Breaking Hinduism from inside – religions as commodities in some voices of the Hindu Right.

Posted on August 31, 2017. Filed under: Christians, economics, Hindu, History, India, Islam, Islamic propaganda, religion, Roman, Uncategorized |

R Jaganathan has written a piece in Swarajyamag  (will-breaking-up-hinduism-into-its-parts-preserve-it-better-than-trying-to-keep-it-as-one) proposing allowing what he dubs “Hindu” “castes” to centrifugally evolve independently of any commonality of “Hinduism” and even if it leads to – towards new religions.

Let us look at the key building blocks of this thesis:

“The reason why caste has remained stubbornly invulnerable to reform – efforts have been on since the time of the Buddha – is because it has two dimensions, one good, one bad. On the one side, there is exploitation and oppression; on the other side, there is a beneficial dimension. As many people have pointed out in the past, caste is a form of social capital. This is why deras exist. And, in a first-past-the-post democracy, caste has become even more important, for it is the numbers you bring to a coalition that decide your position in the political power structure. All political parties thus seek dera support, or that of caste groups.”

Jaganathan is here starting with the first fundamental weakness of his thesis: he proclaims that there is both a “good” and “bad” side to “caste”, and the primary reason he thinks that “caste” has been persistent from Buddha’s times in spite of repeated attempts at “reform”.  Even in the subsequent development of his thesis, and the solution he proposes – is “allowing” castes to “separate” if necessary from “Hinduism” which however he does not recognize as an integral whole. Apart from the confusions and contradictions implied in his alternate portrayal of Hinduism as a single entity or concept (“greater than sum total” of components or as an entity from which a caste can distinguish or exclude itself) and as something impossible or infeasible to be a “whole”, he calls to “allow” such separation – implying thereby that there exists a super-authority latent in “Hinduism” that has the power and should do so. He fails to recognize that this in turn implies that “castes” on their own have no benefit in separating, and an external authority to caste has to take the initiative to jettison the castes from implied “main”-body.

Since so far, by his own claim, castes have benefited from being “castes”, or “minorities”, and therefore persisted in remaining “castes”, his alleged “bad” side – that of exploitation, must therefore be deemed by castes to be more than compensated for by “benefits” – so much so that they had so far not had any incentive to move away from their “minority” status. Thus Jagantahan wants a divorce enforced by one party in a marriage which he himself acknowledges as being more beneficial than exploitative to the other party so that the other party has not taken initiative to file suit.

Having started with this explanation of “bad and good” Jaganathan then sets out to elaborate on what he thinks are the “bad” side to build a case for “divorce”.

“Two major forces – urbanisation and capitalism – are autonomously working to lower caste inequities. Both ensure mobility between trades and professions. But the process is slow and difficult to manage in the context of electoral democracy. The net result is thus a preference for sub-optimal solutions like increasing reservations based on caste, and a non-merit based system of job-creation that delivers poor outcomes.

Worse, the existence of caste involves a constant demonisation of all Hindu denominations, since anyone claiming to be Hindu is deemed to be favouring casteism. This leaves all Hindus stuck with guilt, again making us less than confident in our dealings with others.”

Thus Jaganathan’s fleshing out of the “bad”, adds basically the following three aspects:

(a) capitalism and urbanization driven “mobility” that reduces “caste” based inequities are hampered by electoral democracy which gives advantage to leveraging identity to extract benefits disproportionate to contribution.

(b) caste based claims of “reservation” hampers merit-based job-creation in turn negatively affecting the economy.

(c) existence of caste apportions “guilt” to and demonizing of all “Hindus” and psychologically hampers confident Hindu engagement of “others”.

For (a) Jaganathan somehow fails to catch the significance of his own observation earlier that existence of caste is not jeopardized even when Indians went out of Hinduism as in Islam or Christianity – which he points out as having failed to create spaces for groups he terms “Dalits” and “shudras”, and that these non-Hindu religions still push for “caste-based” reservations even for those converted “out” of Hinduism. Thus by his own earlier observation, electoral democracy providing advantages to being “minority” will not stop “casteism” suddenly simply because a “caste” has separated from “Hinduism”.

For (b) since Jaganathan is apparently a pro-capitalist – if non-merit based job-occupation negatively impacts the economy, then in a hopefully free-market “capitalist” economy, the market itself will build up pressures to adopt merit-based recruitment, as otherwise a capitalist venture will lose out in competition to one that is able to recruit more merit. Thus here again the answer is then not jettisoning “caste” but allowing greater freedom to the market to decide employment.

For (c), confident dealing with “others” does not seem to have been much of a problem for Swami Vivekananda – at a period when “casteism” was likely more overt and rampant. Moreover, in the current period – the bulk of Hindu population does not really have to engage with the “other” on theological or religious questions unless they are going abroad or are specifically engaged in fields where other religions and ideologies hold the sway. Even here, the lack of confidence probably comes more from a lack of knowledge of and willingness to confront the “others” with their own respective “inequities” and historical or continuing inequities and injustices such as racism, sectarianism, oppression of minorities and dissent, and social exclusion.

 “It does not matter if castes become separate religions, retaining only a loose link with Hinduism; it does not matter if groups that are currently identified with Hinduism want to break away, and seek minority, non-Hindu status, as some groups within the Lingayats want to do. If the Ramakrishna Mission wants to be treated as a non-Hindu denomination, why not allow it to do so? It will not actually become less Hindu because of this nomenclature change. In fact, it could become more innovative and grow faster.

Here’s the point: As long as Hinduism remains a very loose aggregation of incompatible castes and groups, it cannot move or change very fast. It is easier for even a slow running to win if he runs alone; three-legged races are tougher to win.”

It is here that Jaganathan’s underlying thought process starts to expose the memes he is using to drive his thesis – he is converting religions or faiths into consumer products on offer in a marketplace of ideologies and belief systems. His liberal use of market terminology tells us that once he makes the equation of religions to commodities on a market, he abandons any lingering concern about the nature of religions modeled as commodities or whether religions can at all be realistically commoditized. Once Jaganathan makes the equation he forgets this possible incompatibility between religions and commodities and switches to thinking entirely in terms of inanimate commodities in a market. Thus he freely talks of “innovation” and “growing fast”, assumes there are producers of new “innovative” commodities of religions within existing caste groups who can outpace other manufacturers.

There are many problems with the religion-as-commodity-in-a-free-market model. To explore this one needs to check up as to what exactly can be the “commodity” nature if any, in a religion, and what then will compose the competing “other” manufacturers of religion and the “market” in which that competition happens.

(a) To compete, two different manufacturers of religions must be satisfying the same needs in the “buyer” of “religions”. Is there a common set of needs satisfied by all “religions” or do different religions address different needs in the same buyer or different buyers? Does Islam and “Hinduism” satisfy the same needs?

(b) what is the currency of exchange in the market of religions? for any such market must develop a unit of comparison and this is something that the buyer gives up to the seller? is it people, following, material contribution to increased manufacturing? If following or numbers is a measure of valuation – how can the author dub the current versions of Christianity or Islam as T.Rex? for they have succeeded more than Hinduism in that currency and without much innovation.

(c) what makes a buyer change his or her preference for one religion as commodity to another? does that change follow free-market rules? Historically almost every known religious innovation had to be shoved down unwilling throats by state sponsored coercion. Islam from its foundation was raiding and pillaging until it could militarily subdue northern Arabian tribes and then spread its “commodity” further into the Levant and Persia by war. Christianity did not make much of a headway until a “minority” faction found it to be useful for imperial power consolidation in Rome and even after that its spread into much of Europe had to be by military conquest. The first claimed “monotheistic” innovation by Akhenaten is assessed now to have been imposed by royal authority and violence.

The peak of this commodity-market model in author’s mind surfaces here:

In the corporate world, when companies become too unwieldy, they demerge to create faster growth for the demerging parts. Hinduism should allow its constituent units to demerge, and this will make each one stronger. A looser and voluntary federation works better for Hinduism than trying to create a large agglomeration that circumscribes the freedom of movement for each of the parts.

This comparison is interesting, for it implies that in Jaganathan’s mind he is totally switched into and focused on real world commodities and their prices and profits to corporate models. He conveniently forgets that the “demergers” are supervised by an authority external to the market – a state, ostensibly to encourage competition to the benefit of the consumer. What authority external to “Hinduism” is going to supervise this “de-trustification” of “Hinduism”? How is that authority going to determine what is of benefit to the consumer in the absence of clear-cut market mechanisms and prices? Is this authority also going to apply the same principles of “anti-trust” to non-Hindu religions too?

In Hinduism, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Hinduism is thus served best by freeing its parts from the whole so as to create new wholes that will work more coherently. Whether these mini-Hinduisms will survive or perish depends on how fast they are able to adapt to change and modernise themselves for the new age.

Some of the demerging parts will become new religions, and possibly better ones. Some will deal with caste better than others. Some castes could become religions too. And some will regress and perish. But Hinduism as a whole will be alive in spirit in vibrant new ideas.

Even politically, trying to pretend that 80 per cent of Indians are Hindus of one kind is counter-productive. It denies benefits that minorities get by being small. Small is beautiful.

Here Jaganathan drives the final logical nail into the “coffin” of his own thesis: if being “small” and “in the minority” is beneficial then that presumes the existence of a “big” and “in the majority” in contrast to which the “small” can remain “small” and the “minority” can remain a “minority”. By pushing the “small” and the “minority” out of the  “majority” framework of Hinduism, Jaganathan is actually condemning them – by his own logic – to losing all the benefits of being “small” and “minor”.

This is the age of the start-up, not megaliths. Remember T-Rex did not survive evolution. It is unlikely that religions organised like T-Rexes – most of the Abrahamic religions fit this description – will survive an era of fast change.

Jagnathan forgets that in the age of startups it is a few megaliths that dominate – the Google or Apple or Microsoft or Amazon – who by their sheer size and structural incorporation of ever increasing variety of capabilities to satisfy needs in turn gobble up most other innovative startups, and these megaliths have virtually no competition because they already satisfy what at least currently are the basic consumer needs from that sector.



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2 Responses to “Breaking Hinduism from inside – religions as commodities in some voices of the Hindu Right.”

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What a wonderfully analyzed take-down of the spiel Jagganathan put out! Kudos !

Good insights by @dikgaj against views of @TheJaggi wrt structure of Hinduism, whether it’s more suited to a loose federation of sects/castes or a strong union like the Abrahamics

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