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!

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?!

 

Jallikattu – Animal Rights or a Breaking India issue?

I saw this post from ShankNaad on FaceBook today:

jallikattu

Along with this text (emphasis mine):

It is only extreme cases of cruelty that need their lordships to ride in favour of hapless creatures. Jallikattu does not fall in that category. Off late we’ve seen frequent attacks on our traditional practices. These attacks are hidden behind the garb of animal rights, women rights, child rights, minority rights and so on.

Our cultural ethos, our scriptures, the roots of our belief system have ample provisions for every aforementioned groups and much more than that. Therefore, any traditional practice, if it strictly follows our scriptures, is guaranteed to be harmless against any group deemed to be one without a voice.

One doesn’t need to be a scholar of our belief system to confirm the same. Our upbringing and memory of our festivities is enough to see how that’s taken care of.
But then, how will the nexus of Indian deep state and conversion freaks of all kinds demonize your native culture and nation? Propaganda must be carried out to show us that we’ve, all this while, been a pukeworthy regressive society.

The court orders, the fatwas by NGT, the campaigns by the feminist groups, the biased outcries by animal rights groups.. they are not the end result, they are very much part of the propaganda and the actual end result is a complete disaster for us and our nation as people without their identity and core values run around in panic like headless chickens in decades to come.

I completely agree. But let me elaborate further on the topic at hand – Jallikattu.

Some might say that pointing out the cruelty of slaughter does not reduce the cruelty in Jallikattu. I agree that pointing out a greater evil does not make a lesser evil any less problematic. But selectively pointing out only the lesser evil does indicate hypocrisy. Also, it must be pointed out that the extent of animal abuse in slaughter houses that work on an industrial scale, all year round and all over the country (and world) is orders of magnitude greater than that in a once-a-year degree regional event of Jallikattu.

The degree of abuse is still not an excuse for abuse in Jallikattu, if any. For every news article or anecdote that expresses horror at the cruelty against animals in Jallikatu, I have found another report which says that either the news is fake or overblown.

My view is that any tradition, or for that matter, any institution, which has been around for hundreds of years runs a risk of accumulating distortions which may not be true to the intended spirit of the tradition. Do you think the founding fathers of US would consider the election of Trump a success of democracy as they had envisioned it? I doubt it. And would the solution be to do away with democracy or fix it? The later, I think.

Likewise, if there are distortions in Jallikattu, then it should be investigated and fixed. But it should be done by people who have respect for Indian heritage and tradition and are genuinely interested in reform, such as Sadhguru (this is what he has to say on this matter). Respect for animals and nature is a core value in Hinduism. You don’t need to learn it from these modern animal rights activists.

The Big Picture

PETA and other activists who are calling for a ban on Jallikattu, regardless of their rhetoric, are not really interested in mitigating animal abuse. In some cases, their hypocrisy is out in the open, for example in these tweets by Shoba De –

sobhade

But often it is not so obvious. To really understand the motivations of these activists, you need to look at who are funding them and why? What philosophies – Islamic, Christian, Marxist or some other – guide them? Are these activists evenly critical of all societies, cultures and countries (for example, do they have anything to say about bull fighting in Spain)?

Attacks on Jallikattu is not an isolated incident. Attacks on the Kumbh Mela, where human rights violation and caste discrimination is the cover up, are similar. These attacks are manifestations of the Breaking India forces aimed at undermining India by attacking her underlying Hindu culture. Remember that India is a relatively young and weak nation-state, but an ancient, highly developed and resilient culture-state. The Hindu culture is what defines the Indian civilization and has helped India resist colonization for nearly 1000 years. All this is explained in painstaking detail in Rajiv Malhotra’s book Breaking India.

(update) This detailed article on Indiafacts by Sankrant Sanu explains how these attacks on Hindu festivals fit into the larger strategy of Christian evangelical organizations.


Updates

  • Swamy speaking on 16-Jan-2017 in Bay Area US (watch for ~5min)
  • A first hand account of what happens in Jallikattu by Francois Gautier, a journalist who has reports from an India perspective. Starts off like this

I covered Jalikattu a few times and found that it was pretty harmless. Don’t let the intellectuals and the Marxists deny your Hindu inheritance, boys and girls …

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.

 

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.]