Interview given to a student of religious studies – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad ElstThis is an interview given to a student of Religious Studies collecting material for her dissertation – Dr Koenraad Elst

Q : You have written that a Hindu simply is an Indian pagan. This raises the question: What is a pagan, exactly? Or what is paganism?

A : Strictly a “rustic”, “peasant” or “village bumpkin”, as opposed to the Christians in the Roman Empire, who were at first mostly city-dwellers. The textbook definition since the 4th century is “a non-Christian”. After Islam became more familiar in Europe, it often came to mean a non-Abrahamist, or better, anyone who does not subscribe to prophetic monotheism. The category “Pagan” strictly includes both atheists and polytheists, but mostly it is only used for a type of religious people, excluding non-religious atheists and agnostics.

When the Muslim invaders brought the Persian geographical term “Hindu” (“Indian”) into India, it came to mean “Indian by birth and by religion”, excluding those who were non-Indian or who were Indian but followed a non-Indian religion. In those days, people remained conscious of their original nationality for very long. When in the wake of the British, some Indian Zoroastrians settled in South Africa, they called themselves “Persians” though their families had lived in India for a thousand years. By the same token, the Syrian Christians counted as Syrians; but even if they counted as Indians, they would still not be Hindus, for they followed a non-Indian religion.

By contrast, all Indians without foreign links are Hindus: Brahmins, upper castes, middle castes, downtrodden, tribals, Buddhists (“clean-shaven Brahmins” according to the 8th-century Muslim chronicle Chach Nama), Jains. By implication even sects that did not exist yet, were Hindu upon birth: Lingayats, Sikhs, Arya Samaj, RK Mission, ISKCON. Today, “Hindu” is a dirty word, so they all try to weasel out of it and declare themselves non-Hindu, also to enjoy the legal benefits of being a minority. (Indeed, under the prevailing anti-secular Constitution, non-Hindus are privileged above Hindus.) They see Hinduism as a sinking ship, and being rats, they leave it. But I am not impressed by this. People should simply grow up and face facts: they satisfy the definition of “Hindu”, so they are Hindus, Indian Pagans. I don’t care what elephants think of being called elephants; since they satisfy the definition of “elephant”, they are elephants, period.

Since roughly 1980, the RSS family of Hindu nationalist organizations have tried to water this clear historical definition down by saying that “Hindu” simply means “Indian”. That would have been the pre-invasion usage, when Persian and Arabic were not tainted by Islam yet. But when the word was brought into India, it immediately differed from “Indian” by its religious dimension. Muslims and Christians are by definition not Hindu. But because the contemporary Hindutva leaders are not clear-headed (or not brave) enough to face difference, they try to spirit the difference between Hinduism and Islam away by calling the Indian Muslims “Mohammedi Hindus”. And likewise, “Christi Hindus”. I think that is the summum of cowardice.

Look, I don’t claim to be brave. I just sit behind my computer screen. Writing articles that displease some people doesn’t require more courage than posting cheerful holiday messages on Facebook; it’s just words. It is nothing compared to a soldier on the battlefield running into enemy fire. Here in Flanders fields, we are presently commemorating every event that punctuated WWI, a hundred years ago. When you read about those events, you come across unspeakable acts of bravery. So, compared to that, scholarship is nothing, even when a bit controversial. But conversely, when even words can intimidate you, when even a purely logical application of the definition of “Hindu” is too much, when even a word of disapproval by the secularists is too much, that is really intolerable cowardice. To be sure, even the secularists approve of a difference between “Hindu” and “Indian”, but the so-called Hindutva people now try to out-secularize the secularists by even denying that there is a separate religious category “Hindu”, different from the secular-geographical term “Indian”. They have come a long way: from flattering themselves as being the “vanguard of Hindu society” to denying that there is even such a thing as a “Hindu Indian” different from a “non-Hindu Indian”.

Q : You have criticized both Christianity and Islam for being basically a set of superstitious beliefs. Yet many would claim to the contrary that there is a lot more superstition in Hinduism. For instance, while Christianity and Islam at least have a historical basis to many of their most important stories, this is less the case for the Hindu stories about various gods and goddesses, which are more akin to the stories about Greek or Egyptian gods. Furthermore, the practice of image- or idol-worship could itself be considered superstitious, since it leads the worshipper to fetishize the idol as a source of magical powers, or as a divine being in itself. What is your response to this?

A : The core beliefs of Christianity and Islam are superstitious. Or without bringing in any psychologizing jargon like “superstitious”, they are, more simply, untrue. It is not true that Mohammed had a direct telephone line with God, and that the Quran is simply a collection of divine messages. It is simply not true that Jesus rose from the dead; just like all deceased people, he is not part of this world anymore. Much less is it true that he thereby freed mankind from sin (and thereby also of mortality, the punishment that befell Adam and Eve after their fall into sinfulness); levels of sinfulness or of human mortality have not appreciably changed in 33 AD. Yes, it is claimed by believers as a historical that Jesus resurrected or that Mohammed received revelations, but apart from the fact that the date given is realistic, the event is definitely not. And I don’t even go into the theories that Jesus or Mohammed never existed. Believing something that is flatly untrue, and moreover as the basis of your worldview, that is simply not the case with Hinduism.

As it happens, Hinduism is not one definite worldview. It is not based on one untrue statement, like Christianity or Islam. It is not necessarily based on a true statement either. Within the Hindu big tent, there are many traditions with their own doctrines. They have an awe for the sacred in common, but what counts as sacred is conceived in many ways. As the Rig Veda says: the wise ones call the one reality by many names. Among these traditions, the Upanishadic ones converge on an insight that is not historical but true, just as the Law of Gravity is not historical (its date and place of discovery happen to be known but are immaterial, as it is valid everywhere and forever). It is the Atmavad or doctrine of the Self, summed up in Great Sayings like Aham Brahmasmi, I am Brahma. That is the monist or Vedanta view, in parallel you have the dualist or Sankhya view, still within the Hindu big tent, the basis of Patañjali’s yoga. It is both rational and spiritual; Christianity and Islam cannot boast of anything parallel. But I agree that this is only the spiritual backbone of Hinduism, and that many of the beliefs and practices around it are not so rational. However, these don’t have the status that the core beliefs of Christianity [and] Islam have. You can safely discard them and still be a Hindu.

Q : You have questioned the conventional view that Siddhartha Gautama broke away from Hinduism and founded a new religion. Yet did he not deny the authority of the Vedas? And did he not reject the caste system, saying (variously quoted): “By birth one is not an outcaste, by birth one is not a Brahmin; by deeds alone one is an outcaste, by deeds alone one is a Brahmin”?

A : He did not go out of his way to deny the Vedas, and if he did, it only followed the latter part of the Veda itself. The Jnanakanda part (knowledge), the Upanishads, is explicit in declaring the Karmakanda part (ritualism), the Brahmanas, as outdated. Shankara lambasts the Sankhya-Yoga school for never quoting the Veda. It was part (not the whole, but part) of Hinduism to ignore the Veda.

He did not bother about the caste system, which Buddhists in Lanka and Tibet also practised. Buddhism never changed the social system in China, Japan or Thailand, because it had a spiritual agenda incompatible with a social reform agenda. If pursuing your own desires is already incompatible with pursuing Enlightenment, this counts even more for the immense job of structurally changing society. Either you do that, or you become a monk practising the spiritual path, but you cannot do both.

It simply accepted the social structures it found. Check the Buddha’s own life. Once his friend Prasenajit discovered that his queen was not a true Kshatriya, only on her father’s side, so he repudiated her and their common son. The Buddha persuaded him to take them back, pleading for the older conception of the caste system, which was purely in the paternal line (same caste as father, mother’s caste can be any). Now, if he had been a caste revolutionary, as all Indian schoolkids are taught nowadays, this incident would have been the occasion par excellence to lambast and ridicule the caste system. But he does no such thing, he upholds one version (the older one, for far from being a revolutionary, he was a conservative) of the caste system.

Or consider the distribution of his ashes after his cremation. They are divided in eight and given to eight cities for keeping them as a relic in a stupa. The ruling elites of those cities had staked their claim exclusively and purely in casteist terms, though this was a Buddhist context par excellence. After 45 yeas of Buddhism, they say: “He was a Kshatriya, we are Kshatriyas, so we are entitled to his ashes.” If Buddhism had been anti-casteist, then as bad pupils they still might have thought in casteist terms, but they would have used a non-casteist wording. Instead, they have no compunction at all in using casteist terms.

I have more examples, but to sum up: the Buddha was an elite figure par excellence, he mainly recruited his novices among the elite, and all the later Buddhist thinkers were Brahmins, as would be the Maitreya, the next Buddha. He was not an egalitarian at all, witness his initial refusal to ordain women, and when he relented on this, he ordered that even the seniormost nun would be subservient to the juniormost monk. So, the secularist-cum-Ambedkarite attempt to appropriate the Buddha for modern socialist causes is totally false. It is bad history par excellence.

Q : Regarding Islam, it seems that one of your foremost critiques of this religion is the Qur’an itself, which you view as (if I understand your position correctly) irredeemably fanatical and intolerant. Yet as you are surely aware, the Qur’an is a complex work which takes on different qualities depending on how the verses are interpreted, which verses are emphasized, whether a verse is considered as universal or contextual, and so on. Thus there are many Islamic scholars who claim, for instance, that armed jihad is only permitted in self-defense, seeing that militant verses are often accompanied by verses preaching restraint and forgiveness. So does the Qur’an really have to be problematic in itself? Is it not rather certain traditions (mostly Salafi) of interpreting the Qur’an which are a problem?

A : Let me clarify first that my fairly elaborate answers to your questions on Islam do not mean that I am especially interested in Islam. The Salman Rushie and the Ayodhya affairs forced me to study it more closely, but since the 1990s, I have only returned to it when current affairs dragged me back to it. As a subject, it has lost my interest because it is quite straightforward and all the important answers have already been given. The only meaningful debate that remains, is on which policy vis-à-vis Islam will deliver both Muslims and non-Muslims from it, as painlessly as possible.

Now, your very common position that “source text good, tradition bad”, or “founder good, followers bad”, or “prophet full of good intentions, followers misunderstood him”. (It is equally used in the case of Christianity: “freeing Christ from Churchianity”, and all that.) Only by not reading the Qur’an, and especially the life events of the Prophet, can you say that. The magic wand of “interpretation” does not impress me. What interpretation do you know of that turns qatala, “slaughter”, into “restraint and forgiveness”? Moreover, Muslims and their sympathizers have had decades to “reinterpret” their scriptures, and what is the result? The prophet’s biography (Sirat Rasul Allah), of which the authoritative translation by Alfred Guillaume is very literal and has been published in Karachi under Islamic supervision, is used by Muslims worldwide (their Quranic Arabic is usually not that fluent either), unaltered. Thomas Cleary’s Islamophile “translation” of the Qur’an does not meaningfully “reinterpret” the Qur’an, but simply leaves out the embarrassing parts; similarly a Dutch selective translation of the Sira that was recently published. The most-used English translations of the Qur’an are by Muslims, yet they faithfully translate that “war will reign between us until ye believe in Allah alone”. There, we are fortunate that their great respect for the prophet’s every word prevents them from imposing their own false interpretations instead of it.

Jihad only permitted in self-defence? Pray, why did Mohammed order a (failed) invasion of the Byzantine Empire? Why did he attack the Meccan caravans, who went about their business peacefully? When the Muslim army was defeated in central France by Charles the Hammer in 731, what was it doing there, thousands of miles from Arabia? Defending itself? These are just silly sop-stories. As an intellectual spectacle, it is amusing to see the acrobatics of “enlightened” Islamophiles in exculpation of Islam.

The solution is simply to grow up. It is not so hard to outgrow childhood beliefs, though it does take an intellectual and social transition, especially in the intermediate period when you have to co-exist with relatives who still shy away from taking this step. But then, I am asking no one to make changes in his life and outlook that I haven’t been through myself. I had the exceptional good fortune of being in the middle of a nation-wide (largely Europe-wide, in fact) religious conversion. I was born in Catholic Flanders, a frontline of the Roman Church against Anglican England, Calvinist Holland, Lutheran Germany and secular-Masonic France. In the 1950s, society was still deeply penetrated by the Church’s all-seeing eyes. Everyone in my primary school went to church on Sundays, was baptized, had a Catholic saint’s name, etc. In the 1960s, this edifice started crumbling, with Vatican II as both cause and consequence. By the 1980s, this became the dominant narrative, and the conformists who had earlier gone to church because everyone did, now stayed away because everyone did. Today, practising Catholics are a small minority. The ex-Catholics are now the dominant group, until the next generation takes over, because they are not even “ex”, they simply have no memory of Catholicism. And all this without bloodshed, without destruction of the admittedly wonderful artistic heritage of the Church. (I still sing Gregorian plainchant under the shower.)

So, that is what I wish for my Muslim friends too. Make Islam un-cool. Outgrow it. And take it from me: there is life after apostasy.

Q : I would also like to ask the same question regarding Muhammad ibn Abdullah, the prophet of Islam. There are many hadiths attributed to Muhammad which certainly seem to us to set a bad example, but there are also many hadiths to the contrary. Is it not again simply a matter of emphasis and interpretation? For instance, consider this opinion by the scholar Hamza Yusuf, who was traditionally educated in the Maliki madhhab. Do you consider his understanding of what Muhammad stood for as somehow Islamically illegitimate? (Pardon the flawed subtitles!)

A : I have toughed it out to listen through the Shaykh’s special pleading, but I really knew enough after the first sentence, where he names Karen Armstrong as his main inspiration. Hers is a rare extreme of special pleading, distorting everything of Islamic history to fit modern values. The rest of his narrative is the usual idealization of the person Mohammed, as in his very special courtship with the widow Khadija (but with the false allegation that women before Islam had no inheritance rights, just when Khadija’s case proves the opposite). It is the basic conjurer’s trick: directing the audience’s focus to a few nice episodes in Mohammed’s life and keeping the rest out of view. That is why Muslims are more properly called “Mohammedans”: they are far more punctual followers of Mohammed than Christians are of Christ.

To be sure, Mohammed may well have had some positive traits. He was known as very reliable, and I have no quarrel with that. Whether Khadija chose him because of those traits, as amply argued here, is another matter: he was a good young toyboy for this mature lady, and like his poverty (he worked as a shepherd in the service of the Meccan townspeople), his age made him her inferior and thus less likely to claim lordship over the wealth she had inherited or augmented by her entrepreneurial skills. But even if it was a marriage made in heaven, with all manner of perfections accruing to the bridegroom, that doesn’t make him God’s spokesman. Shaykh may pontificate as much as he wants about Mohammed’s claimed virtues, that still does not make him more than the next man. He was neither the Son of God (as Muslims rightly hold against the Christians) nor a prophet with a private telephone line with God (as Muslims believe; it is the heart of their religion).

Let’s cut short all the circumlocutions, let us cut out all the modern propaganda, and look at what the primary sources say. We can summarize Mohammed’s life story in a single sentence: he destroyed an existing pluralistic society—Polytheists, Sabians, Zoroastrians, Christians, Jews and Hanifs—and replaced it with a monolithic Islamic dictatorship. That is what the Islamic source texts themselves say. It is the height of ridiculousness that the multiculturalists in Europe, like their “secularist” counterparts in India, hobnob with Mohammed’s followers.

A lot also becomes clear when we know that most Arabs shook off Islam after Mohammed’s death and defeated the Muslim army. Unfortunately, they demobilized after that, the Muslim army came back and this time they securely imposed Islam. But the Arabs were the first victims of Islam. Mohammed practised robbery, extortion, abduction for ransom, rape, enslavement, slave-trade, and the murder of his critics and of a resistant Jewish tribe. All those data are in the primary sources of Islam. There is no way that an Islamic court can declare them un-Islamic—short of saying that “Mohammed was a bad Muslim”.

It follows that I am skeptical of Muslims who call themselves “moderate”. First of all, the distinction between moderate and extremist Muslims is an invention by non-Muslim soft-brains, unknown in Islam, and firmly rejected both by ex-Muslims and by leading Muslims such as Turkish president Erdoğan. He calls it insulting to Islam to make such a distinction. At any rate, I will accept Shaykh’s interpretation as moderate the day I hear him say: “Mohammed was wrong. Don’t follow Mohammed.” If, by contrast, he still recommends following Mohammed, as every Muslim is expected to do, he is in fact telling us: do practise abduction, robbery, rape, slave-taking, beheading, stoning, for those are all things he actually did, not just displaying his charms to win Khadija in marriage, as you might think after hearing Shaykh’s narrative. Until he takes this distance from Mohammed’s precedent behaviour, he is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Q : Finally, I haven been impressed by many of your writings, which always allow the reader to follow transparently your train of thought—more than can be said about much academic literature in my opinion—and which offer some thought-provoking conclusions on diverse subjects. I am not always in agreement with your viewpoints (and sometimes I simply don’t know), but all the same your method strikes me as a very refreshing example of how the history of religions can actually be studied. This is all the more interesting since you are, if I understand correctly, unaffiliated with any university and basically carrying out your research on your own. So my final question is: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same path? What type of literature would you recommend; how does one work with the primary sources; how many languages does one need to master? How many languages do you know yourself?

A : To start at the end: I have studied mother tongue Dutch, other Belgian national languages French and German, and English; these I read and speak fluently. Afrikaans is really simplified Dutch, so I can also follow it effortlessly. Because of my studies, I can get around in Mandarin and Hindi, but claim no fluency. Persian I have largely forgotten. I also know a smattering of Spanish, and in my young days, I also browsed through the Teach Yourself books of the Celtic, Scandinavian, the main Uralic languages (Finnish, Hungarian), Serbo-Croatian and Turkish. I totally forgot about those, though I can still decipher written Scandinavian because of the closeness to my mother tongue, Dutch. But knowing something of the structure of the languages has proved useful in comparative linguistics and studies of the Indo-European language family. Among classical languages, my Latin was always good, my study of Wenyan (classical Chinese) and Sanskrit was thorough but I claim no fluency, alas no time to go deeply into them lately. I also studied Greek for two years, some Biblical Hebrew, and a smattering of Quranic Arabic, Sumerian and Sangam Tamil. The net result is that I know plenty of political and philosophical terminology and can place the concepts in their proper contexts, but I rarely use those languages as language. Thus, when I need to look something up in the Vedas or the Mahabharata, I scroll through the English text, and only when I come to the passage I was looking for, I switch to reading the original. Life is short, and languages only interest me as entry to a world of thought. I am a historian and more and more a philosopher; philology has been a good basis but only as an instrument.

For born Indians, it ought to be a feasible minimum to familiarize yourself with Sanskrit. For doing Indian history or philosophy, it is simply necessary. For medieval history, you need to know Persian, and Arabic is a plus. In the US, they did a test: of two equally gifted groups of pupils, one took 8 hours of English, and one 4 hours of English and 4 hours of Latin. After a few years, the second group not only knew Latin, unlike the other group, but also had a better knowledge of English. Similarly, your knowledge of your Indian mother tongue will increase if you take out time to study the supposedly useless Sanskrit. It also promotes national unity, the convergence between the vernaculars, and also the phasing out of English, which you and me may find practical, but which to Indians is an anti-democratic imposition by the Nehruvian elite.

Whenever possible, you should go back to the primary sources. Thus, I am presently working on the history of early Buddhism, and I was initially surprised by the world of difference between the usual narrative peddled nowadays in schoolbooks and popular introductions, and the narrative revealed by the primary sources. Apart from the many errors that have crept into the modern narrative (mostly showing a strong anti-Hindu bias; see for example what I told you above about caste), the over-all conceptual mistake is the cardinal sin in history: the projection of modern concerns onto ancient developments. History is all about difference, the fact that “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.

My being outside academe was not a matter of choice, but of being boycotted. Thus, my very first Indological conference was the International Ramayana Conference 1990 at my own university, Leuven, and I defended the existence of a Hindu temple forcibly replaced by Babar’s mosque. One-third of the professors there were privately in support but publicly silent; one-third were furious at my daring to violate their safe space of rationality with such a silly and politically tainted claim; and the last one-third just didn’t have an opinion but were embarrassed at the commotion. The following years, I was boycotted and bad-mouthed throughout academe. But the fact is: I was right all along, as recent excavations and a court verdict have confirmed, and all those big-time professors were wrong.

The good thing about being on my own is that I don’t feel pressured to conform to the received wisdom. Thus, on Buddhism, practically all academics concerned swear by the paradigm “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good”. If I had been part of their circuit, I would probably have conformed to some extent to their view, at least to accept the narrative of “Hinduism and Buddhism”, as if these were two distinct entities on the same footing. Today I can just ignore their fairy-tale and state: the Buddha was 100% a Hindu.

I don’t advise anyone to take the path I stumbled upon. But if somehow it happens, at least you should enjoy its good side. Meanwhile, I keep hoping against hope that the present supposedly Hindu government will come to its senses and invest in scholarship, rather than parroting the narratives that several generations of secularist control over culture and education have established. In that endeavour, they will not only have to deconstruct all the harm done by the Nehruvians, but also the hare-brained alternatives presented by traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”, who think history means quoting from the Puranas. The last half-century, a gap in Hindu scholarship has grown that will require energetic initiatives to fill. – Koenraad Elst Blog, 15 August 2016

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

Let’s stop funding our enemies – Aditi Banerjee

Sheldon Pollock, Sudha Murthy, Rohan Murty, and Narayana Murthy

Aditi Banerjee“We choose today what our legacy will be in the years to come. Do the Murthys want to be remembered for funding the next Max Muller, for being yet another in a long line of sepoys? Do we want to be remembered for funding the study of our religion by those who see it as oppressive and fundamentally bad?” – Aditi Banerjee

There is a traditional parable about a pious person who wanted to go to the local tavern in order to rescue and reform the drinkers and to bring them to the temple instead. A wise man cautioned him to think twice before entering the tavern, because while he may enter with good intentions, thinking that he will bring others to the temple, he may instead himself get stuck in the tavern. And then not only would he have failed to rescue the others, but he himself would be lost, too.

Some well-intentioned, well-heeled Indian groups and businessmen are now engaged in foolhardy attempts to go into the metaphorical tavern—in this case, the Western academy.  It is well-known that the academy—the system of universities and scholarship prevalent in the West and in India today—is virulently anti-Hindu and anti-India. It is dominated by leftist discourse that hates traditional societies and religion and that finds tempting and soft targets in Hinduism.

As Indians in India and the diaspora accumulate even greater hordes of wealth, they are plum targets for fundraising and bankrolling various projects of different kinds. Combined with the sincere but misguided intention of some well-meaning Indian individuals and groups, it has led to a dangerous trend of Indians and Hindus bankrolling projects in the academy that threaten to harm the interests of India and Hinduism.  Rather than taking over enemy territory, we are actually now bankrolling the enemy.

Three examples of this phenomenon have been in the news recently.

Narayana Murthy & Rohan MurtyOne is the controversy over the Murty Classical Library of India. N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys, and his family bestowed a $5.2M grant to Harvard University for the establishment of the Murty Classical Library of India under the general editorship of Sheldon Pollock, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of Sanskrit and South Asian Studies at Columbia University. The library is intended to translate into English 500 classics of Indian literature in various languages from the past two millennia. Pollock has a history of anti-Hindu scholarship spanning decades.

In addition to Pollock, the editorial board for the library consists of Monika Horstmann, Professor Emerita of Modern Indian Studies, Heidelberg University; Sunil Sharma, Associate Professor of Persianate and Comparative Literature, Boston University; and David Shulman, Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The first volume of the series was Sufi Lyrics, and other titles include The History of Akbar (presented in two volumes), two volumes on Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, and Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women.

A petition was launched by several renowned Sanskrit scholars in India, garnering over 15,000 signatures, asking the Murthys to reconstitute the editorial group of the library with a fair representation of the lineages and traditional groups that teach and follow the traditions of the texts being translated. They also are requesting a written set of standards and policies for consistency throughout the project, including principles like rejection of the discredited Aryan Invasion theory, etc. Now, predictably, the academy is lashing out, with a massive PR campaign to discredit the petition in order to ensure Pollock’s continued stewardship of the project.

Dharma Civilization FoundtionThis news comes on the heels of the University of California, Irvine rejecting a $3M donation to establish chairs in Hindu and India studies by the Dharma Civilization Foundation (DCF), an organization seeking to counter anti-Hindu bias in the academy.  The rejection was based on concerns about the ‘ideology’ of the donors and the organization.

There have also been efforts afoot to establish an Adi Shankara chaired professorship at Columbia University on behalf of the Sringeri Peetham (one of the most hallowed and prestigious Hindu institutions in the world and the first matha to be established by Adi Shankaracharya), again under the oversight and guidance of Sheldon Pollock. The determination as to who would occupy the chair, what studies would be pursued under the chair, etc., would all remain with the university administration and their appointed committee, not Sringeri Peetham or the donors.

While the motives behind each of these initiatives may be laudable, they are fundamentally ill-conceived and dangerous. None of these initiatives provide sufficient controls to ensure that our interests are unharmed. They are tantamount to handing over a blank check to the academy, which has a long and checkered history of anti-India and anti-Hindu bias. When we as individuals in the US, for example, donate money to qualified tax-exempt charities, there are controls in place to ensure that the funds can only be utilized for certain purposes and in certain ways under tax laws.  These controls ensure that we are not defrauded and that our hard-earned money is not squandered by the recipient. These initiatives totally lack such controls.

To think that a few million dollars here and there will be enough to cause a meaningful change in the academy is foolish and incredibly naïve. Entering traditionally hostile territory requires sufficient armor and a waterproof battle plan and strategy in order to ensure that you do not simply end up as a pawn for the other side. Even having one of our own appointed as a professor is not sufficient if the ultimate control and authority over that professorship is wielded by a coterie of scholars who are opposed to our traditions as we interpret them, in the absence of sufficient controls to ensure autonomy for the chair.

Koenraad ElstOutside scholars can study—but not define for us—our samskriti

Of course, there is a role for scholarship of our traditions from outside the tradition.  A sterling example of such scholarship is that of Dr Koenraad Elst, who does not identify as a Hindu, but who studies Indology with academic rigor, impartiality and from a principled approach, without mincing words or hesitating to call a spade a spade. His conclusions often do not agree with a traditionalist Hindu reading, but because he is objective and fair, his scholarship is most welcome and appreciated.

Sheldon Pollock This is in stark contrast to the scholarship of Sheldon Pollock. Pollock does not approach Indology from an impartial starting point. He has a very definite political agenda. He is explicit about wanting to remove the sacred from Sanskrit, to view Sanskrit through a purely political lens, as a tool of oppression against women and shudras in particular. He compares the aesthetic power of Sanskrit to the use of propaganda by Nazis, to make beautiful and aesthetically appealing the ideology of oppression and hate. In effect, he compares ancient Indian civilization to the racial oppression by the Nazis. This is the perspective he brings to bear in all his studies of Sanskrit; this is the inherent bias which he carries into his work on the Murty Classical Library of India.

Imagine the repercussions of such bias on the composition of the library! He in effect gets to decide, along with the editorial board, which of the thousands of texts in our history count as our classics and frame the narrative they tell about our civilization. Hiring somebody else to define and interpret your culture’s literary classics, the very history of your literature, in effect gives them the power to define you. These ‘classics’ are not dead books of a vanished civilization, like the Iliad and Odyssey of the ancient Greeks—these are the sources of our living culture and religion, as vibrant and central to our civilization as the Bible. Could you imagine the Church outsourcing the translation of the Bible to non-Christians? Why should we do the same?

Max MullerThe ideological biases of these scholars cannot but influence the quality of scholarship and translations of these important texts. It was precisely such biases that gave rise to the racist, Eurocentric translations and depictions of our culture and religion in colonial times. In the 1700s and 1800s, European scholars undertook a serious study of our civilization through Indology in order to exploit our wealth and digest into Western systems our traditional knowledge. When we handed over to them our texts and the wisdom of our panditas, they used this knowledge against us. Max Muller and his cohorts appropriated traditional knowledge from our pandits and then twisted and distorted our literature and practices to come up with poisonous myths like the Aryan Invasion theory, the Aryan/Dravidian racial divide and the reduction of our religion to caste, cows and sati. William Jones did the same with his fabrication of ‘Hindu Law’.

We are still suffering from the consequences of their distortions of our civilization, the deep divides created by their divide-and-rule tactics, the false notions of ourselves and our history through the lies they have fed us. It will take us generations to recover from this, if we can ever fully recover at all. We may have removed geographical colonialism but we have not yet removed the colonialism of the mind.

We cannot afford such a dangerous experiment again. For, what starts in the Ivory Tower does not stop there. Academic discourse spreads to mainstream media, to popular culture, to our psychological understanding of ourselves and our identity. It tells us in very fundamental ways who we are as individuals and as a civilization. We are not talking of arcane things here. We are talking of the creation of a library meant to withstand the test of time, that will be a testament to the greatest pieces of literature created in India over the past two millennia. We are talking of what our kids will be taught in college about their heritage and religion at a time when their identities and ideologies are most susceptible to molding.

This is a huge responsibility that we cannot take lightly. Good intentions are not enough, when there is so much at stake. We have to be far-seeing and act for the long-term interests of India and Hinduism, not for what looks good as a photo-op or glossy press release today.

Adi ShankaraAcademic qualification does not constitute adhikara

The Dharmic traditions are not religions of the book that can be defined by doctrine or dogma alone. They are living traditions based on embodied experience, and in order to properly understand, preserve and teach them, one has to have aparoksha jnanam (direct rather than indirect knowledge, based on experience). One must become brahmanishta (established in the consciousness of Brahman) in addition to srotriya (learned in the scriptures). It is only then that one would know which particular meaning of a verse is the correct interpretation in which context.

Our rishis and acharyas were fastidious about the qualifications required in order to approach the study of our shastras. Our religious system, and that of all dharmic traditions, is based on adhikara bheda, meaning differentiation according to qualification. In other words, in order to properly understand, study and teach our traditions, it is not enough to know Sanskrit. One must follow a certain lifestyle, based on yamas and niyamas, have a requisite level of vairagya (dispassion) and viveka (discrimination) and learn from a qualified teacher.

Technical knowledge or book knowledge is not enough. Qualification is based upon antahkarna shuddhi (inner purity), which is attained through strict disciplines and adherence to a lifestyle of ritual purity, spiritual practices and learning in accordance with the traditional ways. In order to study the Vedas, for example, one must have undergone the upanayana samskara (sacred thread ceremony) and perform daily the trikala sandhya vandanam (particular rites of worship offered at dawn, dusk and midday as prescribed in the Vedas and transmitted at the time of upanayana). Nor is the concept of adhikara limited to the Vedas alone. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says that the wisdom of the Gita is never to be explained to those who are devoid of austerities, who are not devoted, and who do not render service.

The integrity of our shastras and their interpretation was of utmost importance to our rishis and acharyas. The Vedas and the Vedic tradition were carefully organized into various lineages, so each aspect would continue throughout time uncorrupted and pure. The methods through which oral transmission and the various paramparas were preserved ensured that the Vedic tradition lived on and came to us today as a living tradition, even when all other ancient religious traditions have perished.

Most people now do not even know who a Ganapathi is, but this is a designation for a particularly learned Vedic scholar. In order to become a Ganapathi, one first learns the Vedic texts by heart. This process itself could take up to five years. In the next stage, the pada patha, the entire samhita is split word by word and learned.  After that, the krama patha is learned, in which the student learns to combine words.  Next, in jata patha, the verses are learned in the sequence of 1,2,2,1,1,2/2,3,3,2,2,3/3,4,4,3,3,4, and finally, in the ghana patha stage, the verses are learned in the sequence of 1,2,2,1,1,2,3,3,2,1,1,2,3/2,3,3,2,2,3,4,4,3,2,2,3,4. By learning the same verses in so many different sequences, the Vedic texts become encrypted in the mind and full-proofed against error or corruption in their recitation and transmission. Such is the unfathomable discipline and intensity of practice with which our forefathers have preserved our samskriti for us. Alas, today there are hardly more than a few dozen Ganapathis left in India.

Our ancestors and acharyas sweated blood to pass along to us the Vedic tradition uncorrupted and pristine. They developed frameworks for preservation and transmission that safeguarded against error and abuse. They knew before the Europeans ever came along the dangers of being lax in terms of who can interpret and teach the Vedic tradition and how it is to be taught.

When they took such care, how can we dare to be so negligent and reckless?

Narayana Murthy with son RohanWhat will be our legacy?

We choose today what our legacy will be in the years to come. Do the Murthys want to be remembered for funding the next Max Muller, for being yet another in a long line of sepoys? Do we want to be remembered for funding the study of our religion by those who see it as oppressive and fundamentally bad?

Or, do we have enough self-respect to decolonize our minds, to demand that we have over the study of our tradition the same autonomy that the Muslims, Buddhists and Christians have over theirs? They get to define who they are for themselves, with outside scholarship playing only a marginal or fringe role. When Hindus try to do the same, they are accused of being fanatical or fundamentalist.

Our ancestors and acharyas have entrusted us with the custodianship of the oldest surviving religious tradition in the world, the last living of the pagan faiths, the mother source of all dharmic traditions, the civilization which has been the backbone of Bharata desha and the Indian subcontinent and beyond. To outsource that custodianship, to abdicate our duties of custodianship of our samskriti, would be a betrayal of who we are, from where we come and who we are destined to be. – Swarajya, 9 March 2016

» Aditi Banerjee is a practicing attorney at a Fortune 500 financial services company in the greater New York area. She is on the Board of Directors of the World Association for Vedic Studies (WAVES) and has organized and presented at global conferences on matters related to Dharma. She co-edited the book, Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, and has written widely on Hinduism and the Hindu-American experience.

HINDUS PROTEST AGAINST PROF DONIGER ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10, 2010, IN FRONT OF NEW SCHOOL UNIVERSITY BUILDING ,Dr. Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, will be honored by National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) on March 10th at The New School University Building, New York City for her book titled Hindus An Alternative History.

Indian academics demand removal of American scholar from Harvard Sanskrit project – Rishi Iyengar

Rohan Narayana Murty & Sheldon Pollock

Rishi IyengarThe petition cites, as another reason for his removal, Pollock’s signature on two statements condemning the Indian government’s recent handling of a controversy at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where students were charged with sedition under a colonial-era law for allegedly shouting ‘anti-India’ slogans.” – Rishi Iyengar

Sanskrit Palm LeavesA renowned American scholar on India and its ancient language Sanskrit has become the target of dozens of the South Asian country’s academics, with over a hundred of them floating an online petition to remove him as editor of a prestigious Harvard University Press book series on Indian languages.

Sheldon Pollock, the current Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University, should be barred from helming the Murty Classical Library of India—an ambitious effort to translate works in ancient Indian languages into English—due to his opposition to Hindu nationalist perspectives, the petition argues.

It has been authored and endorsed by 132 Indian professors, and so far has been signed more than 13,000 times.

In what many say is a disconcerting sign of India’s increasing Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the petition also cites, as another reason for his removal, Pollock’s signature on two statements condemning the Indian government’s recent handling of a controversy at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where students were charged with sedition under a colonial-era law for allegedly shouting “anti-India” slogans.

“It is crystal clear that Pollock has shown disrespect for the unity and integrity of India,” the petition claims.

The Indian academics also take offense to the fact that Pollock is an American, referencing Modi’s “Make in India” campaign (an effort to increase homegrown manufacturing) as a justification.

“The project must be part of the “Make in India” ethos and not outsourced wholesale to American Ivy Leagues,” the petition says.

Several academics expressed consternation at the petition but also fear speaking out against it within the current environment, Washington D.C.-based education website Inside Higher Ed reported.

“I deplore these attacks on my colleague,” Wendy Doninger, a prominent Hinduism expert at the University of Chicago, whose work has been similarly attacked in the past, was quoted as saying.

“The whole situation both in India and among the American Hindu diaspora worries me greatly,” she added. – Time, 2 March 2016

» Rishi Iyengar is a reporter for Time magazine in Pune.

Murty Classical Library of India

Swami Vivekananda and hero-worship – Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst“This moronic Hindu love of Christanity and Islam does partly go back to Vivekananda’s sayings like the famous ‘Islamic body, Vedanta brain’ quote. Vivekananda could not foresee that the next generations of Hindus would degenerate to such a level of loss of the power of discrimination that they—including monks from his own Ramakrishna Mission—would start to pontificate about an illusory ‘equal truth of all religions.’ So he never focused on that problem, and later thinkers like Ram Swarup and now Rajiv Malhotra had to take it up.” – Dr Koenraad Elst

Saurav Basu, an independent researcher with interests in history and politics, defends Swami Vivekananda against two perceived criticisms (“Swami Vivekananda And Two Criticisms In Contemporary Intellectual Discourse”, Swarajya, 27 January 2016). He starts with me, then deals with Rajiv Malhotra. Formally, that is a bit curious, since Malhotra is older than me as well as better informed concerning Vivekananda. His book Indra’s Net mostly deals with Vivekananda whereas I have made only a few passing remarks on him. Then again, Bose only uses his rebuttal of my views as a warm-up for dealing with Malhotra’s thesis, so I guess that makes it OK.

Rajiv MalhotraI cannot speak for Mr. Malhotra, but knowing his work, I find it strange that Basu posits an opposition between Vivekananda and him. If anything, Malhotra is a great defender of Vivekananda. Some Western scholars and their Indian imitators claim that Vivekananda represents a movement called “neo-Hinduism”, discontinuous from historical Hinduism except in outward form, and more indebted to Christianity. Against this novel construction of the “neo-Hindu” entity, Malhotra has shown, in his book Indra’s Net, that Vivekananda was every inch a Hindu.

This at once solves the major problem Basu posits: did Rajiv Malhotra plagiarise Swami Vivekananda when he deduced the need for charity from Vedanta (because the Other is deemed to be of the same essence as the Self), and when he posited “historicity” as a defining trait of the Abrahamic religions as against Hinduism? It is lawful for a scholar to trace the germs of an author’s path-breaking doctrine in earlier authors, but here Basu insinuates an antagonism between the later and the earlier author, even an attempt by the later one to obscure and conceal the influence of the earlier one. The subject deserves a more thorough treatment, but the short answer is: both authors were applying the vision of Dharma, already thousands of years old, to the challenges of their own time.

Swami VivekanandaScepticism regarding Vivekananda

Then, speaking for myself, I learn that the present writer “alleges that ‘Swami Vivekananda is over-glorified and made the patron of too many institutions…. Thus, scholars of Hindu philosophy consider his knowledge … very third-rate, and his influential interpretation of Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra even harmful….’”

The opinions I cite about Vivekananda are not an “allegation” of mine, just an account of facts I observe. Many scholars, whom I don’t define as “Western” but as “not beholden to the Hindu cause”, candidly allege that Vivekananda had not been trained in the nitty-gritty of Hindu philosophy and therefore necessarily displayed some defects when trying his hand at it. The evaluation “so third-rate” is from Robert Zydenbos, an academic with whom I have crossed swords several times (he counts me among “the scum of the earth”), but nonetheless a scrupulous scholar. From his detailed knowledge of the fine points of Hindu thought, he judges Vivekananda’s rendering of it (typically in speeches before commoner audiences) as very sketchy and unmindful of his precise sources.

On the other hand, not being a detail-oriented scholastic sometimes facilitates the larger perspective one gains when surveying a subject from the outside. And here, I can follow Basu’s quote from Sister Nivedita that Vivekananda “added to Hinduism”. An important subject, but no further treatment of it in this brief article.

The opinion that Vivekananda’s book Raja Yoga, a presentation of the Yoga Sutra, is confused and confusing, and thus dangerous, is from Swami Agehananda Bharati. He was a German Indologist who became an ordained Hindu monk, though he frequently expressed his skepticism about some traits of Hindu tradition as presently practised. Maybe Basu doesn’t like Agehananda’s ideological position, or his skin colour, but it is in keeping with scholarly practice to take his criticism of this much-read book seriously. He was fairly competent on yogic matters. And even if he is found to have been wrong, I still have a right to report that this opinion exists. Yes, there are people who consider Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga “harmful”.

Netaji Subhas Chandra BoseProblematizing hero-worship

As for myself, in the quoted lines I have not expressed any opinion of Vivekananda’s treatment of earlier thinkers and their thoughts. The thrust of my intervention was simply to problematize the Hindu tendency of hero-worship. Just because Vivekananda played a decisive role in giving Hindus pride again in their oppressed and much-maligned civilization, many Hindus treat him as infallible. Indeed, Basu’s own article is an example of this mindset. To start defending Vivekananda against his defender Malhotra, one must make him untouchably perfect indeed.

Let us compare this with another case of hero-worship, of another Bengali recently in the news: Subhas Chandra Bose. Yes, he certainly was a hero, freely choosing the difficult life of combat, always leading from the front and sharing the lives of his soldiers. And he was a great patriot: one may disagree with his strategic choices, but he did it for the love of the Motherland. But then, so did others: the choice by V.D. Savarkar to throw in India’s lot with the British was equally born from a desire to serve freedom for the Motherland in the best way possible. One great thing about India is the way it dealt with the different choices leaders had made in World War II: whereas European countries were racked by national disunity and revenge for years after, in India the war was really over in 1945. Whatever conflicting courses had been taken, they were correctly deemed to have been different attempts, according to everyone’s own lights, to serve the Motherland. That is why Jawaharlal Nehru offered to defend Bose’s lieutenants when they were tried by the British. So, we can agree that Bose was a heroic national leader.

Yet, he was very fallible too. His political ideas, e.g. about India’s need for dictatorship and of synthesizing Fascism and Communism, are best forgotten. But Bose-worshippers think they have to defend all of him. There is far too much hero-worship in Hindu nationalism, leading to a stagnation of thought because of a hyper-focus on the hero’s historical struggles and neglect of other struggles, esp. the present ones.

For a more consequential case of hero-worship: activists of the RSS, the self-praising “vanguard of Hindu society”, still go gaga over the memory of their movement’s founding fathers, K. B. Hedgewar and his successor M. S. Golwalkar. Though they have passed from the scene long ago, their works have never been critically analyzed even though their photographs are on display at every RSS function. RSS thought is still frozen in the pre-war years. Even the 1960s’ addition of Deendayal Upadhyaya’s Integral Humanism wasn’t much of an addition. Though the term is unimpeachable, it probably originated in 1930s’ Europe, in Jacques Maritain’s book Humanisme intégral, the major source of Christian Democracy (its central idea, very relevant both in India and Europe during the heyday of anti-religious Communism, was that “a humanism that denies man’s religious dimension, is not an integral humanism”). Upadhyaya’s core concept of a “national soul” goes back even farther, viz. to Johann Herder’s nationalism. So, the RSS’s “Hindu nationalism” is neither original nor very deep, and even its latest addition is already half a century old. Hedgewar’s ideas may have been useful and defensible in the interwar years, but the world has changed. Because of hero-worship, his approach was not seen as an attempt to serve Hindu society under the circumstances then obtaining, but were made the absolute focus of loyalty for succeeding generations. The result has been a willful unfitness for operating under changing conditions, and hence a decades-long impotence before the persistent de-Hinduization of India, all on the RSS’s watch.  

Ram SwarupVivekananda’s influence

In Hindu Dharma, new ideas may develop, but they should not become an absolute yardstick. In broad outline, Dharma has been discovered and mapped well enough by generations past, and it is from them as a collective entity that we should take inspiration (what we in Europe call the mos maiorum, the “ancestral ethos”), not only from some recent hero. As G. W. F. Hegel said: “The true is the whole.”

Admittedly, such a counterproductive influence cannot possibly be attributed to Swami Vivekananda. The defence of his fair name, as undertaken here by Saurav Basu (as on the stereotyping of India as “spiritual”, another subject too large to go into here), is also more intricate and sophisticated. It is true, and Basu provides the supporting quote, that Vivekananda saw Hinduism as a vast expanse stretching between the crudest and the most subtle, and that every single one of them was a genuine grasping for the divine. Yet, that vision of his has wrongly been expanded to Christianity and Islam, which are not just paths to the divine minding their own business, but also a demonization of all other paths. And this moronic Hindu love of Christanity and Islam does partly go back to Vivekananda’s sayings like the famous “Islamic body, Vedanta brain” quote. Vivekananda could not foresee that the next generations of Hindus would degenerate to such a level of loss of the power of discrimination that they (including monks from his own Ramakrishna Mission) would start to pontificate about an illusory “equal truth of all religions”. So he never focused on that problem, and later thinkers like Ram Swarup and now Rajiv Malhotra had to take it up.

So here too, we should see successive generations of Hindu thinkers together as all emanating from Dharma, and not have this hyper-focus on a hero from the colonial period. And most certainly, we should not borrow his vantage point to belittle a trail-blazer from the present time. This is another drawback of hero-worship: it makes you hyper-conscious of the challenges faced by Vivekananda, and blind to the rather different challenges Hinduism faces in other situations, including today—and to which Rajiv Malhotra is exploring the answers. The best way to honour the past’s Vivekananda is to support today’s Vivekananda.

Patanjali“Revelation”

While we are at it, this phenomenon of hero-worship is closely akin to another trait of Hinduism: the conferral of absolute authority on the Vedas and even on more broadly defined scriptures. The Vedic seers knew very well where the Vedic hymns came from: not from divine revelation but from their own creativity and poetic skill. That is why the Vedic hymns have the form of human worshippers addressing the gods, unlike the Quran, wherein God is made to address man. That is why the seer Vasishtha could claim the merit for his own hymns’ power to seduce Lord Indra into supporting his patron king Sudas during the Vedic Battle of the Ten Kings. But as the Vedic corpus was completed and receded into the past, its stature grew, its human origins were forgotten, and eventually it was elevated to divine status.

Therefore, many Hindus evince a tendency which Basu wrongly attributes to me: “Elst is also perhaps disturbed by Vivekananda’s emphasis on anubhava (experience) over agama (scriptural revelation) as the essence of Hindu thought, and the idea of Hinduism as a ‘scientific religion’ which emphasized empirical validation of spiritual precepts as the culmination of all sadhana.” No, where there are yogic insights in Vedic literature, they follow from prior direct experience. To me it is obvious: of course anubhava takes precedence over agama. Some Veda loyalists claim that the goal of meditation is the realization of the “revealed” Vedic mahavakyas (“great sentences”, like “that art thou” or “I am Brahma”), but I think the mahavakyas are only the later formulaic version of prior experience.

Patañjali thought likewise, for he explains what to do to achieve Self-realization, not which Vedic verses to read. Indeed, Shankara held it against him that he doesn’t quote the Vedas anywhere. I therefore disagree with Edwin Bryant, quoted with approval by Basu, that Patañjali “accepted the truth of divine revelation, agama”. At this point, I realize that I am breaking ranks with a widespread Hindu belief. But if the choice is between the spiritual autonomy of the Vedic seers or Patañjali and the dependence on Scripture of later Hindus, I would choose the former. And so did, as Basu implicitly asserts, Swami Vivekananda.

On this count, Vivekananda was an innovator in Hindu tradition as it had become. But at the same time, he only restored the worldview of the ancients. To many Veda loyalists of his day, this vision of a Hinduism (at its best) as a “scientific religion” based upon “empirical validation” and “experience” would have sounded unorthodox. But to Patañjali, it must have seemed obvious. – 31 January 2016

» This article was sent to Swarajya Magazine as a rebuttal to Saurav Basu’s article attacking Koenraad Elst and Rajiv Malhotra. The Swarajya editor has finally got around to publishing it here.
» Dr Koenraad Elst is an Indologist and Historian in Mortsel, Belgium. He has published on the interface of religion and politics, correlative cosmologies, the dark side of Buddhism, the reinvention of Hinduism, technical points of Indian and Chinese philosophies, various language policy issues, Maoism, the renewed relevance of Confucius in conservatism, the increasing Asian stamp on integrating world civilization, direct democracy, the defence of threatened freedoms, and the Belgian question. Regarding religion, he combines human sympathy with substantive skepticism.

Swami Vivekananda Quote

Rohith Vemula’s Suicide: Imposing the burden of guilt to bury the truth – Radha Rajan

Rohith Vemula

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“The truth about who is really responsible for endemic campus violence must be spoken loudly and sternly if young people must be prevented from being drawn into self-destructive campus activism which makes them lose sight of the end objective of all education—social, economic and personal empowerment. Rohith Vemula’s tragedy is the extreme manifestation of what is happening to young people in centres of learning—it happened in IIT Madras, it is happening in FTII Pune and it happened in Hyderabad University.” – Radha Rajan

SuicideThere is no other way to put it—in the end, only Rohith Vemula is to blame for Rohith Vemula’s death by suicide; Vemula died for the bad choices he knowingly made—the causes he espoused, the company he kept and the methods he employed when he practiced his extremist ideology. Blame for this young man’s suicide must be rightly laid at the doors of hatred-driven anti-national political ideologies which are allowed a free run inside college and university campuses in the guise of freedom of choice and association. Blame must also be laid at the doors of members of the teaching faculty who encourage political activism even when activism takes them away from academics and worse, uses unlawful methods. A frenzied media baying for Narendra Modi’s blood (if they can’t have Modi they will settle for the blood of the Vice Chancellor) wants the nation to bear the burden of guilt for Rohith Vemula’s suicide, simply because Vemula was Dalit; actually half-Dalit because his father’s caste Vaddera, is categorised under OBC but the media had to be economical even with the fact about Rohith Vemula’s Dalit identity. “Does it really matter”, was the question. Yes it does. The media tried hard to generate mass hysteria over Rohith Vemula’s suicide only because they alleged he was a Dalit and his suicide was yet another chapter in Narendra Modi’s intolerant India. The media did not create and wallow in frenzied outrage when other students died in Hyderabad University, IIT Madras and other colleges and universities in the country for varied reasons which, if the media truly cared about all young people, also deserve attention.

Bias in the Indian mainstream media.Media’s reprehensible reportage

Rohith Vemula was to the media in January 2016 what Akhlaq was to the media in October 2015—a violent and cathartic purge to cleanse their systems of the accumulated ill-effects of a pampered life which they grab with both hands as matter of entitlement. Without going into fine details about their reportage, while Akhlaq’s murder on 10th October 2015 in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh attracted the attention of Pakistan’s Dawn, Britain’s BBC, The Guardian and Al Jazeera, because he was an innocent Muslim killed by intolerant Hindus, Prashant Poojary’s murder five days earlier on October 5, in Moodbidri, Karnataka was forgotten and consigned to oblivion because Prashant Poojary was an intolerant Hindu killed by innocent Muslims. While NDTV’s reportage of Akhlaq’s murder gives a list of the names of all the accused with details of their Hindu ancestry, The Hindu’s reportage of Poojary’s murder is laced with contempt for the fact that he is a Bajrang Dal activist (implying that his violent end was only to be expected). And typical of media chicanery in how they deal with facts, there is no mention anywhere that Poojary was killed by Muslims illegally transporting cows for slaughter. Media selectivity in dealing with Hindus and Muslims was best exemplified when Lalu Prasad Yadav as railway Minister reacted to the burning alive of Hindu men, women and children by jihadis inside the Sabarmati Express in Godhra, with the observation that those killed were not “innocent Hindus” but only karsevaks. (Reference) (Reference)

In secular Idea of India there is no innocence even in Hindu children.

I therefore refuse to bear this media-imposed burden of guilt because Rohith Vemula was more fortunate than thousands of young people of his community who do not get to see the inside of a primary school. Rohith Vemula was very fortunate to have reached so far and so creditably but he chose to squander away the rare privilege. He chose Kejriwal and Owaisi over Babasaheb Ambedkar’s inspirational life and tragically for himself and for the family whose hopes were pinned on him, Rohith Vemula committed suicide when he could have chosen to step back and turn away from the precipice upon which he found himself. Hyderabad University and all colleges and universities must accept blame for failing to put in place structures and support mechanisms to help troubled students who desperately need a compassionate and understanding ear.

Fake dalit Kancha Ilaiah is one of India leading cultural traitors. He enjoyed the beef biryani at the recent Osmania Beef Festival but has not had the courage to demand a pork festival for his Christian students from the universtity administration.The brainwashing and transformation of Rohith Vemula

The truth about who is really responsible for endemic campus violence must be spoken loudly and sternly if young people must be prevented from being drawn into self-destructive campus activism which makes them lose sight of the end objective of all education—social, economic and personal empowerment. Rohith Vemula’s tragedy is the extreme manifestation of what is happening to young people in centres of learning—it happened in IIT Madras, it is happening in FTII Pune and it happened in Hyderabad University. This episode of Dalit student activism which took recourse to violence and ended Rohith Vemula’s life began on 31st July, 2015 the day after Yakub Memon was hanged.

Narendra Modi should have waited another 24 hours before commiserating Vemula’s death; 24 hours which would have exposed the media for chicanery and professional misconduct. Twenty-four hours after Prime Minister Modi called the terrorist sympathiser and campus hooligan “ma ka lal” the truth about who really was Rohith Vemula and why he and his four friends of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) deserved to be suspended and evicted from the university hostel, library and mess by the Proctoral Board of Hyderabad University and why his monthly stipend was withheld, began to appear on the internet. Rohith Vemula’s Facebook wall said it all—from a young man inspired by Swami Vivekananda, Vemula became a hatred-driven caricature of himself who began to toy with ideas of political anarchism espoused by Kejriwal’s AAP, and political violence of Owaisi’s MIM. Rohith Vemula’s transformation from a sensitive young man who was attracted to the idea of Bhagwan Sri Krishna in the arms of a Muslim woman in a burqa, who was fascinated by the potential of solar power, who admired the courage and selflessness of the Indian army, into a Hindu-hating individual who had no qualms about admitting that he would strip the sari off his mother if she wore saffron, who began to call Swami Vivekananda a casteist Hindu, signalled extreme radicalisation inside the Hyderabad University campus by ASA, influenced by politically-motivated individuals like Kancha Ilaiah and Asaduddin Owaisi resulting in intense and sustained mental conditioning also known as brainwashing. A student from the Hyderabad University also told me that Rohith Vemula’s brother, when he was a student of M.Sc Geology in the Pondicherry University, went to Kerala and converted to Islam. (Reference)

Asaduddin OwaisiStudents’ groups driven by political ideologies destroy the quest for education

That no mainstream newspaper or news channel saw fit to draw parallels between Hyderabad University’s Ambedkar Students Association and Study Circle (APSC) in IIT Madras only goes to show that understanding the causes behind Rohith Vemula’s suicide was not the end or sole objective of media breast-beating over Vemula’s death; but fuelling the caste fire and dragging the country’s government, Prime Minister, the BJP and by extension all Hindus through media generated excrement of falsehood and lies, was. It is becoming clearer by the day that institutions of higher learning across the country are now the hunting ground for predatory Islam, Christianity and their conjoined sibling Marxism which use Babasaheb Ambedkar’s name as a front for violence and hatred-driven political activism. Ambedkar was a nationalist; Ministry of HRD must at least now ensure that student unions and student bodies with proclivity for lawlessness and hooliganism are not permitted to use Ambedkar’s name as a front for anti-national activities inside educational institutions.

Students from vulnerable sections of society in institutions of higher education are not just soft and ready targets but are actually the prey for politically driven Islam, Christianity and communism which take over student bodies and student groups, specifically Dalit student groups. Owaisi’s MIM is making inroads into Hyderabad University and Muslim students in the university have their own student body, Islamic Students Organization (ISO) which functions under the patronage of the ASA and is even suspected to be funding their activities. If Marxism and Christianity have entered into a successful strategic partnership towards a common geopolitical objective, India’s universities is seeing another strategic partnership between Dalits and Minorities (read Muslims) and Owaisi is showing them how this partnership will work in electoral politics. (Reference)

My earlier article on campus turbulence, Something Rotten in IIT Madras exposed how the teaching faculty in the Humanities is largely Leftist and imported from JNU and the significant role they play as advisers and guides to student bodies which are openly anti-national and anti-Hindu in orientation. Organizing beef fests, kiss-of-love protests, open and public support for all kinds of terrorism—Tamil, Naxal and jihadi, allowing known anti-Hindu and irreligious rationalists into educational institutions for seminars and workshops organized by student bodies and student unions—this is the emerging pattern in colleges and universities in several cities across the country. Mommy issues with authority, compounded by a deliberate intent on the part of Left-leaning teaching staff and persons like Owaisi and Ilaiah who accentuate existing sense of genuine victimhood and deprivation in Dalit students is destroying Dalit minds which after such hate-filled indoctrination is so consumed by anger and hatred that they lose their sense of purpose and take their eyes away from the life of opportunities that awaits them after higher education. Dalit students who are tempted by a false sense of empowerment through campus activism become collateral damage for anti-national political ideologies which place them on the wrong side of the law. (Reference)

Ambedkar Students' AssociationASA, ABVP and must-know faculty members

The ASA came into being in the University of Hyderabad in 1992 as a body to assist Dalit students with orientation, integration and other difficulties which they may face when they first enter the university. Currently there are three Dalit student organizations—Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), Dalit Students Union (DSU) and Bahujan Student Front (BSF). However it is only the ASA which has set political activism through violent methods as its raison d’etre. Faculty members supporting and even using ASA for their own ideological ends:

  1. Prof. Haribabu and Prof. Haragopal from the Department of Political Science;

  2. Prof. Lakshminarayana, Economics Department;

  3. Asst. Prof. Vamsee Krishna, Economic Department and son of Prof. Haragopal;

  4. Prof. K. Y. Rathnam, Political Sceince Department, student of Prof. Haragopal;

  5. Prof. B. Nagaraju, History Department, student of Prof. Haribabu and also Chief Warden;

  6. Dean of Student Welfare, Prof. Prakash Babu, Department of Life Sciences, Bio Technology;

  7. Sowmya Dechamma, Senior Assistant Professor, Humanities department who organized Kiss of Love protests inside university campus and also participated in and spoke at the namaaz e janazza or memorial prayer conducted by students of ASA including Rohith Vemula and a group of radical Muslims for Yakub Memon on 31st July 2015 after he was hanged.

Truth behind why Rohith Vemula and his four friends from ASA were suspended

  1. Taking exception to the memorial prayer inside the university campus for Yakub Memon, the terrorist mastermind behind the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, Susheel Kumar then President of the ABVP expressed his outrage on Facebook and referred to those who organized the namaaz e janaaza as ASA ‘goons’.

  2. The ABVP with a strong presence inside the Hyderabad University also informed the Proctoral Board about the memorial prayer for Yakub Memon and demanded stern action against the organizers and participants for their anti-national action. Lest there be any waffling over what constitutes anti-national action, expressing any form of support for a terrorist found guilty of mass murder and who was convicted and punished by the nation’s highest court, constitutes anti-national activity. Rohith Vemula and his four friends from ASA were anti-national by this definition.

  3. When the Proctoral Board refused to take any action against Vemula and the ASA, the ABVP decided to organize a protest against the memorial prayer on 4th August, 2015.

  4. Around 1.30 AM, in the early hours on 4th August, a gang of around 60 students of the ASA led by Rohith Vemula and his four friends attacked Susheel Kumar in the Annexure Hostel, leaving him severely wounded. Susheel Kumar was admitted to a hospital.

  5. Despite representations to the Proctoral Board by the ABVP to take action against the ASA for its brutal, physical attack against Susheel Kumar, the Board continued to dither; undoubtedly intimidated by the fact that if any action were taken by the university against Dalit students of the ASA, then both the ASA and its partner ISO would almost certainly unleash more violence in the university campus.

  6. Dejected and angered by the fact that no action was taken by the university against her son’s attackers, Susheel Kumar’s mother Vinaya came to the university to meet the Vice Chancellor. A mob of ASA goons gheraoed Susheel’s mother when she entered the university and pushed her out, refusing to let her meet the Vice Chancellor. Wonder why the media failed to report this too.

  7. Frustrated that the university continued to evade action against the student gang which attacked her son, Vinaya approached the Hyderabad High Court for justice.

  8. In the meanwhile UoH sent the university’s Medical Officer to the hospital for a report on Susheel Kumar’s injuries. The Medical Officer submitted a report to the effect that while Susheel Kumar was indeed beaten, the injuries were minimal.

  9. In a shocking turn of events, which proved how terribly wrong and motivated was the university Medical Officer’s report, Susheel Kumar’s condition took a turn for the worse and he had to undergo an emergency operation on 7th August, three days after he was beaten, to remove a ruptured appendix.

  10. A second medical report from the doctor who performed the surgery on Susheel Kumar attested to the fact that the ABVP student was beaten so brutally that his appendix suffered grievous injuries causing immense pain and repeated vomiting.

  11. Susheel’s mother filed the doctor’s report before Justice Sanjay Kumar of the Hyderabad High Court who was hearing the case. The judge issued notices to the Vice Chancellor and Chief Proctor asking them to submit an action taken report before the court. Left with no option, and under pressure from the Hyderabad High Court to take action against the culprits, the Vice Chancellor and the Chief Proctor who was also the head of the Proctoral Board, trod a measured step. Instead of rusticating Rohith Vemula and his four criminal friends from the ASA, the Vice Chancellor and the Chief Proctor decided on the milder punishment of suspending them for one semester, evicting them from the hostel and banning them from entering the library and mess.

  12. When the university re-opened after vacations, the ASA sat on a dharna demanding that the Vice Chancellor and the Proctoral Board reverse the punishment. But when the university refused to do so because the case was sub-judice, Rohith Vemmula and the other four accused filed a petition before the Hyderabad High Court challenging their suspension.

  13. Justice Ramachandra Rao who heard their petition, was not impressed and refusing to reverse the suspension, the judge clubbed their petition with the petition filed by Susheel’s mother Vinaya. One of the four students of ASA and co-accused in the Susheel Kumar assault case ended his dharna not willing to risk his future. He had just a few days ago submitted his doctoral thesis to the university.

Susheel KumarThe law had finally caught up with Rohith Vemula and the ASA. Susheel Kumar of the ABVP was not the first victim of ASA violence. The ASA had earlier also physically assaulted students of Dalit Students Union and disrupted a national conference organized inside the campus by the Telugu Department accusing the conference of being casteist, whatever that may mean. Rohith Vemula was a sensitive and thinking student as the letter he left behind him after his suicide shows. In this letter the anguish, the realisation of where his activism had led him, the futility of protests which had taken him away from the quest of self fulfilment, reveal that Rohith Vemula was a tormented young man and he was tormented not because the law caught up with him but because he had allowed himself to be used by forces which had diminished him to one identity—his Dalit identity. Rohith Vemula understood that his Dalit identity had only utilitarian value for the ASA, that he himself with all normal complexities of self-identity and aspirations for life did not matter. In the end, it was the diminishing of his persona, and trivialising the value of his life by those whom he considered friends and fellow-travellers which pushed Rohith Vemula to suicide. And here, I empathise with Narendra Modi’s poignant observation—in the end it is always only the mother who grieves when her child dies before her and only the mother carries the burden of pain. For ASA, Owaisi, Kancha Illaiah and all others who entrapped Rohith Vemula in hatred, it is life and business back as usual.

Warning: In 2003 or 2004, a student of Hyderabad University was shot by the police on suspicion of being a Maoist. He was a student of Prof. Haragopal. In 2012, Prudhvi, a Dalit student of UoH from Nalagonda was arrested by the police in the forests of Bhadrachalam with Maoist literature and a diary. Commissioner of Police, Hyderabad found a satellite phone in the possession of a Muslim student of the UoH student body Islamic Student Organization. – Vigil OnLine, 26 January 2016

» Radha Rajan is a political analyst and animal rights activist in Chennai.

University of Hyderabad

Indian Politicians

See also

Bravo! Netas strip Rohith Vemula down to his Dalit identity – Sreemoy Talukdar

Rohith Vemula

Sreemoy Talukdar“Like vultures excited by the smell of carrion, party leaders from all over India are now circling over Hyderabad, determined to peck every bit of flesh clean off the bone in an effort to secure their votebanks. … The early bird prize went to Rahul Gandhi who came along with senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh. Amid folk songs and impromptu lyrics, the Gandhi scion spoke before an excited crowd on the campus. Some tried to capture selfies, while others called their parents at home, requesting them to switch on the TV because it was being covered live.” – Sreemoy Talukdar

SuicideThe suicide of a Dalit student in Hyderabad has provided a god-given opportunity to our “secular” netas.

The value of a man was reduced to his identity … to a vote, to a number, to a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind, as a glorious thing made of star dust in every field. In studies, on streets, in politics and in dying and living, wrote Rohith Vemula in a heart-wrenching suicide letter.

His eloquent words seem eerily prophetic now.

In less than the time it took for family members, friends and colleagues to process the news of his shocking death, the erudite science scholar has been stripped down, buck naked, to his Dalit identity. And as the vivacious student activist foresaw, through a well-oiled paradigm of reductive politics, his voice has been reduced to just a vote. One vote that could lead to many votes in the eyes of our congenitally opportunistic political handlers.

Like vultures excited by the smell of carrion, party leaders from all over India are now circling over Hyderabad, determined to peck every bit of flesh clean off the bone in an effort to secure their votebanks.

Vemula wanted to be a writer of science “like Carl Sagan”. He was well-read, meritorious, brilliant. He was spunky, a man of action and an inspiration to co-activists. He tore down posters of ABVP, organised movements in favour of the causes he espoused, inevitably resulting in clashes with students of different ideologies. We learn from a Times of India report that PhD scholar Vemula got his admission to the University of Hyderabad on general merit quota. And although he declared himself as a member of a Scheduled Caste in his admission form, he never felt the need to furnish it.

And from his experience, he was also aware of the structured alienation that Dalits face from society. In his final letter, a veritable treatise on each of his experiences as an individual or part of a collective, Vemula issued a clarion call against disrespect for merit “in studies, on streets, in politics and in dying and living”.

But look at what we have done.

Hardly a day has passed since his suicide that long, sharp knives are being twisted into his memory. All that he stood for stands nullified. Eager to pose with his family members and co-activists in a bid to exploit the sentiment—still raw and powerful—vote-hungry netas are busy trampling Vemula’s dying wish under their foot.

Can’t blame them, really. A tragedy not exploited is an opportunity lost.

Union minister Bandaru Dattatreya, acting on a request from the BJP’s student wing, sent a letter to HRD ministry. He accused the student association at Hyderabad University bearing Ambedkar’s name of “anti-nationalism”. The Smriti Irani-headed ministry shot off four letters to the vice-chancellor. Vemula and four others were expelled and he eventually committed suicide. If the BJP had a death wish, it couldn’t have executed the plan better. For the Opposition, it is an issued served on a platter to paint the ruling party as a reflexively anti-Dalit.

Hence, we find Arvind Kejriwal, who practices throwing secular arrows on the ‘Narendra Modi Dartboard’ when not playing the victim card, jump into the cauldron with alarming alacrity.

Rahul Gandhi & Arvind KejriwalCalling it “not suicide, but murder” and demanding an apology from Modi, the ‘mufflered mango man’ who remained steadfastly silent during the violence in Malda—a district in Bengal, has since been burning in the fire of righteous indignation. The Trinamool Congress sent its emissary Derek O’Brien, the articulate spokesperson. He couldn’t travel the distance from Kolkata to Malda—around 326 kilometres—when it was burning, but wasted no time in taking the first flight to Hyderabad.

Some causes are greater than others.

The early bird prize, though, went to Rahul Gandhi who came along with senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh. Amid folk songs and impromptu lyrics, the Gandhi scion spoke before an excited crowd on the campus. Some tried to capture selfies, while others called their parents at home, requesting them to switch on the TV because it was being covered live.

Seeing all this unfold, Mayawati, whose life and career is centred around Dalit identity politics, sent two emissaries on a fact-finding mission. Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are not too far away.

As tragedy tourism went on in full swing and the recipe for another ‘Mahagathbandhan’ was being readied, we are reminded yet again of Vemula’s immortal words: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity.

The reductive principle at work behind the stripping down of Vemula to his Dalit identity is effectively the new caste system that the political parties are engaging in. And in this new paradigm, politics is no longer the sphere in which convictions crash or varied interests are shared. It is now just a battlefield for pitting one identity against the other. Dalit against Brahmins. Muslims against Hindus.

Vemula, the PhD scholar, is no longer a thinking individual who was convinced of his ideology and acted on basis of his conviction. That individual, tragically, is now dead. The multi-faceted scholar has been quickly ossified by politicians into a mere keeper of an identity, the very thing he warned us against in his final missive.

Henceforth, Vemula is just ‘that Dalit student who committed suicide’. – Firstpost, 20 January 2016

» Sreemoy Talukdar is a senior editor at Firstpost.

University of Hyderabad

See also

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,445 other followers

%d bloggers like this: