India in the world: Hinduism, the Diaspora, and the Anxiety of Influence

Vinay Lal


The Indian diaspora has come out of the shadows in recent years. South Asians have transformed the face of the country that once colonized them. While software engineers were bringing Indians into the top echelons of the American corporate world, both Trinidad and Fiji witnessed the ascendancy of prime ministers of Indian descent. Even Bollywood, which always had a global presence in the southern hemisphere, has now come to the attention of the West. The comparatively small Indian diaspora has indubitably become a part of world culture. Curiously, this "triumph", if  one may call it that, is accompanied by an immense anxiety, an anxiety of influence. Though Indians have done very well for themselves in the US, there is a widespread feeling that they remain invisible. Most professional Indians, especially Hindus, are persuaded that the world rides roughshod over them. The inability of the Indian nation-state to flex its muscles overseas is profoundly disturbing to Hindus, and though the recognition that yoga, samosas, curry, spiritual gurus, and beauty queens have brought to India is appreciated, Indians would much rather see India respected, even feared, as a world power. This anxiety of influence is conjoined with another -- namely, an anxiety that Hinduism is not quite a proper, and certainly not a world, religion. The transformations wrought within Hinduism in recent years, which are calculated to masculinize and homogenize the faith, are more productively viewed in this context.

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