Trying to pull a candy box out of an old cellar, Kamala Harris pulled out a whole trail of dead past, rotten present and smelly intent.
File image of US Vice President Kamala Harris. PA
It was a seemingly innocuous Holi wish from the US Vice President to the “South Asian community”. Just that trying to pull a box of candy out of an old cellar, Kamala Harris pulled out a whole trail of dead past, rotten present, and smelly intent.
Today is a day celebrating joy, positivity and coming together through vibrant colors. To the South Asian community and those who celebrate–Happy Holi!
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) March 18, 2022
Madam Vice President, which South Asian communities celebrate Holi, except Hindus in India and possibly Nepal? A day before Holi in 2019, two Hindu girls were abducted from the city of Dhaka in Pakistan’s Sindh, raped and converted. These are just statistics. Thousands of Hindu girls suffer the same fate. Even this year, just three weeks before Holi, there was a big protest in Okara, Pakistani Punjab, against forced conversions.
In another South Asian country, Bangladesh, this year a mob of 200 Islamists led by Haji Shafiullah ransacked the Iskcon Radhakanta temple a day before Holi, injuring many worshippers.
So which South Asians does Kamala Harris want for Holi? Is she deaf or is this an attempt to dilute the relationship of Indians and Hindus with Holi?
Dear Kamala: India is not Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka… Please stop calling us South Asia and stop lumping us together with a terrorist country like Pakistan. We have nothing to do with them https://t.co/8yrCtoUuwR
— Asha Jadeja Motwani 🇮🇳🇺🇸 (@ashajadeja325) March 19, 2022
These questions arise because of well-orchestrated attempts in the past. Editor and author Sankrant Sanu had done a Google Ngram search of many digitized books and journals tracing the use of the term “South Asia”.
He writes in his article, “How South Asia Is a Racist Trope of Cultural Erasure”: “So South Asia as a term is negligible until the 1940s, and really begins to be used in the late 1950s and 1960s. It was then that the CIA set up “South Asian Studies” departments in American universities. The premise of “South Asian” is that the India has never been a nation or a civilization and that it is simply made up of different “sub-nationalities” to be lumped together. This is, of course, ahistorical. Even in Western consciousness, India has been a term well more important than “South Asia”.
But the attempt to subvert Indian identity in American academia did not end with the Cold War. Shady anti-Indian interest groups have taken up the cause. In 2015, for example, the group of South Asian teachers in California did something quite cheeky. He sent letters to the California Department of Education advocating for several changes to the curriculum. They wanted “most references to India before 1947 to be replaced with South Asia”. They also called for references to “Hinduism” to be replaced with “the religion of ancient India”.
“Thirty-six of those changes were simply to remove the words ‘India’ or ‘Hinduism’ from the curriculum. Were these recommendations merely innocuous about the Indus Valley in present-day Pakistan and the more appropriate “South Asia” as the LA Times claimed? No. Several edits significantly alter the meaning of the lines and support the view of South Asian studies scholars that there was essentially no ‘India’ before 1947,” researcher Vamsee Juluri wrote in Huffpost.
These drastic and diabolical changes would have crept into the curriculum, given the initial enthusiasm of the California Department of Education.
But a massive Hindu backlash has begun, with the American Hindu Foundation front and center. Over 25,000 signatures from professors, scholars, students and parents have participated in the “Don’t Erase India” campaign. This forced the Teaching Quality Commission to retain the word India in all cases with the curriculum framework. An old civilization has triumphed.
Many Western scholars have objected to the attempt to water down the idea of India. Krzysztof Iwanek, Indologist and Director of the Asian Research Center, University of War Studies, Poland, is one of them. While recalling that Gautam Buddha was technically born in modern Nepal, he brilliantly explains the background.
“Buddha’s teachings were part of Indian philosophy and they built upon and referred to (and sometimes rebelled against) earlier Indian religious thought and customs. The Buddhist canon has been preserved in Indian languages (mainly in Pali, to some extent also in Sanskrit). If, instead, we said that they were “South Asian philosophy” and “South Asian languages”, such descriptions, even theoretically correct ones, would fail to explain anything, to to paint a context, to understand the links and the divisions”, he writes in The diplomat. “India is historically a broad cultural notion (a civilization), and now a political notion as well. As such, it cannot be described solely with reference to time and space, but primarily with reference to people, their thoughts and actions.
Harris’ wishes may seem innocent, but his context clearly isn’t. With anti-Indian lobbies in overdrive in the West since India’s assertive nationalism under Narendra Modi, it is increasingly important to remain vigilant. The more this civilization flourishes despite its deep wounds, the more its aggressors seem to hate it.