Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quick thoughts on the pulping of The Hindus (and the benevolent bully)

Some thoughts in connection with the depressing - but not, in our times, very surprising - news about the “pulping” of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus by Penguin India (after a petition that, among other things, alleges that Doniger’s “approach is that of a woman hungry of sex”, that a Shiva linga can only be a cigar, so to speak, and that the idea of Krishna having an erotic life is unthinkable and un-Hindu).

I have written before about the smug certitudes that so often accompany religious belief, and the sophistry/cherry-picking inherent in the thought process that goes: “THIS is what the scriptures really meant, and it’s all good and clean and pure and exactly as I want it to be. Anything else – anything that makes me uncomfortable, or doesn’t fit the accepted moralities of today, or makes the Gods seem imperfect, or even vaguely suggests that those old books may have been a product of their age rather than containing unassailable wisdom and truth for all time – any such thing HAS to be a flawed reading, or a later corruption of the text. Or, wait, it can be interpreted THIS way, which makes everything okay again.”

This thought process isn’t limited to those whom we can conveniently label “fanatics”. Some generally intelligent people I know, including some who aren't especially religious, often bring up that beautiful, soothing – and nonsensical – idea that all religions “in essence” or “in their original form” teach love, universal brotherhood, tolerance and non-violence. A cursory reading of the major works of ancient literature shows how bizarre this claim is. But of course, once you know, with absolute certainty, that they really are all divine texts, that so-and-so really WAS a God, and that Gods by definition are good and all-knowing and so on, it becomes easy to rationalise anything.

I had an email conversation with a friend today – it touched briefly on the Doniger episode, but it began as a discussion of the new TV Mahabharat, which (no surprise) depicts Krishna as a forever-in-control avatar, constantly manipulating events towards the Greater Good, interfering in every scene to such a degree that you feel all the other characters could easily have been played by mannequins with little strings attached to them. Compared to this beacon in man-shape, even the Krishna of the B R Chopra serial – a fairly populist show in its time – was a flawed, sometimes conflicted, likably human character.

Anyway, I was telling my friend about the new show’s whitewashing of nearly every dubious action performed by the “good guys”, the Pandavas and Draupadi, how it glibly stacks the cards in their favour, and against those who are on the side of “adharma”. There is a scene at Draupadi’s swayamvara where Krishna meets Karna for the first time and tells him something like, “If you don't get respect – sammaan – it means you have not followed the path of dharma.” Karna asks “But what about someone who has never known respect, right from his earliest days?” and to this Krishna smiles sweetly and wags his finger and says “Oh, in that case, you must strive all your life for respect. But don't do it by siding with adharma.”

One gets the gist of what is being said, and even buys into it to a degree if one is hung up on the Bhakti Tradition Krishna and the Mahabharata-as-Morality-Tale. And I’m not suggesting that the injustices done to Karna be used to justify or even gloss over the wrongs he participates in. But this scene (and there are others like it) presents such a simple-minded view of what is good and what is bad, and such an undermining of lived experience. As I told my friend on email, if this Krishna travelled to modern-day Delhi and met an autorickshaw driver who had just been smacked hard by a rich kid in a BMW because their vehicles had grazed each other, he'd probably say the same thing with the same expression.

She replied: “That is what I find so fearfully disturbing about the […] discourses of today: they all conspire (consciously or otherwise) to vindicate a certain hierarchy by transforming it into benevolent, enlightened patriarchy, striving to achieve everyone's well-being. Poppycock.” Well said. There are so many versions of this benevolent patriarchy. (“Yes, yes, we believe in freedom of speech too,” they say with indulgent smiles, “But, you know, this will hurt so many feelings. Couldn't you avoid writing it?”) And we see a form of it in the objections to books like Doniger’s, by people who want a single, standardised, comforting version of things, with nothing that will rock any boats.

[Related thoughts in these posts: Arun Shourie on innocents in a Godless world; divine savages and “real” truth; tales from a crematorium; Chetan Bhagat and “liberal extremism”]

26 comments:

  1. But of course, once you know, with absolute certainty, that they really are all divine texts, that so-and-so really WAS a God, and that Gods by definition are good and all-knowing and so on, it becomes easy to rationalise anything.

    I don't think it is as simple as that. You may even find atheists from a "hindu" background railing against say a book like Wendy Doniger's (I know very little about the book, by the way) because they may sense double standards in the way the intellectual world reacts to different religions/cultures. It's got a lot to do with the current political and intellectual zeitgeist.

    Martin Scorsese made a remarkable movie back in 1988 that fictionalized the life of Christ. Now why did he make that movie. Because Christendom and western civilization in general could tolerate the film and give him an audience notwithstanding all the brickbats he might've got from a few quarters.

    Now has anyone ventured to make a similar movie on the birth of Islam? The life of Mohammed? I just don't know of any titles. Let me know if there are any films (which do not descend to hagiography).

    Civilizations that are willing to laugh at themselves quite naturally attract the most criticism/ridicule. Eg: The multi cultural societies of western europe and US, multi-ethnic pagan India. It's the old rule of the workplace which is at play here...The employee who is most willing to listen to "constructive criticism" without throwing up is invariably the one who receives the most feedback from the boss. Because the boss likes to lecture those direct reports who are willing to listen to him without getting hurt. People who do get hurt get special privilege and exemption from "feedback".

    No wonder more people around the world are realizing this and hence deciding to turn less tolerant in general. Can't blame them really. It pays to be intolerant and bigoted. Given the kindness bestowed upon intolerant, bigoted societies by the intelligentsia.

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    1. Shrikanth: of course things are never so simple, but most of the "intellectuals" I know react in much the same way when Islamist fundamentalists jump up and down and start yelling about a book or film. You remember the Rushdie-at-Jaipur thing from two years ago, I assume.
      But yes, competitive intolerance does have a hypnotic appeal, and we see the results of it all around us now.

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    2. Shrikanth: Scorsese's film, of course, is based on a novel that caused just as much grief as Doniger's non-fiction. Nikos Kazantzakis was anathematized. The book is on the Vatican's list of banned books. Scorsese's film is banned in several countries around the world. Fundamentalism is hale and hearty everywhere in the world - several western countries have legal systems which protect the rights of content creators to create content which could be viewed as controversial.

      Also, there is a movie on the life of Mohammed. It's called The Prophet, and stars Anthony Quinn. It's not hagiographic, as far as I can remember (it's been a while since I watched the film).

      Western civilizations aren't necessarily willing to laugh at themselves, but they do have legal structures that support the right of individuals to speak freely through the medium of their choice without being shut down for any reason other than breaking the law, which generally means infringing the rights of others through their content.

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    3. Well you seem to attribute Western "tolerance" to Institutions.

      There are two broad ways of interpreting historical developments and the current state of the world.

      A) Liberal institutional view : Attribute the difference in societies to institutions. Eg: England became the "first modern nation" in 18th cen thanks to 1688 glorious revolution...thanks to 1215 Magna Carta...thanks to law X or law Y passed in year P or Q. Over here, you are essentially attributing different outcomes across the world to "happenstance" events which created the right institutions. So all you need to do to solve the world's problems is to create the right institutions and magic will ensue.

      B) Conservative cultural view: I belong to this group. As per this view, a nation doesn't become great because of a particular institution created by a certain individual or certain event. But because certain cultures are INDEED superior to certain other cultures. So if England did become the world's first "modern" nation, it was because there was something fundamentally good and worthwhile and moral about the English culture of the time that created the circumstances which led to the "right" institutions and eventually the Industrial Revolution.

      Am very much a part of Camp B. And yes. I believe certain cultures are indeed more tolerant. More willing to laugh at themselves. And no. Not all societies are "fundamentalist" to the same extent. To pretend otherwise is just an exercise in political correctness. It's the disease of political correctness which pervades civilized discourse. Some examples : "All religions are equally benign / equally malevolent. All cultures are equally good / equally evil, Hindu-muslim bhai bhai, and other cliches that are inflicted on us day in and out".

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  2. Jai: Yes. Competitive intolerance is unfortunately very appealing and there are good reasons for it.

    Regarding "double standards" : I don't think we can deny their prevalence in the multi-cultural, secular societies we live in. It's ingrained in all of us. For instance, when I comment on a blog, I know I can get away by saying whatever I want against Brahminical Hinduism or Christianity. But I am extra careful while wording anything untoward against Islam or Muslim history. Similarly I need to be very diplomatic if I have to comment adversely on say African tribal religions or American Indian culture or Aborigines. I have often not exercised the requisite caution and invited labels.

    This is very evident the world over in the satirical/critical output we see against different religions. Religions like mainstream Hinduism/Christianity get lampooned very often. For all the talk of Hindu reaction or Christian fundamentalism, these societies continue to offer an audience to all kinds of views - be it a humorous reinterpretation of scriptures, lampooning of Gods and Prophets, or criticism of social practices. There's no dearth of all this.

    In contrast the public ignorance of Islam remains very high. No movies have been made on Islamic history. Few critical books/satires ever get written that attract a mainstream audience. The ones that do get written attain extraordinary notoriety (Eg: Rushdie's Satanic Verses). And the community itself hasn't produced a large number of reformist voices who look critically from within. This is in sharp contrast to say a religion like Hinduism where some of the most pointed / damaging criticisms of the Hindu religion / way of life have emanated from Brahmins or the so-called "twice-born upper castes"

    The result of this bias in the intellectual environment is the competitive intolerance one gets to see. And this extends not just to religions but more broadly debates on history. Eg: We have this whole discipline of post-colonial studies that examines the "deleterious" impact of European colonialism on "native" cultures. Do we have anything comparable in academia which examines the impact of Mohammedan colonisation throughout Asia that lasted much much longer and had a far deeper impact than the very brief history of western imperialism?

    It is only relatively recently that academia especially in US and UK has woken up to these lop-sided perceptions of history and we see the much needed corrective voices coming through (which have been getting a wide enough audience). Eg: David Landes, Niall Ferguson.

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  3. "Can't blame them really. It pays to be intolerant and bigoted. Given the kindness bestowed upon intolerant, bigoted societies by the intelligentsia."

    Can't blame them? WHAT RUBBISH !!!
    Why don't they just ignore the 'intelligentsia' they so disagree with, why must everybody agree with them

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  4. Can't blame them? WHAT RUBBISH !!!

    My comment was not a justification of any specific bans on books / "pulping". What I meant was that the emergence of reactionary movements be it in the West or in India is very understandable from a historical standpoint.

    It may be harmful. Undesirable in several respects. But perhaps a necessary corrective in a few other respects. What appears to be bigotism today may have a beneficial impact on intellectual discourse in the long run.

    Let me give a historical example. The New Right emerged in the Anglo-Saxon world in the 70s - with the emergence of economists like Milton Friedman who contested the Keynsian consensus, politicians like Thatcher and Reagan who took on communism and big government head on, social conservatives like Bill Buckley who scoffed at the excesses of the sexual revolution...At the time, these people were social outcasts, bigots, reactionaries. They received universal disapprobation in the intellectual world. But gradually as the 70s/80s wore on, they won the intellectual battle. And today many of their views are regarded as mainstream center-right politics. And those very figures of the Right who were "rabid" in some of their views back then have now mellowed down after their acceptance in the mainstream and moved to the centre. As evidenced by the support in some sections of the Right for a limited welfare state, drug legalization among other things.

    This is a classic example of how reactionary movements emerge at certain points in history that help bring back the mainstream cultural climate back to the center when it is veering complacently too far over to the other side. This is how politics has always worked throughout human history.

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  5. Thank you for writing this blog. The indian blogosphere seems to be silent on this issue, which I find very disturbing. From what I read about Prof. Doniger's book (I have not read the book itself) it seemed to me not a very deep one. I would not spend my money to buy it. Because I have the impression that she has not said anything new that has already been said several times in Indian languages. In particular, I have read very deep discussion of these issues in old bengali books. But at the same time, the idea that a book is banned and pulped makes my blood boil. I may not agree with what she is saying; but I shall support to my last breath her right to say it.

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  6. Reading up about this Doniger book. I think a lot of the criticism is unreasonable and stems from the fact that people ignore the subtitle of the book - "An Alternative History". This isn't a magisterial opus on Hinduism. It's not meant to be. It's an offbeat take on certain aspects of Hinduism that probably haven't received as much attention.

    Ofcourse that doesn't excuse factual inaccuracies (as alleged) in the book. But still.

    A review of the book worth reading -
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/18/AR2009031803924.html

    At any rate there is no case for book pulping. Unfortunately there exists a deep seated hatred for "Western Indologists" going back to William Jones among both mainstream left-wing as well as right-wing historians in this country. The former despise them for their "colonial" associations. The latter despise them for their "objectivity".and "dispassionate" take.

    I for one, refuse to read Indian history written by Indians. One of my prejudices (very irrational I admit). Because just about everyone in this country has an agenda. Be it the commies, the dalits, the Hindutva-vaadis, the Nehruvians, the muslim historians. And most Indian historians I read seem to have a fairly poor grasp of western history and hence don't seem able to connect dots and look at the bigger picture.

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  7. Its very interesting to me that the bulk (and vigor) of protests against Doniger and her books are from Indians settled in the US, for whom Rajiv Malhotra is the defacto leader. I've read some of their writings and its interesting to me how a massive superiority complex and raging insecurity can exist in the same psyche.

    Their argument basically boils down to the opinion that a Westerner cannot even attempt to understand Hinduism and should not attempt to interpret it based on their Western biases. The hubris is a bit too much to swallow. Of course, it goes without saying that the peoples that bore the true brunt of Hinduism, i.e the Dalits and the tribals might have very different views on this sanatana dharma obsession.

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  8. "Of course, it goes without saying that the peoples that bore the true brunt of Hinduism, i.e the Dalits and the tribals might have very different views on this sanatana dharma obsession"

    Pravin : I am not a Malhotra acolyte. But it is important to understand why men like Malhotra exist and why their views are so very persuasive among some very intelligent, balanced people. The reactionary right's emergence in this country over the past 20 years was in some respects inevitable. These men were essentially revolting against a consensus developed over the past 250 years which goes something like this

    India is this land of dark people (the men who built Harappa and Mohenjodaro) - Then sometime around 1500 BC, the land was invaded by the white man on horseback worshipping fire, water and other nature gods. This man colonized very large parts of the country...largely in north india, but also in significant numbers in southern peninsula. These migrants gradually mingled with the local populace to create a brown race, with the degree of "brown-ness" correlating very well with one's caste. Their Vedic religion mingled with the indigenous traditions of idols/mother goddess worship to create modern Hinduism. This social equilibrium was upset by external invasions of a later vintage - starting with Greeks, later Huns, then Turks, then Mongols and finally the Europeans.

    Now this narrative, I believe, is by and large true. Yet, it is problematic. Because there are so many victims and victors here. You conveniently focus on "Dalits" and "tribals" and brand them as the "victims" of Indian history. But there are other victims too. The caste Hindu believes Hinduism (along with other Indo-Aryan offshoots like Buddhism/Jainism) brought civilization to parts of the country that were hitherto sparsely populated and "backward". He doesn't think he has victimized the "dalit" (a term of recent provenance). Am not saying he is right. But he has a point. Indian caste system was never entirely rigid based on race (though its origins were racial). Several Non-aryan tribes have been co-opted into the so-called "upper castes" over the years... And the history of Southern India backs some of the caste Hindu's claims. Tamil, the local Dravidian tongue, borrowed its grammar from Sanskrit as well as numerous loan words. In fact, Agastya - an Aryan sage is regarded as the "father of Tamil".

    Having said that, there was discrimination and racial prejudice. But to focus only on the "oppression" aspect of it is to misunderstand the complex history of Hinduism.

    Now coming back to victims. It is convenient to focus on the "dalit" or more broadly the "shudra" as the victim of Hinduism. But that's a very gross simplification and even distortion. Several great kings in Indian history were of "shudra" origin. The legend has it that the great Maurya Kingdom had shudra antecedents. The Gupta dynasty had origins among the vaishya caste. In contrast there were several kshatriyas and brahmins (the so-called twice born castes) who never graduated beyond mere subsistence. Even today if you were to compare the economic lot of say brahmins in a state like UP with that of several so-called "shudra" castes, you may not find a very significant difference.

    And then there are other communities which have been both victors and victims within a short period. Eg: Muslims. Several Muslim families which were part of the ruling aristocracy back in 1800 are now struggling to make ends meet. Again you may attribute this to "oppression". Others may attribute it to the community's inability to come to terms with modernity. The truth is somewhere in between.

    So there you go. Indian history is complex. And it's very incorrect to say "dalits" have borne the brunt of "Hinduism". Both these terms which I have enclosed in quotes are artificial constructs of sorts.

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    1. shrikanth,

      Sorry I did not reply to your last point. The word "dalit" might be an artificial construct but their existence as untouchables and inferior humans is not. This is mandated and encouraged by the Vedic texts. The same Vedic texts that Malhotra ans Co. get bent out of shape about when someone interprets them in a way they disapprove of. And yes, there are outliers to the rule, but Dalits absolutely have borne the brunt of Hinduism. You don't have to believe me, but there is a variety of Dalit literature to pick from. Also, surely the people who converted to other religions as a reaction to their treatment by other Hindus are not overreacting?

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    2. Well. In any heterogenous societies there are winners and losers. To say that Dalits are the victims of "Hinduism" is a bit like saying "Gypsies" are the victims of Christendom. Even in modern secular societies, different communities fare differently. Chinese and perhaps even Tamil Singaporeans tend to do a lot better than Malay Singaporeans! Even in US, within the Hispanic community, Cuban Hispanics do a lot better than the Hispanic community as a whole. I can go on. In North India, castes that were classified in the past as "shudra" like Kayasths for instance have done as well if not better than a lot of Brahmin communities.

      And no. I wouldn't read too much into Dalit literature. Exactly as I don't read too much into RSS sponsored literature.

      Regarding Vedic texts : It can be argued whether the Vedic texts are "religious" in the way we understand the term. They are historical texts with some amount of religious content in them. So Vedas simply mirror the societies of their time (which were a melting pot with vastly diverse races conflicting on a daily basis). And all this research on Vedas/Manu Smriti/Dharmasastras has happened over the past 300 years by British Indologists. Prior to that, a lot of these "sacred" texts were forgotten in large parts of the country what with the disconnect introduced by Moslem colonization.

      Regarding conversions : Not all converts were from "lower castes". Several Brahmins/twice-born castes converted to Islam/Christianity. Interestingly conversions to Christianity were very few in number as evidenced by the fact that barely 2-3% of India's population is Christian. Islamic conversions were much bigger in number because of covert and overt forms of coercion often sponsored by the state incentivising the change of faith.

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    3. shrikanth,

      I'm going to club my responses into 1 post for just making it easy for both of us. First of all, I never implied you were a minion of Malhotra or his ilk. I have no interest in talking to people with no intellectual rigor, so I wouldn't even have bothered to respond to you. :-)

      "To say that Dalits are the victims of "Hinduism" is a bit like saying "Gypsies" are the victims of Christendom"

      Not really. In the sense that discrimination against Gypsies had racial and societal roots. Discrimination against Dalits is mandated by the Hindu texts. An equivalent analogy would be if the Bible called Gypsies sub-human. This is an important distinction, since Gypsies at least have religion to fall back on as a binding force against oppression. This avenue is closed to the Dalit since it basically tells him he deserves it.

      "I wouldn't read too much into Dalit literature. Exactly as I don't read too much into RSS sponsored literature."
      Meh. To each his own. I don't consider them equivalent since one is an expression of a historically persecuted part of society. I consider them tantamount to reading Ta Nehisi Coates' columns. An inside picture to a world I will never be able to experience. I don't consider the RSS to be victims in any meaningful sense.

      When I talked about conversions I did so mostly pointing to the mass conversions to Buddhism, and Sikhism to a lesser extent. They were completely voluntary and directly related to their perception of historical mistreatment by Hindus/Hinduism. Christianity to a limited extent too.

      BTW, we are digressing a fair bit from Jabberwock's OP, so let's stop cluttering his wall shall we? :-)




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    4. Not really. In the sense that discrimination against Gypsies had racial and societal roots. Discrimination against Dalits is mandated by the Hindu texts

      Disagree. I think you're wrong. Discrimination against "dalits" (for want of a better word) also has "racial and societal" roots. Caste originally had a racial basis, which later evolved into something vaguely based on occupation. You can talk about the odd Rig Veda couplet which refers to the Varnas and conclude that "hey...this was a religious order". But Hinduism isn't a religion like Islam or Christianity with an authoritative text. Prior to all the efforts of Western Indologists in 18th/19th centuries, 99% of Indians didn't know what the hell Rig Veda was. These couplets which we keep quoting to give caste system a religious basis have been retrospectively discovered to explain a social curiosity. If the so-called religious texts talk about it, its because religious texts reflect social reality of the time (this is even more so with Hinduism - which is more of a social system than an organized religion)

      Let's make no mistake about it. India is a multi-racial country. Every village in this country is multi racial. It is naivete to deny this and claim all Indians are of a single race. And this holds true regardless of the disagreements scholars may have on some of the details and timelines concerning "Aryan" invasion/migration or the origins of IVC.

      To each his own. I don't consider them equivalent since one is an expression of a historically persecuted part of society

      Well. What has persecution got to do with the quality of scholarship? I don't read a scholar because he happens to come from a "persecuted" background. "Scholars" who associate themselves with a single "cause" much to the exclusion of everything else are suspect in my opinion. Because "causes" obscure thought and impact clarity in thinking.

      Anyway let's leave it here. Hard to agree when people have fundamental differences. I was once involved in a debate on slavery where I questioned some of the facile assumptions and intellectual dishonesty that underlies "black history". And people responded saying - "So you're willing to take the word of a white man over that of a black man?" Huh. We can't go anywhere if such a confrontational attitude persists. It is hard when every aspect of history is viewed along the "oppressor - oppressed" axis.

      Yes. Let's stop cluttering Jai's wall :)

      Yes. Let's stop "cluttering" walls.

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    5. And the history of Southern India backs some of the caste Hindu's claims. Tamil, the local Dravidian tongue, borrowed its grammar from Sanskrit as well as numerous loan words. In fact, Agastya - an Aryan sage is regarded as the "father of Tamil".
      I think you are off the mark with Tamil - which is considered the oldest language in India (according to Indian government.) Wikipedia and other sources say "Tamil is the only language that can claim antiquity near Sanskrit. I guess both the languages influenced each other - the common words are very few - like Singham for Lion - Simh in Sanskrit, Soorya for sun and Sooryan in Tamil - who knows which word was coined first!!!

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    6. The common words are numerous. Tamil in its origins is independent of Sanskrit I agree. It's probably as old as Sanskrit. But it is widely accepted that it has been heavily influenced by Sanskrit both in grammar and vocabulary over the past 2000 years. The influence of Sanskrit on Tamil is greater than the influence of Tamil on Sanskrit. This is where Wendy Doniger is slightly off the mark when she talks about "northern" ideas coming south and "southern" ideas going north as if there was equal migration in both directions. It's wrong. The northern influence on Southern culture was far greater. Just take people's names for instance. A huge majority of South Indians have Sanskrit names (across castes, mind you). While hardly anybody up North has a Dravidian name

      For most Sanskrit words that are used in Tamil, there is often a pure Dravidian equivalent too. Let me give an example. Marriage is often referred to using two words in Tamil. "Kalyanam" - a Sanskrit loan word. "Thirumanam" a pure Tamil word (though some may say even this word has a sanskrit root - I am not sure). Now Brahmins in the Southern country invariably use the word "Kalyanam". Other communities use "Thirumanam". I see this linguistic influence so very clearly. It's hard to miss.

      Regarding your example of "Lion" : There is no Tamil word for Lion! Because you don't have too many Lions in southern India. Here's a link!

      Sooriyan, in my book, is again a sanskrit loan word. You may want to argue that it is a Tamil word used in Sanskrit. I find that improbable.

      Talk to anyone in Tamil Nadu for 15 minutes (from any community). It's hard to have a conversation that long without a very liberal usage of Sanskrit loan words. Things have changed over the past 50 years though thanks to the retrogressive Dravidian movement which vilifies everything "northern". The result is the tamil you hear on Sun TV these days - which is so very stilted with needless effort being made to avoid Sanskrit words!

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  9. shrikanth,

    I'm not so sure that the Aryan "invasion" theory is fact that has been agreed on by historians or anthropologists. Granted, I haven't read anything in the recent past that might have tipped the balance of proof. But even assuming that that is the case, what does that really change? The caste Hindu is free to believe in whatever he wants. But he is not allowed to club whatever he wants into Vedic philosophy and not hear criticism. For instance, Buddhist philosophy has now been co-opted into this Sanatana Dharma movement since it is Indic, but the fact that there are fundamental differences between Buddhist philosophy and Hindu texts is unmentionable, for intance the Bhagavad Gita, to make a point.

    Also, it is uneducated for the caste Hindu to think that tribals, often the original inhabitants of a region, were "liberated" from their "backwardness" by Aryans. This is the same case that the European powers made for their treatment of Africa, and Africans. Surely they both cannot be right.

    Of course, I'm not implying that Hinduism is purely oppressive. As a middle-class, and upper-caste person I've never had to pay any kind of price whatsoever for my mere existence. But I'm not naive enough to believe that there aren't millions that have, and are still paying it. My gripe with Malhotra and his acolytes is that these people don't even register in their radar. Any time you try to understand them, they burst into "Macaulay", and "brown sepoy" and anything that makes them not have to think about their privilege, but instead portray themselves as true victims of colonial atrocities. Not a thought for all the classes of people who had been so mistreated for centuries not just by Hindus, but by the very nature of the sacred texts, that they preferred to change religions. If you bring this up, you are lying because you are a white agent and are jealous.

    Its interesting to note that they also put heavy emphasis on the notion that the Europeans were so scared of Hinduism (since it was a perfect philosophy) that it had to be broken. Which is ironic since they inadvertently place great importance on colonial approval on Hinduism.

    On top of that, people with superiority complexes annoy me to no end. To imply that Indic (they mean Vedic) philosophy has such superiority to other discussions of the human condition that only a certain kind of people from that part can understand them is thinly-veiled racism, as well as intellectual stupidity. An outside-in view is sometimes just as important as an inside one.

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    1. Regarding Aryan "Invasion" theory: Well, the historical consensus still remains that the IVC culture was very different from the Vedic culture that succeeded it. And by the time the Vedic culture penetrated the land, the IVC culture had declined considerably, In fact this is one area of history where I do agree with the "marxist" historians (there are very few things on which I agree with them). Ironically it is the hindutva nationalist historians who take exception to this consensus often driven by poor scholarship.

      Also, it is uneducated for the caste Hindu to think that tribals, often the original inhabitants of a region, were "liberated" from their "backwardness" by Aryans. This is the same case that the European powers made for their treatment of Africa, and Africans. Surely they both cannot be right.

      Well. Both can be right. It may not be nice for you and me to digest that. But history works in strange ways. Talking of European colonization of Africa, one incontrovertible fact of history is that slave trade and slavery declined in Africa after the colonization of the continent by Europeans. Atlantic slave trade flourished in 16th/17th centuries when the white man used to fix deals with West African Kings who sold their own subjects to him for a profit. But it is only in the 19th cen when power shifted from African to European hands that slave trade ended. The missionary zeal and "superiority complex" of the white man which ended that evil institution! Strange, but true.

      And yes, there are outliers to the rule

      Well. The fact is that these outliers are too numerous for us to make any facile theories on simple caste hierarchies. In my previous comment I mentioned two very very large empires which were not of Brahmin/Kshatriya origin - the Mauryas and the Guptas. You may add Cholas to the mix (who were indigenous tamil kings). Also Nandas of the pre-Christian era possibly. I agree that most of these exceptions are "shudra" exception and not "dalit". But the point is that simple caste hierarchies haven't always held true.

      You may be "middle class" and "upper caste". But that's not purely an outcome of "privilege" whatever that means. I am "middle class" and "upper caste" too. But barely 3 generations ago, my ancestors were mendicants who got through life undertaking odd priestly jobs with no property to fall back on. And such mendicants still exist if you care to visit temples across the country. They remain mendicants, notwithstanding their "caste", because of their inability to learn new skills and work hard. There are "shudras" (OBCs in modern parlance) and "dalits" who have done a lot better thanks to enterprise and hard work. Drawing a line based on caste to separate the "oppressor" from the "oppressed" is intellectually flawed.

      By the way, as I said I am no Malhotra acolyte. I have invited the "Macaulay putra" label myself many a time. Nevertheless, I don't think distortions of history always emanate from the Right.

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  10. That is what I find so fearfully disturbing about the […] discourses of today: they all conspire (consciously or otherwise) to vindicate a certain hierarchy by transforming it into benevolent, enlightened patriarchy, striving to achieve everyone's well-being.

    Must say your private email exchanges read like op-ed pieces...ready for publication

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    1. Only because I have ridiculously intellectual friends. Nothing I say in these exchanges would be fit for publication anywhere other than in the funny pages. (It's another matter that some of the oped pages in our regular newspapers don't set a high standard for these things anyway.)

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  11. Normally I wouldn't, but I must interrupt to say that Shrikanth's summation of India's history is mostly bunk. And ergo most of his theories with regards to the sociological aftereffects of said events.

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    1. None of my comments attempt to "sum up" Indian history. This land of ours isn't that facile or simple to lend itself to a summation in a blogpost!

      And yes, it would be nice to know which "theory" of mine you object to. Interesting that you use the word "theory" because I have mostly mused over here, not theorized! Also, it's nice if criticisms were more specific, as opposed to the more prevalent tradition of criticism where one dismisses the messenger airily.

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    2. Shrikanth: just to quickly say (and I have said this to you before in other contexts) that your "musings" often have the tone of someone trying to firmly correct the mistaken impressions of everyone else (especially those poor misguided "liberals"). It can get a bit heavy-handed. Not at all saying that you're "wrong" in everything, or in most things, but tone does matter, and yours often gives the impression that you are trying to provide final summations.

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    3. Fair enough. Having said that it was not my object to talk about Hindu / Indian history on this thread.

      The reason why it came up was because a previous commentor made a "summary" remark saying "Dalits are the victims of Hinduism" or something to that effect. The tone of that remark, with all due respect to the admittedly learned commenter, wasn't particularly nuanced nor historically extremely accurate. All the subsequent discussion was an attempt to add more nuance to that original somewhat simplistic claim (which is in part true I admit)

      But if people's minds are made up to believe certain nostrums every dissenting remark sounds rude or bigoted or propagandist.

      Anyway I apologize if any comment here has hurt anybody's feelings.

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    4. @Yogi Bear - Agreed.

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