Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Buddha and Caste

               Indians and Westerners who know Buddhism through Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and other modern pamphlet literature,  sometimes believe that the Buddha started a movement of social reform, mobilizing against caste and recruiting among low-caste people. As against this, Chinese and Japanese Buddhists who have studied their religion only through its source texts, think that Buddhism was an elite movement, recruiting among the upper castes and patronized by kings and magnates. We will argue that these believers are right, while the neo-Buddhists in India and outside enthusiasts in the West are wrong.

                A good place to start is the Buddha's use of the term Ārya. Buddhists claim that when the Buddha lived and taught, the term Ārya had a general psychological-ethical meaning “noble”, a character trait larger than and not dependent on any specific cultural or religious tradition or social class (let alone linguistic or racial group). It is used in the famous Buddhist expressions, the “four noble truths” (catvāri-ārya-satyāni) and the “noble eightfold path” (ārya-astāngika-mārga).   However, we must look at the historical data without assuming modern and sectarian preferences.

Firstly, we must take into account the possibility that the Buddha too used the term Ārya in the implied sense of “Vedic”, broadly conceived. It no longer meant “Paurava”, the ethnic horizon of the Veda-composing tribes (whereas in Anatolian and Iranian it would retain this ethnic meaning, “fellow citizens” against “foreigners”, “us” against “them”), but in the post-Buddha Manu Smrti and in general Hindu usage, it would retain the association with the Vedic tradition, hence the meaning “civilized” in the sense of “observing Vedic norms and customs”. The Buddha too may have conceived of his personal practice as restored-Vedic and more Vedic than the “decadent” formalism around him. “Back to the roots” is of all ages, and it may have affected the Buddha as well. What speaks in favour of this thesis is that the Buddha himself, far from being a revolutionary, appealed to the “ancient way” which he himself trod, and which “the Buddhas of the past” had also trodden.

After Vedic tradition got carried away into what he deemed non-essentials, he intended to restore what he conceived as the original Vedic spirit. After all, the anti-Vedicism and anti-Brahmanism now routinely attributed to him, are largely in the eye of the modern beholder. Though later Brahmin-born Buddhist thinkers polemicized against Brahmin institutions and the idolizing of the Veda, the Buddha himself didn’t mind attributing to the Vedic gods Indra and Brahma his recognition as the Buddha and his mission to teach. His disciples took the worship of the Vedic gods as far as Japan.

As Luis Gómez [1999: “Noble lineage and august demeanour. Religious and social meanings of Aryan virtue”, in Bronkhorst & Deshpande: Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia, Harvard, p.132-133] points out, the Buddhist usage of Ārya is subject to “ambiguities”, e.g. in the Mahāvibhāsā: “The Buddha said, ‘What the noble ones say is the truth, what the other say is not true. And why is this? The noble ones […] understand things as they are, the common folk do not understand. […] Furthermore, they are called noble truths because they are possessed by those who own the wealth and assets of the noble ones. Furthermore, they are called noble truths because they are possessed by those who are conceived in the womb of a noble person.’”

At the end of his life, the Buddha unwittingly got involved in a political intrigue when Varsakāra, a minister of the Magadha kingdom, asked him for the secret of the strength of the republican states. Among the seven unfailing factors of strength of a society, he included “sticking to ancient laws and traditions” and “maintaining sacred sites and honouring ancient rituals”. [Dīgha Nikāya 2:73] So, contrary to his modern image as a “revolutionary”, the Buddha’s view of the good society was close to Confucian and indeed Brahmanical conservatism. Far from denouncing “empty ritual”, he praised it as a factor of social harmony and strength.  He wanted people to maintain the ancestral worship of the Vedic gods, go to the Vedic sites of pilgrimage and celebrate the Vedic festivals. In this light, his understanding of Ārya may have been closer to the Brahminical interpretation of the term as “Vedic” than nowadays usually assumed.

This even applies to the Buddha’s view of caste. Of most of the hundreds of men recruited to the Buddha’s monastic order, we know the provenance, hence the caste. More than 80% of the hundreds of men he recruited, were from the upper castes. More than 40% were Brahmins. The Buddha himself was a Ksatriya, son of the President-for-life of the proud Sākya tribe, and member of its senate. His lay patrons, who had their personnel or their feudal subordinates build monasteries for the Buddha, included most of the kings and magnates of the nether Ganga region. Indeed, this patronage is the main reason why Buddhism succeeded in becoming a world religion where most other contemporaneous sects dwindled and disappeared.

                The successor-Buddha prophesied for the future, the Maitreya, is to be born in a Brahman family, according to the Buddha himself. When the Buddha died, his ashes were divided and sent to eight cities, where the elites had staked their claims purely in caste terms: “He was a Kshatriya and we are Kshatriyas, so we are entitled to his ashes.” Clearly, his disciples, after undergoing his teachings for forty-five years, were not in the least hesitant to display their caste in a Buddhist context par excellence.

In his study of caste and the Buddha (“Buddhism, an atheistic and anti-caste religion? Modern ideology and historical reality of the ancient Indian Bauddha Dharma”, Journal of Religious Culture, no.50 (2001)), the German Indologist Edmund Weber quotes the biographical source-text Lalitavistara and concludes: “The standpoint which caste a Buddha should belong to has not been revised in Buddhism up to the present day. It is dogmatised in the Lalitavistara in the following way: a Bodhisattva can by no means come from a lower or even mixed caste: ‘After all Bodhisattvas were not born in despised lineage, among pariahs, in families of pipe or cart makers, or mixed castes.’ Instead, in perfect harmony with the Great Sermon, it was said that: ‘The Bodhisattvas appear only in two kinds of lineage, the one of the brahmanas and of the warriors (kshatriya).’”

                A word returning frequently in Buddhist texts is “nobly-born”. Buddhists were proud to say this of their Guru, whose noble birth from the direct descendants of Manu Vaivasvata was an endless object of praise. Birth was very important to the Buddha, which is why his disciples wrote a lot of hagiographical fantasy around his own birth, with miracles attending his birth from a queen. The Buddha himself said it many times, e.g. of the girls who should not be molested: they should be those of noble birth, as distinct from the base-born women who in the Buddha’s estimation were not equally delicate.

                The Buddha also didn’t believe in gender equality. For long he refused to recruit women into his monastic order, saying that nuns would shorten its life-span by five hundred years. At long last he relented when his mother was widowed and other relatives, nobly-born Kshatriyas like the Buddha himself, insisted. Nepotism wasn’t alien to him either. But he made this institution of female monastics conditional upon the acceptance that even the most seasoned nun was subordinate to even the dullest and most junior monk. Some Theravada countries have even re-abolished the women’s monastic order, and it is only under Western feminist influence that Thailand is gradually reaccepting nuns.

                The Buddha’s ascent to Awakening was predetermined by physical marks he was born with, according to his disciples. Buddhist scripture makes much of the Buddha’s noble birth in the Solar lineage, as a relative of Rāma. The Buddha himself claimed to be a reincarnation of Rama, in the Buddhist retelling of the Rāmāyana in the Jātakas. He also likened himself to the mightily-striding Visnu. Later Hindus see both Rama and the Buddha as incarnations of Vishnu, but the Buddha started it all by claiming to by Rama’s reincarnation.

To play devil’s advocate, we could even extend our skepticism of the Buddha’s progressive image to an involvement in the racist understanding of Ārya. Some pre-WW2 racists waxed enthusiastic about descriptions by contemporaries of the Buddha as “tall and light-skinned”. [Schuman, H.W., 1989: The Historical Buddha, London: Arkana, p.194] That would seem to make him “Aryan” in the once-common sense of “Nordic”.

Nowadays, some scholars including Michael Witzel [on his own Indo-Eurasian Research yahoo list] suggest that the Buddha’s Śākya tribe may have been of Iranian origin (related to Śaka, “Scythian”), which would explain his taller stature and lighter skin in comparison with his Gangetic fellow-men. It would also explain their fierce endogamy, i.e. their systematic practice of cousin marriage. Indeed, the Buddha himself had only four great-grandparents because his paternal grandfather was the brother of his maternal grandmother while his maternal grandfather was the brother of his paternal grandmother. The Brahminical lawbooks prohibited this close endogamy (gotras are exogamous) and, like the Catholic Church, imposed respect for "prohibited degrees of consanguinity"; but consanguineous marriages were common among Iranians. (They were also common among Dravidians, a lead not yet fully exploited by neo-Buddhists claiming the Buddha as “pre-Aryan”.) The Śākya tribe justified the practice through pride in their direct pure descent from the Ārya patriarch Manu Vaivasvata, but this could be a made-up explanation adapted to the Indian milieu and hiding their Iranian origin (which they themselves too could have forgotten), still visible in their physical profile. So, that would make the Buddha an “Aryan” in the historically most justified ethnic use of the term, viz. as “Iranian”.

                At any rate, nothing in Buddhist  history justifies the modern romance of Buddhism as a movement for social reform. Everywhere it went, Buddhism accepted the social mores prevalent in that country, be it Chinese imperial-centralistic bureaucracy, Japanese militaristic feudalism, or indeed Hindu caste society. Buddhism even accepted the religious mores of the people (a rare exception is the abolition of a widow’s burial along with her husband in Mongol society effected by the third Dalai Lama), it only recruited monks from among them and made these do the Buddhist practices. In “caste-ridden India”, the Buddhist emperor Aśoka dared to go against the existing mores when he prohibited animal-slaughter on specific days, but even he made no move to abolish caste.

                Buddhism wasn’t more casteist than what went before. It didn’t bring caste to India anymore than the Muslims or the Britons did. Caste is an ancient Indian institution of which the Buddha was a part. But he, its personal beneficiary, didn’t think of changing it, just as his followers in other countries didn’t think of changing the prevailing system.

(first published on the Hindu Human Rights website)

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Hindu survival: what is to be done

                Some Hindus ask me, as a sympathizing outsider, if I have any advice for them when they want to revive their fortunes. In principle, I have no advice; it would be arrogant to pretend to know something that the people concerned are not so sure about. But then again, Hindus are no different from others, they are subject to the same laws, so an approximative knowledge of their condition is enough to predict where they are moving and to say what they have to do to make the best of it. So, here goes.

1. Self-knowledge

                The first thing Hindus have to do, is to know themselves. The great problem of Hindus today is that they have become sleep-walkers, forgetful of their civilization. It gets worse with every passing year, as the ever-larger Hindu middle-class is becoming Americanized both in consumer patterns and in values. Their knowledge of Western films and music is becoming bigger as their knowledge of Hindu tradition is lessening. And the worst is that increasing numbers take pride in their ignorance.

                In the past, it didn’t matter if you skipped religion classes. You would just breathe Hinduism. You would know the tales from the Mahabharata and the Puranas through songs and theatre plays performed in your village square. Girls would learn Hindu traditions from their mothers and pass them on to their own children. But that can no longer be taken for granted.

                In a way, the world has become more conducive to Christian-style religion. NRI-PIOs congregate in their temples the way Christians gather in their churches. They organize Sunday school for their children the way they learnt from their Protestant neighbours. India itself is becoming similar, if only because the same family pattern with two wage-earners is being transplanted. You can study religion on your own, the way the first Christians practised their religion (even in secret), against or at least without support from your surroundings. At any rate, unlike in the past, if you don’t make a deliberate choice to do something about your religion, chances are that you won’t.    

                To Hindus, this is a new situation. In days  gone by, religion was just there, you fell in line with your surroundings, you did as everyone did. Now, to an increasing extent, you have to make a choice for it. The law of inertia is no longer working for Hinduism; it starts to work against it. The missionaries know this; the Hindus, I am not so sure.

                But they can save their Hinduism by practising it. The very first result is that they themselves will realize again what Hinduism is all about.  Not otherworldly Hinduism but the kind that Krishna preached, on the Kurukshetra, with the real enemies and opportunities and the real world.

2. Language

                For Hindus abroad, depending on circumstances, knowledge of Indian languages is probably lost. In a few places, native languages are perhaps viable, like Hindi in Suriname or Tamil in Singapore. If Hindu families can speak their Indian language inside the home and transmit it to the children, so much the better. But in mixed families and in oceans of powerful languages like the Anglosphere, children or grandchildren are bound to take to the language of their surroundings, so it is a waste to still your guilt feelings as an immigrant by forcing your children to learn a smattering of Bengali or Kannada. It is better to teach your children Hindu values, and if this has to take the form of a language, let it be Sankrit, the key to the main Hindu scriptures. For the rest, let  them acquire a thorough grounding in Hindu stories and ritual, in English or whatever vernacular they take to, rather than investing your and their precious time in a language that is bound to die.

                In India itself, English should be shown its place as first foreign language. Mind you, mine is a position against self-interest, for I will never have more fluency in an Indian language than in English; by contrast, all Indians and Westerners pleading for English happen to be self-serving. At any rate, an anti-English stand is not voguish, now that Indian politicians are not just sending their own children to English-medium schools while promoting vernacular-medium education for the common man, but openly replace vernacular with English schooling. This is a political choice: either Panjabis and Malayalis will speak English with each other, like Danes with Koreans or Congolese with Pakistanis; or they will speak an Indian language. If you want Indian unity, you’d better aim for an Indian language that will set India apart from the Anglosphere.

                That Indian language can only be Sanskrit. At this distance, we can say that it was a fateful day when the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad, cast the deciding vote in the Constituent Assembly in favour of Hindi as link language, to the detriment of the other candidate, Sanskrit. Hindi was not accepted by the chauvinist speakers of the other vernaculars. One of the good reasons was that it was but a recent language, a common denominator between old literary languages like Braj Bhasha, Awadhi, Rajasthani and others. Hindi as it is, was deemed vulgar by speakers of highly civilized non-Hindi languages like Bengali or Telugu. It didn’t have the kind of prestige that could overrule such objections.

                By contrast, Sanskrit if chosen as the link language would have sent a cry of admiration through countries like China and Japan, Russia and Germany, France and America. The state of Israel, that chose to make Biblical Hebrew its first language, would have understood very well that India made its main Scriptural medium into its second language. The Flemish, who waged a struggle against French-language masses all while accepting Latin masses as a matter of course, would have understood it if the Indians had preferred their common sacred language over a vernacular. Even the Muslim world would have understood it. Most importantly, it would have been accepted by the Indian people. Speakers of the constituent members of the Hindi commonwealth would have had no objection, and speakers of non-Hindi languages (even Tamil chauvinists) would have had fewer objections than against Hindi. As for the English-speaking elite, it would militate no harder against one Indian language than against another.

                The vote in the Constituent Assembly, fifty-fifty between Sanskrit and shuddh Hindi,  shows how far India has slipped, and what an outrageous failure the so-called Hindu Nationalist movement has been. If the vote were held today, it would rather be fifty-fifty between English and Bollywood Hindi, i.e. Urdu. The secularists were then a small coterie around Nehru, now the same stream of opinion controls all the cultural and other institutions. Back then, a vote for English would be unthinkable, now the same taboo counts almost for a vote against English. The Muslims were only 10% and smarting under their guilt for the Partition, not in a position to make demands; now they are 15% and growing fast, and in active opposition to every language policy that smells of either Hinduism or nationalism. Sanskrit has been borrowed heavily by the South-Indian languages and would be welcomed by their speakers (so would shuddh Hindi, for that matter, and for the same reason), whereas “Hindustani” or Urdu brings Hindi a lot closer to the official language of Pakistan but at a greater distance from the Southern languages of India itself.

                So, you have a choice. Supporting Bollywood Hindi will make Indian unity weaker and the Muslim factor stronger. But more importantly, supporting English will make Indian unity and democracy weaker, and the hold of the secularist elite stronger. By contrast, supporting Sanskrit will make Indian unity stronger, along with popular access to the Hindu tradition. Whether India as a unified state survives, depends on many things, but English will certainly not be a factor of unity. A Kannadiga may speak English with a native of Karachi or Chittagong, as he would with a native of Hong Kong or Cairo or anywhere, without sharing a national state with them; and the same counts for a native of Mumbai or Delhi.        

Admittedly, Sanskrit is a difficult language, but then it is equally difficult for everyone. And if one positive development can be mentioned since 1947, it is the decreased importance of caste pride, which led many upper-caste people to have a sneaking sympathy for the Nehruvian anti-Sanskrit policy, which at least kept Sanskrit out of the hands of the lower castes. One of the formative episodes in Dr. Ambedkar’s life was when he was denied the right to study Sanskrit in school because of his low caste. It helped make him a partisan of Sanskrit as national link language, a choice not followed by his so-called followers in the Dalit movement. They favour English, a choice unthinkable to the freedom struggle generation.

So, the anti-Sanskrit forces are a lot stronger than in the late forties, when they very narrowly won the day. Still Sanskrit is the only chance the lovers of India have. Hindi failed, and English will only weaken Indian unity, apart  from being an utterly undignified choice of link language. Brace yourselves for a difficult struggle – or for national disintegration.

3. Build your own Hindu organization

                It is counterproductive to hope for tangible results from the Sangh Parivar. In most respects, they achieved nothing for the Hindus. A few merits go to their credit, viz. relief work and, in some areas,  security for Hindus threatened by aggressive “minorities” (i.e. the local branches of international religions with a lot of support from abroad). Important as these merits undoubtedly are, they do not justify the Sangh Parivar’s national claims for the “awakening of the Hindus”. On the contrary, the Sangh Parivar has done its bit for keeping the Hindus asleep. They have misdirected their flock and neglected a number of concerns of those Hindus who were awake.

                One good thing the Sangh did, was to organize. I call upon you to do the same. Unfortunately, the Sangh saw this as a goal in itself. It forgot to make self-organization subservient to a Hindu vision, because it had none.

                However, that criticism of the Sangh has been expressed enough times and on enough forums. Repeating it is only one form of what Rajiv Malhotra calls “mouse-clicking Hindu activism”, a useless activity that may be ego-flattering but otherwise makes no difference. It may be necessary to keep Hindus from a mistaken line of involvement, but it has mostly outlived its use now. The thing to do is simply to set up your own Hindu centre of activity and ignore the ideological line of the Sangh.

                The focus may be very different depending on local needs. Physical security is an important concern in areas where the so-called minorities are strong and growing, like West Bengal and Kerala. That is why the Hindu Samhati in West Bengal is so important: it promises to be more effective than the RSS, and has so far also lived up to its promise. It channels the natural Hindu capacity for self-defence. In opulent areas where Hindu self-forgetfulness due to the invasion of American consumerism is a greater menace, by contrast, the focus may be more on Hindu identity and the revival of Hindu knowledge.

                The national and international dimension can be taken care of far more easily that in the past, thanks to the internet. The pure communication dimension of this transregional cooperation will take care of itself. But is there a need of some more formal way of grouping along national and international lines? In particular, shouldn’t there be a party like the BJP?

                If there were an effective lobby group, like the Jewish lobby in the US, there would be no need of a Hindu political party. There is no Jewish political party, but both the Democrats and the Republicans do their best to curry the favour of the Jewish lobby. For the impartisan form, the VHP (World Hindu Council) has in the past approached all political parties with its “Hindu agenda”, but in practice it only counted on the BJP. And even this party did not do the Hindu lobby’s bidding, e.g. whereas the VHP’s Hindu agenda of 1996 contained an anti-abortion item, in keeping with the Brahmanic-Shastric interdiction of abortion, the BJP programme (in keeping with most other parties’ and governments’) was all for birth-control by any means necessary, including legal abortion. So Hindus don’t consist of the right human material to form an effective lobby-group pressurizing political parties.

                A party like the BJP is better than nothing, according to many Hindus. While it fails to do anything for Hindu causes, at least when it is in power nothing will be done against the Hindus, unlike the other parties; or so they say. The opening of Indian media ownership under the NDA regime can be given as a counterexample, a BJP-engineered disaster for Hindu society; but we don’t want to be difficult. Well, let the BJP exist, it will do so anyway, but let that not stop you from doing anything on your own.

                Once you’ve built up something, it will automatically become the lobby that some were dreaming of. The BJP, and perhaps other parties, will seek your approval when making its programme, your support during the campaign. It always does so when it sees people who know what they want; it did so with the secularists, and it will do so again with Hindus. This will put you in a position to make demands. The BJP will make some of your programme its own if it has the impression that you are consistent and credible. All  this and more will accrue to those who really do something and get started.

4. Let the facts speak for themselves

According to Rajiv Malhotra, Hindus are “under-informed and over-opinionated”. I already had that impression, but being a foreigner, I had no business saying it. However, if an Indian says it, it deserves to be quoted. They haven’t done their “Purva-Paksha”, their study of the opponent’s viewpoint, and --  now I quote Sita Ram Goel --  yet “they think they know everything about everything”. I have, for instance, made many an argument with Hindus who claimed to know more of my home religion, Christianity, than I myself did. Perhaps it is an atavistic behaviour pattern dating back to the time when India was on top of the world, and when Indians had a superiority rather than their present inferiority complex.

On the internet, I have come across many Hindus who were ill-mannered and unwilling to abide by the general rules of good conduct. That will not influence my opinions too seriously, because my mind has by now been made up, but it will affect those of many others.  What they prove is that a good cause can be spoilt by bad servants. They give a good message a bad name by their lack of self-control.

They feel good about themselves because they had their say. They think it is impressive if they shove it into the other side’s face. But what they never do, is listen to feedback. Am I achieving what I set out to achieve? Well, the problem with most of these folks is that they don’t really want to achieve anything. The thought of getting somewhere just doesn’t cross their minds. They merely want an emotional kick, a feeling of having said it in a way that the other side, or more likely the sympathizing reader (they are not aware of another side), is unlikely to forget. They want to live out what is inside of them, and the result be damned.

The fact that they are participating in discussions on Hinduism and its plight at least proves they feel that something is not right. Let that be a start. For the rest, you have your own teachers to go to. You don’t need me to tell you that self-control (in Sanskrit: yoga) is better for you and for everyone than self-indulgence. You have Hindu civilization for that.

Hindu tradition teaches you all about Purva-Paksha, the “earlier wing” against which your own viewpoint is the counter-wing. It teaches you that you first have to acquaint yourself with what the others are saying before you can answer them. Short, it doesn’t want you to be lazy. It doesn’t want you to take the laughable posture of pretending you know it all without studying. By extension, it teaches you to take into account what the others say in answering you. It wants you to learn from their feedback. Thus, there has never been a Hindu who has convinced an outsider by means of a false (P.N. Oak-ian) etymology, it has solely earned them ridicule; only Hindus fall for this kind of “argument”, and that should tell you something.

How does this work out in practice? Instead of letting your emotions take centre-stage, you should let the facts speak for themselves. That works best. Isn’t it funny, Hindus who have the facts as their best friends yet want to hide these behind their own anger? In making your point, you should first of all let reality do the talking. Nothing convinces as much as reality does.

And yet, reality is not enough. Some Hindus know how to let reality speak and how to make their own emotions shut up, yet their performance is insufficient. For instance, so many times already I have received copies of Nathuram Godse’s speech about Mahatma Gandhi. Hindus think they are meritorious by spreading the word and propagating Godse’s speech, because it stays close to the facts,and because it is itself a historical fact. But except for a secularist of sorts (Ashis Nandy), I am the only author of an analysis of Godse’s speech. Many Hindus admire Godse, but they don’t bother to stop and think about his speech. They merely repeat it, mantra-like, without adding anything to it.

So, once in a while it is necessary to think things over. Was Nathuram Gods right? Was he more right in his words than in his act? What was the result of his act? Discussion forums are an excellent place to make a start. The “wisdom of crowds” is represented there, and I have already learnt a lot from it, even from the most ordinary people who have their moments of brilliance too, and their area of expertise. Hindus could learn a lot too, and train themselves in making up their own minds and influencing other people’s.

5. Don’t create false problems

                According to textbooks, Hindus and especially low-castes (who were only induced into Hinduism by the evil Aryan invaders) are fed up with “empty ritual”. That is, according to the secularists, why they want to leave Hinduism. If you see Christians eat the flesh of Christ, just remember that they would never want to be Hindus and condemned to doing “empty rituals”.

                In reality, there may be some things in Hinduism that trouble them, but “empty ritual” is not it. Take it from an eyewitness to the slow death of a religious culture, Christianity in Europe, who has seen numerous contemporaries sigh: “Yes, Christianity is a pack of fairy-tales, but where will I find such a good ritual setting for my funeral as a mass in church, conducted by a real priest?” Religion may be nonsense, but ritual is very important. So, when I see Hindus on internet lists complain about “empty ritual”, I know they are just rattling off what they learned in their Jesuit school. Of course, the Jesuits know the value of ritual and also practice it, but to Hindu pupils they teach about its emptiness.

Ritual will take care of itself, it gets reborn easily, but some matters are more serious when they are made into problems. One perfectly false issue that has been keeping Hindus busy for a century and a half (if not for a thousand years) is polytheism vs. monotheism.  Pharaoh Akhenaten, Moses and Mohammed thought  they stumbled upon some important realization when they declared monotheism true and polytheism false. Against them, some Hindus defend their ancestral polytheism, which nowadays is a brave thing to do. Others, whom the Buddha called lickspittles, try to curry favour with their enemies by espousing monotheism. To have an edge over other Hindus, they declare that the others have not understood how a single God is hiding behind the seeming multiplicity of Vedic gods.

But the truth of the matter is that the Vedic seers didn’t cared two hoots for this quarrel between monotheists and polytheists. The divine manifests itself as one or as many, and both could be lived with. You should not import into Hinduism a problem that only your enemies created, and in the name of which they have destroyed your idols and temples.

A related “problem” is that of idolatry. For thousands of years, Hindus have depicted the divine through paintings and sculptures. To be sure, they also worshipped in the open air, with the wind as the natural idol of Vayu, the thunder as the natural idol of Indra, and so on. But surely the culture of artificial idols has so long and so intimately been interwoven with living Hinduism that we can call idolatry Hindu par excellence. So, it is safe to ignore those Hindus who, wanting to cozy up to their self-described enemies, suddenly “discover” that the Hindus have always been oppressed by false and evil idolatry.  

The so-called problems of polytheism and idolatry are false problems floated by those Hindus who want to feel  superior to other Hindus, viz. by bathing in the reflected glory of Christianity and Islam. Hindus had better concentrate on real issues, like how to maintain their Hinduism in a sea of hostile forces, or how to save girl babies.

6. Creativity

                One very good thing by which Hinduism stood out, both in its Vedic and its Puranic phase, was its unbridled creativity. Today, this is what is sorely lacking. Sita Ram Goel diagnosed the Hindu activists among his fellow students ca. 1940 as the most mediocre of the lot. Those who had nothing to offer individually gravitated towards causes which tilted them above themselves but to which they themselves had indeed little to offer.  They gave their time and energy, nobody can deny them this dedication, but a winning movement cannot be built exclusively of such grey people.

                The creative people are on the other side. Most Bollywood actors and directors are either on the anti-Hindu or, at best, on the mindlessly Hindu side. They have named their industry after its American counterpart and some say their product is lousy, but at least they know how to attract money and they certainly have a good time. Hindus ought to feel jealous, if at all they have the ambition to do as well as Bollywood.

                Creativity was to be found in the late M.F. Husain, hated by the Hindus and disliked by a great many Muslims too. He was driven by hate, old and uninspired hate, but undeniably he created things in painting. Hindus could do nothing but demand a ban, the most humourless and uncreative solution. No Hindu came forward to be the anti-Husain, let alone some original way to silence him.

                It was different once. Every art form was steered to new heights by Hindu artists. Every province of India had its own variation of the performing arts. In the visual arts, no tradition was a match for the richness in characters that the fable collections, epics and Puranas had to offer. Whereas Chinese and Japanese classical music are museum pieces next to omnipresent Western classical music (at performing which the East-Asians excel), Indian classical music remains as the only rival. More individualistic yet more complex, it differs from European classical music the way adult music differs from children’s songs. Hindus are fairly good at maintaining what was great among the inventions of their ancestors, but not so good at giving a creative answer to today’s challenges.

                So, gird up your loins to start anew. Create Hindu art. Let it not be an imitation of Western “modern art”, the West is fed up with it and you have no need of Indians pretending to like it. Forget about trying to be original, just be Hindu and your originality will take care of itself. Except for calendar artists, no artist wants to be known as a Hindu, so by doing Hindu art you automatically stand out.

7. Celebrate

                The greatest thing about Hinduism for all its adherents are its festivals. As long as people celebrate these, the religion will exist.  Just apply the Americans proverb: “If it’s fun, it gets done.” The same counts for the more serious Hindu business, like meditation. It is not airy-fairy, as Westerners imagine, but very down-to-earth, the most realistic thing in the world. But it is also the happiest thing, the source of joy.

  And judging by this criterion, Hinduism is alive and kicking. So, I am not all that pessimistic about the future. You simply have to do what it takes.

(first published on the Hindu Human Rights website, ca. 17 May 2012)

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meera Nanda against Hinduism and its friends: (10) Every Muslim a Sita

Both in her 2009 (106) and in her 2011 article, Meera Nanda quotes me as saying: “Every Muslim is a Sita, who must be released from Ravana’s prison. We should help Muslims in freeing themselves from Islam.” But in spite of her bibliography and footnotes, she doesn’t mention the source; twice he conceals it. No source is given, but I will give it: The Problem with Secularism, Voice of India 2007, p.30.

That book, which contains a detailed refutation of Sanjay Subramaniam’s mendacious allegations, and Return of the Swastika, Voice of India 2006, which contains a detailed refutation of an earlier paper by Meera Nanda (ch.3, p.34-106), are carefully concealed. She gives in her bibliography a book of mine which is only generally pertinent to her issue, but hides two books that are particularly pertinent to the same issues and that she has used profusely. She is very well aware of this paper of mine about her, for before publishing it, I sent it to her asking whether it correctly reflected the current state of her views, which she confirmed. I noticed that, merely from getting in touch with her, though with no more than one e-mail exchange, I felt compelled to tone down my language and scrap some unnecessarily harsh words I had used. That’s what happens when you get to see your opponents as real human beings rather than comic types in your ideological pandemonium. In this case too, her own paper would have benefited from such an exchange; she has my e-address.

However, though she knows very well that I have been kinder to her than I originally wanted to be, she has gone on to slander Voice of India and myself a second and a third time. She knows very well that I have answered her libels but repeats them nonetheless. But she didn’t want her fans to find out about her lies and their refutation. We have it in cold print that Meera Nanda is a liar and slanderer, and that she is vain.

When Breivik appeared as a godsend to Meera Nanda, she used my quote again: “Their new consensus is that rather than ‘appease’ Muslims by pretending to respect their religion, Hindus need to debunk the claims of the ‘false’ and ‘monstrous’ doctrines of Islam. Indeed, Koenraad Elst has himself applauded this new war on Islam. In accordance with the VoI line on Islam being ‘asuric’, he has proclaimed that, ‘Every Muslim is a Sita who must be released from Ravana’s prison. We should help Muslims in freeing themselves from Islam.’ This is exactly the agenda of the Norway killer—to ‘educate’ Norwegian society, including Muslim immigrants—that ‘Islam is not a religion but a political ideology’. This is the ‘non-violent’ component of the ‘crusade’ against Islam in Europe: to create an environment so hostile that the practice of Islam becomes difficult and that Muslims have no choice but to either leave or give up their faith. Indeed, if there were any doubt about the shared ground between the VoI and European Islamophobes, Elst gives the same advice, in almost the same words, to the Norway killer as he does to his VoI admirers. The solution to the ‘Islam problem’ is not to use violence, ‘but to liberate Muslims from the mental prison-house of Islam’. This war against Islam is the thread that dubiously binds Extremist India with the Norway massacre.” (2011)

Whoever reads that and sees logical consistency there, will spare me the trouble of explaining why the Christian Anders Breivik came in the news for a reason that has never been in evidence in the anti-Christian Voice of India record, viz. violence. Breivik never had a “non-violent” agenda, he killed a great many non-Muslim youngsters bearing responsibility for nothing in order to avert the “Islamization of Europe”, an absurdity in the act only matched by the verbal absurdity displayed by Meera Nanda. She herself says that the Voice of India philosophy is: “The solution to the ‘Islam problem’ is not to use violence” – the very opposite of the Breivik approach. If the Norwegian Crusader had followed the Voice of India solution, viz. to “‘educate’ Norwegian society, including Muslim immigrants, that ‘Islam is not a religion but a political ideology’”, he would have done just the opposite of what he actually did. He would also not have made headlines, just like Voice of India, which led a marginal existence until after its protagonists died.

In Meera Nanda’s view, Elst peddles “the worst kind of Islamophobia imaginable”, no less. Proof: “In one of his essays, he advises his readers that the best way to criticise prophet Mohammed is to ‘question his sanity’, to show that he was mad.” Indeed, I stand by that non-violent position, and so would every scientist. Far from being “Islamophobic” and hence a sign of mental illness itself, it is simply the rational position. The emphasis which many Hindus lay on Muslim atrocities is truthful but misplaced, for these would have been somewhat justifiable if the basic beliefs of Islam were correct. The thing to do is to show that these basic beliefs are incorrect.

Nobody in his right mind would accept it if one day one of his colleagues announced: “I hear the voice of God. From now on you have to obey me, for it is God who speaks through me.” That was the situation in which the Meccan contemporaries of Mohammed found themselves. It is why the Quran reports more than ten times that they didn’t believe him, that they called him an imaginative poet, a ghost-possessed individual, or indeed mad. Were they “Islamophobes”? No, they only reacted to what they saw with their own eyes. From the Byzantine Christians to the modern sceptics, there have always been people who disbelieved Mohammed’s pious claims, including the secretary who wrote down his “revelations” and the Prophet’s favourite wife Aisha, who saw through the self-serving nature of his “divine” utterances. Meera Nanda can only stand on the other side, criminalizing fundamental criticism of Islam, because she is not a scientist at heart.

She claims that according to me “the divine revelations of the prophet of Islam were ‘born from a deluded consciousness’ fed by ‘sexual arousal’ provided by his wife Khadija – all products of the supposedly lower, animal-like centres of consciousness.” (2009:113) Maybe a prudish Arya Samaji has said that, but I have written just the reverse. In The Problem with Secularism, ch.9.2, I see a contradiction between the revelations to Mohammed and sexual intercourse with Khadija. It is when they were having intercourse that his trance state, in which he received his revelations, disappeared. By contrast, it was during an ascetic exercise that this “voice of God” first appeared. That is why some Hindus explain Mohammed’s condition through wrongly performed ascetic exercises, whereas modern psychologists think of a medical problem already present in his childhood. But all sane observers think there was something wrong with Mohammed’s prophetic trance, on which the whole religion of Islam is based. Only superstitious people like Meera Nanda reject this level-headed judgment and genuinely believe that he was hearing divine revelations.

Another false quote: she accuses me of calling Islam “monstrous”. (2009:110) It is she herself who uses such terms in describing Voice of India, whereas I tend to avoid such language. The page she quotes, Elst 2001:292, where I am supposed to have used the word “monstrous”, is the very page where I acknowledge most Indian Christians’ patriotism, but I don’t use the word “monstrous” there, nor anywhere else to my knowledge. It so happens that I am on record as having mocked the Hindutva use of swollen language including precisely the word “monstrous”, viz. the use of the expression “monstrous lies” by an AIT critic.

Finally, she credits me with having “brought in a number of other European Indophiles (...) sympathetic to the idea of India being the homeland of the Aryans”. (2009:113) I wonder who they are. She clearly overestimates my influence. In fact, her style is typically conspiratorial, vastly exaggerating our influence and importance.

But we know who Meera Nanda is. She is a troubled woman projecting her own obsessions on others. She is animated by hatred of Hinduism and can’t keep a story straight. But she can make her Marxist and Christian employers believe that she serves their purposes well.

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Reza Pirbhai and Voice of India

One article Meera Nanda quotes, and which she has also used as a source, is by Dr. Reza Pirbhai, Associate Professor of South-Asian Studies at Louisiana State University. Reza Pirbhai published his piece in a prestigious Cambridge (UK) periodical, Modern Intellectual History (vol.5.1, 2008, p.27-53). It is titled “Demons in Hindutva. Writing a Theology for Hindu Nationalism”. It exemplifies what is wrong with our university education.

The author has gone through a lot of Voice of India literature, at least those books that are on-line. (I(This paper cost him and his library little.) He is also less troubled by a personal anti-Hindu animus than Meera Nanda. For a non-Hindu, he displays the normal scepticism of Hinduism, whereas Meera Nanda as a born Hindu has the usual neurotic relation with her own hated religion. But he has the general Nehruvian hatred of Hinduism, and that is good enough to earn him a good post and publishing avenue.

Voice of India and Hinduism

In his depiction of Voice of India, Pirbhai gives many quotes and there is not much wrong with it, save for a persistent bias. Thus, he calls Voice of India “Hindutva” and claims that it wants to create “a theology for Hindu Nationalism”. I have never known Sita Ram Goel to espouse “Hindutva” and as early as 1964, when he turned down M.S. Golwalkar’s offer to lead the Vishva Hindu Parishad (after Golwalkar had replied in the negative to Goel’s question whether he would be allowed to make his own statements), he had formed a negative opinion about the Hindu Nationalist movement. Rather, it is correct to say that he offered an ideology to Hindu society as a whole, not to the Hindutva movement specifically. He was well aware how the Communists in spite of their limited numbers were able to transform a society by means of intellectual control, and he wanted an answer to that; the Hindutva movement did not.

Pirbhai is not too far off the mark when he writes: “Voice of India, in fact, was established to provide the Sangh Parivar ‘a full-blooded Hindu ideology of its own and process all events, movements, parties and public figures in terms of that ideology, rather than live on borrowed slogans or hand to mouth ideas invoked on the spur of the moment’.” (p.29, with reference to S.R. Goel: How I Became a Hindu.) The only correction needed is that he wanted to give this analysis to Hindu society as a whole rather than to the Sangh Parivar, which is determined to live on borrowed slogans or hand to mouth ideas.

Pirbhai uses postmodern categories like “the Self-Other dichotomy” and the “Orientalist construction of Hinduism”. He replaces facts with theories, e.g. German Orientalist Paul Deussen (d.1919), who visited British India in 1892-93 and saw Swami Vivekananda (p.35) is here turned into a major influence (“Thanks to the overarching influence of Deussen’s monistic positivism”, p.51) though most Voice of India authors never even mentioned him.

He doles out dismissive labels, e.g.: ”Perhaps most telling is [Kanayalal M.] Talreja’s lifting of a line from Paine’s Age of Reason, characteristically torn out of context, in which Paine describes the Bible as the ‘word of a demon’.” (p.46, with reference to Talreja’s non-Voice of India book Holy Vedas and Holy Bible) How so, torn out of context? It is a historical fact that Thomas Paine fell from great popularity to equally great marginality when in his last work he attacked Christianity.

He is very sure of himself and doesn’t need evidence: he is “reading between the lines” (p.29); he notices, when studying Vivekananda, that a certain idea is “clearly the fruit of his study with Deussen” (p.39); and he sees Ram Swarup “in an obvious capitulation” (p.49) to the BJP’s pro-Israeli line. According to Pirbhai, “Reading Voice of India’s theology, it is clear to see why the Sangh Parivar’s leadership distanced itself from Swarup and Goel, accusing them of ‘strong language’.” (p.49) Not so clear to him: the real reason has more to do with laziness and fear, viz. the fear that the Sangh leadership and its followers won’t be able to handle complex categories of ideology.

All well considered, this is not harsh at all: “Swarup puts it most succinctly in ‘A need to face the truth’, making what seems the most repeated statement in Voice of India writings, that ‘the problem is not Muslims but Islam’.” (p.45-46) The problem is not people, but the ideology that estranges these people from their fellow-men. But intellectuals are willing to sacrifice people to an idea, such as Islam.

The attitude towards the Jews takes a lot of his attention. According to Pirbhai, Voice of India recently changed its thinking about the Jews, and is now more sympathetic to the Zionist project than it used to be. In fact, if Hindutva has anything to do with Voice of India, the first utterances of Hindutva always sympathized with the Zionist project. The epoch-making books Hindutva by V.D. Savarkar (1924) and We by M.S. Golwalkar (1939) already expressed their support for Zionism. The Hindu movement has always evinced its admiration for the Jewish readiness to revive the ancient Hebrew language where Hindus were not successful at reviving Sanskrit even as their second language. There is no indication that Ram Swarup or Sita Ram Goel were ever more negative about Judaism. They did not believe in Biblical prophecy, but at least Judaism had never done any harm to Hindu society, much in contrast with Christianity and Islam. As Meera Nanda writes: “Judaism is exempted from this critique of monotheism because eventhough Jews believe in one god, their god is exclusively the god of Jews alone.” (2009:108)

The main Voice of India authors were quite aware of historicity, and how religions change: “As Swarup puts it, Islam is ‘the most malevolent of these residues’ of ‘Semitism’, and Muslims alone are sealed ‘off from every shade of empiricism, rationalism, universalism, humanism and liberalism, the hallmarks of Hindu as well as of modern Western culture.” (p.50, with reference to Hindu Society under Siege, ch.2: “The residue of Islamism”; the author was in fact Sita Ram Goel, not Ram Swarup, but let that pass.) So, Judaism has changed, Christianity was forced to change, but Islam is most faithful to its source.

In passing, Pirbhai expresses his anger at earlier authors for espousing a similar Hindu chauvinism”: “Gandhi declared himself a ‘servant of Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Jews’ in the early twentieth century, but prized Hinduism ‘above all other religions’ for specifically doctrinal considerations (...) And finally, in 1908, Ghose sought to prove that Hinduism was the only ‘eternal’ and ‘universal religion which embraces all others (...) given as a charge to the Aryan race to preserve through the ages’ by arguing that ‘Semitic’ religions are comparatively ‘narrow’, ‘sectarian’ and ‘of limited purpose’.” (p.38) Voice of India is part of a Hindu tradition.

Pirbhai is at his best when he sums up Voice of India thinking as devising an ideology “rationally akin to the Enlightenment without falling prey to materialism”. (p.52) For some reason he, along with the Sangh, he considers this a “staggeringly harsh theology”. (p.51) Maybe it is just “secular” in the real sense of the term.

Orientalists inventing Hinduism

Reza Pirbhai asks what is this ideology. And here he starts replacing the facts he is supposed to be analysing with the theory which he is espousing: “An answer is complicated by the fact that the cadre of contributors to Voice of India claim to follow directly in the footsteps of every major colonial-era intellectual. Further complicating matters, the perspectives such intellectuals uphold stem from a dialectical process initiated in the nineteenth century, involving Brahmanical traditionalism, European ‘Orientalism’, British colonial modes of authority, and the anticolonial pull of nationalism, not to mention the social and strucutural features of South Asia that offered them all fuel.” (p.30) So, “the crux of Voice of India’s theology is provided by the contents of fin de siècle German indology, carried forward in Vivekananda’s works and superimposed on [Aurobindo] Ghose’s and Gandhi’s deployment of precolonial Brahmanism’s ‘divine’ Self and ‘demonic’ Other.” (p.32)

I have never been aware of this: though Ram Swarup, S.R.Goel and their guest authors highly respected Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, their main source of inspiration was historical reality, stretching back much farther than the colonial era. For Hinduism, their main source was the Mahabharata and the other classical Sanskrit works.

But for Pirbhai, that doesn’t count, for he subscribes to the theory that Hinduism is not the most ancient religion but one of the youngest religions, not predating the 19th century: “The doctrines and practices presented as ‘Hinduism’ by colonial-era Hindu intellectuals and their postcolonial heirs did not exist prior to the British colonization of South Asia. Instead, a vast array of Sanskrit texts, supplemented by variegated vernacular and oral traditions, were the norm.” (p.32)

It doesn’t matter to him that Voice of India in fact opposes the tendency to embrace Western influences. As written by Goel in Hindu Society under Siege, 1981, ch.4: “The residue of Macaulaysm”: “Now it is English Utilitarianism, now German Idealism, now Russian Nihilism, now French Positivism or Existentialism, now American Consumerism – whatever be the dominant trend is the West, it immediately finds its flock among the educated Hindus.” But alright, it is possible that the very same people who oppose Western influences today have interiorized a Western influence from the 19th century, viz. the “Orientalist construction of Hinduism”. At least on one condition: that there was such a thing.

Eventhough the theory that Hinduism as a self-conscious religion is a colonial construct is popular with many academics, both in the West and in India, and now also including Reza Pirbhai, it has been firmly refuted by solidly secularist scholars such as David N. Lorenzen (Who Invented Hinduism? Essays on Religion in History, Yoda Press, Delhi 2006, esp. the essay “Who invented Hinduism?”, p.1-36) and Andrew J. Nicholson (Unifying Hinduism. Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Columbia University Press, New York 2010). The latter shows that many Hindu thinkers in the Muslim period already sought a common denominator of the sects and schools that made up the Hindu commonwealth. But it is the former we will quote at some length.

David Lorenzen names Bipan Chandra, Gyanendra Pandey and Veena Das as some of the academics who teach or taught that Hindu identity does not predate the 19th century, along with a number of Americans. But he quotes a number of Hindu vernacular poets from well before the colonial era who show an awareness of Hindu identity. For instance, the 16th-century Maharashtrian poet Eknath gives a dialogue between a “Hindu” and a Muslim, Hindu-Turka-samvada, in which both sides affirm the strong points of their own religion and lambast the weak points of the other’s religion. Lorenzen fails to remark, in passing, that only Hindus have written such self-criticism, not Muslims. Also in the 16th century, the Ramanandi biographer Anantadas wrote a similar text about the 15th-century poet Kabir. In the Kabir-Bijak, this Kabir himself wrote another text confronting “Hindu” and “Turk” and their respective religions.

A hundred years before Kabir, the romance Kirtilata was written by the poet Vidyapati. Lorenzen observes: “Vidyapati’s description of the Muslim quarter of this city [Jonapur] is imbued with a sharp anti-Muslim bias.” No, Vidyapati was not prejudiced, he knew the Muslims at close quarters and when he wrote something negative about them, he just wrote what his eyes had seen. But Lorenzen himself has a secularist bias. Anyway, here is Vidyapati’s testimony: “The Hindus and Turks live close together. Each makes fun of the other’s religion. (dhamme) (...) The Turks coerce passers-by into doing forced labour. Grabbing hold of a Brahmin boy, they put a cow’s vagina on his head. They rub out his tilak and break his sacred thread. (...) They destroy temples and construct mosques.”

We have it from an eyewitness that Muslims in 1400 practised slave-taking, forced conversion and temple destruction, precisely the thing that everybody knows but that secularists try to deny. But more importantly, he proves that Hinduism as a religious category existed, a full four centuries before Pirbhai says that British Orientalists invented it. Lorenzen quotes an even earlier source to the same effect, viz. the Prithviraj Raso, a historical romance composed not long after the defeat of its hero, King Prithviraj, in 1192. Muslims sources from that period are even more unambiguous and numerous: they had no problem distinguishing between Muslims and Kafirs, and all Indian Kafirs (Pagans) were called Hindus.

As Lorenzen puts it in his conclusion, “one can see the family resemblance of beliefs and practices taking a recognizably Hindu shape in the early Puranas, roughly around the period 300-600.” But Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel went even further back. The Mahabharata does not contain the word Hindu, but it is the foremost Hindu scripture, and the main source of inspiration to Voice of India.

Falsifying history

What troubles Pirbhai most is Voice of India’s steadfast accusation that Islam meant nothing but harm to Hindu society, which he tries to minimize by calling it “Orientalist”: “Voice of India’s catalogue is most heavily laden with books and articles devoted to rehashing or reprinting Orientalist ahistories on the violence perpetrated by Muslims on Hindus (...) In such works, the writings of William Muir (d.1905), David Margoliouth (d.1940), Henry Elliot and other Orientalists are liberally employed, and Ram Swarup is even credited with forewords for reprints of Muir’s Life of Mahomet (1894) and Margoliouth’s Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (1905) – two works heavily criticized for their anti-Muslim biases from the moment of their publication. The gist of this strain of Voice of India works can be boiled down to the list of charges issued in the ‘preface’ of Hindu Temples:What Happened to Them? Echoing Orientalist ahistories exactly, that list includes ‘the destruction of Hindu temples’, ‘mass slaughter of people not only during war but also after the armies of Islam emerged victorious’” etc. (p.42-43)

The interesting point is that Pirbhai dismisses the discoveries by Orientalists about Muslim atrocities against the Hindus as ahistorical. In reality, by far the most sources about these Muslim atrocities are contemporaneous and by Muslims themselves. Not for nothing, H.M. Elliot’s magnum opus (with John Dowson, London 1867-77) is called History of India as Told by Its Own Historians, and its 8 volumes consist of nothing but translations of mostly Persian chronicles. The Voice of India historians Harsh Narain and K.S. Lal used many other Muslim sources besides. In 1991, Voice of India has published a rare Hindu account of the same, V.S. Bhatnagar, tra.: Padmanabha’s Kanhadade Prabandha (India’s Greatest Patriotic Saga of Medieval Times). In 2009, it brought out a translation of the 15th-century Muslim source Tohfatu’l Ahbab, viz. Kashinath Pandit tra.: A Muslim Missionary in Mediaeval Kashmir, in which the protagonist demolishes more temples in inhospitable Gilgit and Baltistan during his lifetime than the secularists are willing to concede for the whole Subcontinent during a thousand years.

So, we can just enjoy Pirbhai’s frantic attempts to deny history, e.g.: “by the early nineteenth century, it was conventional to accuse Muslim ‘invaders’ of ending a Hindu ‘Golden Age’ by undermining Hindu political sovereignty, destroying Hindu religious institutions, eroding the Hindu character, and, as in the case of Henry Elliot’s (d.1853) works, even significantly reducing the Hindu population by means of ‘massacres and murders’.”(p.33-34) There was nothing Golden about the Gupta age, except that it was an age of sovereignty, and compared to foreign enslavement, any nation would come to consider that a Golden Age.

He is well aware that either he is right and Voice of India is wrong, or he is a member of the tribe of history-deniers: “Those who challenge the Orientalist perspective are merely labelled ‘negationists’ and equated with Holocaust deniers who ‘conceal’, ‘minimize’ or ‘whitewash’ facts.” (p.44) He lists the fine fleur of the Indian intellectuals among the negationists as if that constitutes proof of anything, but does not bother to refute the Voice of India vision of Islamic history.

Pirbhai, a closet White Supremacist, persists in his colonial fixation: “Of course, Orientalist tropes concerning Muslim ‘atrocities’ are nothing new among Hindu intellectuals (...) Nor is the persistence of Orientalist misrepresentations particular to Hindutva circles.” (p.43) With this, he also attacks their Western counterparts, naming specifically Robert Spencer, Bat Ye’or and Ibn Warraq (of Lebanese, Egyptian and Pakistani provenance, respectively).

In his overestimation of Voice of India, he concludes: “Voice of India ideals have been successfully employed in rallying support for Sangh Parivar campaigns in India, extending from the Babri Mosque (Ayodhya campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s to the Gujarat ‘massacres’ of 2002, all of which have claimed thousands of mostly Muslim lives and played a part in bringing Sangh Parivar parties to the highest echelons of state power from the mid-1990s to 2004. They have also been responsive enough to globalization to successfully assimilate non-Indians like Franwley and Elst, attract diasporic Indians like Kak, and find common voice with ‘neoconservative Christians’ like Spencer, ‘rightist Jews’ like Ye’or and ‘secular humanists’ like Ibn Warraq.” (p.52-53)

Pirbhai does make a distinction, though: “Voice of India does not subscribe to the variety of anti-Islamic perspectives composed by the likes of Spencer and Ye’or, who imply that the Quranic message is inherently aggressive and therefore not divine. Nor is it accurate to consider Voice of India’s polemics a mere adoption of Jewish and Christian religious writings, past and present, that paint Mohammed’s claims (but not those of Biblical prophets) as ‘fraudulent’ revelations, perhaps even ‘Satanically’ inspired. Rather, Voice of India frames the concept of prophethood itself within a Vivekanandan approach to precolonial Brahmanism, rendering the revelations of all ‘Semitic’ prophets warped by delusions and demonic intervention. It is in recognition of this demonic source of inspiration that Goel ultimately declares that “it is a sin to regard’ Judaism, Christianity and Islam ‘as religions in any sense of the term’, meaning that the latter are to be identified with the anti-religious ‘powers of darkness’ also behind such ‘materialist’ creeds as Nazism, communism and Nehruism. The only solution for followers of such creeds, therefore, is ‘reconversion’ to the source of all ancient spirituality and civilization: ‘Hinduism’.” (p.49, with reference to Goel: Defence of Hindu Society).


Voice of India has also invested in refuting the Aryan Invasion Theory. Here, Pirbhai is totally off the mark: “Frawley makes room for another Orientalist trope – the ‘Indian’ origins of the ‘Aryan race’” (p.41) Except for the first generation, most Orientalists in the 19th and 20th century were convinced of the AIT, as the Indian secularists still are. Not that they conspired against India, as some Hindutva myth-makers think, but they didn’t know better than to believe the most popular theory around. If anything, it is the Nehruvians including Pirbhai himself who follow the Orientalists.

Finally, let us remark that Pirbhai cites the Voice of India mission statement (p.40), e.g.: “our only weapon is truth”. And after reading this paper, we find more truth on the side of Voice of India than on the side of the author.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Mumbai attack of November 2008

In better days, the RISA-list was open to dissident opinions. This one, of 28 November 2008, was very dissident though softly worded:

“Dear list,

“It's not going to do me any good, but someone has to do the dirty work of stating a fact that stares us all in the face but is not allowed to be mentioned in career-conscious company.”

            Then I quoted a list member based in Israel who wrote: "Here in Israel, as around the world, the press is very much occupied with the attack (...) As far as the domestic, this seems to lead to the Indian-Pakistani conflict, and Kashmir was already mentioned. As far as the international, this may relate to the 'International Jihad' and to groups associated with Al Qaida." And I added:

"There is also the internal Hindu-Muslim and India-Muslim conflict, invoked as justification in the manifesto of the Indian Mujahedin "explaining" their recent bomb attacks in Mumbai, Jaipur, Bangalore etc. etc. Though two prominent scholars at the SAMAJ conference in Paris in September 2008 described that manifesto as 'a work of genius', it was only a rehashing of the common litany in the secularist press bewailing the 'persecution' of Muslims in India. Outsiders notice how the inward-looking education of Muslim youth in Muslim schools (facilitated by their constitutional privilege of subsidized yet totally autonomous communal schools, a privilege denied to Hindus in the prevalent reading of Art.30) leads to their unemployability in the modern labour market; but the Muslim leadership, encouraged by the secularist media, prefers to deny its own responsibility and blame Muslim disadvantage on others. This mentality of resentment feeds terrorism, as indeed acknowledged in the Indian Mujahedin manifesto. Likewise, that the police more easily suspects Muslims and tends to associate them with terrorism is true, but not unrelated to their own actions (e.g. the Jamia Millia VC's recent refusal to cooperate with the police when some of his students were suspect).”

The Israel-based list member opined: "Apparently, the terrorists where looking for Americans and British citizens, and besides, the Chabad House was attacked." I replied:

"True, but let us not forget that there were the more usual Hindu and security forces targets also. This terror attack gets a lot more attention because of the foreigners involved as victims, but in scale it is not unusual. When the victims are merely Indian, and merely Hindu (the death roll in e.g. the latest Delhi attacks shows that the terrorists carefully located their bombs so as to kill as many Hindus and as few Muslims as possible), the media are not that interested.

“The common denominator is pretty obvious, viz. Muslim resentment against Infidel control of any Muslim land: Anglo-American in Iraq and Afghanistan, Zionist in "occupied Palestine", secularist (‘Hindu’) in Kashmir. This ties in with Islamic political doctrine as laid down through example by Mohammed himself. While all manner of ‘experts’ exhaust their creativity in inventing alternative explanations, the terrorists themselves (remember Mohammed Atta?) are explicit and unanimous about Islam as their sole motivation.

“Unlike ‘secularists’ who impose their own explanations on Muslim actions and disallow Muslims to speak for themselves, I respect Muslims and take their word for it.

“Incidentally, this denial of agency to Islam is not limited to 'secularists'. It is done by most people who try to avoid trouble, e.g. the latest statement of the Hindu Council of the UK condemns the terror attacks as 'not justified by any religion'. Academics are often far ahead of the rest in forging contrived explanations for simple facts, but in this case, even the meanest politician mouths the artful delusion that 'terrorists have no religion'.”

The Israel-based list member added: “I was struck, for example, about an article entitled ‘Attack may sway voters towards BJP’, that appeared in the Times of India on line.” I replied:

            “Well, that's the normal procedure in a democracy. The Indian government has failed in its central duty of providing security, so voters may consider voting the opposition to power.  Not that the terrorism toll was that much lower under BJP rule (1998-2004; attacks on Parliament buildings in Srinagar and Delhi, Godhra, Akshardham etc.), and even if it was, it may have had less to do with the government's policy than with the then less advanced terrorist technology and strategy."

He signed off: “With great sadness.” I ended:

"Well, sorry for pointing at the elephant in the room. I know it is taboo in these circles to mention the motive of the terrorists. But out of respect for the victims, I thought that naming and shaming the ideological culprit for their death is essential.

“Sharing your sadness,

“Dr. Koenraad Elst, unaffiliated scholar”.

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Meera Nanda against Hinduism and its friends: (9) Voice of India and Islam

Meera Nanda describes Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel as “two ardent Hindu revivalists and anti-Communists”. (2011) What she does not write, is that they had been Leftists themselves in the late forties, and that Goel failed to become a Communist Party member only because of Sardar Patel’s crackdown on the party the very day Goel had an appointment at the party office. What she does not write at all is that their anti-Communist stand, brave and lonely in the fifties, has totally been vindicated by history. This she doesn’t want to know because she still has a soft corner for Marxism.

Indeed, she treats “anti-Communist” as a swearword. That  is why she calls them “anti-Communists” even as late as 1981, not to speak of 2011. After the Chinese Communist invasion in India in 1962, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel knew that Communism’s chance to take over India had gone. To be sure, the Communist hold on the entire cultural sector kept on increasing, but political control was forever with centre-left dynasts. But let us not focus on them, let us focus on Meera Nanda. In respect of anti-Communism, now a historical subject, she is still a Stalinist.   

Meera Nanda goes off on a tangent about the European Nationalist Right, about Jean-Marie Le Pen and such, who have nothing to do with Voice of India, not even with its European sympathizers such as myself. Then she turns around and asks: “One could ask: why we in India should care about these European racists?” (2009:112) Well, nobody in India paid them any attention, nobody there cares about them. It is only Meera Nanda who has them in mind. Like the medieval theologians who wondered about the earth being in the middle and the devil living in the earth, hence the universe turning around the devil, she is obsessed with European racism and drags it in where it has no place. Because she has no way of countering Voice of India’s case, she has to fall back on associations, and false ones at that.

                Or, well, there is one thing she has to say in defence of Islam. By way of conclusion, she ends her article in the Economic and Political Weekly as follows: ““Monotheism does not automatically translate into totalitarianism and polytheism is not a synonym for tolerance, as the triumphalists would have us believe. Theology is not destiny. The (more or less) peaceful coexistence of many religions that India is justly famous for, is not a gift of Hinduism: all of India’s religions contributed to it in ways without compromising their religious beliefs. To forget their contribution is to forget the love and patriotism of India’s Muslims and Christians for their country.” (2009:114)

                No, theology is destiny, if taken seriously. Of course ideas have consequences. That monotheism leads to intolerance has been admitted by Christians like Rodney Stark in his book One True God or Jan Assman in The Price of Monotheism. Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel are not the first ones to assert this, it is a matter of worldwide consensus. The great pioneers of monotheism, Pharaoh Akhenaten, Moses and Mohammed, all distinguished themselves by killing large numbers of dissidents. Fortunately, many Muslims are people first and Muslims second, they don’t take Islam very seriously and that explains their less-than-Islamic conduct.

                That Muslims love India is only Meera Nanda’s contention. In the last and only de facto referendum, the last election before independence, 87% of the Muslim electorate voted against India and in favour of the Muslim League and its programme: the Partition of India. While the Hindus voted for a multicultural India, the Muslims voted against India and against multiculturalism. That is a historical fact, and Meera Nanda cannot alter it. Today, most Indian Muslims are against a further Partition, but that is only because their leadership class has determined that the same mistake should not be made and that the Indian Muslims  should seek to Islamize the whole of India. It is only on these terms that the Muslims love India in one piece.

                As for the Christians, on p.292 of Decolonizing the Hindu Mind, the only book of mine that figures in her bibliography and which I therefore assume she has read, I have written: “However, while Christian separatism is indeed a reality in the small and peripheral states of the Northeast, in most tribal areas both native  and foreign-missionary Christians have definitely accepted the fact of India.” Contrary to what she implies, we are well aware of Christian patriotism. The only way for her of overriding Voice of India is to falsely put words into our mouths.

                Voice of India is only secondarily an Indian nationalist movement. It is first of all a civilizational revivalism. It attaches no particular importance to the differential degree of patriotism of the average Hindu, Muslim or Christian. Even if a religion fosters patriotism, as long as it troubles others and tries to impose upon them its irrational beliefs, we have to do something about it.

                According to Meera Nanda (2011): “What distinguishes the VoI-brand of Hindutva—and pushes it into the global network of Islamophobia—is its staunch opposition to the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, the Hindu equivalent of multiculturalism. Hinduism, they assert, is not any ordinary religion, but rather contains the very essence of religion itself: it is sanatan dharma, the Eternal Cosmic Truth. To equate Hindu dharma, this mother of all Truth, with violent, materialistic and monotheistic ‘creeds’ like Islam amounts to equating dharma with adharma, the ways of devas (gods) with the ways of asuras (demons). (…) This equality is not acceptable to cultural nationalists: if all cultures are equal, how can they oppose the influx of what they see as inferior cultures? If all cultures are equal, how can they carry on their ‘consciousness-raising’ campaigns against The Quran and Sharia?”

                We will ignore Meera Nanda’s confusion between nationalism, which only divides religions between national and non-national, and religion critique, which divides religions between true, false and every shade in between. What distinguishes Voice of India according to her is that it really practices religion critique (which, according to Karl Marx, is the beginning of all critique), whereas the RSS family only practices nationalism. The RSS, following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, asks people to suspend their power of discrimination and treat all religions as equal save to the extent that they are anti-national.

                In reality, religions make truth claims and these can be judged. In particular, Christianity and Islam are based on truth claims which aren’t true. They differ by more than their country of origin, they differ by their beliefs. And these can be found wanting. It is only a common use of the human mental faculties which leads to the questioning of religions.
Islamophobia is, according to Nanda, based upon the view that Islam itself is so innately barbaric, irrational, sexist, violent and aggressive that “the followers of Islam must exhibit these abominable behavioural traits”. Indeed, “Muslims are reduced to automatons prograrmmed to obey these dreadful commands”. (2009,p.106) That is again a projection from the eye of the beholder unattested in Voice of India writing. It is, moreover, logically incompatible with the reconversion option advertised many times in Voice of India publications.

As she herself writes: “To add insult to injury, debunking Islam from a Hindu perspective is supposed to be good for Muslims because: ‘Muslims of Bharatvarsha would start returning to the Hindu fold only when they realise how obnoxious a doctrine Islam is, how false and fraudulent, how degrading and dehumanising, how unethical and superficial. History has bestowed a role on Hindu nation to help Muslims discover that Islam is a prison house that deprives them of their freedom of thought, powers of reasoning and qualms of conscience… When, and only when, Muslims find out the reality of Muhammad and his creed, they would start walking out of Islam and feel proud to join their ancestral culture.” (2009:110, with reference to Abhas Chatterjee in S.R. Goel, ed., 1997: Time for Stock-Taking: Whither Sangh Parivar?, p.64-65). Exactly. And what is wrong with “reality”? What problem does Meera Nanda have with it?

But such a stand does not make Voice of India popular, for it does not go well with the widespread trait of laziness: “ It appears that eventhough the cadre of RSS are avid readers of the VoI literature, they tend to distance themselves from the Goel-Swarup camp in public ‘because of their extremist anti-Muslim tirades’.” (2009:109) At least we have it on her word that there is a deep cleavage between Hindutva and Voice of India.

                How did the Marxist intellectual Meera Nanda find employment with the Christian Templeton Foundation? Why, she led them to believe that she was a scientist and philosopher of science, sharing with her prospective employers a proven anti-Hindu animus. I do not doubt her competence to do whatever it is that microbiologists do. She has certain scientist’s skills, but she doesn’t have the mind of a scientist. She has the mind of a believer, or at least of a politician who wants to keep the believers happy. By contrast, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel had the real scientist’s mind. They questioned. In particular, they questioned the beliefs which are so obtrusively propagated, those of Christianity and Islam. They had no patience with the unscientific assumption that all religions can be equal. Of course truth and untruth are not equal.

                “Once they got rid of the mantra of sarva dharma samabhaav, VoI militants declared an open war against Islam.” This of course is Meera Nanda the liar speaking. No Voice of India author has ever hurt a hair on the head of any Muslim. By contrast, many Muslims have been killed by politicians who praise Islam. Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, Barack Obama or David Cameron have never said a bad word about Islam, but their bomber pilots have killed a great many Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. The less Islam criticism, the more Muslims get killed.

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