Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Spiritual Context of Human Rights

- Renu Malhotra

This time I want to share a very unique experience that I had recently, which relates to the issue of human rights. All over USA, Institutes for Healing Racism have sprung up in the past few years. The one in our town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, invited me to attend two full days of a workshop on the subject. Generally, schools, corporations and other organizations send their employees so they are better equipped to handle the increasing diversity in the population of the USA. Arguably, India may be the only country more diverse than this nation on planet earth as of now!

It is very interesting to study how India has dealt with its diversity as compared to what we are doing in the USA now. Whereas, in Bhaarat, diversity was accepted in a Spiritual context, as a natural phenomenon - part of Bhagavaan’s creation, in the West, it has not been so. The United States now feels the heavy burden of its history of discrimination during the past couple of centuries. First, the fact that the Native American was killed in large numbers and many treaties were broken to usurp the land which, for thousands of years has been home for these groups. The natives had even helped the Europeans to survive, in early years. Ownership of land was not a well-entrenched idea in much of the indigenous cultures of the world in pre–Christian/Islamic days. In fact the study of the manner in which the western part of the present day USA was conquered reveals the extreme suffering of the Native population, which continues to this day. There is complete segregation among these people, living on reservations, and the main stream.

Another pressing issue is the fact of slavery of the black people who were bought, sold, beaten and literally treated in the most inhuman way for a very long time. These blacks are ten to fifteen percent of the total population and have contributed heavily to the construction of the new country i.e. in its European avataara. So, while the Natives got totally marginalized to the point of being called the invisible minority today, the blacks were plucked from their native lands, against their wishes and then treated cruelly within the new land.

Then, there is the question of the Mexicans. Unlike North America, South and Central America saw the Spanish conquistador vanquish the land from the original owners. It seems the white Spaniard males took many native women, producing a race called ‘Mexican,’ who were then discriminated against and continue to be so to this day! How a white father can reject his own child, because he /she may be less white, is mind-boggling!

All children of European and non-European mixture were unacceptable to the White Europeans. Even today, in deciding who is a minority, those rules apply - if there is any non-white blood then they are considered a minority. Amazingly, they were accepted among the non-white communities with far less objections. The more one knows about the human race the less Humane it seems.

Discrimination on the basis of colour seems to be a particularly European and even more strongly a Northern European problem. It seems that after the colonies i.e. USA, gained freedom from the British, every group of immigrants coming in, namely, the Irish, the Italian, Japanese, Indian and Chinese, faced some form of discrimination. The strange thing is that the whites themselves brought each of these groups in, to work in the tobacco fields or cotton fields or to lay the railroad and generally to build a country with good infrastructure. The superior white race was not able to do the hard and dangerous work that was necessary to build the country that we have today.

As I have learnt more and more, I am stunned at our (as a human race) continuing ability to be cruel. All along we have been told and even now are told by many, that the people of Africa, India, as well as many of the Islands that the Europeans took over, are basically lazy people and fell to bad times because of this trait. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Even today in this so-called enlightened age very few realize this fact. I think in India, there is even less awareness of such facts among the general population than here in the USA. It is always the immigrant, usually also a minority, that worked hard to make a Nation along with the majority. The two day-workshop which involved some thirty persons of mixed backgrounds talked of all this and also emphasized the facts through three movies, one of which was so painful that I had to leave for a while to get hold of myself. We were also asked to do some exercises to look into our own biases and to experience the truth via answers to certain questions. In one exercise, all of us lined up holding hands and then were asked to take one step forward each time our answer was a “yes”. At the conclusion, the whites were way ahead; I was ahead of the black but well behind the whites and by myself.

This was a way to have the white community realize how privileged they have been, continue to be and how the other non-whites are still struggling to catch up. One fact of great importance to naturalized citizens, completely unknown to me, was that there is a precedent of stripping people of citizenship. A person of Japanese origin who tried to get US citizenship was denied even though he was white or whiter than many of the Europeans. The Supreme Court declared that only White and Caucasians could be given citizenship. Then a person of Indian origin, Shree Bhagat Singh Thind, who rightly claimed his Caucasian-ness was given citizenship that was later rescinded. He had a wife and two children but committed suicide after loosing citizenship.

In this two-day workshop I learnt how the Supreme Court of this land systematically and over and over again ruled in favour of the White Europeans, particularly those from Northern Europe. Very disillusioning, as I myself am a naturalized citizen of the USA and have generally tried to be proud of and fair towards my adopted country.

As an Indian-American-Hindu, I have been thinking about how all this fits into my own thinking. Is there a contribution to be made by us Hindus? Our own society has been blamed for treating certain sections badly too. After much study, I find it very difficult to find the truth of why and when abuses began in a particular society. However, one thing does stand out from the pages of history after a great deal of reading between the lines. Europe was not a peaceful land ever and the cold northern areas had very harsh living conditions with constant shortage of food to contend with. The deserts of the Middle East too offered harsh and uncompromising conditions. In contrast, Bhaaratvarsha and much of Asia were (are) lush - with abundant crops and flowing rivers. This geographical difference it self created a great disparity between regions of the world. This combined with the Spiritual Vedic culture made for a land which all who came into contact with it. Perhaps, the abundance of Mother Nature allowed our people to be compassionate and use their energy to explore deeply, the meaning of life.

India was the fabled land of wealth and wisdom and the “have-nots” wanted all she had to offer. Alas, they knew only to plunder — no immigration policies were in place like we have in the modern world. Using aggressive religions as a cloak, these people gave themselves the license to kill mercilessly and plunder in every way imaginable. Arabs, Turks, Central Asians followed by seemingly benign but far craftier people of Europe, ground rich Asia to abject poverty. If we read carefully it is obvious that the world that existed before the two warring religions almost came to an end. Certain parts like China, and Russia responded with calling themselves atheists and opted for communism. India, ever a survivor and compassionate, gave refuge to the persecuted people from all over, but in the process became very, very poor - both in monetary terms and in education of her people.

The loss of education has been a greater loss to us - a culture that sees Knowledge as the supreme lakshya (goal) of a human being. As of now, Asia, India (especially) and China are still trying to undo those years of ravage. The West and much of the Arab lands became rich by unscrupulous plunder legitimised by a brand of religion that seems to go against the true teaching of its own prophets.

The West has begun to feel the guilt that comes naturally to human beings. Humans are Spiritual beings and have an innate sense of fairness. With our freewill we can transgress, but not eliminate our sense of connectedness and justice. In the workshop for Healing Racism, this pain was obvious. The plundered are hurt but so do those that plunder. The pain also continues for the future generations – long after the ancestors are gone! As an Asian and a Hindu, I see several insights in this experience of pain.

The play of the Law of Karma is obvious to those that understand the workings of the Karmic cycles - the only way to make some sense of all that goes on inside and outside the mind of the homo sapiens. The mixture of races living all over the world is largely a work of the European Colonizers. It has to be a play of Karma that the world should become diverse by the actions of those that hated anyone different in colour, religion or culture. The good deeds and the bad deeds both do get visited on the children and cause havoc with their mental states (consider, for instance, the amount of Prozac prescribed in the USA).

My Hindu mind wants to forgive all concerned, even though not only the Evangelists but also Harvard professors are still denigrating the Hindus here, may be more vehemently now, as traditional hold of their religions are collapsing. I am also fully convinced that only the thinking of Sanaatana Dharma can give any relief. They fear that Hindu Dharma can swallow all other religions; they do not understand that it does not swallow at all rather it gives everything and every tradition a place to live in harmony with a myriad differences within a healthy, harmonized whole.


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