- We cannot change the painful history of oppressed groups, but we can work to protect ourselves in the future.
Recently we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in New Mexico near Albuquerque and perused the exhibition on the Ancient Puebloan culture and history. We learned about the massive destruction of the Native Americans by successive waves of colonizing nations of Spain, Mexico, and the United States. There was intentional genocide of people for their land and natural resources, presumed unintentional mass death by exposure to foreign pathogens brought by the colonizers, the exploitation of natives for labor, as well as destruction of their culture and religion by forced religious conversion. The story was sad and heart-wrenching.
However, the Pueblo Indians have survived and currently practice some of their original cultures passed down through successive generations from oral traditions. They now practice Catholicism as a fusion of Roman Catholicism and native rituals. On the contrary, any remnant of the pre-Islamic culture in the Middle East1 or the Pre-Christian European Religions2 has been almost completely destroyed. There are no practitioners of the indigenous Arabian polytheism or ancient Semitic religions. Very few, if any, practitioners of Mandaeism, Manichaeism, or Zoroastrianism exist. Zoroastrianism practitioners called Parsis exist in India and have prospered (one of the largest business houses in India – the Tata family is Parsi.). Pre-Christian European religions like Norse Forn Sidr, Druidism, and Roman polytheism, among others, have been completely wiped out, except for some fringe elements of the society.
In India, the onslaught of Islam for nearly two thousand years led to extensive conversion and destruction of places of culture and worship. India got partitioned into Islamic Pakistan, Islamic Bangladesh, and secular majority Hindu India. Most major places of worship of Hindus in northern India were destroyed by the religiously intolerant invaders, resulting in such an intergenerational psychological trauma that the Hindus have built very few grand religious structures even after independence in 1947.
The geographic extent of Hinduism, which once extended from modern Afghanistan to Indonesia3, is now confined to mainly India and sprinkling of diaspora throughout the world. The hundred years of British colonization of India did not see extensive conversion or destruction. The British colonizers committed innumerable atrocities in India. Well-known are the three million preventable deaths during the Bengal famine of 19434, stealing nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of material wealth5 and destroying the ancient Hindu educational system6. But they were benign compared to the other colonizers like the Belgians in Congo, the Spaniards in Central and South America, as well as the Portuguese in Goa, Angola, and Mozambique.
The Macaulay education system destroyed the Hindu educational system resulting in self-doubting generations of Hindus who, till now, seek validation from the West for every aspect of life. Still, the destruction was not as complete. I can speak, read, and write in my ancestral language Marathi. However, India would have been in a far worse situation if Spain or Portugal had ruled India. I quake with tribulation when I read about the actions of the Spaniards in South America and Central America, as well as the Portuguese in the Indian state of Goa and Angola. I am thankful to have still my Hindu name and access to the philosophical treasure trove of ancient Hindu wisdom.
We cannot change the painful history of oppressed groups, but we can work to protect ourselves in the future. The people following these ancient traditions must come together and support each other. There is a sizable silent number of good people in this world who are outside these traditions but are good humans. If they become aware of their numbers and strength, these people can pressure their governments to form a bulwark against current and future onslaught against the ancient traditions. While waiting on the bench near the exit, I overheard angry murmurs from the visiting group of young adults in the museum from other states and some from other countries expressing the need to do something for the oppressed people. I smiled with hope in my heart for our collective future.
One organization attempting to unite ancient traditions is the International Center of Cultural Studies. https://www.iccsglobal.org
(Top photo, an exhibit “Pivot Skateboard Desk Art Exhibit — celebrating rapid transition between traditional and modern-day life of Native Americans” — at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in New Mexico)
Mandar Pattekar is a radiologist by profession. His service interest is in the education of children in underserved urban areas of America as well as improving urban food deserts. He likes to share the universally applicable Hindu Dharma principles with interested people.