What is the Indian counterpart of American Exceptionalism?

This is a very important talk by Rajiv Malhotra delivered in Feb 2017 in New Delhi at an event organized by IGNOU. It addresses the question – what is the Indian counterpart of American exceptionalism?

The answer is – Bhartiya Exceptionalism. RM defines it, lays out the need for such a thing and compares it with the Grand Narrative of other nations. Of course, the sad thing is that there is need for articulation of Bhartiya Exceptionalism 70 years after independence!

For any student (this is, an honest student – not the Pollockian variety!) of Indian history and Hindu philosophy, it would be clear that Bhartiya exceptionalism would derive from Hindu heritage and philosophy.

The immediate next question, most likely from a confused Hindu, would be – what about the non-hindu minorities? Is there room for them? How can you right wingers be so intolerant?! First, let me remind you of the name of this blog: this-is-not-right-wing! Second – calm down. These would be non-issues in a society built on Hindu principles. That is because mutual respect (read Being Different) has always been a defining characteristic of Indian civilization. It has not just been an abstract idea but a ground reality and has actually facilitated integration of multiple immigrants over the ages.

So, how would we go about implementing Bhartiya exceptionalism in today’s India? Towards the end of the talk, RM clearly lays out there requirements that minorities ought to meet in order to integrate in a nation built on Hindu values. These are :-
1. Mutual respect should be a two-way street
2. Minority religions should disown foreign authority (apparently China has done this)
3. Minorities must accept the history of violence and oppression perpetrated in the name of their religions (think Aurangzeb).

I think these are perfectly reasonable requirements.

On the third point, note that no apology is being demanded from the minorities today. What is being asked is a recognition that, just like Jewish holocaust is a fact of history, so is Hindu holocaust. Anyone denying the Jewish holocaust in the west is promptly labeled fringe. But in India, Hindu holocaust deniers can easily be found writing for The Hindu, appearing on NDTV and, of course, raising slogans in JNU!

Dr Koenraad Elst’s fitting Response to Scroll.in promoting Aryan Invasion Theory

And there it is again – an article on scroll.in with an animated map of nonsense complete with ominous music in the background! Not to forget the customary hinduphobic section predictably titled “The Hindutva out-of-India myth”. It was first published on Jun 10, 2015 and updated on Jan 03, 2017. The author has solid hinduphobic credentials as evident from his regular contributions on scroll.in.

As for the present article Dr Koenraad Elst‘s response below sums it up perfectly –

Dear Mrs./Mr. Editor,

“While I don’t much mind an ignorant pen-pusher pontificating about the Aryan invasion debate, some concomitant modesty would at least be in order. Ridiculing any scepticism about the 19th-century Aryan invasion theory (AIT) merely shows that he is quite unaware of the state of the art.

“So he equates the rivalling Out-of-India Theory (OIT) with Flat Earth and Creationism. But it is very easy to find material evidence against both the latter, such as the fossil record. By contrast, your contributor is quite unable to muster any evidence against the OIT. Even Harvard professor and AIT champion Michael Witzel admits that no material evidence of Aryans moving into India has been found “yet”, i.e. after two centuries of being the official hypothesis sucking up all the sponsoring. So your correspondent thinks himself superior, successful where the greatest specialists have failed?

“A year ago I was participating in a Delhi conference on the Sindhu-Saraswati Civilization. While there, I received an e-mail from one of the world’s foremost specialists on the linguistic aspect of Indo-European origins, HH Hock, all the way from the US. Predictably, he upheld the now-dominant invasion scenario and added that no one takes the Out-of-India Theory seriously today (though it was the dominant assumption from 1786 till ca. 1820). Among linguists, this is approximately true: Nicolas Kazanas, Shrikant Talageri and myself have been in splendid isolation in those circles. But then, linguists who can competently argue in favour of the AIT are hardly more numerous. As I have verified at several specialist conferences, most concerned linguists don’t work on the problem of the origins, which has an aura of obsoleteness, and blindly follow the dominant theory because it happens to be what their textbooks contained. Which is what non-linguists like the cited team from Auckland also do.

“However, while I read this e-mail, I was surrounded by the creamy layer of Indian archaeology. Each professor read his paper presenting the findings at a particular Harappan site where he was digging, and each of them reported a complete cultural continuity, no trace of an invasion. Sitting next to me was the dean of Indian archaeology, the nonagenarian professor BB Lal. When he was young, he made his name by “proving” that the archaeologically attested Painted Grey Ware indicated the Aryans on their way into India. That “proof” is still cited till today in favour of t”he AIT, at least in India. But in reality, Lal himself has renounced that hypothesis decades ago, realizing that his posited link with Aryan invaders was itself based on a tacit acceptance of the omnipresent AIT. Today he emphasizes that there is no trace at all of any Aryan invasion.

“You choose to poison the debate by insinuating a Hitler reference into it. Suit yourself, but again it proves your ignorance, for Hitler was a zealous follower of the AIT. If the OIT has been associated with Hindutva (wrongly, for VD Savarkar, who launched this political concept, was an AIT believer), its alleged political use is at any rate only a trifle compared to the AIT. The OIT has been upheld mostly in one country for a few decades by a few scholars without any political power. By contrast, the AIT has been used politically for some 160 years by major state actors such as the British empire and Nazi Germany, and in India by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Ambedkarites (though BR Ambedkar himself emphatically rejected it), the Dravidianists, the missionaries and of course the secularists. If you don’t like the mixing of scholarship with politics, you should first of all lambast the AIT, not the OIT.

“May Allah (or Whoever serves as God to you secularists) give you the wisdom to keep your mouth shut on topics you don’t know enough about.

“Yours sincerely,

“Dr. Koenraad Elst”

Sadhguru on the Damage done by 1000 years of Colonization of India

Greatly enjoyed and impressed by Sadhguru’s views and observations in this video. It covers a wide range of topics including who is a good student and a good guru? what is leadership? what is needed for a democracy to work? 

The things that impressed me the most was Sadhguru’s take on Indian history. He says clearly that we have been colonized for 1000 years by barbarians who had no respect for the inward looking vedic culture. And the reason that we fell to these invaders was that in the pursuit of higher knowledge we neglected the mundane task of building a good army. He also explains why we did not completely vanish like the Pagans and other civilizations who were demolished by western expansions.

His take on the history of education in India also hit the nail on its head. He correctly points out that the British systematically destroyed our superior education system to create subservient clerks instead of free thinkers. More importantly, he states clearly that the situation hasn’t been remedied after independence. In other words, we are still colonized. He also hinted at the need for Swadeshi Indology.

In short, Sadhguru gets Rajiv Malhotra’s message and is doing an excellent job of propagating it.

Gurus who impart abstract Vedic spiritual and philosophical teachings are important and should be revered. However, sometimes the teachings become too abstract and world-negating. We need more gurus like Sadhguru who bridge the gap between the spiritual and the mundane and take a stand on current issues – politics, corruption (Sadhguru on Demonetization), environment, science, other religions, individual responsibility, identity, and so on. I may not always agree with their stand, but that is a different matter.

By the way, Subhash Ghai’s interruptions in the video were quite dumb!

Aryan-Dravidian Divide: One of the Biggest Bane of Videshi Indology

The Aryan Invasion Theory, although thoroughly discredited, still has deep impressions on the psyche of (confused) Indians. Along with Caste system, it is the poster child for the harm done by Videshi Indology. The most concrete illustration of the harm done by Aryan-Dravidian divide is the current politics of Tamil Nadu.

Dr Nagaswamy recently published a book titled Tamil Nadu: The Land of the Vedas which collects evidence against the Dravidian theory and sets the record straight. The following conversation between Rajiv Malthotra and Tamil scholar Dr. R. Nagaswamy talks about the book and much more.

More on the topic in this article on Pragyata.

 

The Deception of William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is another character whom I admired in my confused days. I considered him to be a true admirer of India. I had browsed some of his books and seen them in many book shelves of friends and family.

I got suspicious when I learned that he is one of the main organizers of the Jaipur literary festival and has hosted and showered praises on Sheldon Pollock. While at the same time blocked Rajiv Malhotra from being invited to the festival.

That is guilt by association, and not a clinching evidence. I agree. Now read these articles:

  1. Does Willy get it Wilfully wrong? by Farrukh Dhondy (Outlook 2004)
  2. William Dalrymple’s incurable colonial hangover by Arvind Kumar (Indiafacts 2014)

Still not convinced. Ok, just consider this a red flag and BEWARE!

An unusual review of Mohenjo Daro movie and why the HRD ministry should take note

The new Ashutosh Gowariker movie Mohenjo Daro may be bombing on the box office, but let that not prevent you from getting a history lesson from it. In a 30-min FaceBook Live broadcast today (below), Rajiv Malhotra effectively gave a lesson on the Indus-Saraswati civilization – what is known, what needs more research and what is, but ought not to be, controversial. This is the kind of lesson that ought to be in our school history textbooks.

The controversy is about the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) – perhaps the single most toxic idea proposed by Western indologists. It started with Max Mueller, got strengthened during the British Raj and, amazingly, continued to gain strength post-Independence, lately due to leftist historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib.

Rajiv Malhotra carefully explains the symbolism embedded in the movie in support of the AIT. The most egregious for me was the lack of any mention of Sanskrit. He also explains the implications of AIT today – the whole Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu is built upon AIT, it also feeds into the dalit issue and demonization of Hinduism. By the way, he also responds to the common reaction – chill dude, it is just a movie! I agree with his response. Also, elsewhere in this blog, I have addressed the common cop-out argument – history is always biased.  Basically there is no excuse to not watch and think about the issues that RM raises!

I would say that AIT hits at the very heart of the Indian national identity. From what I have read (some references below), the evidence against the AIT or any sort of foreign origin of Indian civilization is very strong. It is a travesty that 70 years after independence this is still a matter of debate. Anyone propounding AIT should be treated just like anyone denying the holocaust – as fringe. I would like the Indian government to take this up as a matter of national importance and greatly increase the funding for research in this area. Of course, unbiased and indigenous research, not by the likes of Mark Kenoyer, Michael Witzel and their Indian sepoys.

This movie illustrates a number of red flags that Rajiv Malhotra has been raising over the years. AIT started in the obscure circles of Indology research but, being unchallenged for nearly two centuries, has now permeated the popular culture to an extent that Ashutosh Gowariker is making a Rs 100+ crore bollywood extravaganza propagating it. Just like the case of Sheldon Pollock and the Murty Classics Library, this  movie is another example of the sad and ironic situation where the experts on India tend to be found only in the western universities. The wikipedia entry on the movie says that “.. after much reading of published archaeological reports on his [Ashutosh Gowariker] own, he brought in the American archaeologist Professor Jonathan Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ..”. So, now I can add one more character to the haloed group of Sheldon Pollock, Michael Witzel, Wendy Doniger and, of course, her child Devdutt Patanaik!  This is why what goes on in universities like JNU and Jadhavpur matters and why we need Swadeshi Indology. Again, HRD ministry should take note.

So, watch the movie and the review and seek the right history. It matters .. here and now.

 

Additional material on the Aryan Invasion Theory

 

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.

[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.]