I've been thinking about this site a lot since this question came to my attention. I tried to figure out the best way to respond to this without having the benefit of a shared reference. If this was merely the same situation as what Christianity was dealing with to cause Caleb to ask his question there in 2011, we could easily copy and paste the thesis of Shog's answer there and edit the references to Christianity to say Hinduism instead.
Right... The site is named, "[Hinduism]", not "[Hindus]". It is, like most of the Stack Exchange sites, intended as a vessel for Q&A on a specific topic; who contributes to filling it, what they believe or how they identify themselves... We have no control over these, nor should we.
What he's saying here that I think is important to emphasize is that we seek to identify sites based on their subject rather than the people who might be experts in that subject. About a year ago we renamed the Writers site to Writing. While a site about writing may attract anyone who writes - including people like me who only write posts on Stack Exchange sites - a site called "Writers" makes people who do not identify as writers - including me - feel that it's not a place that fits them. This could be a disservice to that community!
So, the first pass, surface-of-the-water answer to this question is that we do not expect the users of this site to be Hindus or Indians. While it is quite likely that the majority of users here are in one or both of these categories, it is not required. What we expect is that everyone using this site comes here to ask and answer questions about Hinduism in an honest and open way with the goal of learning.
But, based on the comments and discussion and talking with users and reading what's been going on in some of your chat rooms and looking through some of the flags I've seen and reading emails from at least five of you, I think the actual post you meant to duplicate wasn't Christianity's but Islam's from 2012.
I wasn't around on the network at the time but I am pretty sure that things here aren't nearly as bad here as Aarthi makes Islam sound in her post. That said, I think her post and Jon's answer are worth reading because I fear there's a risk of the site heading in that direction and I think the solution recommended there is one y'all should consider.
We need the users of this site to recognize that, much as the Christianity site isn't only for Protestants or Catholics or Baptists, your site isn't only for Shaivism, Vaishnavism, or Shaktism and it might be a good idea for you all to make some changes in how the site is run to emphasize that so that visitors to the site know that discussion of all sects is welcome.
Every religion that's been around more than a few years has different groups with vastly different beliefs and yet they all consider themselves to belong to that religion because there's some common elements the groups share. Often sacred texts serves as basis for practice, but it could also be traditions handed down from one generation to the next. This is expected and can make for a complex, diverse and interesting exchange of beliefs. It can also lead to argument, anger and name calling.
While some groups may be mainstream and others more niche, this site isn't here to decide which qualify as Hinduism and which do not. Every one of you who identifies as a belonging to a specific sect likely disagrees with parts of other sects. Therefore you must be contextual in your disagreements, focusing on helping others learn the teachings of the sect or tradition they are asking about, even when it is not your own. I know this can be difficult, and in some cases you may not be comfortable participating in such an activity - but the choice then must be between participating in helping the asker accomplish their goal of learning and not participating at all.
Let me give you a non-religious example that might help:
On our parenting site, they have a strict rule of not writing answers that disagree with the premise of the question. This is particularly visible when it comes to corporal punishment for children. There are people and cultures who believe it is a valid form of behavior correction for their children and there are people and cultures who believe it is not - and on top of being invalid, abusive.
If someone asks a question about spanking, the site requires that answers actually accept spanking as a solution and not insist that other alternatives be used instead or write posts or comments about how spanking is child abuse.
What this means in practice is that people who are very opposed to spanking have to either accept that it is an allowed subject on the site and ignore those questions or they find somewhere else to ask questions about parenting. If they can't ignore them, they will likely be forced out by the moderators.
So, as with the Parenting example, you must recognize your own beliefs and biases and where they differ from those of others. Their belief may be wrong for your sect's teachings, it's not absolutely wrong to all sects.
In addition to this, please remember to assume good intentions. If a question is asked that seems to target the beliefs of one sect, make an effort to help make the question more neutrally worded if you can but don't change the question entirely. Don't use the comments to accuse the asker of sectarianism and avoid retaliating by asking a question that targets another sect.
Because of how different the teachings of the Hindu sects are, it is likely that questions about one sect may ask things that you find offensive to yours. This doesn't make the question offensive in general, it is a function of how this site works and the fact that it should accept questions about all Hindu groups.
How to scope questions to avoid arguments and set expectations
Part of what's becoming clear is that you can't make absolute statements about Hinduism. The answer to many questions depends on which sect you're interested in.
So, as I hinted at briefly earlier, I'm going to suggest you take another cue from the Christianity site and you all start requiring that questions are contextualized to a specific sect (or sects if the question is asking about the differences) rather than asking unbounded questions that will lead to arguments about which is the "correct" answer. If a question doesn't mention this, request it.
Here's an example of a comment you might leave on a post without context:
It's not clear from your question which tradition you're asking about; I suspect it is Vaishnavism, but can you edit to clarify?
Those Vaishnavists teach all sorts of stupid crap. You should totally drop that and try Shaivism.
If a question is looking for an answer from one sect and gets an an answer from another, flag it as not an answer and leave guidance for the person answering:
This question specifically asks about Shaktism but your answer seems to be based on Vaishnava dharma. Please note that we expect answers to address the answer from the teachings of the sect the question is about.
To help you get started, here are some of the posts on Christianity's meta where they determined how to scope questions and what questions work for them. They seem to be very well-suited to your needs and the Stack Exchange format:
- This question is an excellent guide to the types of questions they allow and how they're scoped.
- This question addresses the concerns of not knowing what denomination you're asking about.
- This question focuses on how the Christianity site is different than other forums and what they expect from participants there.
- This question is specifically about whether tags are sufficient indicators of a question's scope - specifically in relation to indicating denomination.
You don't need to adopt their policy 100%. You're a different site and a different religion with different concerns but these posts and others on their meta site do a lot to help shape what users can expect and how moderators are expected to moderate the site - if mods know what's expected of them, they know how to handle flags.
You all have a lot of work ahead of you to address some of these issues. We're here to help and guide but, in the end, keeping your site inclusive and welcoming to all Hindus and anyone interested in learning about the various traditions of Hinduism is part of the work of maintaining this site as much as asking and answering, voting, closing, and editing are.