Tag Archives: poverty

Religion, Marxism and Slumdog

François Gautier
Source: Express buzz

First Published : 16 Mar 2009 02:09:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 16 Mar 2009 09:35:52 AM IST

WHY did a film like Slumdog Millionaire, which conveys an utterly negative image of India — slums, exploitation, poverty, corruption, anti Muslim pogroms — create so many waves in the West, pre and post Oscars? And why does not the Indian government protest, as the Chinese would indeed have, for a twisted and perverted portrayal of its own reality? There are several answers: When the missionaries began to evangelise India, they quickly realised that Hinduism was not only practised by a huge majority, but that it was so deeply rooted that it stood as the only barrier to their subjugating the entire subcontinent.

They therefore decided to demonise the religion, by multiplying what they perceived as its faults, by one hundred: caste, poverty, child marriage, superstition, widows, sati … Today, these exaggerations, which at best are based on quarter-truths, have come down to us and have been embedded not only in the minds of many Westerners, but also unfortunately, of much of India’s intelligentsia.

We Westerners continue to suffer from a superiority complex over the socalled Third World in general and India in particular. Sitting in front of our television sets during prime time news, with a hefty steak on our table, we love to feel sorry for the misery of others, it secretly flatters our ego and makes us proud of our so-called ‘achievements’.

That is why books such as The City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre, which gives the impression that India is a vast slum, or a film like Slumdog Millionaire, have such an impact.

In this film, India’s foes have joined hands. Today, billions of dollars that innocent Westerners give to charity are used to convert the poorest of India with the help of enticements such as free medical aid, schooling and loans.

If you see the Tamil Nadu coast posttsunami, there is a church every 500 metres. Once converted, these new Christians are taught that it is a sin to enter a temple, do puja, or even put tilak on one’s head, thus creating an imbalance in the Indian psyche (In an interview to a British newspaper, Danny Boyle confessed he wanted to be a Christian missionary when he was young and that he is still very much guided by these ideals — so much for his impartiality).

Islamic fundamentalism also ruthlessly hounds India, as demonstrated by the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, which are reminiscent of the brutality and savagery of a Timur, who killed 1,00,000 Hindus in a single act of savagery.

Indian communists, in power in three states, are also hard at work to dismantle India’s cultural and spiritual inheritance. And finally, the Americanisation of India is creating havoc in the social and cultural fabric with its superficial glitter, even though it has proved a failure in the West. Slumdog plays cleverly with all these elements.

Many of the West’s India-specialists are staunchly anti-Hindu, both because of their Christian upbringing and also as they perpetuate the tradition of Max Mueller, the first ‘Sankritist’ who said: “The Vedas is full of childish, silly, even monstrous conceptions. It is tedious, low, commonplace, it represents human nature on a low level of selfishness and worldliness and only here and there are a few rare sentiments that come from the depths of the soul”.

This tradition is carried over by Indologists such as Witzel or Wendy Doniger in the US, and in France where scholars of the state-sponsored CNRS, and its affiliates such as EHESS, are always putting across in their books and articles detrimental images of India: caste, poverty, slums — and more than anything — their pet theories about ‘Hindu fundamentalism’.

Can there be a more blatant lie? Hinduism has given refuge throughout the ages to those who were persecuted at home: the Christians of Syria, the Parsees, Armenians, the Jews of Jerusalem, and today the Tibetans, allowing them all to practise their religion freely.

And finally, it is true that Indians, because they have been colonised for so long (unlike the Chinese) lack nationalism.

Today much of the intellectual elite of India has lost touch with its cultural roots and looks to the West to solve its problems, ignoring its own tools, such as pranayama, hata-yoga or meditation, which are very old and possess infinite wisdom.

Slumdog literally defecates on India from the first frame. Some scenes exist only in the perverted imagery of director Danny Boyle, because they are not in the book of Vikas Swarup, an Indian diplomat, on which the film is based. In the book, the hero of the film (who is not Muslim, but belongs to many religions: Ram Mohammad Thomas) does not spend his childhood in Bombay, but in a Catholic orphanage in Delhi. Jamal’s mother is not killed by “Hindu fanatics’, but she abandons her baby, of unknown religion, in a church. Jamal’s torture is not an idea of the television presenter, but of an American who is after the Russian who bought the television rights of the game. The tearful scene of the three children abandoned in the rain is also not in the book: Jamal and his heroine only meet when they are teenagers and they live in an apartment and not in a slum.

And finally, yes, there still exists in India a lot of poverty and glaring gaps between the very rich and the extremely poor, but there is also immense wealth, both physical, spiritual and cultural — much more than in the West as a matter of fact.

When will the West learn to look with less prejudice at India, a country that will supplant China in this century as the main Asian power? But this will require a new generation of Indologists, more sincere, less attached to their outdated Christian values, and Indians more proud of their own culture and less subservient to the West.

fgautier26@gmail.com

Why the cynicism about Indian gurus?

Why the cynicism about Indian gurus?

Westerners have often a deep suspicion of ‘gurus’ and are wary of anything which has a ‘Hindu’ flavor. It is true that some of the gurus teaching in the West might have brought a bad name to Hinduism; but is this a reason to clamp them all together under the same ‘fake’ label?

Indian journalists unfortunately share often the same resistance to gurus as their Western counterparts. And one can also understand their misgivings, given the problems there has been in India with certain gurus having political connections. But these are the exception to the rule. Why then brand all gurus as ‘godmen,’ a negative and slightly cynical term, as many Indian journalists do? Or why always ask gurus the same pointed and devious questions about their opinions on Ayodhya and ‘Hindutva?’

Isn’t it also strange that Indian journalists do not display the same aggressiveness towards Christian bishops or priests, whom they never call godmen, but ‘holy father?’ They also like to question the ‘miraculous’ powers of Indian gurus, as it was done a few months ago in an issue of India Today targeting Sai Baba. But is it less rational or Cartesian to think, as the Christians do, that Jesus Christ multiplied breads, or resurrected the dead?

Running down Hindu culture and Hindu gurus is fine — but a huge majority of the Indian population — which, let us remember, is 85 per cent Hindu — sees nothing wrong in this culture: ordinary Indians meditate, do pujas, perform asanas, chant bhajans, or practice pranayama. There is no sectarism here, no fake mysticism, no pagan obscure rites. The irony is that this very spirituality on which Indian intellectuals tend to look down, is taking root in the West: more and more sportsmen, for instance, are using pranayama to enhance their performances; ordinary Americans are meditating by the millions (see this week’s Time magazine showing American children learning meditation); hata-yoga has long taken Europe by storm and has been copied by all kinds of gymnastics or aerobics…

Does India need the West to realise what an inconceivable spiritual inheritance it has in its hands? A knowledge which once roamed the shores of the world, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, from Greece to Babylon, but which today has disappeared in a world peopled by intolerant churches? Do Indian schools have to wait for the United States, before they start teaching Indian children their own culture?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, for example, the founder of the Art of Living has also been catalogued as a ‘godman’ by The Deccan Herald. Yet, he too is helping to spread both in India and abroad this wonderful spiritual inheritance, promoting as much the revival of Sanskrit and Vedic knowledge, as an ecological concern for plastic disposal, or trying to save the centenary trees which are in danger of being chopped down on the Bangalore-Kanakapura road, as it is being widened.

His numerous associations prove that he is not only a “guru of the rich,” as he has been accused by The Indian Express: his village schools, for instance, do so well, that children have a 95 per cent rate of success in exams; his youth training programs bring to India’s remotest hamlets in Karnataka or even in Naxalite infested Bihar, Housing, Hygiene, and Human values. His volunteers work with their own hands in villages to clear the garbage, clean the sewage infested roads and generally renovate the place. Finally, the medically-tested Sudarshan Krya technique is today taught in Tihar jail, or in corporate offices in California.

The Kumbh Mela has just concluded. It was an extraordinary event: probably the biggest spiritual gathering in the history of the human race. At a time where the West has lost its spiritual moorings and when, even Eastern countries such as China or Japan are submerged by Western culture — MTV, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s — India has shown that in spite of tremendous odds, she has succeeded in keeping her spirituality alive. But once again during the Kumbh Mela, the Indian media coverage showed the same Western slant against gurus, saints and sadhus.

Instead of highlighting the remarkable degree of cleanliness, orderliness and efficiency demonstrated by the organizers, the UP Government and the police, it chose to focus on naga sadhus smoking ganja, or the VHP “hijacking the mela,” or on Western “hippies” in search of enlightenment.

Indian journalists could have shown a little more pride in their own culture by saying, for instance, that it is miraculous that there are still men in the world who are ready to give-up everything, including their clothes, for the love of God; or that as long as Indian villagers were smoking ganja, they did not beat their wives, gobble-up their salaries and drink themselves to death, as they are doing today, now that (foreign owned) alcohol has invaded India; or that any religion worth its name tries to protect its own interests, as the VHP is doing (the VHP is not trying to convert other religions, yet they are subjected to a much greater bashing by the Indian press than Christian priests or Muslim mullahs); or that it is to India’s credit that Westerners come here searching for the spirituality they can’t get any more in the West.

It is part of the freedom of the Press to be able to criticize anything and anybody. And we must acknowledge that Indian journalists have often played a positive role by highlighting injustice or corruption in public life. But the spitefulness that they sometimes display towards the saints, sadhus and gurus of India seems a little bit unfair. For however much poverty there is in this country, however many problems it is facing, India’s gift to the world in the 21st century will be its spirituality, this eternal knowledge which alone She has preserved.