these nonviolent, secular developments.
Even to the extent that homogenization is occurring within Hinduism, there is simply no parallel to the situation in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Mr. Dalrymple uncovers no religiously-motivated violence against heterodox Hindus (other than that committed by atheist, and often hypocritical, Marxists, whose crimes cannot be laid at the door of a religion they publicly disavow). In contrast, the Taliban have shuttered, commandeered, and destroyed mosques that shelter Muslims with non-fundamentalist views.  Even the constitutional and civil laws of Pakistan and Afghanistan have become increasingly discriminative; there is nothing corresponding to this in the legal apparatus of secular India.
We appreciate Mr. Dalrymple’s concern for diversity within Hinduism, but he should not trouble himself on our account. Instead, he should focus on the violent homogenization perpetrated by the Taliban, which threatens diversity not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in the entire world.
Raman Khanna &  Vineet Sharma
Members, Hindu American Foundation Working Group