A Limited Response to JNU Professor Nivedita Menon’s Statement “Hindu society must be one of the most violent…society in the world.”

In the article “JNU Students Abuse Lady Professor For Proposing Hindu Courses, Burn PM’s Effigy as Ravana” dated Oct 19, one statement piqued me enough to document some of the more objective portions of my mental responses to it.

The statement within double quotes in the title is an excerpt from this video in which Nivedita Menon can be heard saying it. She goes on to say that ‘surely, nothing in the world can compare to the deep-rooted violence and…intransigence of the caste system’ and that this ‘is something we can proudly claim India has contributed to world culture.’

Varna, as found in Srimad Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 4, verse 13), which is not meant to be based on birth but determined by an individual’s “Guna” and “Karma” (for a detailed explanation of Varna in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, listen to Swami Chinmayananda here, or for a shorter read, see statement attributed to Swami Tejomayananda here; for  Varna in Vedas, read Swami Venkataraman’s Caste Hierarchy And Discrimination Not Sanctioned By The Vedas), is hardly what Menon has referred to as Caste system – a system, systematised really by colonisers and plunderers of the then Bharat (see Insight #3 here, based on GDP trend-data during the period when those colonialists were at helm), who are also referred to sometimes by the name of the language Menon is heard speaking in that video. That Varna has been misinterpreted and misused by people from its own tradition is true, just as it is true that there are people from the same tradition who have not misused it.

To vilify the caste system is one thing (and the human suffering and human rights violation that has resulted from it has the author’s condemnation too), but to brand Hindu society ‘as one of the most violent’ on that basis alone is preposterous, offensive, violence-inducing and hardly objective; and to include caste system in ‘India’s contribution to world culture’ – I repeat, India’s contribution* (even if meant sarcastically) – made  me wonder:

Who really is this lady, Nivedita Menon?

What drives her, to live in India, to teach Indian students, in an Indian university, on a payroll funded by Indians (tax money), and still make such statements about India’s contribution to world culture and about Hindu society, a (still) not insignificant part of world (In my mind, the words ‘India’ (of today) and ‘Hindu’ cannot be used interchangeably without being incorrect and insensitive, yet she seems to be doing so, atleast in that video and it perhaps was in all probability, a slip.)

Since she appears to have taken it on herself to brand Hindus ‘as one of the most violent’, I request her, or any objective human mind, Hindu or otherwise, to reconcile her statement, atleast the ‘one of the most’ part, with the following data from ‘The Great Big Book of Horrible Things – The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities (2012)’ by Matthew White (who is neither Indian not Hindu). The book has a dedicated website – http://www.bookofhorriblethings.com/

According to Matthew White (on page 554):

  1. ‘ONE HUNDRED DEADLIEST MULTICIDES’ got ‘455 million killed overall’.
  2. Of that 445 million, ‘IDEOLOGICAL MULTICIDES’ (32 in total: ref. p. 549) accounted for 142 million
  3. This is further broken down as ‘RELIGION: 47 million’ (13 of the 32 above), ‘COMMUNISM: 67 million’ (6 of 32) and ‘RED-WHITE CIVIL WARS: 26 million’ (6 of 32).

In the chapter titled RELIGIOUS KILLING (p. 107-112), on page 111, under the heading ‘In God We Trust’, is included:

If we categorise the entries in this list according to which religions came into conflict, we get this simplified breakdown:

Christian vs. Christian: 9

Muslim vs. Christian: 3

Christian vs. Jewish: 3

Eastern vs. Christian: 3

Jewish vs. pagan: 2

Muslim vs. Chinese: 2

Muslim vs. Muslim: 2

Human sacrifice in India: 1

Human sacrifice in Mexico: 1

Ritual killing in Rome: 1

Muslim vs. Hindu: 1

Manichaean vs. Taoist: 1

Then, Judaism and its offshoots, Christianity and Islam, devised a worldview where a single all-powerful god required a strict, uncompromising beliefs rather than tangible offerings.

Does Nivedita Menon have anything to say about Abrahamic religions and of Communism, based on the data included above? Where is her ‘one of the most violent’ societies in the list above and can she objectively justify the usage of ‘one of the most violent’?

On p. 529, where White ranks the 100 deadliest multicides, one finds the following:

1. Second world war (1939 – 45): 66,000,000

2. Mao Zedong (1949 – 76): 40,000,000

4. Famines in British India (18th – 20th centuries) – 27,000,000

11. Conquest of the Americas (after 1942) – 15,000,000

23. Aurangzeb (1658 – 1707) – 4,600,000

The above five data-points total to 152.6 million deaths. Should Indians and Hindus start looking for nationality  and religion (respectively) in this figure, Nivedita Menon? Can you objectively reconcile the result of such an enquiry with your statement?

* The hyperlink  to ‘Lecture-12- Highlights of Science in Ancient India – Part 1-IIT Kanpur’ by Michel Danino is, of course, a limited articulation of one aspect of Ancient India. Read Shri Aurobindo’s “A Defence of Indian Culture” for more.  Read Rajiv Malhotra’s Indra’s Net for a contemporary articulation of Hindu Dharma’s ‘multi-dimensional, holographic understanding of reality.’

(This post first appeared at – https://meghk.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/a-limited-response-to-jnu-professor-nivedita-menons-statement-hindu-society-must-be-one-of-the-most-violent-society-in-the-world/)

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About the Author

Megh Kalyanasundaram
A citizen of Bharat with close to nine years of lived-experience in China, based currently in Bharat-Chennai.
  • Umakanthan Diwakaran

    While the great conversation between the Lord and Arjuna has been captured in the BG, there is another equally wonderful conversation in the MB between sages Bhrigu and Bharadwaja (Shanti Parva). Here Bhrigu responds to a question that in the beginning all were Brahmanas and that through the influence of Lust, Anger and Greed other varnas came into being. (these 3 are also mentioned in the BG as the triple gates of hell). However over time we also find that Varna becomes something that is adopted as part of ones “inclination”. Everyone is born a Sudra, and between 10 to 14 years he is “born-again” as a Kshatriya, Vaisya or Brahmana. There are several incidents where people born to parents of one Varna adopt a different varna. Hence these three are called dwaja-varnas or second-varna. The caste system we see today have more to do with various family, family-industry and locality based groups and their customs, than the varna. The Brahmin caste today has no connection with the Brahmana Varna, though they carry the same name.

    • [email protected]

      Krishna also says when dharma is declining it is the duty of a ksatriya to follow AAPADDHARMA which means all bets are off to preserve yourself. Then no- constitution, no treat- others- as- yourself, love -your- neighbor, show- him- the- othe-r cheek, ahimsa and such rubbish should be discarded. Only fight to save your skin.

  • Umakanthan Diwakaran

    Let us look at violence. We need to distinguish violence in society and that sanctioned by religion. While there are religions that do not accept other faiths, views them as inferior, and even goes to the extreme of saying people of other faiths are to be killed, Hinduism stands different and on a high-pedestal. The BG clearly says “People who worship other forms, worship me in a different way … whatever path a devotee wishes to follow with faith, I make that faith of his steady”. It again does not impose a particular set of values on everyone, as Hindu philosophy understands that each culture might have its own set of good and bad things. It says “whoever measures pleasure or pain by the same standards that he applies to himself, he is a yogi…”. For example, let us say you go into a forest and meet a tribe for whom dog-meat is a delicacy. If they offer it to you, you can refrain from it politely, for they are basically trying to treat you well. For that matter, Hinduism is perhaps the only faith that even accepts atheists. Here the BG says “… among reasoning, I am the constructive reasoning of the rationalists…”. That is the kind of tolerance the faith propagates.

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  • Xavier

    If this woman is so much concerned with the caste system in India, why is she using her cast name as her surname – Menons are one of the the highest caste in Kerala.

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