Just say no to Hindu fragility

Why are some Hindus so frightened of criticism?

The State of California is finalizing history textbooks for sixth and seventh graders, and a group of Hindu nationalist-leaning organizations are embarrassing our community.

The beauty of Hinduism is in our ability to deal with dualities and accept complexity. When we’re at our best, we’re able to embrace nuance and diversity, and respect others while respecting ourselves.

Unfortunately, some Hindus are ashamed of themselves, and frightened of criticism. Some Hindus believe the only way to find pride is to denigrate others.

Groups like the Hindu American Foundation, the Hindu Education foundation, the Uberoi Foundation, CAPEEM, and CaliforniaHindus.org say they’re trying to improve how Indian Hindus are depicted—but instead of just erasing mistakes, they’ve spent years trying to erase the histories of our South Asian communities.

  • California Dalit parents were hoping to teach about the violence of caste oppression. But some of these Hindu groups, led almost entirely by upper-caste people, have been trying to erase mentions of caste, suggest it wasn’t coercive, argue that it led to social stability, and that it has absolutely nothing to do with Hinduism. This is like White Southerners trying to say slavery wasn’t so bad, that it wasn’t coercive, that it led to social stability, and that it wasn’t connected to Southern secession. 
  • California Sikh parents wanted to highlight the fact that Guru Nanak wanted to take on caste, to reform the society he saw around him. But some of these Hindu groups tried to erase the fact that Guru Nanak was pushing back against Hinduism. This is like Catholics trying to erase the fact that Martin Luther was pushing back against the Catholic Church. 
  • California Muslim parents wanted to highlight the fact that South Asia is a place where Muslim culture could flourish, that Hindus and Muslims have syncretic shared cultures, that Muslims are not monolithic. But some of these Hindu groups wanted to erase any mention of Islam as a positive force in South Asian society, suggest that all Hindus and all Muslims were perpetually in conflict, and that Islam is uniformly warlike. This is not only factually wrong, but it also endangers Hindu Americans. We saw how Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered by a racist who described him and Alok Madasani as “Iranians.” 
  • California Desi parents wanted to use words like either “India” or “South Asia,” based on whichever is the most geographically accurate term. But some of these Hindu groups wanted to call all of South Asia and some adjacent areas “India,” and launched a “Don’t Erase India” PR campaign, complaining about being oppressed by geographical accuracy. This is like trying to get textbooks to use the word “United States” to describe all of North America.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a racial and social justice educator, coined the term “White fragility” to describe the way that many White Americans react to conversations on race.

She writes “White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

Hindu nationalist groups, typically Indian and upper-caste, demonstrate a similar kind of Hindu fragility. They appear to get angry, fearful, and defensive when anyone suggests that upper-caste Indian Hindus aren’t uniformly pure and wonderful and the center of the universe.

But many Hindus aren’t thin-skinned and afraid. Many of us are able to find pride in what’s best about Hinduism, while still respecting others, acknowledging our faults, and embracing complexity.

Hindus don’t have to be fragile.

That’s why we’re proud to stand with South Asian Histories for All, the multi-faith and inter-caste coalition that’s working for California history textbooks that uplift all South Asians. We’re proud to stand on the right side of history.