Dalits

Real dangers in India, Indonesia and Brazil as the religious pendulum swings way right

Real dangers in India, Indonesia and Brazil as the religious pendulum swings way right

Human history may be explained as a pendulum that swings, uninterrupted, between religious and political extremes that have profound consequences for those affected. Our limited time here is no different.

This metaphor for perpetual change is currently swinging to the right in much of the world. A prime reason why, is that the most recent political and religious pull to the left failed to deliver on its promises of economic justice, political equality, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of inner security and calm craved by all.

Impatient and needy creatures that we are, such failures inevitably shift the underlying gravitational momentum that sets the pendulum in motion. When liberal (pluralistic in outlook, government and rationalism viewed as essentially positive forces) views fail us, large numbers inevitably swing to the right. A similar dynamic occurs when right-leaning ideas (top-down tribalism, traditionalist “cures” for society's ills) leave us dissatisfied and feeling threatened.

The hope is always the same, of course; finding a quick, earthly salvation to get us through the day.

In recent days, several elite media stories about events in India, Indonesia and Brazil have illustrated the problematic impacts of the current global shift to the right. (I’m covering lots of ground here so rather than use wordy block quotes, please click on the links provided to better understand my point.)

All concern religious freedom issues. All illustrate how religious, and ethnic, minorities have been treated miserably by majorities who use religious and political dominance to trample the rights of the powerless.

You could argue that none of this is new, that it’s just more of the pendulum at work. And you’d be correct.

But I cite them here not because they're new under the sun, but simply as a reminder that the human desire to dominate those who are different -- religiously or otherwise -- continues to wreck havoc on the weakest among us.

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Caste in India reporting: Did a politician play Reuters for a fool?

Caste in India reporting: Did a politician play Reuters for a fool?

Did a politician play Reuters for a fool last week, using claims of religious bigotry toward India's untouchables (Dalits) to bolster his political fortunes?

Comparing stories released the same day by Reuters and The Hindu on reports that Hindu priests cleansed a temple defiled by a visit from a lower caste politician suggest Reuters may have been too quick to see religious motivations at work in what was a political story.

Newspapers often suffer from a journalistic schizophrenia when reporting on religion. Either they ignore the faith element in a story entirely, or they are too deferential to religion and religious leaders, taking at face value their truth claims. This article from Reuters exhibits the second tendency -- when religion is offered as the motivation for an action, it stops asking questions.

The Reuters story entitled “Indian temple 'purified' after low-caste chief minister visits” opens with the statement:

The government in India's northern state of Bihar has ordered an investigation after reports that a Hindu temple was cleaned and its idols washed after a visit by the state's chief minister, who belongs to a lower caste community. Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, a member of the Musahar community, said he had been told the shrine in Bihar's Madhubani district was "purified" after he visited it last month.

The story then quotes Manjhi as saying:

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