India’s (unacknowledged) contributions to Mind Sciences by Rajiv Malhotra

India_unacknowledged_contributions_mind_sciences_blogcover

Indian embassy in Washington DC kick started their Third International Yoga Day (2017) celebration with the below lecture by Rajiv Malhotra. The main theme of the talk was appropriation and digestion of Indian ideas and techniques by the west. It charted the developments in Mind Sciences in the West since Swami Vivekananda’s trip to the west. In one-hour Rajiv Malhotra mentioned all the people (in yellow), institutions (in red) and techniques/ideas (in blue) in the image above! That should be reason enough to watch the lecture!

Every time I hear RM speak on this topic, I realize something that I was overlooking earlier. Digestion clearly violates the ethics of academic and scientific research since the references are not properly cited and acknowledged. By weakening Indian culture and tradition, digestion also facilitates various Breaking India forces. I appreciated all this earlier.

However, all that is a problem for the Indian government and Swadeshi scholars. Should the aam aadmi care? How does it matter whether one gets the authentic version of a technique or the digested one? In other words, should it matter whether you learn Vipassana or it’s digested version of mindfulness; yog nidra vs lucid dreamingTranscendental meditation vs relaxation-response? Rajiv Malhotra argues that it does matter because the digested versions are usually just a small subset of the source body of knowledge, and often are also substandard. He mentions that authentic Vipassana is much more advanced than mindfulness, yet mindfulness is projected as the “new and improved” version and is all over the town today! In a few generations, people may not even know that something called Vipassana even existed. I can easily imagine this. Indian scriptures and rituals can be very complex with many layers of meanings and symbolism. Same idea can often be interpreted and implemented in many different ways and combined with other ideas in numerous different ways. Once the source has been reduced to one or two digested forms, such experiments will no longer be possible. Paraphrasing from the talk:

digestion effectively plucks the fruit on a tree and leaves the tree behind to atrophy thereby eliminating the possibility of future harvests.

Another thing I realized is the difference between the way rest of Asia treated knowledge from India and how the west did it and is still continuing. Buddhism spread to China, Japan and south-east Asia over millennia and steadily became less prevalent in India. Yet, Buddhist scholars and practitioners in those countries even today respectfully acknowledge their Indian roots. Western appropriators, on the other hand, go out of their way to avoid crediting India. RM gives a powerful analogy to illustrate this point:

it is like you run 100m faster than any one before and the credit goes to the guy with the clock who timed you and reported it to the world!

RM mentioned that he is writing seven books based on this talk. I can’t wait for it!

Sepoy Alert!

Finally there is some sign of sensible and urgently needed reform in JNU‘s humanities departments. But some intellectuals are not happy about it:

Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University

David Ludden, New York University

Lawrence A Kimpton, University of Chicago

Joya Chatterji, University of Cambridge

Mrinalini Sinha, University of Michigan

Francesca Orsini, School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS)

K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University

I am glad that they expressed their opinion as it is a good indicator of a Sepoy. Right, right, I am not using Sepoy accurately here, since some of these are actually Angrez, not Indians employed by Angrez to shoot at fellow Indians.

Ok, so let’s call this post Sepoy and Lords-of-Sepoy alert! I will keep adding to the list.

Rajiv Malhotra’s Report Card of Indian Diplomacy [Feb 2017]

Rajiv Malhotra today posted the below talk delivered in Feb 2017 at the Foreign Service Institute in Delhi which is part of the Ministry of External Affairs. I must have watched over 50 lectures by RM. This one is definitely among his greatest hits. It is full of deep insights, telling anecdotes and, of course, political incorrectness!

Some of the questions that RM addresses are:

  • Why would US and the west destabilize India? Isn’t India, being a democracy, a natural ally?
  • Are the Breaking India forces isolated and local? Or, are some foreign “grand designs” also at play?
  • How does India studies in the west compare with that of other major civilizations such as Chinese, Japanese and Islamic? Who funds it? Who controls it?

Some observations from the talk that struck me are:

  • It is not always the case that Breaking India forces are driven by Western agencies. Indians are far too eager to blame it all on the west. However, now there even are vested interest groups based in India who are duping western agencies into supporting them under the pretext of human rights, etc. It is the responsibility of Indian government to identify and weed them out.
  • Islamization of India is often pointed out as a threat to the stability of India. However, RM makes a distinction between islamization and Arabization, and says that it is the later that is the problem. Islam per se is not an issue. He points to Indonesia as a case study since, in spite of converting to Islam, it has retained the Indian civilizational identity. So religion and civilization are two different things – fascinating! He also points to the rise of Urdu in Kerala as a symptom of the problem. Urdu in Kerala – WTF?!

 

Ok, lets talk about Caste

This is my response to Caste in the caste, curry and cows caricature of India. Out of all the topics covered in this blog, perhaps none has vitiated the public discourse on India and Hinduism more than caste. Some of it stems simply from ignorance of history and context, but there is a good degree of malice too, particularly on the part of western indologists, Indian activists, ‘NDTV intellectuals’, and, of course, Indian politicians.

There is a lot to say on this topic and the discussion can quickly get all convoluted. Let me first say that caste discrimination in India is real and needs to be fixed. However, the solutions cannot be found till we understand the problem correctly and identify the forces which are working for and against caste discrimination. This post does not aim to be the last word on this topic, but hopes to highlight a few key points which are often overlooked.

Forces Working to Remove Caste-based Discrimination

1. Caste is much less of a problem in Indian cities than it is in the rural areas. Yes, India is still predominantly rural (67% in 2016), but it is rapidly urbanizing and by some projections the urban population may be in majority by 2050. Another factor which counters caste discrimination is education and that is also moving in the right direction. Economic development of Indian is also helping to weaken the caste divide.

2. Anecdotal evidence quickly shows up in any debate on caste. You start hearing statements like I have seen my own grandmother discriminate, or, that temple or that guru in my village does not allow people from that caste, etc. What fails to come out is stories of all the other relatives, friends, temples and gurus who do not discriminate. There are quite a few gurus out there today – Ramdev Baba, Sadhguru, Sri Sri, etc – who do not care about caste. As for temples, I have never had to declare my caste to enter in a temple. The point is that for every temple or guru who cares for caste, you would not have to go too far to find another who does not. So, just go with the one who does not! You have complete freedom to do so being a Hindu. This is where the inherent comfort of the Hindu tradition with diversity of opinion becomes important.

3. No debate on caste can escape the ghost of Manusmriti! Here, I really don’t understand what the whole fuss is about. Not only I have not read Manusmriti, I do not know of anyone else who has. Do you? I have heard temples hosting jaagran and kirtan to chant Ramayan or Mahabharat, but never Manusmriti. Have you? I know of a few translations of Gita which are commonly referred to and also where to buy them, but have no idea of about Manusmriti. Do you? My point is simple – if you have a problem with Manusmriti, just let it go. No one cares for it anyway. Again, inherent comfort and respect for different schools of thought helps here. As someone said – Hinduism is not a religion of A book, it is a religion of a library

In this context, it is also important to understand the fundamental Hindu concept of Shruti and Smriti (the master explains here). Shruti contains eternal truths and can be thought of general principles, for example, equality of all people. Smritis, in contrast, are context dependent and can be rewritten for a given society and age, for example a constitution implementing the principle of equality. In other words, Manusmriti, if you still want to read it (!), should be read in the context of when and where it was written.

Forces Propping Up the Caste Divides

Why then, instead of diminishing, caste seems to be only getting more prominent in Indian pop culture and also in academia? In western academia, caste has pretty much become a defining characteristic of Hinduism. Here are some thoughts on how we got here and who is working to deepen the caste divide, instead of healing it.

First we need to get the history right. The current version of the caste system in India is a direct result of multi-generational social engineering by the British as part of their divide-and-rule strategy. One of the key architects of this engineering was Lord Risley who institutionalized caste by making it part of the census. Over multiple censuses caste was inherited and soon one would be rigidly assigned to a caste right at birth. Caste-by-birth is a distortion of Hindu philosophy and tradition. Caste itself is a distortion and an European import, just like secularism. The closest Hindu construct is that of varna and jaati. This is a big topic, but Varna may be be thought of as division of labor in society and jaati as professional associations, like the Institute of Engineers. The relevant point is that these categories were fluid and could evolve over time and are certainly not fixed at birth. I repeat – Inheritance of caste is a distortion, and not a fundamental tenet of Hinduism. Most prominent scriptures of Hinduism, such as the Gita, completely reject the idea of ‘caste by birth’.  By the way, Lord Risley had gone further and also assigned a hierarchy to the different castes. That was the origin of the current upper, lower, scheduled, OBC and tribal categories.

Another notable Brit in this context is Sir William Jones. He interpreted Manusmriti to give Hindus their laws! My guess is that our current obsession with Manusmriti can be traced back to him.

Ok, so the brits messed it up big time. But that was nearly 70 years ago. Why was it not fixed after independence in 1947? Well, this is one of the biggest puzzle for me about our history. Not just caste, British messed up our education, legal system, religious harmony, and on and on. Why then, in spite of wide spread nationalism following the freedom movement, was there not a move to review and break free of everything that the British did? On the contrary, instead of turning to be deeply skeptical of the west like Chinese today, Indians seemed to have become anglophiles. Again, right after independence! Beats me!

Speaking specifically of the caste system, from a public policy point of view, since Independence no steps seem to have been taken to make the government and the society “caste-blind”, for example, by undoing what Lord Risley started. On the contrary,  our politics seem to have gone is exactly the wrong direction. Who would deny that caste-based reservation is a bad idea and Mandal commission in the 90s was a monstrosity? Vote-bank politics by politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Yadav is working to deepen the caste divide. Of course they claim to champion the cause of the downtrodden.

Such politicians are supported in not small measure by Western indologists like Sheldon Pollock, their leftists Indian sepoys in universities like JNU and Jadhavpur, social activists like Arundhati Roy and of course biased media like NDTV. Through muddled up interpretation of scriptures, selective presentation of history, exaggerated reporting of discrimination and deliberate suppression of efforts to remove caste divides, these people are effectively legitimizing caste-based politics and even providing ideological ammunition for it, again all under the veil of championing the cause of the ‘weaker’ castes. So next time someone expressed their dismay over caste discrimination in India, just ask if they would call for complete repeal of caste-based reservations, and replacing it with need-based reservation. If they say no or avoid the question, then call out their hypocrisy. It is the same as an animal rights activist eating meat.

[By the way, if all this sounds like one big conspiracy theory to you then all I can suggest is that you read Rajiv Malhotra’s book Breaking India. If even that doesn’t change your views, well, then see you in the next life!]

Conclusion

Hindu society in India is naturally evolving to remove caste divides, and there are plenty of forces within Hinduism working toward it. There is no need for importing western constructs of human rights, or conversions to other religions to free India of caste issues. What is needed is, first, a recognition that the current caste system is inconsistent with core values in the Hindu philosophy, and then working to heal the divide by appealing to those core values. An analogy would be that of slavery in the west. Slavery was initially not considered inconsistent with Christianity, but later the anti-slavery movements employed a different interpretation of Christian ideas to appeal to the masses. Finally, all the forces that are working to prop up the caste divides, regardless of what their motivations are, must be exposed and curtailed.

Further reading

  • Views of another master on this topic – Subramanian Swamy
  • In this video, in response to a question, Rajiv Malhotra explains in detail why the caste system as it exists today has nothing to do with Hinduism. He also explains jaati and varna.
  • I added this post on Ambedkar.

[note to readers: please share any additional material on this topic, particularly talks or writings of RM. I will try to weave it into the above narrative.]

 

 

A Word of Advice to Prospective Indology Students

The very first Swadeshi Indology conference was held at IIT Madras from 6-8th July 2016. The conference was by organized Prof KS Kannan from Jain University, Bangalore and was inspired by Rajiv Malhotra’s book The Battle for Sanskrit which was a purva-paksha of the entire body of work of Prof Sheldon Pollock at Columbia University, NYC. The conference was essentially a uttar-paksha or a rebuttal of specific papers of Pollock which was chosen by the organizers. This youtube playlist contains six talks in the section titled “Pollock’s Position on Shastras”.

Around 20 papers were presented and recordings of some have already been posted on youtube. Check out the welcome address by Prof KS Kannan which sets the stage of the conference. The historic nature of this conference should be evident from Prof Kannan’s remark that we have gathered here to do something that has not been attempted for at least 800 years.

That something is a critique of the western indology from an Indian perspective. Given Rajiv Malhotra’s book was released earlier this year and the conference was announced just three months ago, it was a big success. The best testimony for this is Rajiv Malhotra’s remark in his closing address that he is no longer feeling alone and that there is now a home team to respond to western indology ideas. These comments by RM are huge! Because the real battle is in India. Nothing that people like Pollock or Wendy Doniger write or say would have any impact if people in India could immediately see through their prejudices and ulterior motives.

So here is my advice to new research scholars of indology who are looking for an advisor –  As part of your literature survey, read every thing that Rajiv Malhotra has written and what comes out of the Swadeshi Indology conferences. The work of Pollock, Doniger and the like is getting discredited rapidly, and no longer just by Rajiv Malhotra. If you still decide to work with these folks, then all I can say to you is to study hard .. very hard! Because in 5-7 years from now, when you will be out of school and looking for a position, you might well have to defend your thesis before the Swadeshi scholars. By then Swadeshi Indology may become main stream or may be well on course to becoming mainstream and you may find yourself to be part of the fringe. Whenever you write a paper, just consider the possibility that one day it might be in the list of papers to be critiqued in the call for a future Swadeshi Indology conference.

May be I am wrong. But what if I am not?!


Updates

  • 09-Dec-2016: In an hour long talk at the Indira Gandhi National Council of Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, Rajiv Malhotra gave a sweeping history of videshi indology over the last 200 years and then made a powerful case for Swadeshi Indology. I am sure that a lot of old school people in the audience must have gotten very uncomfortable!
  • 22-Aug-2016: update by Rajiv Malhotra on his mailing list –

Thanks to the great effort of the IFI team, they now have commitments from a major GOI organization to support the second conference inckuding funding, as well as another large funding from a corporate group.

This means:

  • a much bigger event than SI-1. Travel, etc paid within India.
  • Besides stipends for each paper, there will also be a prize of INR 70,000 for the best 10 papers.
  • Publishing of papers in a prestigious manner.
  • Continuity for multiple years of this series has been promised by the sponsors.
  • Many more topics than Pollock will be added, in subsequent conferences after SI-2 is over.

Please see the web site for SI: http://swadeshiindology.com/#

  • The SI-1 menu at top gives videos, powerpoints, etc of all talks, etc for 1st the conference that just finished in Chennai. This structure/presentation will get further improved over time.
  • The SI-2 menu choice gives you the call for papers, plus it has 4 summary papers on Pollock on 4 key topics from the list of 10 topics highlighted about his work. This is intended to help potential scholars interested in participating get a head start. We have a small team available to guide serious scholars on Pollock’s work to make it easier for them to respond to him.

Please read the call for papers and respond as required therein, if you are interested or someone you know is a good scholar.


Additional reading:

The public ignoramus

This is a brilliant article by Michel Danino on the hyprocrisy and the ridiculousness of outrage by the pseudo-secular on MHRD’s circular to IITs encouraging Sanskrit studies. The sarcasm in the article is priceless!

This is the height of hypocrisy of the Congress party –

Be that as it may, here is the government’s recommendation: “Research in Indology, the humanities and social sciences will receive adequate support. To fulfil the need for the synthesis of knowledge, inter-disciplinary research will be encouraged. Efforts will be made to delve into India’s ancient fund of knowledge and to relate it to contemporary reality. This effort will imply the development of facilities for the intensive study of Sanskrit.” Before you righteously cry out against this highly jingoistic and communal agenda, allow me to add a dateline: the above is not a diktat of today’s government, but the recommendation of the Congress government in its National Policy on Education of 1986. Savour the irony (or should I say the hypocrisy?).

The closing paragraph of the article sums it up perfectly –

What is needed is not governmental intervention, but the creation of an atmosphere of genuine culture where students are invited to critically explore wider horizons. Let the thali of Indian culture be offered to them, and let them be free to accept or reject this or that dish — but after tasting it. And let our Public Ignoramus spare us his high-decibel, stereotyped and neo-colonial disparagement of one of the finest heritages humanity may yet claim.

The article refers to the SandHI series, a collection of works on Science & Technology in Ancient India published in 2015 in the Financial Chronicle. Worth a read.

 

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.