FAQs: Is this relevant for me?

Having read the previous FAQs posts in this blog, you may be inclined to ask: alright, lets say you are right – the system is messed up, first the Brits and then the Indian Left and Congress are responsible for it. But how is all this relevant for me today? I am just an aam aadmi going about my daily life untouched by any of this. I will give two arguments for how it matters to youfirst a mundane one reflecting on the current state of Indian politics, and then a philosophical and civilizational one.

Current State of Indian politics

This blog should be relevant for any Indian who is bothered by the rise of Kejriwal, the resurgence of Laloo and the perversions of the reservation system.

[And if you are not bothered you should watch this discussion of RM with former AAP members recorded in April 2014 while Modi was running his campaign. They spill the beans on Kejriwal, Shishodia, Medha Patkar and Prashant Bhusan and many non-AAP members too. They basically provide ground evidence for the various Breaking India forces that RM has been speaking about for a while now.]

There is no way of understanding the divisions in the Indian society today and the sorry state of Indian politics without a proper understanding of the history of India, especially the colonial period. Proper understanding of the Hindu Dharma is part of it.

Some of you may be wondering that things are different now given that Modi is in power. I don’t think Modi came to power because of a mass revival of Hinduism or because his positive message of development hit home. The most significant factor contributing to Modi’s success was the mess that the previous UPA government created for 10years! There are striking parallels with the election of Obama in the US. Obama too ran an extraordinary campaign but were it not for the previous 8 years of Bush Jr or McCain’s Palin blunder, I don’t think Obama would have made it.

The point is that in both cases a good fraction of voters stepped out of their comfort zones to vote for Modi and Obama. In the case of Obama the reluctance was due to race, and for Modi it due to his perceived non-secular character. It is not that the race fault lines in the US suddenly healed or that the 80% Hindu population of India suddenly discovered their Hinduism is not anti-anyone.

What this means is that all those voters who reluctantly voted for Modi may flip back, as has already happened in Delhi and Bihar state elections. It won’t take long for the country to relapse into old habits. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to educate ourselves on the  real state of affairs, not what is reported on NDTV.

By the way, in case you haven’t closed this window yet after labeling me a right-wing Modi supporter, in spite of the title of this blog :-), let me set the record straight about my political leanings. Yes, I am an unequivocal Modi supporter. But I am not completely sold on BJP. I don’t think most BJP leaders and workers have the perspective that I outline in this blog; they are just doing good old petty vote bank politics.

The Civilization Argument

Any serious and unbiased student of Indian history would appreciate that the Indian civilization is built on some amazingly profound ideas.

Ideas that are at par, if not much grander than the modern western conception of freedom, liberty, scientific spirit, economic and social justice, and environmental conservation. I will provide supporting evidence in this blog. And ideas are timeless, just like even  thousand years from now the atomic hypothesis or general relativity would be considered a triumph of human intelligence. I believe it is in this sense of timelessness of ideas that the Hindu Dharma is called sanatan (eternal) dharma.

But, you may say, the atomic hypothesis is now more of a great idea of the past with little relevance beyond a pedantic one. There are much more sophisticated theories today. Indian philosophical ideas may be in the same boat today.

Possible.

But I don’t think so. Once again, my views are not based on a nostalgic or a romantic idea of the past.  I invite the reader to do his own research and decide for himself. It would be a travesty if the grand civilizational ideas of India die out due to apathy of Indians.

The over arching goal of this blog is to reduce the barriers to such self inquiry.

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Comments on The Battle for Sanskrit

This is an excellent review of Rajiv Malhotra’s book posted on writingcave.com. Some insightful remarks from the author (emphasis mine):

Why is it so important to counter this cabal of intellectuals and scholars? What’s the big deal if the scholars like Pollock go on twisting the Indian classics unquestioned? First of all, when our traditional ideas are translated in the West, in most of the cases they are taken out of the context, totally disconnected from the source. There can be many reasons, but one of the reasons is that the scholars who are trying to study the Indian tradition, the Indian sanskriti, they use a totally different model. They use the same scholarly models they have used to study Greek and Latin cultures.

This is a small problem actually. The bigger problem is the way the entire Hindu community is being portrayed as a highly biased, repressive entity that thrives on exclusion and casteism.

:

We shouldn’t rescue Sanskrit from the clutches of American Orientalists simply because of its exotic value or because of a hollow sense of pride; it actually contains a wealth of knowledge, and this knowledge is already being mined by Western scholars to make it their own.

I will just add one comment. RM had cautioned against academics like Pollock long back in 2003 in this Rediff article titled Does South Asian Studies Undermine India? He wrote

Many eminent Indian-American donors are being led down the garden path by Indian professors who, ironically, assemble a team of scholars to undermine Indian culture. Rather than an Indian perspective on itself and the world, these scholars promote a perspective on India using worldviews which are hostile to India’s interests.

:

An academic chair is a knowledge production center of very high leverage, and has the potential to do a lot of good or a lot of harm … There is a strong case for independent external audits by the funding sources to monitor standards of rigor, objectivity and quality.

Of course, no one paid any attention in 2003 or since. But now, in 2016, this book is making waves. I think the difference is that now RM is not talking in general terms, but is illustrating the problem concretely by targeting Sheldon Pollock. One can get a very good idea of the whole kurukshetra by just studying Pollock. Kudos to RM on this tactical master stroke!  But make no mistake that there are many more Pollocks out there (some listed in my other post on red flag personalities). I suspect that quite a few of them would provide enough material for many more volumes of The Battle for Sanskrit!

  • One of the endorsement of the book that carries special significance for me is that by Bibek Debroy in this video –

  • This is a review by another scholar – Koenraad Elst – who I greatly respect.  At the JNU event of TBFS Koenraad Elst’s gave a powerful rebuttal [video] to Pollock’s claim of a divide between Hinduism and Buddhism.

For new readers ..

To get the big picture, new readers of this blog are encouraged to start with the posts labelled FAQs and in this order –

FAQs: Why this blog?
FAQs: Who is the target audience?
FAQs: Why now?
FAQs: Why this title?
FAQs: Why are you anonymous?
FAQs: Is this relevant for me?

I have tagged some posts as RedFlag to highlight people, initiatives or media outlets which I have personally found to promote the outsider view on Indian history and Sanskriti. Not everything that the RedFlag people have written or said may be problematic, but beware!

Also, I keep updating the post whenever I find new material or a different way of saying the same things. Even the title may change! So be warned if you plan to link to a post. But  check back frequently. 🙂

FAQs: Why are you anonymous?

But then, I am not! I have shared this blog with quite a few friends. They know who I am. I am anonymous for the general public as a social experiment. Because of the subject matter of this blog, I am bound to offend someone likely from the liberal caste! Anyone motivated to do so, will likely not have much difficulty in finding me. I have no illusions of privacy on the internet. I just want to see how long it takes for a holier-than-thou pseudo-secular reader to show up.

California Textbook Controversy (2016)

 

Recently a textbook review committee consisting of Hinduphobic and leftist scholars in California came out with a number of recommendations (pdf) denigrating India and Indian civilization. Thanks to the efforts of Professor Vamsee Juluri at UCSF, a number of objectionable recommentations were rejected finally. The whole episode is detailed at scholarsforpeople.org.

This episode generated a lot of press and helped educate a number of NRIs. A petition titled Don’t Replace “India” with “South Asia” in California History Social Science Frameworks recieved over 24,000 signatures.

Below is the list of committe members for you to investigate if they ought to be Red Flagged! Note the impressive academic titles. I suspect Sheldon Pollock is in good company!

Members of California Textbook review committe:

  • Shailaja Paik, Assistant Professor of South Asian History at the University of Cincinnati, OH
  • Ramnarayan Rawat, Professor of History at the University of Delaware
  • Sudipta Sen, professor of History at the University of California, Davis
  • Banu Subramaniam, Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Thomas R. Trautmann, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Michigan
  • Kamala Visweswaran, Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego
  • Rita P. Wright, Professor of Anthropology at the New York University, and a member of its Center for Human Origins
  • Chris Chekuri, Associate Professor in the History Department at San Francisco State University
  • Shahzad Bashir, Lysbeth Warren Anderson Professor in Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies Stanford University
  • Robert Goldman, Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley
  • Stephanie Jamison, Distinguished Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures and of Indo-European Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles
  • Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Gurinder Singh Mann, former holder of Kundan Kaur Kapany Chair in Sikh Studies and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Projit B Mukarji, Meyerson Assistant Professor of History & Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Vijaya Nagarajan, Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco

FAQs: Who is the target audience? A: Indian Born Confused Desi!

You might have heard of the acronym ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) used for Indian-Americans raised by parents who emigrated from India who are confused about their identity. The confusion stems from the conflict between the American culture encountered outside home vs the Indian culture and values being taught at home. ABCD is not a very kind label.

 

However, a much more widespread condition is that of IBCD (Indian Born Confused Desi)! Actually this blog restricts itself to IBCDs born and raised in Hindu families.

 

I was an IBCD until not too long ago! I grew up in India in the 80s and 90s in a Hindu family. I went to top CBSE schools and an ‘ivy league’ engineering college in India — a privileged upbringing and best education by any standards. However, nothing in my education at home or in school exposed me to the philosophical underpinnings of the Hindu tradition. At an individual level, Hinduism for me was effectively what RM calls ‘transactional hinduism’ and at a community level it was about festivals and rituals. And at the political level it was about caste, cows and Ram mandir. In effect, a lay Hindu in India is completely unaware of the deep philosophical basis of the Hindu tradition. And if you add to that the idea that origin of modern science and technology in the west involved rebelling against religion, you end up with the mindset that I had just out of college. Forget being proud of my heritage, I had become cynical about it and at best I thought of it as a glorious past which belonged in the past.

 

The important thing to note is that I was not an outlier – most of my highly educated Hindu friends had the same attitude.

 

The target audience for this blog is IBCDs.

 

Just for fun, here are a few more tell tale signs of an IBCD:
  • Has heard of Manusmriti, but not Mandukya Upanishads. And of course hasn’t read either!
  • Does not know the difference between western concepts of faith, religion and soul vs Indian counterparts of shraddhadharma and aatma.
  • Does not understand that the western idea secular thought is not a prerequisite for scientific temper.
  • Does not appreciate that Indian philosophy framework can naturally absorb evidence and ideas from modern science.
  • .. <additional inputs from readers!>