The legend of St Thomas in India is neither factual nor secular – Koenraad Elst

St. Thomas

Koenraad ElstThe Roman Catholic Church in India owes Hindus an abject apology for the blood libel she has perpetuated for centuries, falsely charging Hindus with the murder of Thomas even as she falsely charges Jews with the murder of Jesus. – Ishwar Sharan

A predictable component of platitudinous speeches by secularist politicians is that “Christianity was brought to India by the apostle Thomas in the 1st century AD, even before it was brought to Europe”. The intended thrust of this claim is that, unlike Hinduism which was imposed by the “Aryan invaders”, Christianity is somehow an Indian religion, even though it is expressly stated that it “was brought to India” from outside. As a matter of detail, St. Paul reported on Christian communities living in Greece, Rome and Spain in the 40s AD, [1] while St. Thomas even according to his followers only came to India in 52 AD, so by all accounts, Christianity still reached Europe before India. [2] At any rate, its origins lay in West Asia, outside India. But this geographical primacy is not the main issue here. More importantly, there is nothing factual, nor secular, about the claim that Thomas ever came to India.

Thomas of CanaThat claim is a stark instance of what secularists would denounce in other cases as a “myth”. By this, I don’t mean that it was concocted in a backroom conspiracy, then propagated by obliging mercenary scribes (the way many Hindus imagine the colonial origins of the “Aryan invasion myth” came into being). It came about in a fairly innocent manner, through a misunderstanding, a misreading of an apocryphal text, the miracle-laden hagiography Acts of Thomas. This is not the place to discuss the unflattering picture painted of Thomas in his own hagiography, which credits him with many anti-social acts. The point for now is that the text never mentions nor describes the subcontinent but merely has the apostle go from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are “Mazdei” [Zoroastrian] and have Persian names. This is definitely not lush and green Kerala. Not only is there no independent record of Thomas ever coming near India, but the only source claimed for this story, doesn’t even make this claim either.

However, we know of a Thomas of Cana [3] who led a group of Christian refugees from Iran in the 4th century, when the christianisation of the Roman empire caused the Iranians to see their Syriac-speaking Christian minority as a Roman fifth column. The name “Thomas Christians” may originally have referred to this 4th-century leader. [4]

Then again, those refugees may also have been “Thomas Christians” before their migration to India in the sense that their Christian community had been founded in Iran [viz. Church of Fars] by the apostle Thomas. That he lived and worked in some Iranian region is attested and likely, but in no case did he ever settle in India.

Eusebius of CaesareaThe Church Fathers Clement of Alexandra, Origen and Eusebius confirm explicitly that he settled in “Parthia”, a part of the Iranian world. From the 3rd century, we do note an increasing tendency among Christian authors to locate him in a place labelled “India”, as does the Acts of Thomas. But it must be borne in mind that this term was very vague, designating the whole region extending from Iran eastwards. [5] Remember that when Columbus had landed in America, which he thought was East Asia, he labelled the indigenous people “Indians”, meaning “Asians”. Afghanistan is one area that was Iranian-speaking and predominantly Mazdean [Zoroastrian] but often considered part of “India”. Moreover, in some periods of history it was even politically united with parts of “India” in the narrow sense. So, Afghanistan may well be the “Western India” where Pope Benedict placed St. Thomas in his controversial speech in September 2006, to the dismay of the South Indian bishops.

While the belief that Thomas settled in South India came about as an honest mistake, the claim that he was martyred by Brahmins was always a deliberate lie, playing upon a possible confusion between the consonants of the expression “be ruhme”, meaning “with a spear”, and those of “Brahma” (Semitic alphabets usually don’t specify vowels). That was the gratitude Hindus received in return for extending their hospitality to the Christian refugees: being blackened as the murderers of the refugees’ own hero. If the Indian bishops have any honour, they will themselves remove this false allegation from their discourse and their monuments, including the cathedral in Chennai built at the site of Thomas’s purported martyrdom (actually the site of a Shiva temple). Indeed, they will issue a historic declaration expressing their indebtedness to Hindu hospitality and pluralism and pledging to renounce their anti-Hindu animus.

Sri RamaSecularists keep on reminding us that there is no archaeological evidence for Rama’s travels, and from this they deduce the non sequitur that Rama never existed, indeed that “Rama’s story is only a myth”. But in Rama’s case, we at least do have a literary testimony, the Ramayana, which in the absence of material evidence may or may not be truthful, while in the case of Thomas’s alleged arrival in India, we don’t even have a literary account. The text cited in the story’s favour doesn’t even have him come to a region identifiable as South India. That is why Christian scholars outside India have no problem abandoning the myth of Thomas’s landing in Kerala and of his martyrdom in Tamil Nadu. I studied at the Catholic University of Louvain, and our Jesuit professor of religious history taught us that there is no data that could dignify the Thomas legend with the status of history.

This eliminates the last excuse the secularists might offer for repeating the Thomas legend, viz. that the historical truth would hurt the feelings of the Christian minority. It is clear enough that many Christians including the Pope have long given up the belief in Thomas’s Indian exploits, or (like the Church Fathers mentioned above) never believed in them in the first place. In contrast with European Christians today, Indian Christians live in a 17th century bubble, as if they are too puerile to stand in the daylight of solid historical fact. They remain in a twilight of legend and lies, at the command of ambitious “medieval” bishops who mislead them with the St. Thomas in India fable for purely selfish reasons. – Extracted from the foreword to The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1995.

» Dr Koenraad Elst is a Flemish Indologist and historian from Belgian who frequently visits India to lecture. He is a leading Voice of India author.


1. India’s political leaders are fond of telling their constituents and the nation that Christianity arrived in India before it arrived in Europe. This historical conceit is not true. Apostle Paul says in Romans 15:24 & 15:28 that he plans to visit Spain (which already had a Christian community). In Acts 19:21 he travels from Ephesus to Greece—Macedonia and Achaia—en route to Jerusalem, and then on to Rome. This took place in the 40s CE—some historians say he was writing after 44 CE. So even if it was true that Apostle Thomas landed in Kerala in 52 CE—the spurious date is of 19th century origin—Christianity would still have arrived in Europe a decade earlier. – IS

Jawaharlal Nehru2. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru provides an excellent example of how some innocents abroad lap up lies sold by powerful organizations. “You may be surprised to learn,” he wrote his daughter, Indira, on April 12, 1932, “that Christianity came to India long before it went to England or Western Europe, and when even in Rome it was a despised and proscribed sect. Within a hundred years or so of the death of Jesus, Christian missionaries came to South India by sea…. They converted a large number of people.” (Glimpses of World History, OUP reprint, fourth impression, 1987, quoted by Sita Ram Goel in History of Hindu-Christian Encounters: AD 304 to 1996, Second Revised Edition, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1996.) – IS

3. Thomas of Cana, known variously as Thomas of Jerusalem, Thomas the Merchant and to Syrian Christians as Knai Thoma, led the first group of 72 Syrian Christian families to India in 345 CE. There is no record of Christian communities in India prior to this date. Thomas of Cana and his companion Bishop Joseph of Edessa also brought with them the tradition of St Thomas the Apostle of the East. Later, Christian communities in Kerala would identify Knai Thoma with Mar Thoma—Thomas of Cana with Thomas the Apostle—and claim St Thomas had arrived in Kerala in AD 52 and established the first Christian church at Musiris—the ancient port near present day Kodungallur—the main trading center of the day.

The Rev Dr G. Milne Rae of the Madras Christian College, in The Syrian Church in India, did not allow that St Thomas came further east than Afghanistan (Gandhara). He told the Syrian Christians that they reasoned fallaciously about their identity and wove a fictitious story of their origin. Their claim that they were called “St Thomas” Christians from the 1st century was also false.

4. Syrian Christians were called Nasranis (from Nazarean) or Nestorians (by Europeans) up to the 14th century. Bishop Giovanni dei Marignolli the Franciscan papal legate in Quilon invented the appellation “St Thomas Christians” in 1348 to distinguish his Syrian Christian converts from the low-caste Hindu converts in his congregation.

5. The oriental ubiquity of St Thomas’s apostolate is explained by the fact that the geographical term “India” included, apart from the subcontinent of this name, the lands washed by the Indian Ocean as far as the China Sea in the east and the Arabian peninsula, Ethiopia, and the African coast in the west.Ancient writers used the designation “India” for all countries south and east of the Roman Empire’s frontiers. India included Ethiopia, Arabia Felix, Edessa in Syria (in the Latin version of the Syriac Diatessaron), Arachosia and Gandhara (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and many countries up to the China Sea. In the Acts of Thomas, the original key text to identify St Thomas with India (which all other India references follow), historians agree that the term India refers to Parthia (Persia) and Gandhara (Afghanistan-Pakistan). The city of Andrapolis named in the Acts, where Judas Thomas and Abbanes landed in India, has been tentartively identified as Sandaruck (one of the ancient Alexandrias) in Balochistan. – IS

San Thome Cathedral: This tableau of St. Thomas and his Hindu assassin was built after the publication of Ishwar Sharan's book in 1995. Its objective is to malign the Hindu community with the accusation of the murder of a Christian apostle and saint, and to further the propagation of the St. Thomas legend which has made India's bishops very wealthy and supports their political claim on India.

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A look at recent findings about the ‘mythical’ River Saraswati – Anil Kumar Suri

Ghaggar-Hakra (Saraswati) River

Ghaggar-Hakra River

Bharadwaja RishiSarasvaty abhi no neṣi vasyo māpa spharīḥ payasā mā na ā dhak |
juṣasva naḥ sakhyā veśyā ca mā tvat kśetrāṇy araṇyāni ganma ||

(“Please do not deny us your water, O Sarasvati! Please do not spurn us, leaving us to travel to other lands distant from you!” — Rig Veda (RV, Mandala 6, Sukta 61, Verse 14 – composed by Bharadvāja)

Few topics in Indian history have been the subject of as much debate and controversy as the Vedic River Sarasvati. Notably, in the last year, the Sarasvati has been the partial subject of a bad opinion piece by Mihir S. Sharma in the Business Standard, a rambling column by historian Irfan Habib in The Hindu and, most recently, a poorly researched article by Devdutt Pattanaik in Swarajya itself.

I shall try to bring the reader up to speed with the latest evidence pertaining to the Sarasvati, and its implications for Indian history. In the process, I also hope to illustrate how these three articles represent the three standard methods employed by those who present a false picture of Indian history—outright denial, obfuscation, and interpolation after convenient distortion, respectively.

The background

A school of historians has long denied that the Sarasvati was ever a literal river (this theory finds Sharma’s approval). Those who do concede it was indeed a river cannot agree on its location; for some of them, it is the descriptions of the Sarasvati, such as a great river (nadītame, RV 2.41.16), one characterised by great floods (arṇah, RV 1.3.12, 6.61.8) etc. that are not literal. Thus, while it is common to read that the Sarasvati is identified by some scholars with the present-day seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra, it is equally common to find it identified with the Helmand River in Afghanistan (which was known in ancient times as Harahvaiti), or described as a purely mythical river. In his article, Habib tries to play up this ambiguity, whilst failing to provide a balanced account of current evidence. Figuring out the truth about the Vedic Sarasvati is crucial to the larger question of settling if there was an influx of Indo-Aryan people to the subcontinent around 2000-1500 BCE, after the decline of the “native” Indus Valley Civilisation, which is claimed by many historians to have been the case (and repeated by Pattanaik).

The originally roving, horse-borne, cattle-herding Aryans—verily the cowboys of the 2nd Millennium BCE—are believed to have composed the Rig Veda after settling down in the northwest. After graduating to an agricultural lifestyle almost overnight, they slowly spread down the Gangetic plain through the 1st Millennium BCE, which is also supposed to be the period of composition of the “later” Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas, and the events described in the epics (the Ramayana and the Mahabharata). The Sarasvati occupied pride of place in the Rig Vedic pantheon, being described as the personification of a benevolent, life-sustaining river, and elevated to the giver of knowledge and wisdom.

According to the Satapatha Brahmana (2.3.4), no-one would venture to cross the Sadanira river (identified with the Gandak) as it was untouched by a Brahmana’s holy fire; then, the sage, Gotama Rahugana travels with his sacred agni from the banks of the Sarasvati and takes it to the other side of the Sadanira, where it is used to clear the forests and prepare the land for agriculture. Archaeology tells us that agriculture began on the eastern bank of the Gandak no later than the 3rd Millennium BCE. The Sarasvati once flowed from the mountains to the sea (RV 7.95.2). However, later, some Brahmanas and the Mahabharata say that the river no longer extended up to the sea, but came to an end in the desert. Eventually, the Sarasvati did vanish, coming to be preserved in popular memory as antarvahini, implying that its channels had become subterranean, and being regarded as present at the Triveni Sangam at present-day Allahabad for ritual purposes. Communities of Sārasvata Brahmins, who believe their ancestors originally resided in the Sarasvati valley can today be found all over India.

The questions

There were some old studies which had concluded that probably no major river existed in that Ghaggar-Hakra region in the Holocene (i.e., the last 10,000 years) at all. Some historians, like Habib in his article, went to town with this theory, implying this basically put an end to the possibility of finding the Rig Vedic Sarasvati there. This suits those arguing in favour of an Indo-Aryan migration into India very well. However, some obvious questions present themselves.

Firstly, why are there so many Harappan sites in the Sutlej-Yamuna interfluves if there was no source of water?

Secondly, how did the Harappans manage without an irrigation network in such a dry place? After all, the Mesopotamians and ancient Egyptians had to rely on extensive irrigation to sustain their agriculture.

And where anyway is the Sarasvati the Rig Veda extols so much, even as it mentions it along with the Indus and its tributaries?

Indeed, mapping of the Ghaggar-Hakra region has shown the presence of many dry channels. However, this could imply that either the Ghaggar-Hakra was once much larger than it is today, or that rivers like the Yamuna and the Sutlej once flowed into the Ghaggar-Hakra, but later changed course to join the Indus and Ganga respectively, as we know them today. If it was the Sutlej and Yamuna that once fed the Ghaggar-Hakra, when did they move away?

Peter CliftThe latest evidence

A team of geologists led by Peter Clift have come up with extremely insightful answers to these questions. Using a geochemical technique called uranium-lead (U-Pb) zircon dating, they were able to establish that the sediments from the various rivers—Indus, Beas, Sutlej, Hakra and Yamuna—could be distinguished from each other and, further, the sediments from the dry channels matched with those from the Sutlej, Beas and Yamuna rivers, suggesting that it was these rivers that were flowing in the dried up channels.

Next, analysing the sediments by radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, they were able to determine that the Yamuna sediments were deposited in the channels (i.e., the Yamuna last flowed into the Ghaggar-Hakra) about 50,000 years ago, and the Sutlej and Beas about 10,000 years ago. There was also no sediment from the Yamuna, Sutlej or Beas in the main channel of the Ghaggar that could be said to be less than 5,000 years old. All this implies that the Ghaggar-Hakra was a much bigger river before the Holocene, but this would have been well before the supposed arrival of the Indo-Aryans around 4,000 years ago, and even the rise of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

So does that mean that there was no major river there in the last 10,000 years? Does the Sarasvati of the Vedas belong to an entirely different region, or is its description a significantly embellished one, or is it altogether mythical?

Here is a twist in the tale: all that the study of Clift and his group tells us is that the Ghaggar-Hakra was not a glacially fed river, unlike the Indus, Ganga and their tributaries, but probably a monsoon-fed river like all the rivers of central and peninsular India. A word of caution: Clift and group worked only in Pakistan, and have not studied the Ghaggar or present-day Saraswati Nadi in India.

Perennial, monsoonal Sarasvati

The fact that geological studies have indicated the ancient Ghaggar-Hakra did not have its origins in Himalayan glaciers, but in the Sivalik ranges, does not rule it out as the likely Vedic Sarasvati, as some have tried to needlessly argue. The Rig Veda says that the river extended from giri (RV 6.61.2, 7.95.2) to samudra (RV 7.95.2), so its origin in the Sivaliks cannot be a problem. Indeed, popular belief has it that the Sarasvati originated in Adi Badri in the Sivaliks, which is part of the Sapta Badri pilgrimage sites.

Clift and his group describe the Sarasvati as a perennial, monsoonal river with multiple courses, fed by many streams, and with gentle floods that contrasted sharply with the fury of rivers like the Indus, that very effectively sustained agriculture in the Harappan civilisation.

This picture explains the extremely high density of Harappan settlements in the region between the Yamuna and Sutlej rivers, rather than along any one course. It also explains why the Harappans did not need recourse to canal irrigation for agriculture. To take the example of Haryana, Bidyut Bhadra and colleagues point out that clustered Mature Harappan (2600-1900 BCE) sites are located in Jind and Karnal districts near paleochannels, as well as Late (1900-1300 BCE) and Post Harappan (1500 BCE and later) sites along streams like the present-day Saraswati Nadi and Markanda River, which join the Ghaggar.

When the river swelled in the monsoon, it would gently flood its plain, leaving it ready for the sowing of winter crops like barley and wheat. Unlike the glacially-fed Indus and its tributaries, the Sarasvati did not pose the danger of unexpected floods from early melting snow in February/March that might destroy the crop, which could be harvested in the spring.

This explains why the agriculture in that region was based on barley and wheat, unlike the Gangetic plain, where it was based on rice. Interestingly, it can also explain a common tradition: that of offering barley (jau) on the occasion of the spring festival of Sarasvati Puja on the day of Vasanta Panchami, although barley is not commonly cultivated—it may well be a several millennia-old practice that we have faithfully retained!

Given the extremely munificient and gentle nature of the river, with none of the danger of floods common to the other rivers, it is little wonder that the Sarasvati came to be eulogised as ambitame, nadītame, devitame (“greatest of mothers, greatest of rivers, greatest of goddesses”, RV 2.41.16).

Also, it may have been peculiarly conducive to the establishment and development of agriculture in the region. Already, Rakhigarhi in Haryana, believed to be close to the paleochannels of the Sarasvati, is turning out to be the largest “Harappan” site by some distance.

Archaeology may yet show that the earliest evidence of sedentism and agriculture may be in the Sarasvati region rather than the Indus Valley, as is currently the case. By enabling sedentism and ensuring food security very easily, the Sarasvati probably made possible further development and progress, which is why a grateful people elevated the personification of the river to the status of goddess of learning and culture.

In another study, Clift et al. also throw light on the possible factors behind the poorly-understood urbanisation process in the Indus Valley Civilisation. The Harappans seemed to have developed a sudden urge to build cities around 2600 BCE (not 8,000 years ago, as Pattanaik states!), leading to rapid and widespread urbanisation in just about a century. Even as aridification had set in, a remarkable stabilisation of rivers and reduction in the intensity of floods occurred, that proved conducive to intensive agriculture and, subsequently, urbanisation. However, the decline in the monsoon, reaching its worst around 2100 BCE tipped the scales, triggering the decline of the Harappan cities. The Sarasvati itself started drying up around 4500 years ago, and was completely covered by sand dunes around 600 CE.

Contrary to long-held theories that Indo-Aryans entered the subcontinent at this juncture and began imposing their culture on the natives, we find the development of distinct regional characteristics, and the shift towards hardier crops like millets and kharif crops after 1900 BCE, suggesting that there was no new population—much less one with rudimentary agricultural skills as the incoming Aryans would have been—but a native one that knew the land and conditions intimately enough to diversify and adapt quickly in a rapidly changing scenario. More importantly, the Indo-Aryans seem to have had an apprehension that the declining monsoon may well lead to the vanishing of the Sarasvati, as the verse in the beginning of this article suggests. That can only mean one thing. Interestingly, Clift and his group seem to think so too, for they conclude:

“This is a testament to the acuity of the Rig Veda composers who transmitted to us across millennia such an incredibly accurate description of a grand river!”Swarajya, 26 june 2016

» Anil Kumar is a materials scientist at Los Alamos in the USA.

Sindhu Saraswati Civilization

Rakhigarhi Dig Siteplan

Rakhigarhi resident looks over ancient site

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Indus era 8,000 years old, not 5,500 – Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey

Indus Valley Civilizational Area

Jhimli Mukherjee PandeyThe mature Harappan settlements were highly urbanised with organised cities, and a much developed material and craft culture. They also had regular trade with Arabia and Mesopotamia. The Late Harappan phase witnessed large-scale de-urbanisation, drop in population, abandonment of established settlements, lack of basic amenities, violence and even the disappearance of the Harappan script, the researchers say. – Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey

It may be time to rewrite history textbooks. Scientists from IIT-Kharagpur and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have uncovered evidence that the Indus Valley Civilization is at least 8,000 years old, and not 5,500 years old, taking root well before the Egyptian (7000 BC to 3000 BC) and Mesopotamian (6500 BC to 3100 BC) civilizations. What’s more, the researchers have found evidence of a pre-Harappan civilization that existed for at least 1,000 years before this.

The discovery, published in the prestigious Nature journal on May 25, may force a global rethink on the timelines of the so-called “cradles of civilization”. The scientists believe they also know why the civilization ended about 3,000 years ago—climate change.

“We have recovered perhaps the oldest pottery from the civilization. We used a technique called ‘optically stimulated luminescence’ to date pottery shards of the Early Mature Harappan time to nearly 6,000 years ago and the cultural levels of pre-Harappan Hakra phase as far back as 8,000 years,” said Anindya Sarkar, head of the department of geology and geophysics at IIT-Kgp.

The team had actually set out to prove that the civilization proliferated to other Indian sites like Bhirrana and Rakhigarrhi in Haryana, apart from the known locations of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan and Lothal, Dholavira and Kalibangan in India. They took their dig to an unexplored site, Bhirrana—and ended up unearthing something much bigger. The excavation also yielded large quantities of animal remains like bones, teeth, horn cores of cow, goat, deer and antelope, which were put through Carbon 14 analysis to decipher antiquity and the climatic conditions in which the civilization flourished, said Arati Deshpande Mukherjee of Deccan College, which helped analyse the finds along with Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

The researchers believe that the Indus Valley Civilization spread over a vast expanse of India—stretching to the banks of the now “lost” Saraswati river or the Ghaggar-Hakra river—but this has not been studied enough because what we know so far is based on British excavations. “At the excavation sites, we saw preservation of all cultural levels right from the pre-Indus Valley Civilization phase (9000-8000 BC) through what we have categorised as Early Harappan (8000-7000 BC) to the Mature Harappan times,” said Sarkar.

While the earlier phases were represented by pastoral and early village farming communities, the mature Harappan settlements were highly urbanised with organised cities, and a much developed material and craft culture. They also had regular trade with Arabia and Mesopotamia. The Late Harappan phase witnessed large-scale de-urbanisation, drop in population, abandonment of established settlements, lack of basic amenities, violence and even the disappearance of the Harappan script, the researchers say.

“We analysed the oxygen isotope composition in the bone and tooth phosphates of these remains to unravel the climate pattern. The oxygen isotope in mammal bones and teeth preserve the signature of ancient meteoric water and in turn the intensity of monsoon rainfall. Our study shows that the pre-Harappan humans started inhabiting this area along the Ghaggar-Hakra rivers in a climate that was favourable for human settlement and agriculture. The monsoon was much stronger between 9000 years and 7000 years from now and probably fed these rivers making them mightier with vast floodplains,” explained Deshpande Mukherjee.

Indus Valley evolved even as monsoon declined

They took their dig to an unexplored site, Bhirrana—and ended up unearthing something much bigger. The excavation also yielded large quantities of animal remains like bones, teeth, horn cores of cow, goat, deer and antelope, which were put through Carbon 14 analysis to decipher antiquity and the climatic conditions in which the civilization flourished, said Arati Deshpande Mukherjee of Deccan College, which helped analyse the finds along with Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

The late Harappan phase witnessed large-scale de-urbanisation, drop in population, abandonment of established settlements, violence and even the disappearance of the Harappan script, the researchers say. The study revealed that monsoon started weakening 7,000 years ago but, surprisingly, the civilization did not disappear.

The Indus Valley people were very resolute and flexible and continued to evolve even in the face of declining monsoon. The people shifted their crop patterns from large-grained cereals like wheat and barley during the early part of intensified monsoon to drought-resistant species like rice in the latter part. As the yield diminished, the organised large storage system of the Mature Harappan period gave way to more individual household-based crop processing and storage systems that acted as a catalyst for the de-urbanisation of the civilization rather than an abrupt collapse, they say. – The Times of India, 29 May 2016 Indus Valley City Harappa

Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley City

See also

William Dalrymple: Scion of colonial bounders continues to manipulate the Indian mind – Rakesh Krishnan Simha

William Dalrymple

Rakesh Krishnan SimhaArvind Kumar writes, “William Dalrymple’s direct ancestor, John Warrender Dalrymple, was a judge who was paid a huge sum of 37,992 silver rupees per year when every ounce of silver was worth a sixteenth of an ounce of gold. That is a whopping 27.69 kg of gold per year since each silver rupee weighed 11.66 gm. This amount does not include bribes he may have received to rig lawsuits.” – quoted by Rakesh Krishnan Simha

Holocaust deniers in the West are banished to the fringes of academia and society. In India, they strut around like peacocks and get invited to society parties. Joining the long list of Hindu-phobic holocaust deniers is William Dalrymple, who runs the Jaipur Literature Festival. On 30 October, the Scotsman tweeted: “The Hindu Kush—the Tears of the Hindus—named after the Delhi craftsmen forcibly transported to Samarkand by Timur.” These are the words of a man who describes himself as a historian and Indophile.

First up, Hindu Kush does not mean tears of the Hindus. It means Hindu-killer, and is named so because of the numerous Hindu men, women and children who perished while crossing these mountains when they were being hauled off to the slave markets of Central Asia by Muslim invaders. Their numbers run into the millions going by the accounts of Muslim chroniclers who accompanied these invaders, in particular Mahmud Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori.

Ibn BattutaLet’s hear it from the experts. Koenraad Elst, a leading Indologist from the University of Leuven in Belgium, quotes Arabic-French translation of Ibn Batuta’s travels. In Voyages d’Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller says: “Another motive for our journey was fear of the snow, for in the middle of this route there is a mountain called Hindu Kush, meaning ‘Hindu-killer’, because many of the male and female slaves transported from India die in these mountains because of the violent cold and the quantity of snow.”

Elst writes: “Yes, Ibn Battuta testifies that Hindu Kush means ‘Hindu-killer’, and he records it as an already existing name. He also testifies the name was occasioned by a Muslim mistreatment of Hindus, viz. their massive abduction as slaves to Central Asia. In his account, the name does not refer to one particular incident of slaughter, but to the frequent phenomenon of caravans of Hindu slaves crossing the mountain range and losing part of their cargo to the frost.”

Secondly, Dalrymple throws in Timur to back up his argument. Here’s what Elst has to say: “While we are at it, we may lay to rest another misconception concerning the name Hindu Kush. It is sometimes claimed that the term refers to the occasion when the Uzbek invader Timur transported a mass of Hindu slaves and a hundred thousand of them died in one unexpectedly cold night on this mountain. This is a case of confusion with another incident, where indeed a hundred thousand Hindus died (were killed) in one night by Timur’s hand. That was in 1399, when Timur, fearing an uprising of his Hindu prisoners to coincide with the battle he was planning for the next days, ordered his men to kill all their Hindu slaves immediately, totalling a hundred thousand killed that very night.

“Ibn Battuta lived a few generations earlier, and he mentions ‘Hindu Kush’ as an already well-established usage. In his understanding, the reference was not to one spectacular occasion of slaughter, nor of mass death by frost, but of a recurring phenomenon of slaves on transport dying there. The number of casualties would not amount to a hundred thousand in a single night, but over centuries of Hindu slave transports by Muslim conquerors, the death toll must have totalled a far greater number.” If Dalrymple’s got it all wrong—as he has on several occasions—then he needs to take a crash course in history. But coming shortly after the religious clashes in Delhi, his timing looks suspicious.

I. K. GujralThe problem with the British is that even seven decades after they ceased to be a global power, they continue to suffer from a colonial hangover. Former prime minister I. K. Gujral illustrated it perfectly while rejecting British foreign secretary Robin Cook’s offer to mediate on the Kashmir issue: “Britain is a third-rate power nursing delusions of grandeur of its colonial past. It created Kashmir when it divided India. And now it wants to give us a solution.”

Throughout the colonial era, especially at Partition in 1947, and later during the 1971 India-Pakistan War and during the years of Khalistani terrorism, Britain backed forces that were hostile to India.

Take the Gates of Somnath incident of 1842 when governor-general Edward Law, the First Earl of Ellenborough, removed the wooden gates of a mosque in Ghazni, Afghanistan, and brought them to India. He claimed the British had got back the gates of Somnath looted by Ghazni in 1024. The governor general then displayed the gates around the country, and proclaimed that the British had avenged an insult 800 years back.

But the gates were anything but Indian, and were proven to be of Afghan origin. They are currently stored in the Agra Fort, with an Archaeological Society of India plaque saying: “It is lying here either as a war trophy of the British campaign of 1842 or as a sad reminder of the historic lies of the East India Company.”

Colonialists and carpetbaggers—whose only interest was to kill Indians and siphon wealth back to Britain—were pretty much the norm during the 200 years of British rule. The irony is that 67 years after the British retreat from India, people like Dalrymple are allowed to peddle snake oil here. While outwardly claiming to be friends of India, they play the divide-and-enjoy game perfectly, knowing full well that there are many Macaulayites—a class of people Indian in looks and English in outlook—who will pay good money for their concoctions.

Now, the term “friend of India” takes on an Orwellian turn when it comes from the British. To illustrate, in January 2012, frustrated at the loss of a multi-billion dollar fighter contract to archrival France, the British launched a tirade against India. While the usual India-baiters such as the British media talked about India’s “ingratitude” (for daring to question the benefits of colonialism?), it was the reaction of the so-called liberals that was an eye-opener. The Labour Party’s Barry Gardiner, a self-styled friend of India, called for “downgrading” of India-UK trade relations.

Dalrymple is no different—he is no friend of India either. He just likes to play the gora (white) sahib to his many Indian followers or sepoys (Indian soldiers who facilitated the rapid expansion of the British Empire). The Jaipur Lit Festival, for instance, has become the watering hole where Indian leftists, liberals and anti-national elements congregate under the auspices of their gora master. Indeed, sepoys of a feather flock together.

The Scotsman is clearly upset at the rise of the nationalists because anti-national forces are losing traction. Dalrymple’s neat little racket is in danger of coming unstuck. Perhaps he’s not getting any sleep and in his sleep-deprived state is prone to make nonsensical statements.

Prof Romila ThaparR. S. SharmaIn an April 2005 article in the New York Review of Books, he is all over the place, trashing Indian history and abusing Hindu nationalists, and just stops short of saying that India was better off under his ancestors. He comes up with this gem: “The Nehru-era school textbooks were the work of the greatest historians of their day, among them Romila Thapar and R. S. Sharma, who tended to come from the left-leaning elite.”

Thanks to the reach of social media, Indians know that Thapar and Sharma have peddled the worst lies about Indian history. They are set to slide into the proverbial dustbin. The twosome are Lenin’s “useful idiots”—a Soviet-era term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.

At the same time, Dalrymple never talks about the massive wealth that his family has accumulated by plundering India. Arvind Kumar writes in Indiafacts that he suffers from an incurable colonial hangover: “Here is some information published in 1872 giving some clues about the size of this loot. William Dalrymple’s direct ancestor, John Warrender Dalrymple, was a judge who was paid a huge sum of 37,992 silver rupees per year when every ounce of silver was worth a sixteenth of an ounce of gold. That is a whopping 27.69 kg of gold per year since each silver rupee weighed 11.66 gm. This amount does not include bribes he may have received to rig lawsuits. This particular Dalrymple was in India for 30 years. That is just one Dalrymple. There were other looters in the family, including a Dalrymple in Madras whose job was to kill Indians. Given this background, William’s massive sense of entitlement should surprise no one.” [See Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, 10th Baronet, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, William’s father. – Ed]

It is because of this sense of entitlement that when Englishmen and women set foot in India, something goes off in their brain and they start believing they can be some sort of interlocutors between Hindus and Muslims.

It is ironical that while Indians have for decades studied history concocted by European scholars to justify British rule in India, the modern-day British have airbrushed all colonial crimes from their history books. The likes of Dalrymple should, therefore, go back and reform their own country. They have no business being in India, which anyway has enough brown sahibs who can perform the same role—for a lot less. – Tehelka, 15 November 2014

William Dalrymple

 See also

2 – The Koenraad Elst Interview – Surajit Dasgupta

Koenraad Elst

Dr Koenraad Elst is a Belgium Indologist who calls himself an “Orientalist”. He is a leading author with Voice of India and has many publications on India behind him.

Surajit Dasgupta• Q : While Swarajya has published articles exposing how Marxist historians hound peers who disagree with them out of academic institutions, we have got news from different sources that you are finding it difficult to get employed even in Belgium. Is it true? If yes, what precisely is the objection of your detractors? Can you name the people who have raised objection to your appointment in a Belgian university? Did you receive regret letters from Belgian academic authorities, explaining why they couldn’t appoint you? Did they communicate verbally to you why they thought you were unemployable?

• A : After giving this matter some thought, I have decided against offering much detail here. Firstly, I am not privileged to know the details of decision-making instances that lead to my own exclusion. Even if sending an official “regret letter”, they would not give in writing the real reason behind their decision (as anyone experienced with job applications knows).

Secondly, even though no law was broken, going into this still has the character of an allegation, and that requires proof. Some cases of deliberate exclusion or dis-invitation were simply obvious, but my standards of proof are higher than that. Thus, recently I missed an appointment at a Belgian university and in that rare case I was unofficially but fully informed of the details by an insider (of course I was vetoed for reputedly being too embroiled with Islam criticism), but now that this crown witness has died, it would only be my word against theirs; which would not be good enough. So, I simply want to close this chapter. Let’s not bother, everybody has his problems, and these career hurdles are mine. In fact, I have had quite a bit of luck in my life, including help from individual Hindus whenever the need arose (air tickets paid, hospitality etc.), so any fussing about this boycott against me would be disproportionate. Let’s just assume I missed those opportunities because I was not good enough. Or because of Karma, whatever.

The topic in general is important, though. The Leftist dominance of the Humanities departments in India, often amounting to total control, results from the wilful and systematic “ethnic cleansing” (to borrow Madhu Kishwar’s term) of any young scholar suspected of pro-Hindu sympathies. Exceptions are the people who entered on the strength of ideologically neutral work, or of initially toeing the line, but coming out with pro-Hindu convictions only after getting tenure.

This cleansing of enemies stems from the old Marxist mentality: a war psychology treating everyone with a different opinion as an enemy inviting merciless destruction; and a boundless self-righteousness rooted in the belief of being on the forward side of history. As an ideological wave, Marxism is waning even in India, but that attitude is still rife among the anti-Hindu forces, both in India and among Western India-watchers.

• Q : We refer to the established historians in India as Marxist historians, not to their knowledge because they look at this country through the Marxist lens of “class conflicts”. You refer to them sarcastically as “eminent” historians. Please explain your choice of words.

• A : “Eminent historians” is what they call one another, and what their fans call them. When they don’t have an answer to an opponent’s arguments, they pompously dismiss him as not having enough “eminence”. So when Arun Shourie wrote about some abuses in this sector, he called his book Eminent Historians. It is also a pun on an old book about prominent colonial-age personalities,Eminent Victorians.

“Eminence” in this case refers to their position and relative glory. The Communists always made sure to confer position and prestige, as opposed to the Sangh Parivar, which fawns over people with position but doesn’t realize that those people have only acquired their position by toeing the anti-Hindu line. In a way, you have to concede that the Left has honestly fought for its power position. Half their battle was already won by the Hindu side’s complete absence from the battlefield.

One example of the Sangh’s ineptness at playing this game. In 2002, the supposedly Hindu government of AB Vajpayee founded the Chair for Indic Studies in Oxford. The media cried “saffronization” and, as usual, portrayed the BJP as a wily party fanatically committed to Hindu causes. However, the clueless time-servers at the head of the BJP nominated a known and proven opponent of Hindu Nationalism, Sanjay Subrahmaniam, who thus became the poster-boy for “saffronization”. This way, they hoped to achieve their highest ambition in life: a pat on the shoulder by the secularists. That pat on the shoulder, already begged for so many times, remained elusive, but the tangible result was that they too had conferred even more prestige on an “Eminent Historian”, all while denying it to their own scholars (if any).

• Q : What would you tell your peers who say that the “Out of India Theory” (OIT) is a fringe theory?

• A : Of course it is a fringe theory, at least internationally, where the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is still the official paradigm. In India, though, it has the support of most archaeologists, who fail to find a trace of this Aryan influx and instead find cultural continuity. As for the situation abroad: most scholars assume the invasionist paradigm, but only very few also argue in an informed manner for the invasionist theory, not many more than those who argue against it. But anyway, this “fringe” aspect doesn’t impress me at all. When Copernicus put the sun rather than the earth in the middle of the solar system, he was in a minority of one, very “fringe” indeed; but he won the day.

• Q : What is the evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory?

• A : First of all: that there is no evidence in its favour. Archaeologists have spent a century of well-funded excavations for a trace, any trace, of the Aryans moving into India. Even the invasionists concede that “as yet” no such thing has been found. The new genetic evidence, while still immature, generally goes in favour of emigrations from India and, while leaving room for immigrations too, is emphatically failing to pinpoint an invasion coinciding in time with the hypothetical Aryan invasion.

Meanwhile, the written record emphatically points to an emigration scenario. That the Iranians lived in India and had to leave westwards is reported in the Rg-Veda, a text thoroughly analysed and shown to support an “Aryan emigration” by Shrikant Talageri. It can equally be deduced from the Avesta. Even earlier migrations are mentioned in the Puranas. These are of course very mixed and unreliable as a source of history, but it is a bad historian who discards them altogether. Their core, later fancifully embellished, consists in dynastic lists. Keeping that ancestral information was the proper job of court poets, and they devised mnemotechnical tricks to transmit it for many generations. In this case, it too does convey a basic scenario of indigenousness and emigration.

Finally, there is the linguistic evidence. Many Indians believe the hearsay that it has somehow proven the invasion. It hasn’t. But permit me to forego discussing those data: too technical for an interview.

• Q : Of late, the Marxist historians have revised “invasion” to “migration”. They say that there might not have been a war when the so-called Aryans arrived here, but they have no doubt that the ancestors of today’s north Indians, especially the upper castes, by and large migrated from central Asia into India. In other words, the Marxists say that we Indians were originally not Indians—invasion or no invasion! Does this “revision” satisfy you?

• A : Exasperated at not finding a visible trace of this invasion, conformist scholars have theorized an alternative that doesn’t require such visible remains: a migration under the radar. Often, when they try to give details, they still mean a military invasion rather than a gradual migration, since they bring in the military advantage of horses and chariots to explain how such a large and civilized Harappan population could be overrun by a handful of outsiders.

But even if they genuinely mean a migration, it still amounts to the same scenario as an invasion, viz. the Vedic Aryans came from abroad and the natives took over the language and religion of the intruders. So, anyone who thinks that the migration theory is a breakthrough away from the invasion theory really shows he doesn’t understand the issue. “Migration” effectively means “invasion” but avoids the burden of proof that the more dramatic term “invasion” implies.

To be sure, it doesn’t much matter who came from where. The so-called adivasis (a British term coined in ca. 1930) or “natives” of Nagalim in the Northeast have settled in their present habitat only a thousand years ago; which is fairly recent by Indian standards. So, ironically, they are genuine “immigrants” or “invaders”, yet no Indian begrudges them their place inside India. Many countries have an immigration or conquest of their present territory as a proud part of their national myth: Madagascar, Romania, the Siberian part of Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc. If the Indo-Aryans, or indeed the Dravidians (theorized to have come from Iran or even Central Asia), had really immigrated, that would then have been a pre-Vedic event, at least 3500 years ago, and that time-span ought to have been enough for integration into the national mainstream.

So this Homeland debate ought to have been a non-issue, only of interest to ivory-tower scholars. But different non- or anti-Hindu forces decided to politicize it. Abroad, these were the British colonialists, White supremacists in the US and Europe, and among them the Nazis, who considered the AIT as a cornerstone and eloquent illustration of their worldview. Inside India, first of all the Christian missionaries, then followed by the non-Brahmin movement, the Dravidianists, Nehruvians and Ambedkarites, followed in turn by their Western supporters. The AIT was used to break up Indian unity and pit upper castes against lower castes, non-tribals against tribals, and North Indians against South Indians. After this massive politicization, the partisans of Indian unity finally decided to give some feeble support to the fledgling Out-of-India Theory (OIT). Yet, scholars rejecting the OIT because of its alleged political use have no qualms about espousing the AIT, politicized since far longer, in many more countries, and not as a pastime of a few historians but as the basis for government policies.

• Q : On the one hand, the unaffiliated or apolitical Indian student loves your theories; your passages are quoted widely in debates on ancient Indian history. On the other, you do not seem to get along well with the so-called right-wing historians of this country either. You have written a blog against them. Please comment.

• A : Well, I have nothing but good to say about some Indian researchers, both naturalized ones like Michel Danino and natives like Meenakshi Jain or Srikant Talageri. But then, there are others too. Certainly the name P. N. Oak rings a bell? In the second half of last century, he spread all these theories that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple; that the Kaaba was built by Vikramaditya as a Shiva temple; that the Vatican (originally the Roman “Poets’ Hill”) is really “Veda Vatika“; that my mother tongue, Dutch, is the language of the Daityas (demons), etc. The bad thing is that numerous Hindus have run away with these stories, and even some NRI surgeons and engineers of my acquaintance believe in diluted versions of the same. In a less extreme manner, this disdain for historical method is widespread among traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”. They frequently put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder.

Many of these rewriters thought that with Narendra Modi’s accession to power, their time had come. I know, for instance, that many of them have sent in proposals to the ICHR. None of these was accepted because they ignored the elementary rules of scholarship. Any student writing a thesis knows that before you can develop your own hypothesis, you first have to survey the field and assess what previous scholars have found or theorized. But these traditionalist history rewriters just don’t bother about the rest of the world, they are satisfied to have convinced themselves. Their horizon is not larger than an internet list of like-minded people.

In itself, it is no problem that their knowledge and method leave much to be desired. People can learn. Unfortunately, they are too smug to do that. They actively misinform Hindus by claiming that the Aryan Invasion Theory has long been discarded. They also do a lot of harm to the bona-fide historians with whom they get juxtaposed. So it is true that I have lost patience with them.

• Q : Since the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014, has there been an effort to revise the subject of Indian history in academic curricula, which, many in India believe, is politically motivated? Has the Government of India approached you with the request of being a part of any such initiative? If yes, how is the project going?

• A : No, there has been no such request at all. However, I myself have sent in an application to the Indian Council of Historical Research, but that has run into technical difficulties, mainly to do with my foreign passport. So, the situation is and remains that institutionally, I have nothing to do with the Indian history scene.

The version of history taught by the Nehruvians was politically motivated. The feeble Hindu attempt to counterbalance this (“saffronization”) in ca. 2002 was confused and largely incompetent. Humbled by this experience, the BJP today is not even trying to impose its own version. Contrary to the Nehruvians’ hue and cry, allegations about the BJP’s interference in history-teaching or more generally in academe are simply not true.

Here we are only talking of changing some lines in the textbooks, and even that seems a Himalayan effort to the BJP. Yet, what is really needed is a far more thorough overhaul. Except for some scholars without any power, nobody is even thinking about this very needed long-term job.

• Q : If no, could the reason be that RSS-affiliated historians and you are not particularly fond of each other and this government is influenced by the Sangh?

• A : Any Sangh-affiliated historians would not need me to arrive at their positions or to devise a policy if called upon to do so by the present Government. But again, I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting the distorted history propagated by the Nehruvians. I would welcome it if it happened, but so far the BJP, still begging to be recognized as “secular”, only has its eye on “development”.

I am happy to report that there are some as yet insignificant private initiatives, though. Once they achieve results, there will be more to say on them.

• Q : Would you say or agree that the Government of India, regardless of the political party that runs it, would be uncomfortable appointing or commissioning an academic who is perceived as being anti-Muslim?

• A : Certainly.  Though it never had any problem with anti-Hindu candidates to even the highest post. Long ago, it even managed to appoint to the chair of the Constitution Commission, no less, a man who had expressed his outspoken aversion to both Hinduism and Islam: Dr B. R. Ambedkar.

• Q : Does the genesis of your problem with anti-left historians in India lie in the fact that on the issue of Babri Masjid, if you do not agree with the left, you do not agree with the right-wing either? If it is something else, please explain the problem.

• A : On Ayodhya, there has never been a conflict with any non-Left historian. To be sure, I have my disagreements on some minor points, but they have never been the object of a controversy. So: no, on Ayodhya I may have minor and friendly differences of opinion with “right-wing” historians, but no serious quarrel. In that debate, the long-standing quarrel has been with the Eminent Historians, their supporters in media and politics, and their foreign dupes. They were on the wrong side of the history debate all along, and it is time they concede it.

In the case of the Eminent Historians, it is also time for the surviving ones to own up their responsibility for the whole conflict. The then PM, Rajiv Gandhi, was on course towards a peaceful settlement, allotting the site to the Hindus and buying the militant Muslim leadership off with some typically Congressite horse-trading. Not too principled, but at least with the virtue of avoiding bloodshed. It is the shrill and mendacious declaration of the Eminent Historians in 1989, amplified by all the vocal secularists, that made the politicians back off.

Not only have they falsely alleged that no Rama temple ever stood on the contentious site: their more fundamental lie was to bring in history at all. Ayodhya belongs to the Hindus not because it was their pilgrimage site a thousand years ago, nor because of “revenge” for a temple destruction effected eight hundred or five hundred years ago, but because it is a Hindu sacred site today. No Muslim ever cares to go to Ayodhya, and in spite of being egged on by the Eminent Historians, enough Muslim leaders have expressed their willingness to leave the site to the Hindus. This whole controversy was unnecessary, but for the Nehruvians’ pathetic nomination of the Babri Masjid as the last bulwark of secularism.

• Q : If all the archaeological findings from Ayodhya are arranged chronologically, what story of the disputed plot of land comes to the fore? Did a temple of Lord Rama stand there, which Babar’s general Mir Baqi demolished to build the mosque? Or, did Mir Baqi find ruins on the spot, which were a mix of a dilapidated Muslim graveyard and remains of a temple of an even older generation? 

• A : That a Hindu temple was demolished by Muslim invaders is certain, on that we all agree. But there is less consensus around, or even awareness of, the fact that this happened several times: by Salar Masud Ghaznavi in 1030 (the rebuilt Rajput temple after this must be the one of the excavated pillar-bases), by Qutbuddin Aibak’s troops in 1193, and by Mir Baqi on Babar’s behalf in 1526.

What it was that was replaced by Babar’s mosque, is not fully clear. I speculate that in the rough and tumble of the collapsing Delhi Sultanate, Hindus had managed to take over the site and started worship there even though the building they used was a mosque imposed on the site. That was exactly the situation in 1949-92, and I think it also applied towards 1526. Babar destroyed a Hindu pilgrimage centre, a Hindu presence at the site, but not the Rajput temple from the 11th century of which the foundations were excavated in 2003.

Was the temple’s demolition just an odd event, or was it the necessary materialization of an ideology, repeated many times and in many places? When Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghori and his lieutenants conquered the entire Ganga basin in 1192-94, they destroyed every Hindu temple they could find. Only a few survived, and that is because they lay out-of-the-way of the Muslim armies, in the (then) forest, notably in Khajuraho and in Bodh Gaya. But all the Buddhist universities, all the temples in Varanasi etc. were destroyed. Ayodhya became a provincial capital of the Delhi Sultanate, and it is inconceivable that the Sultanate regime would have allowed a major temple to remain standing there.

So, the narrative propagated by the Sangh Parivar, that Babar destroyed the 11th-century temple, cannot be true, for that temple was no longer there. When Babar arrived on the scene, Hindus may have worshipped Rama in a makeshift temple, or in a mosque building provisionally used as a temple, but the main temple that used to be there, had already been destroyed in 1193. See, Ayodhya’s history becomes more interesting once you discard the lies of the Eminent Historians as well as the naïve version of the Sangh Parivar.

The controversial part lies herein, that the persistence of the temple all through the Sultanate period would have implied a certain tolerance even during the fiercest part of Muslim rule. In reality, the demolition of Rama’s birthplace temple was not an odd and single event, but a repeated event in application of a general theology of iconoclasm imposed by the Prophet.

• Q : Was it a temple of Lord Vishnu rather? Or, were they quite a few temples of one or more deities built in different periods by different kings?

• A : In her book from 2013, Rama and Ayodhya, Prof. Meenakshi Jain has detailed all the scholarly evidence and the debate around it, including the embarrassing collapse of the Eminent Historians’ case once they took the witness stand in Court. She shows that the Rama cult has already left traces more than 2000 years ago. Attempts to make Rama worship a recent phenomenon were just part of the sabotage attempts by the Eminent Historians. Also, the site of Ayodhya, though probably older, is at least beyond doubt since Vikramaditya in the 1st century BC. All indications are that the disputed site was already visited by pilgrims as Rama’s birthplace since well before the Muslim conquest.

So, this was a long-standing pilgrimage site for Rama. Against the utter simplicity of this scenario, anti-Hindu polemicists of various stripes have tried all kinds of diversionary tactics: saying that Rama was born elsewhere, or that the temple belonged to other cults. This Vishnu-but-not-his-incarnation-Rama theory, or the claim of a Shaiva or Buddhist origin, came about as some of those diversionary tactics; they are totally inauthentic and artificial. Alright, among historians we can discuss every possible hypothesis. But from the very relevant viewpoint of Islamic iconoclasm, all these distinctions don’t matter: all those sects were false, leading men astray, away from the one true religion, and therefore they all, and certainly their idols and idol houses, were to be destroyed.

• Q : Whatever be the story, which community do you believe has a greater right of ownership over that disputed site?

• A : The community that holds the site sacred. Muslims go through all this trouble to travel to far-away Mecca, why don’t they go on a cheap and easy pilgrimage to Ayodhya instead? It seems they have made their choice. So let us respect their choice, and also the choice of the Rama worshippers who do care for Ayodhya, by leaving the site to the latter. Case closed.

• Q : Do you hate Muslims or Islam?

• A : No, I do not hate Muslims. They are people like ourselves. Having travelled in Pakistan and the Gulf States, I even dare say I feel good in Muslim environments. And if I desire the liberation of Muslims from Islam, that is precisely because I like them. Suppose you discover that a friend of you still believes in fairy-tales: wouldn’t you consider it your duty to set him straight and confront him with the true story, precisely because he is your friend?

But then, perhaps the writer of the Quran “hated” the unbelievers when he wished them godspeed to hell.

And I do not “hate” Islam either. If a teacher uses his red pencil to cross out a grammatical mistake in a pupil’s homework, we do not say that he “hates” the mistake. He simply notices very dispassionately that it is wrong. The use of the word “hate” in this case stems from an attempt to distort the debate and misrepresent the argument by means of emotive language. The belief that someone heard the word of God, dictating the Quranic verses, is just one of the many irrational and mistaken beliefs that have plagued mankind since the beginning. 

• Q : You have been on record saying at a function in Goa in late 2014 that a general impression must be created that being a Muslim is “uncool”! Representatives of some Islamic countries reportedly walked out of the venue in protest of your statement. Would you explain what happened at that event?

• A : We had been given to understand that it was going to be a Hindu think-fest where the only constraint on our free discussion was going to be the truth. Satyameva Jayate! The offer of first-class airplane tickets (which I refused as unnecessarily luxurious) should already have alerted me to a different agenda: a glamorous diplomatic show. Arriving on-site, and seeing some high-profile Muslim guests from West Asia (what were they doing at an “India Ideas Conclave”?), I proposed the organizers to change the topic from what I had been invited for: the roots of religious terrorism. Thus, an evaluation of the BJP Government’s record from the angle of its Hindu reputation seemed to me an excellent topic that as yet no one was scheduled to talk about. But no, they insisted I talk about the roots of Islamic terrorism, then colourfully illustrated by the frequent video reports of beheadings by the Islamic State, apart from the more usual bomb attacks. Even when I warned them that I was not going to parrot the diplomatic white lies churned out by Obama and Cameron (and, very recently, in my presence, by Narendra Modi speaking in Brussels), viz. that jihad “has nothing to do with Islam”, they still persisted.

So they got what they had bargained for. I detailed the justification for all of the Islamic State’s actions from the Quran and the Prophet’s precedents. The reaction of the Hindu audience was very warm and enthusiastic. Finally someone who didn’t try to shift the blame to the victims, as the Nehruvians always do. A few foreigners were not so happy, and neither were the BJP organizers. They had preferred a diplomatic lie to the truth, so I had spoiled their show, intended to prove how nice and “secular” those ugly Hindu Nationalists really were.

On the panel there was also the advocate of “moderate Islam”, Sultan Shahin. I liked him as a person, and I also understand that the stand he took was risky. For Muslims, it is more dangerous to stray from the orthodox line than for non-Muslims to even criticize Islam. I have to knock on wood here, given the attacks on the Satanic Verses translators and the Danish or French cartoonists, but still Kafirs (Pagans) have more leeway than Muslims who risk being treated as apostates. So, I concede the bravery of “moderate Muslims”. But all the same, they are wrong.  They are probably being truthful when they swear that they themselves would never countenance such terrorist violence. But that is because of their normal inborn human feelings, not because of (but rather, in spite of) their later conditioning by Islam. They try to reconcile their human tolerance with the religion they have been taught by their beloved parents. It is humanly understandable, and I sympathize with them, being myself an apostate from my home religion, Catholicism. But alas, I cannot spare them the difficulties inherent in outgrowing your native religions. And I can testify that the end result is worth these steps on the way.

As Taslima Nasrin has said: “What the Muslim world needs is not moderate Muslims but ex-Muslims.”

Making Islam uncool? I have been part of a massive walk-out from the Church. For intellectuals, the decisive reason was the dawning insight that Christian belief was irrational. But for the masses, it was mainly that it was no longer cool to be a believer. People started feeling embarrassed for still being associated with this untenable doctrine, and are none the worse for having left the beliefs they were brought up in. I wish Muslims a similar evolution, a similar liberation. I do not wish on them anything that I have not been through myself.

• Q : How do you view the recent terrorist attack on Belgium? To what extent is migration from Islamic countries responsible for terrorism on European soil?

• A : As Ché Guevara said, a Guerrilla fighter is among the masses like a fish in the water. In this case, the Jihad fighters had found safety and comfort in the Muslim community. So the demographic Islamization of some neighbourhoods in Brussels (due to our own silly policies) has indeed played a role. But I expect you to retort that there were also other factors, and that is true.

• Q : How do you react to the Muslim refrain that the terrorists in their community are a creation of America and NATO’s flawed foreign policy and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc?

• A : It is simply not true that Ghaznavi or Aurangzeb took to Jihad and iconoclasm in reaction to British colonialism or American bombings. They were inspired by an older source, viz. the Prophet’s precedent, Islam. However, it is true that many contemporary Jihad fighters have indeed been fired up by a specific circumstance, viz. Western aggression against Muslim countries.

Assenting to Quranic lessons about Jihad is one thing, but actually volunteering for the front-line of Jihad it quite another. In most people, it needs a trigger. The illegal invasions of Iraq or Libya, or footage of an Afghan wedding bombed from American jets, provided such a trigger. I am very aware that being bombed is just as unpleasant for wedding guests in Kandahar as for commuters in Brussels or Mumbai. Right now, even little Belgium has five bomber planes in Iraq as part of the US-led war effort against IS. These bombers must already have killed, along with some Jihad fighters, more civilians than were killed in the terrorist attacks in Brussels.

In Belgium, I have drawn some attention with my defence of the Syria volunteers: young Muslims grown up in Brussels or Antwerp and going to fight for the Islamic State. Our politicians call them “monsters”, “crazy” and other derogatory names, but in fact they are pious idealists. They may be misguided in their beliefs, and I dare say they are, but they do have the courage of their conviction. Without any pressure on them, they volunteer for putting their lives on the line in the Syrian desert. You cannot deny them bravery and self-sacrifice.

The Western invasions and bombings in Muslim countries have brought nothing but misery, and I have opposed them all along. What the Muslim world needs, is not more civil wars, sectarian wars, foreign military interventions, which all serve to polarize the minds, to freeze them in existing antagonisms. What it needs is a thaw. Here again, I speak from my own experience: the post-war climate of peace and prosperity in Europe has allowed a genuine cultural revolution, an emancipation from the stranglehold of Christianity. The Muslim world will only evolve if it attains a modicum of peace and stability.

Note that the military interventions have nothing to do with Islam criticism, nowadays slandered as “Islamophobia”. On the contrary. Without exception, all the politicians ordering interventions in Muslim countries have praised Islam, calling it “the religion of peace” that is being “misused” by the terrorists. Not a single word of Islam criticism has ever crossed their lips. A legitimate Islam critic like the late historian Sita Ram Goel has never harmed a hair on the head of a Muslim. Islamophiles such as these politicians, by contrast, have killed many thousands of innocent Muslims.

• Q : How would you advise Indians to fight terrorism?

• A : Security measures and repression are not my field nor my favourite solution, but I understand that sometimes they are necessary. So I want to spare a moment to praise the men in uniform who risk their lives to provide safety. However, this approach won’t go very far and won’t provide a lasting solution if it is not accompanied by a more fundamental ideological struggle. That is what I am working on. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 6 May 2016

» Surajit Dasgupta is National Affairs Editor for Swarajya.

Ram Temple on the Babri Masjid site after the demolition.

“The community that holds the site sacred [has the right to it].” – Dr Koenraad Elst

See also

Koenraad Elst: Examining Romila Thapar’s version of India’s past – Sandeep Balakrishna

Marxist historian Romila Thapar of JNU New Delhi

Ranbir ChakravartiThe 18 September 2015 print edition of the Marxist fortnightly Frontline cover story was a detailed interview of Marxist historian Romila Thapar conducted by Ranabir Chakravarti, Professor of Ancient History at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Predictably, the interview is in the nature of fawning over Prof Thapar and proceeds along expected lines which, among other things, upholds the Marxist ideological version of Indian history as the only authentic history. Contrary or alternate readings even when backed by solid research and evidence are dismissed and labelled as nothing more than Hindutva propaganda to say the least.

Sandeep BalakrishnaAnd so, with a view to better understand the context, motivation and other deeper issues surrounding this interview, IndiaFacts Editor Sandeep Balakrishna sought an interview with Dr. Koenraad Elst.

To claim that Dr. Koenraad Elst’s credentials are impressive is to understate it. He studied at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. This thesis was published as Decolonising the Hindu Mind, a seminal treatise on the subject.

Koenraad ElstIn the present time, Dr. Elst is perhaps the handful few in the academia who continues to courageously tell the uncomfortable truth about Islam and Leftism. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European civilizations, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. His enormous contribution to the Ayodhya debate continues to enrich scholars and serious students of the subject alike.

Dr. Elst’s two-volume work on the RSS titled, The Saffron Swastika is a great eye-opener and mandatory reading for all who seek to understand the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the larger Hindu movement in proper perspective. Equally, his Negationism in India—Concealing the Record of Islam is regarded as a classic.

He has also published innumerable works on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, and Maoism, among others.

His work on Ayodhya and the larger Hindu revivalist/nationalist movement entailed him to undertake a deep-dive into the forces on both sides of the issue. Among other things, history, and more specifically, Marxist historians played the most significant role in those momentous years. As a scholar who had firsthand experience who was equipped with deep study of these subjects, as a person who lived those years, and as a victim of Marxist historians, Dr. Elst is uniquely placed to provide his perspective on the present Frontline interview with Romila Thapar.

► Sandeep Balakrishna (SB): Elst, Prof Romila Thapar mentions that the kind of academic scholarship and history writing currently done is “impressive” and that “at least among those historians who work at the better universities and colleges.” Equally, she reminisces about how “history was taught fifty years ago, and the kinds of struggles that we had in those days to give a new direction to historical writing, and the kind of direction that is now being taken, it is in fact an impressive change. I am pleased with the way things have gone, although admittedly the change is not universal in the universities and most have still not caught up with history as it is taught in the best centres.” In this light, several questions arise, Dr. Elst: (a) Can you list some of these current history books that Prof Thapar finds impressive. (b) Which are these “better” universities and “best” centres where this sort of impressive history writing takes place? (c) How would you compare the history taught 50 years ago to the history that emerged after Prof Thapar gave it said direction?
► Koenraad Elst (KE): Given that this is a digital medium not constricted by space limitations, I may be forgiven for answering rather amply. There is already so much hurried superficiality these days.

Fifty years ago, R.C. Majumdar was at the end of his career. As he was a very prominent historian, whose History of India and History of the Freedom Struggle was required reading throughout the History departments across India, he was the main figure to be shot down. He was typical of the intellectuals at the heart of the Congress movement: secular-minded in a Gandhian way, but far more steeped in Hindu tradition than we can now imagine, and naturally accepting the religious and “communal” factors in history.

Other such historians were Jadunath Sarkar and, effectively, the anthropologist G.S. Ghurye. They naturally accepted and documented Islam as a factor in Hindu-Muslim conflict and in the well-documented fact of Islamic iconoclasm, c.q. the subversive role of the Christian missions.

I don’t know what universities she has in mind, but I imagine it would be the pioneers of her own version of history, JNU and AMU. Further, most serious universities have followed suit or are using her school’s textbooks.

There are very few hold-outs of Hindu-minded history, and these are admittedly not very creative, nor have they got international standing. The Marxists have always had their eye on the cultural sector, but after Indira Gandhi needed their support in a power struggle, some fifty years ago, they really got their chance. Thapar’s collaborators P.N. Haksar and Nurul Hasan changed the face of India. “Hindu” became a dirty word, and any young historian classified as a conscious Hindu could forget an academic career.

This power equation was aggravated by the passivity of the Hindu Nationalists. As the only nationally organized Hindu force, they claim to be the vanguard of Hindu society. If so, they should not be proud of their achievements in this field, where Hinduism has only been losing ground. They have never invested in scholarship.

The result can now be seen, when Narendra Modi’s government would like to pack the universities with pro-Hindu or pro-Modi vice-chancellors and other prominent professors, but fail to find qualified people.

In 2009 I attended a pro-Hindu conference about the politics of history in Delhi, with the usual wailing about the reigning anti-Hindu bias. But there was no session about what Hindus themselves had done wrong in M.M. Joshi’s textbook reforms of ca. 2002, a horror show of incompetence.

To be sure, on the Hindu side there are some valuable individual historians, such as Meenakshi Jain, who has documented the dismal defeat of the “eminent historians” in the Ayodhya debate (Rama and Ayodhya, 2013). But organized Hinduism has produced nothing except some obscurantist repetition of scripture as if it were history.

In recent years, centre-stage has been taken by less ideological historians such as Upinder Singh, daughter of the former Prime Minister. In that sense, her own school of Leftist history-writing has lost some ground, in the wake of the loss of credibility of Marxism as such.

Still, this mainstream secularist school has essentially adopted some key dogmas that the Left in its age of dominance has rendered synonymous with serious scholarship, such as the Aryan invasion and the absence of a “communal” motive in the Muslim conquests. The Hindu perspective is still being ignored or despised.

► SB: Prof Thapar also criticizes popular history as being outdated or as “not history at all,” and that such history is propagated by “people who are not professional historians.” As someone who has left behind a sizeable body of work critiquing the Thaparesque school of history, how would you define a “professional” historian, and is that tag mandatory for people who actually want to do original, serious scholarly work on their own? This question applies to even those non-tagged people who’ve already done such work. Or is this sort of tagging a tactic to discourage such potential endeavours and to dismiss such work?

► KE: For her class of people, a “professional historian” is a historian with academic status. The Marxist historians are very status-conscious and constantly pull rank, especially when faced with informed arguments.

For a scholar, this is weak, but for sophomores, it is uppermost in their minds: climbing the status ladder. When you know the academic circles, you become far less inclined to be overawed by academic status: many professors have obvious ideological prejudices and bend their findings to suit their presuppositions.

Moreover, in many countries to some extent, and certainly in India, scholars in the humanities are selected for ideological conformity with the dominant school. After nearly half a century, this has led to a situation where a post of “eminence” is simply equivalent with ideological conformity, at least passively (not raising your head), often actively (furthering the dominant paradigm).

As you know, the late Sita Ram Goel, a qualified historian, was an outsider to academia, working as a publisher and book-seller. Books like his History of Hindu-Christian Encounters are of such calibre, importance of topic, and originality, that he should have been offered a teaching post. But he was a dissident, so Soviet-type historians kept him outside the institutions. An example right now is Shrikant Talageri, whose work is simply revolutionary, creating history where until recently there was only hazy speculation, viz. the Vedic age. Real scholars would not care that he is an outsider, but focus on his methodology and his findings. 

► SB: On methodology, Prof Thapar provides a rather detailed explanation about how one should be learned in various disciplines like archaeology, linguistics, Sanskrit, Prakrit, geography, genetics, reading inscriptions and so on in order to write on ancient India. Yet, it is a fact that Prof Thapar doesn’t know Sanskrit and she herself admits that “sometimes when reading contemporary archaeological reports I can’t fully understand them because they require training in science.” Yet Prof Thapar is described as a preeminent scholar and historian of ancient India. So, how do you reconcile the two, and two, where does her own admission put her work in light of this?

► KE: I have little to add on to her personal qualifications. Sanskrit, at least, would really be necessary if you research ancient India. But history is something else than archaeology: historians deal with sources speaking a human language, chiefly writings and inscriptions, whereas the archaeologists (and likewise, nowadays, the geneticists) try to draw sense from mute objects.

I myself have to confess that the technical details of an archaeological report bore me. But their conclusions are of course indispensable for up-to-date historical scholarship. Like Prof. Thapar, I am not equipped to follow the details of the new genetic findings; but of course I have to take their conclusions into account. She does not incriminate herself by admitting that she is ignorant about other fields than history, these human limitations are just normal.

It gets worse, however, when a scholar simply ignores the findings in adjacent fields. This is what you see in the debates on Vedic chronology and the Aryan invasion. Thus, most historians laugh at the ignorant claims of some self-styled “history rewriters” in the Hindu camp, who put the Mahabharata war in the 4th millennium BCE. These base themselves on scripture, treating it as a literal record, and date events in the light of a Puranic tradition dating the beginning of Kali Yuga to 3102 BCE.

To be sure, the doctrine of four world ages is as old as the epic, and even much older: judging from its presence among the Greeks and Germans, and even as far as the Mayas, it must have existed since distant pre-Vedic days.

But the time-spans attributed to them are far younger, betraying an estimate of the precession cycle discovered in ca. 150 BCE. These time-spans are in thousands of years, not hundreds of thousands of years as in the Puranas. So the Mahabharata war can reasonably be estimated to about 1400 BCE, which is in tune with the genealogical data in the Puranas, their most historically reliable part.

But what is more, and now I come to my point, this scripturalist chronology flies in the face of the findings of several auxiliary sciences. Thus, chariot warfare is central to the Mahabharata’s plot: it cannot be an addition by a later editor.

Now, we know through archaeology that war chariots (as distinct from slow carts) originated only in the 3rd millennium, and that the heyday of chariot warfare was the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium, before cavalry warfare took over.

The war between the Egyptians and the Hittites, the Biblical pursuit of the Israelites by the Pharaoh, the Trojan War, all took place around 1200 BCE. To say that the Mahabharata battle took place in 3139, as traditionalists do, would imply that chariot technology took all of 1600 years to travel to West Asia.

But we know that military technology travels very fast, because generals eager for victory quickly adopt whatever innovation is in sight. Moreover, it implies that the Indians had a more advanced metallurgy (needed to produce chariots, as well as swords and shields) than archaeology can trace for the 32nd century BCE.

Another auxiliary science is archaeo-astronomy. Among the astronomical circumstances described in the epic is the full moon near the star Magha/Regulus after the winter solstice. Now, this star, in its slow precessional movement of 1° per 71 years, has crossed the solstitial axis in ca. 2300. In 3139 BCE, it was some 12° before the solstice, whereas in ca. 1400 BC, it was some 13° past it, as required by the description in the epic. So, the traditionalist chronology ignores the contribution of astronomy.

Prof. Thapar will probably agree with me that traditionalist chronology is bad science because it ignores the findings of these other sciences. However, established chronology including her own school suffers from the same flaw.

Thus, we have several astronomical data in Vedic literature that are incompatible with the established chronology. In the Kaushitaki Brahmana, dating from the late Rig-Vedic period, this solstice position of Magha is registered, so that points to ca. 2300. But according to her, this would mean at least 800 years before the Vedic seers started the composition of the Vedic hymns, and at least a thousand years before the Kaushitaki Brahmana was composed. The definitely post-Vedic book Vedanga Jyotisha gives two independent astronomical data that both necessitate its being written in the 14th century BCE, again centuries before its conventional date.

She has tried to explain this away by opining that the authors must have described reminiscences of earlier positions passed down by their ancestors. But this is impossible: the Vedanga Jyotisha is a hands-on work on observational astronomy: it tells priests where to look in the sky when they want to conduct their rituals.

What a strange world it would be, where everybody describes ancestral observations but no one describes what he himself actually sees. So, her escape clause is an explicit admission of what too many historians only do silently: ignore the findings of an important science adjacent and relevant to history-writing. The situation is that a handful of astronomical data consistently support a higher chronology, that not one of them supports the established low chronology, and that nonetheless most scholars in India and abroad proceed as if these data were not a permanent challenge to their conventional chronology.

► SB: While it’s known that even today, Prof Thapar seems unwilling or unable to let go of the now-discredited Aryan Invasion/Migration Theory, what is interesting is that from the beginning of her career as a historian of ancient India, she like many of others of her school, seem to have a penchant for propounding a theory (or at best a hypothesis) based on the absence of evidence. If this sort of thing is done in the sciences, the concerned scholar would not last a second in the academia no matter what his/her standing or experience. Yet she seems to have largely gotten away with it over the course of her long career. In which case, has history and humanities in general become free-for-all?

► KE: To be sure, historians have to navigate between many uncertainties and unknowns. Some of these may be resolved through research or by unexpected discoveries, others will be your companion throughout your career. So you ought to exercise some clemency here and accept that the rules of the hard sciences do not always apply to history. Even so, her school could indeed have done better in the Aryan origins debate.

In terms of the evidence now available, you are right to call the Invasion Theory (which some weasels now prefer to call a Migration Theory, though it amounts to the same thing) “discredited”. But in terms of academic opinion, it is not yet discredited at all.

I have participated in a number of Indo-Europeanist conferences where the linguists present had often not even heard that there exists an Indian indigenist theory, an “Out-of-India Theory”. And if they had heard of it, they did not bother to study it, because they had also been cautioned that it was supported by evil Hindu nationalists. Note that this is a very unscholarly attitude: a real scholar would realize that someone’s motive for supporting a theory implies nothing whatsoever for the correctness of that theory.

If it did, how could anyone ever support the Aryan Invasion Theory, as she does? That theory is many times more politically connoted than the Indian Homeland Theory. It was politically used in many more countries, for a much longer time, and not by some ivory-tower scholars but from positions of power.

It was used by British colonialism, by the Nazis, by the Nehruvians, the Ambedkarites (in spite of B.R. Ambedkar’s own opposition to it), the Dravidianists and the Christian missionaries in India. It is politicized through and through.

Yet Prof Thapar, like most academics concerned, supports it. But she is right to ignore these political taints: they are inconsequential for the invasion theory’s correctness. And me too, I treat it as a legitimate competitor in the Homeland debate, though I have finally concluded against it.

► SB: A related question: given her long expostulations on AIT and Harappa in that interview, it appears that she hasn’t perhaps updated herself with the latest in genetics and archaeology, for example, with the kind of dedicated and top-notch work done by say Michel Danino. As someone who continues to closely follow and render your own inputs in this matter, your views, Dr. Elst?

► KE: Here we meet the problem once more that we just discussed: scholars willfully ignoring the conclusions from related disciplines.

Western linguists who support a more westerly Homeland (hence an Aryan invasion from there into India) ignore the findings of Harappan archaeology. The latter only confirms a complete cultural continuity since before the Harappan cities and lasting through their abandonment. It has failed to find a single trace of Aryans entering India.

By contrast, in Central Europe, an invasion from the east ca. 2900 BCE, amply attested both by archaeology and by genetics, has been identified with Indo-Europeanization. That is what an “Aryan invasion” looks like, and it is completely missing in India. Yet, of this state of affairs in Harappan archaeology, Western scholars are completely ignorant; or else they fail to draw conclusions from it for their own field.

Last March I participated in a conference of Indian archaeologists in Delhi. One archaeologist after another testified how his own Harappan excavation site only threw up cultural continuity instead of an Aryan immigrant revolution. Everybody there was skeptical of the invasion theory.

I was sitting next to the nonagenarian éminence grise of Indian archaeology, Prof. B.B. Lal, who had just publicly said: “Vedic and Harappan are but two sides of the same coin.”

At that very time, I received an e-mail from a top American linguist defending a westerly Homeland theory, shared by virtually all his colleagues. I then realized that this was a unique situation: a consensus of top scholars for theory White, and a consensus of scholars in a very related field for theory Black, with neither feeling challenged to respond to the other.

Historians ignoring the astro-chronological evidence, linguists ignoring the archaeological evidence: this is abnormal and unhealthy, and the first thing to do now is to break through these walls and get people to listen to the other side.

Actually, this problem of stonewalling is even worse. There are, for instance, philologists who avoid any association with the sterling philological work of Shrikant Talageri. The topic of “history within the Vedas” is quite legitimate, and has been with us for some two centuries. Nobody has revolutionized this field the way Talageri has.

Yet many students of ancient history or of Vedic literature are ignorant of his work, often willfully so. Come to mention it: his conclusions are right inside Romila Thapar’s field, so she ought to speak out on it. Fifteen years after the publication of his book The Rigveda: A Historical Analysis, it is about time. (Abroad, top philologists H.H. Hock and M. Witzel, two Germans working in the US, have spoken out, and Talageri has also answered them.) And merely parroting smug denunciations will not do, at least not for a top historian like Romila Thapar.

► SB: It is also interesting to note in the interview how, after still holding on to said theories about an Aryan Invasion, and falsely extrapolating “some sort of a horse sacrifice” in Central Asia which has a “later reflection in the Vedic corpus” [i.e. Ashwamedha], the interview quickly jumps to how all those who disagree with the AIT are breeding a “chauvinistic attitude,” and how therefore India is not the “greatest of all civilisations,” and further, how accepting ancient India’s greatness would again lead to “the disastrous direction that Aryanism took in Europe in the 20th century” and cautions of how “Historical theories coupled with extreme nationalism and the politics of identity can have severe consequences….” I don’t see this as anything different from the standard, Marxist-template-ish discourse that we’re all familiar with. So, is this a stubborn insistence on a pet theory that refuses to come to terms with reality or is it something else?

► KE: As Talageri has shown, the horse sacrifice originates in the Vedic period and then becomes prominent. Subsequently it was exported to Central Asia.

If remains of an Ashwamedha are found there, it is not earlier but later than the Vedic testimonies of this ritual. Its performers are not on the way to, but on the way out from India. There is no need at all to deny the Central-Asian findings related to the Veda, only the implied chronology of the Vedas is wrong. Which is no wonder, as the present chronology is not based on anything.

If scholars write, say, “Kena Upanishad (ca. 500 BCE)”, I always wonder: “How do they know that?” For doing proper history, the first thing to straighten out is the chronology of ancient India. In that respect, Romila Thapar has always been a follower, not a leader. Her school has been dominant for half a century, yet no progress at all was made in this respect, they merely parroted the dates that British scholars had thought up.

Perhaps she is too old now to change her mind in view of new evidence, but I don’t think she is attached to a non-Indian Homeland per se. She just hates the Hindu nationalists. Now that these are openly supporting the Indian Homeland hypothesis (which has existed for more than 200 years, since well before the notion of “Hindutva” even existed), she just has to oppose this theory any which way.

As for her allusions to Nazism, that is really rich. Let us be clear that the Nazis completely supported the Aryan Invasion Theory, like she does. Hitler, Thapar, same struggle!

This theory was the perfect paradigm of the Nazi worldview: (1) the dynamic White Aryans trekked all the way to India and naturally defeated the indolent Black Aborigines; (2) these race-conscious Aryans imposed the caste system as an apartheid system to protest their racial purity, an example to follow; (3) unfortunately, some race-mixing took place nonetheless, and the Aryan castes, though still superior to the Aborigines, became inferior to their European Aryan cousins; (4) but fortunately, now they were being uplifted again by the rulership of their British cousins, the best thing that ever happened to India.

Though Subhas Bose and many millions of Indians expected Hitler, with all his vegetarianism and swastika, to support them against the British, Hitler actually glorified the British Empire and had offered German manpower and expertise to administer it. He thought the leaders of the Freedom Movement should be shot and India put back in its place, for he thought he was having the best interests of the darker races in mind when he tried to keep them in subjugation to a “superior” white nation.

Yes, there is plenty of criticism of the Hindutva movement (I myself have written quite a bit of it), but here it is really on the right side. Opposing the Aryan Invasion Theory is not only defensible from a scholarly viewpoint, it also happens to be politically correct.

Most people don’t judge a theory by whether it is true, but by the company it puts them in. If a truth is spoken by a despised group, they will feign to oppose this truth, and even interiorize that position. So, anyone desiring to be in the good books of the international establishment, will oppose an Indian Homeland.

Mind you, in this respect (in contrast with the economic realm), the Modi regime is not yet part of the establishment, and it doesn’t invest in a serious (as opposed to a flaky) redrawing of the scholarly power equation. It is still fashionable to laugh at the Indian Homeland position, so if Thapar chooses the safe side, the reason may not be any deeper than this: it need not be true, but it’s cosy. People who are not just camp-followers of the Aryan Invasion Theory, but who can actually defend it with serious arguments, are only a few. She is not one of them.

► SB: Equally, when Prof Thapar claims that “Questions that are historically debatable should be treated as such, with scholars holding variant views and each one’s views being weighed in terms of the evidence,” there’s something amiss, eerie even. As you’re aware, there’s a vast body of precisely such variant views, evidence, etc, which I’m sure she’s aware of yet doesn’t deign to even mention. Further, she mentions that this kind of thing “reduces the possibility of a historical debate.” Over the last three decades at least, accomplished scholars like Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup, yourself, Vishal Agarwal, Dr. Rajaram, Dr. Meenakshi Jain and others have painstakingly produced volumes aimed at fostering precisely this historical debate. Is this both willful blindness to and denial and/or dismissal of alternate/opposing/different views?

► KE: Last summer, two important Indo-Europeanist conferences took place in my neighborhood, in Leiden (Netherlands) and in Marburg (Germany). They commemorated the decipherment of Hittite one hundred years ago. Most linguistic arguments for a westerly Homeland are easy to shoot down. That is why most believers always tell you that the proof exists—only it is someone else who has provided it.

My own professor of Indo-European linguistics said that linguistics couldn’t really decide it but that it “had been proven” by the archaeologists. Most people there are like Indian civil servants, expert at passing the buck. But at those conferences, there were a few people who said they themselves had the proof for a Pontic Homeland.

It is essentially this: Indo-European and Uralic were originally one family, maybe 10,000 years ago, somewhere in Bactria-Sogdia. This language moved westward to the Ural-Pontic region and was adopted by locals speaking Northwest-Caucasian, an ergative language (i.e. the object of a verb-with-object, e.g. “he sees her”, is in the same case as the subject of a verb-without-object, e.g. “she goes”) with heavy consonant clusters but few vowels—unlike Uralic but like Sanskrit. This substrate influence of Northwest-Caucasian is sought to explain the Indo-European declension system and other grammatical traits, and its heavy consonant clustering.

Already two remarks: other leading linguists at these conferences were skeptical of this scenario, and the same linguistic traits (ergative structure, consonant clustering) equally count for Tibetan, the immediate neighbor of Manali and Ayodhya, where Aryan history began according to the Puranas. Just to say that this is not gospel truth, just a theory. But this is now the backbone of the belief in a westerly Homeland, and the Indian Homeland School should respond to it.

But then a third remark: this theory was developed in perfect ignorance of Kazanas’s and Talageri’s argumentation for an Indian Homeland. While our side should indeed keep up with developments within the Aryan Invasion School, they should do the same, and so far they haven’t.

Unlike the American Indologists, who are hand in glove with the Indian secularists and openly partisan, these European linguists know little of Indian politics and would be open to pro-Indigenist arguments on merit. They would only demand that these are methodologically sound.

Unfortunately, anti-Hindu intellectuals act as gate-keepers and make communication between India and the West difficult for non-established Indian historians. Then again, today there are ways to get around this, and at least my own little person is working to get this debate going.

This is my own initiative: the organized Hindu movement should take an advance on the results, and it will eventually reap the fruits, but it is not doing anything at all to further this research and this debate.

And this makes me think of one more important aspect of the Aryan debate. A debater confident of his position will seek to debate the strongest version of the opposing position. In that case, the Thapar School would have discussed Talageri’s work threadbare. In reality, they prefer to highlight the Hindutva people who think “history-rewriting” means restating Puranic accounts of history. They seek out the weakest version and then thump their chest at having refuted or ridiculed it. This is seeking cheap success rather than seeking the truth. It is a trick used by the not-so-competent.

► SB: A common strand that runs throughout Prof Thapar’s interview is how she alleges that, starting from the Harappan civilization, the “nationalist” and “chauvinist” “version” of Indian history denies diversity, and how this denial is rooted in the “the fear of having to see the past differently, that is, of seeing it as complex interactions of diverse cultures”. This is ridiculous at worst, and ironical to say the least given that right from the Vedic corpus to the massive volumes of dharmashastric texts, local customs, traditions, etc … all of these reflect the contrary: of an all-inclusive umbrella that has incorporated precisely this diversity. For example, it’s well known that Jagannatha in Puri is actually what’s known as a “tribal God.” Thus, contrary to what Prof Thapar claims, if fear was at the root, the “tribal God” of Puri would’ve been destroyed long ago. Exactly how does this pass of as history much less “history reading” and “scholarship?”

► KE: The Thapar School is very status-conscious. When I studied the RSS, I thought it was an RSS trait that they will hire as a guest speaker an enemy with status rather than a friend without it.

But I now realize it is rooted in a pan-Hindu trait shared by Hindu-born secularists. In fact, it is a universal trait but with important exceptions. In the West, and especially in the US, they appreciate new ideas even if they are brought by someone coming in from the wild. There, the emphasis in on creativity, and it doesn’t matter what status or entitlement/adhikara you have; if it works, it’s alright. So when they have a difference of opinion with anyone, they will natural take a condescending pose, like alleging that your position is not “scholarly”.

► SB: Talking about cultural nationalism, Prof Thapar claims that “Traditions, as we know from history, are invented through the generations or on particular occasions.” This is quite a bold claim to make given that I don’t think anyone can use the word “invent” with “tradition.” From my limited studies, traditions just grow organically, in a way, to say, as collective and mutually shared social and religious practices over several generations. My question is twofold: (a) What is the motive behind making such assertions in the context of cultural nationalism? and (b) How does Prof Thapar link this with her other claim that “The construction of cultural nationalism can be rooted in colonial interpretations of a culture, rather than in interpretations that might have existed in pre-colonial times?”

► KE: It is simply true that in the colonial period, Indians have acquired a self-perception that didn’t exist before. Swami Vivekanada and Gandhi strongly promoted the idea that India is spiritual while the West is materialistic.

But even before Muslim and British colonialism, Hindus had already started reinterpreting their past.

Puranic Hindus paid lip-service to the God-given revealed Vedas whereas the Vedic seers themselves knew that the hymns were not revealed by a Supreme Being but skillfully composed by human poets.

Ancient Hindus wrote the Vedas, medieval Hindus crawled before the Vedas. Most Hindus believe that the seers Vishvamitra and Vasishtha had a caste-based rivalry, because at a later time caste had become very important, whereas the Rig-Veda doesn’t mention anything about caste. So, the distant past is distorted by the recent past and by the present, and it is part of the historians’ job to reconstruct the events as they looked to their own agents.

A different but related distortion: the recent past obscuring the distant past. I see this in the Aryan debate all the time. So many internet Hindus resolve to disprove the Aryan invasion, and then they start fulminating about Max Müller.

I don’t care what Max Müller said or did, he lived in the 19th century whereas we seek to know what happened thousands of years ago. The supposed motives of the coiners and propagators of the theory in the 19th century (colonial, missionary, racist …) cannot possibly say anything whatsoever about the facts of the Indo-European dispersal more than 5000 years ago, or about the presumed Aryan invasion of 3500 years ago.

I compare it to being asked to describe a tree in the distance and then proceeding to describe the nearby window through which you look at that tree. If Hindus want to get anywhere with their Aryan debate, the first thing needed is a moratorium on mentioning anything from the colonial period. All the noise about Max Müller only serves the laziness of people who don’t want to acquire the skills to research ancient history.

► SB: It is a given that in a Romila Thapar interview or essay, at least one question or mention will be made about secularism, the tone and tenor of which we are intimately familiar with. So it is with this interview as well. Here, “I would say that secularism in the same sense means putting religion in its place, and maintaining that religion is not to be the single dominant factor in politics and in society and its institutions. The identity of society has to be an open identity.” Forgive my ignorance Dr. Elst, but what exactly does an “open identity” for a society even mean, even in purely lexical terms?

► KE: Effectively it means: no identity. It certainly means: no majority, for it could put its stamp on the society as a whole. In some respects, I think she is right about this. For Pakistan, for instance, it would be a healthy innovation.

► SB: Prof Thapar also claims without proof that “When one gives a definition of a Hindu, it is generally in terms of members of upper castes since the basis of the definition is from the texts of these groups.” To my knowledge, until British started studying Hinduism systematically (for whatever purposes), nobody in India had even attempted to define the term “Hindu.” Indeed, as far as my knowledge goes, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study that shows how Hindus viewed themselves prior to alien Muslim invasions. And so, on what basis does Prof Thapar claim what she does?

► KE: Lack of historical consciousness. The definition of “Hindu” is very simple. Originally a purely geographical Persian term for “India(n)”, the Muslim invaders introduced it with a mixed geographical-religious meaning: “an Indian Pagan”.

Christians and Muslims were not included because they were not “idolaters”, and Parsis were not because they were not deemed Indian. But all Indian Pagans, including Brahmins and other castes, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins”), Jains, tribals, even communities yet to be born, like Lingayats, Sikhs, the Ramakrishna Mission, they were all “Hindu”.

In Islamic theology, they were all going to hell anyway. To the Muslims, distinctions of social rank or religious tradition didn’t matter in the least. Their negative definition of “Hindu” was taken over in the definition used in the Hindu Marriage Act, and essentially also in V.D. Savarkar’s definition of “Hindutva”.

Now, I am not at all impressed when you list that so many millions of Sikhs say: ham Hindu nahin! I am not impressed by all the rhetoric with which the R. K. Mission is trying to leave the sinking ship of Hinduism.

“Hindu” is now a dirty word, the secularists have seen to this, and so everybody is running towards the exit, saying: “We are not Hindu.”

Well, this is simply a matter of definition. Tribals who convert to Christianity can legitimately say that they are not Hindus (in spite of the RSS’s weasel position that they are then “Christi Hindus”), but otherwise they are Hindu by definition. Even if millions of people say that “1 + 1 = 4”, I will maintain that it is 2, and I will be proven right in the end.

It is in the Ayodhya debate that I have learned the power of historical scholarship. After the 1989 statement by the JNU historians, starring Romila Thapar, the historical position, though having been a matter of consensus between all the parties involved, was suddenly tabooed.

There had already been partial archaeological excavations confirming that there had been a temple on the site where the Babri Masjid was built. Even if you decided to doubt the consensus, the balance of evidence was already clearly on the side of the temple.

Yet, the whole media and political class, and all the foreign India-watchers, suddenly had to pretend that the historical position was but a ridiculous Hindutva concoction. Well, through all this commotion, the historical facts remained what they were, and they were amply confirmed by the excavations of 2003.

There are still a few Leftists maintaining that there had never been a temple at the site, but most people concerned just look the other way, embarrassed at having been led by the nose so badly. And with such a death toll as a result.

Imagine that this JNU statement had never been made. PM Rajiv Gandhi would have worked out a deal, denounced as “horse-trading” but with the merit of avoiding lots of political commotion and physical violence. He would have bought off the Muslim leadership with some goodies and left the site to the Hindus, thus also boosting his own popularity in the elections. There would not have been an Ayodhya affair, merely the building of just another temple. The BJP was not even on the horizon yet.

But no, the “eminent historians” preferred lies and bloodshed (and apparently also the rise of the BJP). It is not often in history that the intervention of intellectuals has had so much effect at the mass level.

But I was saying that Ayodhya has taught me the power of historical scholarship. There was a lot of hue and cry, there was the demonization of the pro-temple position which I also held—in my personal case there was the veto against any academic position for me. But when all was said and done, we were proven right. All the commotion had made no difference to the facts of history. The “eminent historians” were proven wrong.

Why, in fact, has Romila Thapar been interviewed now? Though she was already well-known, her hour of glory came with the unnecessary and artificial Ayodhya controversy. But in that controversy, she was on the wrong side.

It doesn’t always come about, but in this case it did happen: justice. The wrong side, though absolutely dominant for more than a decade, was proven wrong. Her major claim to fame is now as the historian who was proven wrong, and this in a self-created controversy. I feel for her, she threw away her good reputation at the end of her career.

Then again, she can still win it back by crossing the floor in time. She is in an excellent position, for instance, to create the much-needed dialogue between the different schools and disciplines in East and West; to stop the stonewalling, the guilt-by-association and the ridiculing that obstructs or poisons the debate.

► SB: When asked about the reason for the popularity of the Ramayana, Prof Thapar claims that “Evidence of the widespread popularity of the Ramayana is of course more recent…. I am referring to when the Ramanandi sect begins to propagate the Ramayana and Rama bhakti….” and the Kamba Ramayana and Krittibas. To put it bluntly, the good professor is bluffing. As you’re aware, one of the earliest evidences of Ramayana’s popularity can be had in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsham, and we know his period generally falls in the 5th century. She also recounts the now-familiar refrain about how Ramayana “celebrates and upholds the patriarchal family order.” While she’s entitled to her interpretations, the political subtext is unmissable. I’d like you to elaborate more on this, Dr. Elst.

► KE: The patriarchal family order is also upheld by the Bible, the Koran etc, yet I can’t remember her protesting against that. Worse is that she judges ancient writings (well, not the Bible or the Koran) by the standards of today, a capital mistake for a historian.

The past is the past, every historian ought to know that; only political propagandists blur the distinction between ancient facts and modern standards.

Anyway, the popularity of the Ramayana is not so important, but you are right that it was a thousand years older than she claims. Her position follows from the anti-Hindu fervor of the Ayodhya controversy. Need we say more about it?

► SB: Throughout the interview, there’s plenty of alarmist talk about how we’re now living in an atmosphere where “hegemonic thoughts” and “obscurantism” are growing, and how the good professor has taken “them on as I often have to do.” Equally, there’s also this condescension that stops short of saying that ordinary people must be lectured to about history etc, and that only historians have a special mandate to change the world or whatever. This again is familiar for anyone who has followed the careers of these Eminent Historians. Yet, even as India has mostly moved on from ideology-as-history, this refrain from these Eminent Historians continues to reverberate. What gives?

► KE: Well, they are old now, and throughout their career this attitude has served them well. I guess they will not change now. It is again this status consciousness, this pulling rank, this looking steeply down on people without adhikara [conferred by these Marxists].

It is a fact, though, that the Modi government and its local dependencies do give the impression of promoting, or at least of giving space to, backward tendencies. There are plenty of Hindus with very backward attitudes and beliefs. That is partly the revenge of a deliberate choice made long ago by Guru Golwalkar. He had a very anti-intellectual prejudice (“do you need to read a book to love your mother?”), which became official policy of the RSS, and as they never listen to feedback; that has remained effective till today.

Just watch how Hindutva spokesmen perform in TV debates: their communication skills are dismal, because they have always despised intellectual work, both in scholarship and on the media front.

► SB: Finally, one must really celebrate the ingenuity of Eminent Historians in coining innovative terminology. Of course, we’re familiar with “otherness,” “upper caste middle class chauvinism,” etc. I came across new ones coined by Prof Thapar here: “Aryanism,” “Sanitised Aryanism,” “Syndicated Hinduism.” Your comments,  Dr. Elst?

► KE: In Europe we have a media-conscious philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, who egged the French president on to invade Libya and oust Colonel Qadhafi—an unqualified disaster, a very dark cloud without any silver lining. But he is very good at coining catchy phrases.

Likewise, I won’t deny that Prof. Thapar has a gift for turning an English phrase and putting her thoughts into sticky new expressions. Good for her. – IndiaFacts, 6 October 2015

» This interview was compiled by the IndiaFacts Team. Sandeep Balakrishna is the IndiaFacts Editor and CEO. Koenraad Elst is a Belgium Indologist and Historian. This interview originally appeared on IndiaFacts with the title “Examining the Marxist Version of India’s Past.”

George Orwell Quote

The Ivy League Syndrome: Stop feeding the crocodile – Rajiv Malhotra

Ivy League Colleges

Rajiv Malhotra“We need first and foremost … a new corpus of content and discourse, one that would challenge the prevailing discourse on Indian civilization. Such provocative discourses simply cannot be produced from within the walls of the very same [Ivy League] fortress that has to be exposed and dismantled. It cannot be achieved as an ‘inside job’ because that would entail a greater degree of personal risk and brilliance than what is available among our academically certified scholars today.” – Rajiv Malhotra

Narendra Modi & Mark ZuckerbergA new humanities discourse around India has to be created from scratch. The existing one, is beyond repair.

Recently, Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley was attacked in a petition by US-based academicians led by scholars like Wendy Doniger and Sheldon Pollock. Over 80 per cent of the signatures were by Indian ‘sepoys’ joining the bandwagon. As a rejoinder, there emerged two counter petitions supporting Modi, each signed by much larger numbers of US-based academicians, who were also mostly Indians. This clash between the two camps of Indians is important to analyse because they represent two entirely different constituencies.

The anti-Modi petitioners proudly characterised themselves as faculty members of South Asian Studies, the new term for what was known as Indology in the colonial era. Stated simply, this is the study of India’s faiths, culture, history, politics, journalism, social sciences and related areas. On the other hand, the pro-Modi academicians were mostly from science, technology, business, medicine, law and other technical fields. I will refer to the former group as ‘South Asianists’ and the latter as ‘technocrats’. It is not a mere coincidence that these opposing camps are shaped by the disciplines they work in. It is important to understand the reasons for this.

South Asianists learn about India using Western-developed frameworks, vocabularies and theories that have Western cultural biases built into them. This hegemonic discourse on India subverts Indian native categories and the Vedic worldview, characterizing Indian civilization as a human rights nightmare whose solutions must come from Western thought. In other words, the South Asian Studies lens uses the West’s past for interpreting India’s present. The solution offered is that India’s desirable future is to mimic the West’s present society. The field is driven by the consensus of Ivy League gatekeepers, who can act like a sort of mafia to make or break an individual’s academic career.

The technocrats are not burdened by such culturally-determined programming, at least not to the same extent. Their disciplines are based more on empirical data and logic. In other words, it is possible to argue one’s controversial thesis in Chemistry, for instance, by demonstrating laboratory evidence that is verifiable. But it is not as easy to prove a theory of human rights violations without dealing with cultural biases of various kinds. The humanities are inherently more subjective, and hence vulnerable to power plays.

Another difference is that the technocrats tend to be more logical. A typical batch of students entering college in the technocrat fields tends to have higher scores in mathematics (i.e. logical mind-set) than their counterparts entering humanities and social sciences. Add to this that India’s technocrats are now super confident, knowing that they are second to none in their fields. They have achieved global success based entirely on merit. Therefore, they see no reason to bow down to Westerners when it comes to interpreting their Hindu heritage. This latter quality is what differentiates me from the Indian scholars of Hinduism Studies:  I owned companies where I employed many Americans, and a large number of managers from many nations reported to me. I find that Indians lacking such a background of managing Western professionals with authority are afraid to take them on, because of their deep inferiority complexes.

In other words, our colonized mentality can be isolated largely to our professionals in the humanities and social sciences. We have a clash between Indians in the two camps of humanities and technical fields. The technocrats tend to be patriotic and the humanities/social sciences scholars tend to be Hinduphobic and apologetic. The Indian media, in turn, are largely educated in fields with deep influences from South Asian Studies.

I am not against Western Ivy Leagues in general. But I oppose their stranglehold over South Asia Studies in particular. This is equivalent to the power of colonial era Indology that was headquartered in places like Oxford.

Until recently, the South Asianists and their mainstream media supporters have had a virtual monopoly as the voice and face of India. But in recent years, a counter voice has emerged that cannot be dismissed. Only a couple of months ago, I was personally the target of a massive attack demanding that my books be withdrawn (ironically by the same South Asianists who oppose such bans when their own books get targeted). While it garnered 240 signatures, a counter petition initiated by Madhu Kishwar that supported me got well over 10,000 signatures. Every such victory is another nail in the coffin of the Hinduphobic forces.

The clash is also over who has the adhikara (authority) to speak for our heritage. South Asianists close ranks to mock at the voices that are not certified by their institutions. But our tradition has always valued experience over book knowledge. Our history is filled with exemplars who did not get certified by any institutions resembling the Western Ivy Leagues.

Infinity FoundationWith this background, I wish to discuss the right and wrong approaches to address this problem. In the 1990s, my Infinity Foundation pioneered the funding of Western academicians in order to improve the portrayal of Indian civilization. It took over a decade and several millions of my hard-earned dollars before I understood the academic game. Gradually, I developed my insights into how insidious the South Asian Studies machinery is. I witnessed first-hand the complex funding mechanisms, intellectual and political networks, and interlocking of agendas across government, private foundations, church and academics. That is when I concluded that planting chairs in such a giant machinery was like feeding a crocodile hoping to turn it into a friend.

I am now an ardent critic of Indian movements that seek to establish Hinduism-related chairs within Western academe. Such projects are premature and counter-productive, driven naively by glamour and prestige.

What we need first and foremost is a new corpus of content and discourse, one that would challenge the prevailing discourse on Indian civilization. Such provocative discourses simply cannot be produced from within the walls of the very same fortress that has to be exposed and dismantled. It cannot be achieved as an ‘inside job’ because that would entail a greater degree of personal risk and brilliance than what is available among our academically certified scholars today. It would also need a large critical mass of like-minded scholars in one place, with political clout and will. It is a sheer waste to develop a random scattering of chairs here and there, occupied by individuals craving personal (petty) career success.

Given the cost of setting up one academic chair in USA (approximately $4 million), it would be far better to use that money and set up a whole department of scholars in India with the concentrated goal to develop a new discourse on some specific topic. As an example, a centre to develop a Hindu perspective on women’s status and role could be tasked to produce game changing discourse on that theme. This would then be disseminated worldwide through multiple channels. Several such theme-specific centres ought to be established in India. This is how China has taken control of the way China is being studied worldwide. They did not outsource the knowledge production about their civilization the way Indians have.

Such an approach would nurture the ‘Make in India’ spirit in the field of South Asian Studies. It would keep the adhikara and world-class expertise within Indian institutions. The new genre of discourse would also be intimately connected with our traditional mathas and peethams, rather than with the likes of Ford Foundation, Western churches and think tanks and their paradigms. This would de-colonize our youth and media once they realize that we are the best experts on who we are as a people. – Swarajya, 19 September 2015

South Asian studies in the WestSouth Asian studies in the West