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Why Do We Say No to Lies? A Refutation to Equality Labs

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

A Medium article published by Equality Labs titled “Why Do We Say No to Holi? A Guide To Challenge Casteism” highlights the poor standards of writing that some organizations resort to. While we welcome and encourage viewpoints from all perspectives, we also believe that these viewpoints ought to be grounded in reality and facts and devoid of narrative driven bias. Individual opinions matter, but those too should be based on facts. We at the American Hindu hope that you share this perspective as well.


The Medium article focuses on the Hindu holiday of Holi, which celebrates equality and friendship across society. Equality Labs claims that “the ritual burning of Holika has translated for Savarna (upper caste) Americans into a festival of colored powders, color runs, and family gatherings, without much regard to the violence that many oppressed caste and Indigenous communities associate with Holi.”


Apart from this claim, there are many others made in the article which aren’t backed by references, customs, or practices. The article plays dangerously on caste narratives to particular castes by presenting falsified facts, providing unconnected references, blatant lies, and half formed notions to further their dangerous propaganda, probably just falling short of calling for a revolution on the naxal lines.


In this piece, we present a breakdown of the article, backed by actual references and citations. Although there are many points we did not address for the sake of brevity, we feel that the following points provide a strong enough refutation of the article by Equality Labs. We hope the reader will go through both pieces and the supporting citations in forming their opinions.


The alternative version of the myth says that Hiranyakashyap is not a demon king, but a king from an Indigenous community of people called Asurs, which roughly translates to demon in Hindi. Asurs still live in large numbers in the eastern part of India… This is why caste oppressed and Indigenous people refuse to celebrate this colonial and casteist retelling of Holi.

Both of these claims have serious issues, let’s look at them one by one.


While the article is correct that an indigenous group of people called the Asur Tribe lives in Jharkhand, India today, that's pretty much the only truth in the article. The Medium article incorrectly defines the word Asur, and proceeds to use it as a foundation of argumentation. In the story of Holi, King Hiranyakashyap is an Asura. The word Asura is described In Sanskrit, meaning “ divine beings that are in opposition to Devas, or Gods.” and appears in Hindu scriptures around 1500-1200 BCE.”


According to K.K. Leuva, an assistant commissioner for Tribes in Bihar and West Bengal and the author of The Past of the People, the term Asura has been described in the Rig Veda as “Hiranyahasto Asurah Sunithah” meaning “Golden Handed Divine Spirit” but in other verses as the “destroyer of enemies.” According to Leuva, “in as many as 105 references in the Rig Veda, the word Asura has been used as a term of praise.”


Equality Labs claims that caste oppressed and indigenous people refuse to celebrate Holi and then dictates the current version of Holi as a colonial and casteist. Common knowledge of Indian history shows that the colonial period started in India from the mid 17th century and actually came into full force in the 18th century with the British Raj. Google shows that Holi has been celebrated in its current form (including common customs, and stories and the stories we know behind Holi celebrations) since at least the 4th century [1]. Attempting to portray Hindus as colonizers is revisionist and false since both Hindus and the tribes of India are indigenous to that land.


It would seem that Equality Labs seeks to draw parallels between colonizing Europeans, who subjugated local populations, with Hindus. The Asur tribe are not forced to live in remote areas nor are they subjugated, instead they choose to live separate from mainstream Indian society. Claiming that the indigenous people do not celebrate Holi is also wrong, since the festival is celebrated by various tribes throughout India, including the Asur tribe, albeit in different ways [2] [3] [4] [5] [6].


The alternate version claims that Hiranyakashyap was an indigenous king of the Asur tribe. If this is to be believed, then it makes no sense for this same tribe to mark the death of their king with a 15 day long festival full of cuisine, music, and dance.


Building up on this false narrative further, the article makes many claims with a very interesting pattern of citation. All the citations and references given are either unrelated to the claim. Some references are cyclical in the sense that they refer to another article, or an opinion piece with no foundation in facts. Following this technique, a whole chain of claims has been made with no academic backing or even actual practices to back the claims.


Holi also further reifies Brahmanical Patriarchy by encouraging casteist and sexist slurs that are ritually hurled at Holika’s figure as part of the ritual.

The article’s citation to back up this claim has no mention of casteist and racial slurs that are supposedly “ritually hurled at Holika’s figure as part of the ritual” [7]. Oddly enough the article talks about a PR campaign in the form of a roundtable with the Twitter CEO where a poster made by Equality Labs was shared. This poster received a severe backlash due to insensitive choice of words and the team had to later issue a clarification, but none of that gives any reference of a ritual hurling of racist and casteist slurs at Holika.


It makes one question if this citation is an act of self promotion.


This translates into the widespread violence against femmes in cities where Holi is practiced, creating a turbulent and frightening environment [8] where gender based harassment attacks rise during this time. This includes groups of men throwing balloons filled with rocks, water, or even semen at femmes who are walking in the street. We cannot expect more from a festival whose heart is quite literally the burning of an Indigenous woman.

Again here the citations given do not match the claims. While the article cited as a reference for turbulent and frightening environment contains the actual reason [8].


The incident occurred during the Holika ‘dahan’ (burning) ceremony in the village, said Rahatgarh police station inspector Anil Singh. He said Mr. Rajput and his wife got angry after Mr. Ahirwar and others lit the bonfire, which they feared would engulf their house. In a fit of rage, they caught hold of Mr. Ahirwar and pushed him into the bonfire, Mr. Singh said.

It is clear that the motive was neither caste or gender based harassment. This unfortunate incident has been used in a vile way by Equality Labs to propagate their agenda. Moreover, if the practice is so common as Equality Lab claims, there ought to be more incidents and newspaper reports citing it. The communities which the Equality labs claim are harassed (which are mostly dalit communities) should also be up in arms against the celebration. None of the above is found to be true. In fact Dalit, communities celebrate Holi with the same fervor.


The second claim of “balloons filled with rocks, water, or even semen at femmes” was also found to be false [9]:


In his Philosophy of Hinduism and Annihilation of Caste, B.R. Ambedkar, an Indian sociologist, legal scholar and architect of the Indian Constitution, elaborated on how many so-called Hindu festivals appropriated Indigenous and Buddhist traditions and recast them into violent casteist histories.

Again here the citation is claimed to be from a book by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (who is a revered scholar), but actually is an opinion piece by Dr.K.Jamanadas who hasn’t been an associate or even remotely connected to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. What is not surprising though, is that even in this citation, there is no mention of the alternative version as propagated by the author in Medium article or Holi being a Buddhist festival appropriated by Hindus.


Equality Labs once again repeats the same pattern described above by providing irrelevant citations to create an appearance of legitimacy when there is none.


The truth about Holi was also elaborated in great detail by Jyotiba Phule, the 19th century reformer and scholar, in his text Gulamgiri, where he counters the prevalent myths around Holi but also places it in the context of a class and power struggle against the asuras. Phule interpreted the Holi story this way: He said that Holika knew that Brahmin nationalism would annihilate her culture and her people and warned the brainwashed Prahlad who could not listen. She organized an action against the Devas and was their final hurdle to power. Phule claimed that this is why she was burned.

Gulamgiri by Jyotiba Phule is a critique piece where Mahatma Phule has severely criticized several aspects of Hindu scriptures and tradition. This criticism of Hindu texts is one of the solutions he offers to remedy the marginalization and oppression that the shudras and atishudras have to suffer [15]


These were not academic works investigating the origins and further evolving of a custom and practice, but revolutionary literature to fill a sense of pride amongst those who were oppressed (which was necessary at that time). Another fact is that Mahatma Phule has been heavily influenced by the Aryan Dravidian theory which was propagated by British to deepen the societal divide, and has since been found to be false [16].


After making this series of false claims, Equality Labs ends with a political appeal to


“Educate folks about the Brahmanical control of the history of India, and connect it to the rise of the BJP, Hindu Fascism, and upper caste networks of power.

Unfortunately, this article is one of many articles which are published around every major Hindu festival which attempt to de-legitimize Hindu traditions and holidays. This phenomenon has been explored in a few other articles. These unwarranted commentaries, coupled with poor economic conditions, are constantly exploited by missionaries to carry forward their conversion work in the tribal areas of India [17] [13] [18].


Exploring this article and the legitimacy of claims made in it, we found the claims to be backed by either irrelevant citations or in a cyclic pattern where an opinion piece is first published on a website and then is used as a citation. Articles like these worry us and lead us to question whether Equality Labs’ intent is benevolent. Instead of celebrating the fact that Holi is a holiday where many put aside caste differences, as well as religious differences, Equality Labs instead chooses to narrate imagined stories to its audience in an attempt to push a hollow narrative with the intent to slander Hindu culture altogether. We agree that caste is an issue, that is why we have begun to write on the subject. However, unlike Equality Labs, we choose to not lie to our readers in conveying our messages.


References

  1. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/holi-festival-2020-hindu-colours-when-date-india-nepal-a9363156.html

  2. https://www.holifestival.org/holi-in-bhil-tribes-of-north-west-india.html

  3. https://www.holifestival.org/holi-in-jharkhand.html

  4. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/where-holi-is-sung-not-merely-played/article26601339.ece

  5. https://www.videovolunteers.org/700-year-old-traditional-holi-of-adivasis-of-maharasthra/

  6. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2013/state-editions/jharkhand-tribes-celebrate-holi-in-unique-way.html

  7. https://thewire.in/caste/should-twitter-smash-the-brahminical-patriarchy

  8. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dalit-pushed-into-holi-bonfire-in-mp/article22929216.ece

  9. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/no-semen-in-holi-balloon-lab-report/article23578653.ece

  10. https://www.rt.com/op-ed/476584-citizenship-bill-liberal-propaganda-fake/

  11. https://defencenewsofindia.com/farhan-akhtar-shares-pakistani-isi-propaganda/

  12. http://www.ambedkar.org/research/Holi__A_Festival_To_Commomorate_Bahujan_Burning.htm

  13. https://www.opindia.com/2020/03/holi-rape-culture-hinduphobia-molestation-islamists/

  14. https://www.forwardpress.in/2017/03/holi-celebrating-the-immolation-of-an-asur-woman/

  15. https://feminisminindia.com/2017/04/14/jotiba-phule-gulamgiri/

  16. https://www.news18.com/news/india/didnt-aryans-invade-harappan-civilisation-study-of-4500-year-old-female-genome-refutes-theory-2299677.html

  17. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-the-recent-narratives_b_9424908

  18. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india/jharkhand-gumla-administration-begins-probe-into-conversions/story-1N9i5s8ZyG66vejpPt3oXP.html

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