Hindu Heritage and Liberation

On pages 17 and 18 of the April 2016 Present Time there are several responses to some questions that were posed to Co-Counselors of Hindu heritage on the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of South, Central, and West Asian-heritage people. Here is another response:

Hello, beloved Hindu-heritage Co-Counselors! I’m thrilled to be doing this work with you.

What is your earliest memory connected to being Hindu heritage or to Hinduism?

The Hindu Temple of North America in Flushing, New York, USA. The smell of the place—in particular, coconut oil, jasmine, ghee, incense. The sound of the first bell you ring when you walk in. The sight of slippers all haphazardly piled up near the entrance.

What’s been good about having Hindu heritage?

Connection and closeness with family and with women in particular, music, and a surprisingly ingrained belief that I am part of divinity. The latter has worked to contradict a lot of self-doubt.

What’s been challenging?

The rise of Hindu fundamentalism and extreme intolerance in India. Learning how to discharge on my Savarna (Brahmin) history and identity and the oppression of Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi peoples. Being influenced by Brahminical Hindu philosophy and at the same time committed to leading a secular life.

What are key aspects of your life story as a Hindu?

We were very insular Brahmin Kannadigas (people from the state of Karnataka who speak Kannada). Being in New York and then New Jersey (USA) meant that we had the option to socialize only “with our own,” and that is what my parents chose to do. I was raised completely naive about caste and the experience of Muslims and at the same time very proud of being Brahmin—something that never settled easily for me but that I didn’t understand enough to challenge (or so I was led to believe).

We were active in temple life and helped to start a few small temples in New Jersey. Many Swamijis (supposedly learned ascetics who travel where the “flock” needs them) came through our home, including a few that overstayed their welcome and did unconscionable things to the girls and women in our household.

My mother spent a lot of her energy drilling devotional songs into us. To this day, I rely on them when I’m singing to my baby.

After college I backpacked by myself for six months around India and stayed for an extended period in an ashram in the Himalayas, which clarified some important things for me.

I did not belong to the mainstream Hindu community—with its misogyny, casteism, Islamophobia, and complicity with the neoliberal capitalist agenda—but I love the music and the inner sensations of chanting or singing in the company of believers.

What thoughts do you have about your liberation as a Hindu-heritage person and about Hindu liberation in general?

My work needs to be, first and foremost, about caste-based oppression and Savarna (caste) privilege. I also need to work on Hindu majoritarianism in India, including my own places of unawareness about Islamophobia. Hindu liberation, in general, needs to focus a lot more on colonialism and the Brahminization of mainstream Hinduism.

And I think the gears in my mind just screeched to a halt right there. Time for a mini-session!

Surabhi Kukke

Austin, Texas, USA

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00