Hegemony And Hindu Dharma In the West Indies – Part 9

Hindu Counter-Hegemony In Guyana

In March 1993, the Caribbean Conference of Churches sponsored a symposium on inter-faith dialogue in the Caribbean. From Guyana there were representatives of the Christian Church (the CCC itself), the Muslim Ummah (CIOG and GIT) and the Hindu Samaj (the Arya Samaj and Maha Kali). I was struck immediately by the absence of the Dharmic Sabha, which represents at least ninety percent of the organized Hindus in Guyana. Without getting into the politics, which possibly excluded them, I thought that if Hindu organizations had an umbrella organization a la the CCC, this would have been avoided. I do not believe that even the Arya Samaj and the Maha Kali would claim to speak on behalf of all Hindus in Guyana. Ensuing candid discussions on the possibility that “dialogue” was being used as a Trojan Horse to divert Hindu and Muslim resurgence, did not completely eliminate my nagging suspicion of the old “divide and rule tactics” being employed.

The CCC has a standard unit, which analyses the impact and reactions of other faiths in the region. As far as Hindu Dharma is concerned, this has to be considered as part of the ongoing efforts of the hegemony to protect its interests. Its colonial heritage bequeathed a contiguity and nexus to the ruling strata, which will not be jettisoned voluntarily. That heritage compels the premise in their minds that they are the “church” for the region. As Rev. Harold Sitahal [CCC], wrote of his own Presbyterian Church’s inspired initiative, “the inner politics of the Church … has been able to suppress or even repress this movement for social involvement and outreach to the poor”. The Evangelizing Pentecostals, who were also not present, have taken a much more aggressive and antagonistic posture towards Hindu Dharma and Islam. Their stance is quite reminiscent of our supposedly completed colonial phase: an impoverished population, particularly Hindus, are bribed while calumny and vilification are heaped on their faith – still labelled “pagan and heathen”. The “established” Christian bodies of the CCC have been forced to take cognizance of the phenomenal growth of these Pentecostals by unleashing their own evangelizing programs.

Hindu Dharma has never encouraged any centralized, monolithic centre like the Vatican of the Catholic Church. This springs from the principle of mutual respect captured by the Sutra (maxim), “EKAM SAT VIPRA BAHUDA VADANTI” – Truth is one but the wise call it differently. This compels the Hindu to accept that there can be many interpretations of “the way”, and that these interpretations are not necessarily “wrong” but simply come from different perspectives. Hindu unity was always defined as HINDU SANGHATHAN akin to Hindu parivar (family). Everyone accepts the diversity and variations present within any family. However, the need for unified action is becoming quite clear in the present circumstances. The Rig Veda has declared that unity is power in the present age, “Sanghe Shakti Kali Yug”. Unity does not have to mean unanimity, nor does it have to mean identity. Differences there will always be, but these are far outweighed by the commonalties emerging from their acceptance of the ultimate authority of the Vedas. Hindu sects are thus all “astikas”.

There is much talk of a united Guyanese people, but before this can become a reality, each group will have to take stock of itself and remove the mote of “hegemony” from their eyes. Only after we have all ceased assessing each other in the labels and stereotypes of the hegemony can there be any possibility of national “unity”. The Hindu concept of unity is also encapsulated in the Sutra (maxim), “Anekata mein ekata” – unity in diversity. Now, without question, calls for Hindu unity will be perceived as a threat by other groups and most certainly so by most secularized and hegemonised Hindus. However, the reality is that in addition to the lofty principles cited above, any unity at this stage will have to be based on a set of common interests. The interest in this case has to be the survival of Hindu Dharma in the region and of its organizations. Under the present hegemony, as we have outlined, most Hindus are already subtly Christianized by their concepts, vocabulary and world view – they are already crypto Christians. It is apposite to note that of the fifteen percent of Bharatiyas who have been converted to Christianity, almost all have come from the Hindu fold. Hindu Dharma has an alternative vision for the survival and success of our societies and it is the duty of Hindus to ensure that this vision endures so that the other groups may have an opportunity to consider its proposals.

The survival of Hindu Dharma necessitates a counter-hegemony. It has always been so in the long history of Hindu Dharma: the principles are unchanging, but the smritis (set of sacred texts) have always been reinterpreted based on desh (place), kaal (time) and paristhiti (circumstances). Buddha’s innovations swept across and over Bharat and it took the great Adi Shankaracharya with his unique interpretation of Advaita Vedanta to roll back the tide. Each age had its great interpreter of the Vedas – from Madhava, Ramanuja, and Valabha, to Maharishi Dayanand, Ramakrishna, Vivekanand and Ramana of this century. They all rejected the dogma of the day and created counter-hegemonies which returned to the people their culture and faith. And the efforts never cease.


Intellectuals are key to the success of any counter-hegemony, for, at the initial stage, conceptualization of the new world view must be initiated, articulated and promulgated. It is asking too much for the average peasant or workers to undertake the analysis and reflection, which is necessary to construct the counter-hegemony. The definition of an intellectual, however, is not synonymous with “academic”: it includes individuals from all walks of life who can ponder their predicament and offer insights towards their emancipation. Thus the intellectual class must be broadened and deepened. As I wrote previously, we must also reject the “value – free” presumptions, which the Hegemony purports to have imbibed into its scholars: value free intellectual inquiry is an oxymoron.

The academics and professionals are usually the most hegemonized individuals in the society for, in addition to being engulfed in the hegemonic culture, they are forced to cogitate on their situations with the theoretical models provided by the hegemony. It is inevitable that most of them can see no way out and offer fifty reasons why things can’t change, but cannot find one why it might.

Exacerbating the mental blinders, the percentage who could even use the analytical tools of the social sciences of the hegemony to attempt to break out of their straitjacket, were an insignificant minority. Most Hindu aspirants to higher education went into Medicine, Law, and Dentistry. The Hegemony also subverted the academic and professional by making him a junior partner in his enterprise. Very junior partner. The professional or academic, often only one generation removed from the cane fields, usually ensconces himself in Georgetown, losing any organic connection with the frustrations, energy and anger of his people. If he suffers a twinge of concern he usually expresses it in the approved Pavlovian reflex of the inveterate, inconsequential, ineffectual Liberal. A good example is J.A. Luckhoo, who converted to Christianity, was appointed to the legislature and became such a staunch defender of the hegemony that he was sent to Bharat to argue for continued cheap indentured labour in the face of the subhuman conditions on the plantations. Even the Imperial Indian Government was forced to reject his pleas after representations of the reality by Gandhi and others were forcefully presented.

(To be concluded in the 10th and final part….other parts of this series – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

About the Author

Ravi Dev
Shri Ravi Dev is the Sanghachalak of Hindu Swamyamsevak Sangh (Guyana). He has been a Hindu activist for the past 27 years in Guyana, after 21 years in New York where he was a corporate executive and a member of the New York Bar.