The Cartel’s Politics

How institutional ideologies and capital empower the scholars’ cartel politically, and how Indian scholars perform in compromising positions for the cartel. Article #9 in the continuing dialogue.

For the on-going debate, please see the RHS bar under Also See

The companion article, The Cartel’s ‘Theories’, gave my response to one set of issues raised by Vijay. Additionally, this article explains how institutional ideologies and capital empower the scholars’ cartel politically, and how Indian scholars perform in compromising positions for the cartel.

It covers the following topics:

1) The US has replaced the British as the main funding source for India-related studies worldwide. This is natural and to be expected of any superpower, given the following needs: (i) to understand various areas of the world for the development of policy and (ii) to have a standing army of scholars-activists ready for deployment in a variety of ways. (See my columns: America must re-discover India and Preventing America’s Nightmare

2) The Pew Trust’s power in academe is described; but Pew is merely one of many multi-billion dollar private foundations that control the funding and pulling of strings to popularize certain themes and theories, as well as to influence the advancement of scholars indirectly through their proxies inside the system. Ford Foundation deserves a study by itself as to how it has influenced certain agendas over others in India. I invite Vijay to collaborate for a study on who funds what, and also to develop a process for scholars/activists to make transparent disclosures of all their grants and other affiliations.

3) These items then pave the way to address my main point here: that “resistance”, “camps”, and criticism of various kinds amongst scholars are merely managed and controlled forms of opposition, and are ultimately not real but virtual.

4) Contrary to their claims, the South Asian Studies NRI scholars are not India’s intellectual home team, as they are neither qualified (in the siddhantas and categories of Indian thought) nor truly free.

5) Using the very recent concrete example of FOIL’s mobilization against me, I illustrate that many of these scholars are part of the Sepoy Army to defend the fortress.

I also explain that it is not enough for Vijay to claim to have dealt with an issue that I raise, simply by giving some bibliographic reference to show that he already knew about it. This is not a TV game-show on who knows more. As long as the issue remains in the real world, it is still an issue no matter how much might have been written on it. This and some relatively atypical counter-examples seem to be Vijay’s common way of addressing many issues.

Academic whistle-blower

In the fall of 2002, a young, outspoken academic scholar in South Asian Studies – a whistleblower of sorts – posted the following on the internet list of the politically powerful academic group known as RISA (Religions In South Asia). He is Christian Wedemeyer, Department of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen, and he also moderates the Indology list on Yahoo. He dropped the following bombshell:

a) Many (perhaps most) of the leading lights of South Asian Studies in the US today were funded at least in part by “National Defense Fellowships” (now FLAS) – money earmarked by the US Government in the frenzy of post-Sputnik paranoia, in order to train Americans to know the Others’ languages and so keep pace with the Soviet drive to world domination;

b) the American university system is now in practice (if not in theory) a branch of the governmental intelligence services (cf. Sigmund Diamond’s important work “Compromised Campus”, New York, 1992). As Diamond notes (p. 53): “When former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy said that all university area studies programs were ‘manned, directed, or stimulated by graduates of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services],’ he was writing more than history; he was giving a prognosis of the future and making policy. There always had been and always would be ‘a high measure of interpenetration between universities with area programs and the information-gathering agencies of the government of the United States. ‘”

c) related to b), leading lights of US South Asian Studies (and mentors to many current members of RISA) like Norman Brown were (and, likely, are) up to their ya-yas in CIA and State Department contacts and (presumably) funding ; and

d) (As I noted in my MA thesis), “at the same time as all of the books and conferences such as Introducing India in Liberal Education, whose rhetoric speaks of integrating Eastern contributions into the great liberal educative tradition of ‘the World’ (i.e. the West), the political ramifications of ‘area studies’ were being encouraged and exploited . Interestingly, at this very conference, held in Chicago in 1957, at which these issues were being addressed, we see as attendees the names of ‘Chadbourne Gilpatric, The Rockefeller Foundation ,’ ‘William Marvel, Executive Associate, Carnegie Corporation of New York,’ and ‘Cloen O. Swayzee, The Ford Foundation ‘ – all foundations implicated in connection with contemporaneous covert F.B.I. collaboration in Diamond’s recent study of the collaboration between the government intelligence agencies and American universities. ” (cf. “Orientalism is a Humanism: Materials and Methods for an History and Auto-critique of Buddhist Studies”, Columbia, 1994).

Wedemeyer then challenged his academic colleagues to introspect honestly about whether they were, in fact, paid mercenaries:

“What does this mean for South Asian Studies (and “Religion In South Asia”)? Are we merely to conclude that all these people (our colleagues and mentors, not to mention “we”) are simply “bought and paid for”? Are we all guilty of a kind of ‘trahison des clercs’? Should we caution ourselves against accepting such money and thus giving “academic respectability” to the nefarious plans of the State Department, FBI, and CIA? I think (and I assume most would agree) that the situation is more complex than this. We seem to trust that our colleagues and mentors can accept money from such sources, perhaps telling them what they want to hear (and sending their lesser-quality students to work as translators and code-breakers), yet continuing with their critical, objective scholarship (or something approximating the same).”

The above post by Wedemeyer, was triggered by RISA’s attack against a conference in 2002organized by The Infinity Foundation, co-convened by Prof. Robert Thurman of Columbia University and me, which Wedemeyer and many other academic scholars participated in.

In the same internet debate, another academic scholar named Judson Trapnell (who, unfortunately, has passed away) wrote an honest admission of the academic scholars’ vulnerabilities in bringing personal biases to their work:

“Given our training in contemporary hermeneutical theory, why do we have difficulty in accepting that we, and those institutions who fund us, bring assumptions to our work–assumptions that may seem suspect to others? I am puzzled both by the claims to higher objectivity in Western academic research and by the criticisms of others for not meeting up to our standards – i.e., in bringing political agendas to bear upon such research. Who among us does not bring them? To be human is to have such agendas, to operate under certain beliefs. Inevitably we become defensive when someone dares to try to expose our assumptions. But once the emotions have cooled, it is our responsibility as scholars to consider carefully, even prayerfully, whether there is some truth in what the other says. Then we may engage in a mutual revelation of assumptions with our critic, rather than a heated and defensive attempt to condemn the other for having an agenda that differs from ours.”

Compromised Campus

The excellent book by Diamond, “Compromised Campuses,” (referenced by Wedemeyer above) uses recently declassified government documents to show how Ivy Leagues (he focuses on Harvard and Yale) were bastions of CIA/FBI surveillance of scholars who were branded as trouble-makers, and, in particular, the author shows the role of Henry Kissinger as a government agent when he was at Harvard. It documents how the government agencies and bureaus influenced academic selections by many covert means. This, according to the book, was a widespread infiltration, and was with the full knowledge and cooperation of the universities’ highest level authorities, including university presidents. The author also remarks that there is no reason to believe that things have changed today, because similar institutional strings, funding, agendas, and covert means remain intact.

In this regard, I quote (anonymously per request) from a private email that I received after The Peer-Review Cartel article appeared, from an academic scholar in another Western country:

“The problem of the abuse of institutional academic power is not restricted to Indology. It is present in much of the social sciences, since academic debate has political implications and is explicitly influenced by the dominant institutions of society. As a scholar in the fields of international relations and international political economy, it is clear to me that six US-based journals control intellectual output in the field worldwide. They directly or indirectly promote ideas that support US foreign policy interests – once you cut through the crap! Any ‘dissent’ itself is in fact self-legitimating because the real secret of wielding effective power and successful domination is to sponsor and control a ‘critique of the self’; a Gramscian phenomenon, in effect. Much ‘critique’ of Hinduism and India is to show that Hinduism is mumbo-jumbo and backward, and India a potential danger to the world because of its reprehensible Brahmin-dominated caste culture. Indian scholars, wishing to taste the joys of Western material comforts, cannot contest this, and once compromised, they cannot obviously admit that they are a whore while seeking to embrace purity and truth!

A small number of white scholars have intimate ties with government agencies and conformity radiates from this core, via funding and positions in high status institutions, though obviously they don’t control everything. Two of the world’s leading anthropologists, working on India, report to the intelligence services in their own country and have intimate ties with the Church. They also have strong personal ties with some of India’s leading leftist scholars. Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific…

Another email was from a medical researcher complaining about her field. It shows how widespread and deep-rooted these institutionalized prejudices run:

“The peer-review process is for academicians to keep their jobs and to keep truly innovative ideas out. It allows mediocrity to survive. This is not just in liberal arts but in Medicine as well. The hostility displayed by the peer-reviewers of Western journals for any innovative idea coming from a Third World country borders on savagery. The idea is run to the ground, and only after a certain ‘negotiation’ and compromise is it allowed through. The small coterie of controlling academicians (more correctly administrators) support each other, and are generally totally convinced that only people of European ancestry are capable of producing anything original. Their favorite method of rejecting new ideas from the Third World researchers include attacking the language or finding some technical ground to ridicule the whole effort. Some Third World papers are let through because they are somewhat stupid, so that they can condescendingly patronize.”

In a future article on this cartel issue, I shall describe my model to interpret the above e-mail’s reference to the way the system deliberately selects “stupid” items from the third-worlders, in order to “condescendingly patronize.” I refer to this as the Ganga-Din Syndrome. There are many scripts available in the Western Grand Narrative (WGN) for Indians to perform as deliberate-morons. The British actor, Peter Sellers, depicted such characters in some of his roles. Unfortunately, many Indians have become programmed to subliminally behave like morons in front of whites, as if they were enacting a script that was being expected of them. I will claim in my future article that many Indian postcolonialist scholars are, in fact, performing like Ganga-Dins in the Western Grand Narrative, because such roles come with carrots.

This is why I disagree with Homi Bhabha and others who characterize this behavior as “resistance,” and I see it as a sellout. Much of what Bhabha calls “hybridity” is to glorify the sellout, by including a script for it within the WGN that makes it seem “progressive”.

Who funds what?

I am glad that Vijay acknowledges that private mega-buck funding often compromises academic independence.

For example, Pew Trust is controlling the academic (“secular”) Religious Studies discipline at not just one Davos, but many. Its Protestant evangelical mission is very publicly stated as follows (Religion and the Public Square: Religious Grant Making at The Pew Charitable Trusts, by Luis E. Lugo):

“During the first 30 years of religious grant making, certain patterns were established that continue to this day. Perhaps the most pronounced of these is the Trusts’ distinct and continuous interest in the evangelical movement within American Protestantism. This was expressed during the early years primarily in the support that was extended to evangelical institutions of higher education, including colleges and seminaries, and to a variety of evangelical parachurch agencies, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Christianity Today magazine to the American Bible Society and World Vision…”

“Some things are clear from this early period. One was the commitment of J. Howard Pew and others in the Pew family to support institutions that uphold historic Christian principles rooted in biblical standards. Another was their desire to see the Christian faith applied beyond the walls of the church to the great intellectual and social issues of the day…”

“[O]ne of the fundamental purposes of the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust: ‘To promote recognition of the interdependence of Christianity and freedom…’”

“The Pew Evangelical Scholars Program has encouraged the most talented evangelical scholars nationwide to produce outstanding work from a Christian perspective on topics important to their disciplines, and the Pew Younger Scholars Program has recruited the most intellectually talented graduates of evangelical colleges and seminaries to enter into academic careers…… Pew-funded scholars have produced an impressive array of major-press books, journal articles, edited collaborative volumes, presentations at annual scholarly conventions, and university lectures. Networks of evangelical scholars have been formed, and fruitful cross-disciplinary, cross-generational conversations have been generated…”

Furthermore, Pew Trust controls the supply of survey research data on public attitudes about religion; it dominates in giving the grants for scholarships and post-docs in the “secular” academic study of religion; and it funds a variety of major programs at the top universities. It is also one of the top two funding sources of the American Academy of Religion.

The Henry Luce Foundation also has a very solid Christian leaning, and Luce’s family was Christian evangelists. It is a similar private family endowment operating in this space. Since Mr. Luce is in his old age, his successors and other appointed trustees have taken over, and are said to have Christianized it further. I was informed (unconfirmed) by a reliable person close to the situation that even his present wife (who is sympathetic to Buddhist causes) was turned down by the controlling Christian trustees when she wanted to give certain grants to Buddhism-related causes.

Too much of this is kind of political influence is unofficial, confidential or is simply never compiled systematically for public scrutiny. It is very important to do a report on who funds what: I would be glad to pool resources and information with anyone interested to inquire into every funding source pertaining to India-related studies. (Funding agencies are already required to file annual reports on who they fund what amounts and for what purpose, and it would be a matter of compilation.)

In parallel, I would also recommend to Vijay that we propose a code of conduct for scholars and activists to voluntarily disclose their funding sources and affiliations publicly, not because there is necessarily anything wrong in every instance, but for the sake of transparency.

This disclosure is especially critical in the case of scholars with dual careers: one career is inside the academy that serves to legitimize them, and the other un/semi-official career is in often some vague, undefined, unaccountable affiliations classified under a meaningless umbrella such as “peace activist”.

Managed opposition

There are considerable mechanisms in the career maze that scholars must learn to get through to advance.

The management of controlled internal opposition is a major mechanism behind the success of the Western Grand Narrative, as illustrated by the following examples from diverse fields:

a) Exxon is the world’s largest investor in solar energy research, but in order to protect its billions of dollars in fossil fuel underground reserves, it must ensure that breakthroughs in solar energy do not advance too fast, or else the new energy sources would erode into its own asset value. On the other hand, it must periodically announce solar energy breakthroughs to give hope and to prevent genuine competition from filling the vacuum. So both sides of the competing interests are ultimately controlled by Exxon.

b) Many pseudo-democracies pretend to have oppositions, but these cosmetic-only oppositions are controlled by those in power.

c) Ronald Reagan used to periodically get his cronies to “roast” him on primetime TV shows, so as to be seen as having a good sense of humor and the ability to take criticism.

d) Musharraf got his chief nuclear scientist to publicly take the blame, and he instantly pardoned his own co-conspirator (who knew too much of the dirty laundry), thereby putting a stop to further inquiry. Officially, the due process has already been carried out as per the law, because the scapegoat confessed, and the General used his legal powers to pardon in the national interest. The US government quickly accepted the whole matter and slid it under the rug, while the controversy over WMD’s in Iraq (of far less security risk) takes center stage in the media. There was a deceptive arms-length relationship between the parties, because, in fact, they are potentially inter-related.

e) The funding of the World Social Forum by organizations like the Ford Foundation (until recently) is another good example of “managing dissent.”

Similarly, the academic system encourages Indian pseudo-intellectuals to engage in harsh criticism of the West, provided they do it using Western categories. This is managed so as to not become too intense, and yet to be severe enough to protect the system’s reputation.

So post-colonialism is largely a criticism from within the neocolonial system. In fact, it strengthens the Western Grand Narrative and pre-empts the potentially devastating criticism that could come from alternative worldviews using alternative categories. The third-world post-colonial critic is merely playing a script approved and supervised by the West. One should not imagine that these Indian scholars truly have unlimited freedom or agency, or even the training, to criticize the Western Grand Narrative (WGN) beyond some approved threshold. From the big icons – such as Bhabha, Spivak and Chakrabarthy – all the way down to ordinary undergraduate English majors who are trying to master “theory”, they are performing within the limits of different kinds of approved roles within the WGN.

The producers and directors of the Western Grand Narrative remain Western institutions, controlling the theater of activity through appointed string-pullers, including many Indians.

Carrots for compromise:

One must notice how Uma Narayan (whose criticism of Western feminist agendas was extensively quoted in the companion article on The Cartel’s ‘Theories’), got promoted as Director of the Women’s Studies Program at Vassar College, with the result that she no longer produces such provocative scholarship that questions Western feminism’s legitimacy to the same extent.

Another example is Gowri Vishwanathan, who wrote her brilliant book, Masks of Conquest(Oxford University Press, New Delhi 1998), in which she explains how English Literature was brought to India’s education system in the 19th century specifically for the purpose of breeding educated Indian babus who would be in awe of the culture of their European masters, and who would look down upon native language/literature. But, later, Vishwanathan wrote another kind of book, which makes Christian conversions seem good for Indians, and for this she got an award and her career advanced fast. She has now stopped writing the “Masks of Conquests”kinds of books, at least not with the same vigor, and has joined the Hindu(tva)-bashing activists.

These are just two of many similar examples of correlations between career advancement and a change in the nature of the scholarship. But one must not be too quick to infer causation, i.e. that one is the consequence of the other, at least not without further analysis. Furthermore, I want to clarify that I have great admiration for the earlier works of both these scholars, and my intention here is to wonder if they are helplessly paying the price of advancement in this system. They are merely examples of a widespread phenomenon that needs to be examined closer.

I will explain in future articles how carrots lure Indians into roles within the WGN that compromise their ability to challenge the WGN. “If they are potential challengers, buy them” – seems to be the plan in many cases. The individual scholar being appropriated is often in denial.


Vijay writes: “The post-colonial scholars who are more historically-minded and who are driven by theory are not in power… (Emphasis supplied.) And: the journal [of Subaltern Studies] itself has not superceded the more traditional authority of the Orientalist and quasi-Orientalists who continue to be dominant over the institutions of the field.” I agree with both these statements.

These statements confirm that, despite whatever so-called “resistance” these post-colonialists might have tried, they remain voices largely on the margins of Western academe. So Vijay appears confused over where he stands on this issue, and vacillates with three different positions: (1) He generally seems to agree with me that there is pro-Western bias. (2) But then he tries to explain it away by citing examples of atypical publications/individuals that are fighting this bias. (3) And then Vijay accepts that these attempts are on the margins and have failed to dislodge the entrenched biases. So he is back to square one.

Given #3, Vijay must agree with me that the problem remains, despite whatever “heroic” efforts some individuals might have attempted. As an activist, Vijay knows that just because we can mention a Dalit rally that happened yesterday, or a book protesting their plight, does not suffice as evidence that their problem is resolved. Yet, Vijay often lists bibliographies or names of individuals who are “resisting,” as a way to show that the problems I highlight have been “taken care of” already. He uses rare counter-examples as if the issue at hand is gone.

Vijay might (once again) respond trivially to my descriptions of Western government, church and private funding influences, and to my explanations that Indian scholars are the intellectual underdogs. By citing an example of someone’s writing, he might claim, “I already know it,” as if that matters. This is not the TV game, “Jeopardy,” so it is irrelevant what either of us already knows. Let us differentiate between a problem’s diagnosis and its treatment. That some lone voices might have diagnosed it already does not imply treatment. Furthermore, treatment does not imply cure. So the ground reality that Eurocentrism drives knowledge production and distribution is not voided by citing someone who already said this or that or noting some exceptions.

The post-colonial scholars are merely playing the roles designated for them inside the Western Grand Narrative. Anyone who does start to seriously challenge the WGN will be either be co-opted within the system with rewards (as mentioned above), or marginalized (with negative “Hindutva” branding). Sometimes a threat-reward combination can nudge the scholar to get on the “right track.”

What makes this system work is that ordinary desi writers/activists are in awe of the South Asianized icons who rule the ghetto of South Asian Studies. In India, most students in JNU’s English Department (and other prestigious English Departments), and to some extent in History, Sociology and Politics Departments, want to study Western literary “theory” more than anything else. This hero-worshipping of the gods/goddesses of trends is very high among Indians, and the lure of visas, travel, jobs and other symbols is like a giant suction pump attracting hordes of young people.

However, the Western academic mainstream does not respect post-colonialism very much and keeps it on the sidelines on a leash. It is an ornament in the portfolio and not seen as having substance.

The post-colonialist scholars’ main impact has been to make careers for themselves, based on exploiting white-guilt to create such academic programs, and to serve as role-models to reproduce more of their own kind back home.

Virtual “camps”:

Vijay writes that I do not understand “the camp structure of the academy, where scholars of different political and methodological views fall into different camps that both produce knowledge that can be read by each other, but who also produce critical work on each other’s work.” But I have shown (and will continue to show even further) that the different “camps” are ultimately sub-narratives and roles within the WGN.

Each “camp’s” inmates have the discretion to decorate their cells, to eat the food they like, to listen to their favorite music, and to congratulate themselves for being so free, at least relative to the images of the horrible culture back home. The actors performing in the WGN do have latitude to improvise, and even to resist, but only up to a limit.

This illusion of intellectual freedom is unexposed partly because of compartmentalization: The Peer-Review Cartel showed that overspecialization results in greater arbitrariness in the use of authoritative sources outside one’s own specialty. One may choose like-minded theories and ideological positions from the other disciplines, and bring in the referees that are suitable.

Home Team

What is needed is a home team grounded in Indic categories that is also able to do in-depthpurva-paksha of the West (which today’s experts in Indic siddhantas are unable to do and are even unaware of the need). A truly post-colonial home team would be immersed within the Indian traditions and be able to create counterpoints from within it, rather than continuing to view it as an object to be studied by theories developed in Western academic contexts resting on the pyramid of Western thought – from Greco-Roman, to European Enlightenment, to Postmodernism, and so forth.

Therefore, the desi South Asianists are not a home team, but are proxies appointed by the West to pretend to be India’s home team: This is part of the managed resistance program of the WGN. Many of them have good intentions and they need to learn Indian systems of thought. But right now, Indic thought is mostly in the hands of Western scholars, who have extracted many of their “original” theories and ideas from it (as in the example cited of Herb Benson of Harvard), while the Indians have been shamed into disdain of their heritage on sociopolitical grounds.

The Sepoy Army

Vijay writes that he does not know Courtright personally or professionally. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Vijay does not know Courtright’s work. Nevertheless, when I published a rejoinder to Courtright in India Abroad a couple of months ago, Vijay instantly posted the following call to action against me, to his FOIL comrades:

From: Vijay Prashad

Friends: In the latest issue of India Abroad, Rajiv Malhotra has written an article entitled “Satyagraha against academic defamation of Hinduism.” In the article, Malhotra, head of the Infinity Foundation, launches a satyagraha against religious studies in the US, particularly against how Hinduism Studies is taught. Some right-wing scholars have also launched the Dharma Association of North America, with a Nov. 21 conference at Atlanta. The paper carries a report from it. I wonder if there are some religious studies people on the FOIL list who might be interested in crafting a response to these developments. There is a need for a progressive voice in this debate over ‘who has the right to teach Hinduism’ and what kind of ‘Hinduism’ gets taught. Solidarity, Vijay.

It is encouraging that Vijay has apparently backed out of that project, presumably after he found that it was a complex matter with many protagonists already on many sides, and that FOIL did not have the necessary background or sophistication in Religious Studies to be able to make any worthwhile contribution. However, it would have been even better had he not mobilized his comrades in the first place, but had written his doubts directly to me in the same open spirit with which I wrote to him to get this debate started.

Even though Hindus in America are minorities, there is a contradiction between the Indian Left’s treatment of Hinduism in America and its treatment of Christianity/Islam in India (which are minorities there). I have not come across serious criticisms by the Indian Left of overly-rosy portrayals of “Christianity” in India, with the same vigor as it routinely attacks Hindu Americans’ “chauvinism.”

Nor have I come across the Indian Left’s criticism of the way Judeo-Christianity (as the majority religion in America) permeates American secular life, with the same vigor as its vicious attacks against Hinduism permeating Indian society (as the majority religion in India).

Therefore, the Indian Left has completely failed to switch contexts from India to USA when it critiques Hinduism in America, because it has not repositioned Hinduism in the American context as a minority religion deserving the same supportive activism that the Indian Left gives to other minority religions in USA and India.

Imagine as an analogy that Religious Studies was prevalent in India’s universities, and that as a part of this discipline, minority religions were covered with courses on Dalit Studies, Indian Islam Studies, Indian Christian Studies, etc. Now, what would be Vijay’s reaction if 90% of the academic scholars of Dalit Studies (as an example) were practicing Brahmins? Or, imagine if 90% of the scholars of Indian Islam were practicing Brahmins. (I use this analogy because only approximately 10% to 20% of the academic scholars of Hinduism Studies in USA have public identities as practicing Hindus.) In their defense, these practicing Brahmin scholars (of Dalit/Islam) would be able to prove their eminent academic credentials, their years of competent research, etc.

My guess is that Vijay would probably claim that (i) the Dalit/Muslim insider’s voice has a direct experiential feel about being a Dalit or Muslim, respectively, which the practicing Brahmin lacks and (ii) the practicing Brahmin represents a community with a competing history and interest and is likely to subconsciously superimpose his biases no matter how honest he may be as an individual.

Let us take this analogy further: Suppose an Indian Muslim activist starts to blow the whistle on the Brahmin-dominated study and teaching about Islam across Indian universities, by pointing out many instance of glaring errors and outright insults (the equivalent of Courtright’s, Doniger’s, Kripal’s, Caldwell’s, etc. depictions of Hinduism). Now my question is this: Would Vijay mobilize his Sepoy Army to go after such a Muslim writer because he dared to challenge the system’s asymmetries? I think not. But if Vijay can, with a clear conscience, answer this is the affirmative, then I would agree that his mobilization against me was well-intended (despite being ineffective due to FOIL’s lack of expertise in Religious Studies). If not, I must question the legitimacy behind such a mobilization.

In his soul-searching to answer the question raised above, Vijay must bear in mind that black Americans once had a similar struggle to gain direct participation in their portrayal in higher education, because until then it was white scholars who researched and taught about blacks. Furthermore, women’s studies in USA came about as a result of a similar activism by feminists who claimed that, even with the best of intentions, a male-dominated depiction of women was at least incomplete and potentially flawed. I am unable to fathom why the Indian Left denies Hindus in America the same rights and processes that are normal for all new groups and old minorities.

Furthermore, Vijay lists Gadhar, FOIL, and various Indian post-colonial scholars as pioneers in “resisting” against the dominant culture. He complements their courage and supports them. Why, then, did he not see my work in the same positive light? How am I different in my resistance against what I perceive as systemic Eurocentric biases against my tradition?

One can only presume that this global opposition by the Indian Left is peculiarly and asymmetrically directed towards Hinduism alone. While the Indian Left is allowed (by the Western academy) to tilt at the windmills of imperialism in ways that do not make much impact, the price they must pay for admission into this game is to get co-opted in the imperialist project, by doing the groundwork for Christian Evangelists, i.e. by demonizing Hinduism.

My hypothesis is that Jack Hawley, or some other “Barra Sahib,” encouraged or indirectly facilitated this mobilization by Vijay. After all, Vijay and I had never met or come into direct contact previously. But Hawley has had years of encounters with me and has tried every trick in his catalog to try to debunk my challenges to his fortress. While the Hawley matter is outside this debate, my question to Vijay is: Was Vijay co-opted as a sort of commando in Hawley’s Sena? If so, is this not another instance of getting browns fighting against browns?Why did Vijay fall for it so naively?

In any case, the closed-room Internet chatter among India’s Left about me is fascinating to watch. Here is an excited sepoy writing on FOIL’s list:

Usha Z:

Hi all, I’m enclosing an individual response by Raja who’s also critiqued the H-Asia reaction to Rajiv — please see below. As of now, Jo and Neilesh are signed on to craft the reponse. Where are all the other historians/south Asianists on foil? Please do join in — if anyone has a problem posting the response to H-Asia, I can do that. Would it be possible to sign off as FOInquilabiL? Or proxsa?

Another anxious voice of FOIL chimed in, calling me a “creep” without even knowing me:

Dear Usha, I just read the previous post with the responses from faculty…THe problem seems to be there are no critical anthro, soc, womens studies folks responding to this creep . so far seems mainly historians, poli science, south asian studies folks. peace, raja..

This fed the frenzy further, based on false data and outright misinformation, as contained in the following post.

From: J. Sharma

After reading about the Mehrotra piece, I went to the Infinity site and was perturbed to see that they are sponsoring a session on Teaching Indic Traditions at the Association of Asian Studies conference, and are also mobilising to influence the content of World History courses. I gather from their website they are already sponsoring Indic religious studies at Lancaster, UK(which otherwise has a very respected program) under the tutelage of Prof Julius Lipner who has strong links to the Hinduja Foundation, and a visiting position in Sanskrit at Harvard. So it would seem that they are now trying to enter History through the World History backdoor. I’d like to hear from fellow historians in particular, as it is probably necessary to alert professional bodies like the AAS and the AHA to the implications of this kind of opinion. If Usha, Daisy and Vijay have any more information…Again, I am fairly new to Foil and US academia, and might have missed some pertinent discussions in the past. I teach history but am not in an Indic/South Asian/Asian studies dept. I teach South Asia/British Imperial and World History courses. I plan to check out how H-Asia and other list-servs are reacting to this.

There is far too much garbage in the above email to be worth parsing out, except to point out how a scholar who is “new to FOIL and US academia” must establish her credentials as sepoy-in-training.

This mayhem went on, as illustrated below:

From: J. Sharma

Dear Usha and Neilesh,

I was wondering whether we should wait for Rajiv M’s promised second piece. In any case, I would suggest that since N and U are already putting something together we build on that. My sense is that we should take advantage of this encounter between concerned academics and activists to perhaps think out strategies about History (specifically of South Asia). And since these seem to be more public than I imagined, I’d rather those of us who are interested get together in a sub-set, at least while we are discussing things through.

(Note : Since I am not a member of the FOIL list, all the emails quoted above were sent to me anonymously by someone. Some of them came from multiple senders)

Opening the fortress gates

I am glad that Vijay wrote the following in his previous post in this debate: “I do not agree with the view that academics should not have an open dialogue with those who are not academics… Vijay then asks me to cite evidence to demonstrate any lack of open dialog from the academic side. So I shall now give a few examples, starting with the fact that FOIL’s own behind-the-scenes approach (as illustrated above) is not indicative of the “open dialog” principle he espouses.

Furthermore, Vijay was the keynote speaker at a Harvard conference, on November 8, 2003, meant for South Asian educators, in which, as per some attendees, Vijay spent much of his time making outlandish insinuations against me personally. From what I have heard (and I am still hoping to get more concrete facts), he combined wild conjectures and guilt-by-association methodologies to demonize me. This can hardly be considered Vijay’s “open dialog,” because: (1) I was not invited to respond at the event (nor was I notified of the event or that I was the topic of discussion even afterwards), making this a trial-in-absentia. (2) I was never contacted by Vijay to verify his allegations about me, which violates his principles of empirically-based inquiry. (3) The correlates cited were sketchy at best, and were clearly over-interpreted to say the least.

At the Delhi conference in December, it was relayed to me (since I was absent) that Vinay Lal defended Courtright’s book in private conversations. (This book states that Ganesha represents a “limp phallus” in Hindu worship, among other award-winning conclusions.) Lal’s argument rested on the “credibility of the scholar” since it had been published by Oxford University Press, who wouldn’t publish it if it wasn’t of the highest academic standards, versus the lack of credibility of the critics outside academia.

The on-going discussions at Emory, between the Courtright camp and those who seek to ban his book (which I do not support), exclude me, although I am referenced by both camps. But even more importantly, why has Courtright not engaged with the point-by-point Sulekha critiqueabout his book in the same manner as if it had been done by a “peer”?

The discussion list of the Religions In South Asia academic group disallows non-scholars (as defined by the Western academy) from membership. (Of course, these rules are occasionally bent to allow a few non-academicians who will tow their line.)

The relatively new Hinduism Unit of AAR, that was created specifically to give Hinduism a balanced voice, has had proposals from Tracy Pintchman (former head of the Unit) to amend the charter in order to block voting rights of those she calls Indian “engineers.” (Just as the Amish people call all outsiders “Yankees,” so also some RISA scholars think that all diaspora members must be engineers, even though many are physicians, corporate executives, business owners, and so forth!)

The Hindu-Christian Studies group that meets at AAR used to have membership open to anyone who paid the dues. But, whenever certain scholars would post a link about some Hindus committing atrocities (this was long before Godhra, etc. happened), some non-academician would post another link about Hindus being killed in Bangladesh or some other place. The powers in control could not tolerate the latter, as they were in place to do “data-gathering” only about the former. So they suddenly disbanded the list, and made a fresh one in which they have denied membership to all those who criticize their biases. In effect, this is a Hindu-Christian dialog in which the Hindu proxies are selected by the Christian team. Once again, Christianity, Inc. decides who is licensed to speak for Hinduism.

The Ann Gold saga described earlier in this debate is about my unsuccessful attempts to convince anthropologists to redefine what they mean by “peer.” My position has been that the village women of Ghatyali (Rajasthan) must be repositioned from being Ann’s “native informants” to being her “peers.” They must be able to interact with her as equals, to give their views on whatever she has produced over twenty years about their culture. The West should respect other cultures as peers, and get rid of the nonsensical and outmoded “native informant” asymmetry that puts the Western scholar on higher ground.

Furthermore, I have proposed that every AAR panel on any Hindu tradition or facet of society (Vaishnavs, Shaivites, some jati/tribe X, or whatever), should invite a respondent from that particular group who is their official (or unofficial) spokesperson, especially one who has issues about the scholars’ work. I even offered to help facilitate the travel in those cases where it becomes necessary. But the academy has been disinterested.

Each of the above examples supports my claim that the academy is closed to outsiders’ attempts to engage it.

It is noteworthy that Dalai Lama has had a decade-long peer-to-peer dialog with Western scientists at very high levels (in physics, health sciences, neurology, consciousness studies, etc.). There are at least half a dozen volumes published from this dialog. It is held every year or two, in either Dharamsala or in the US. The most recent one was in the Boston area and resulted in a cover story on The Science of Meditation in TIME magazine. Note that while the sub-text in this piece is “Just Say OM”, there is emphasis on Buddhism but no mention of Hinduism. The Dalai Lama and his tradition are not performing in native informant roles, but have negotiated a peer status effectively. Academia has no similar peer relationship with Hindu leaders, partly because (i) Hindu gurus do not have their Western disciples as professors in important places in the same manner as the Dalai Lama does, and (ii) the Indian Left has done a great job in demonizing and delegitimizing Hinduism.

Finally, Vijay’s response also ignores very many key points in The Peer-Review Cartel. But since I am off to India, this matter shall have to be continued later…

  • Rajiv Malhotra


The Axis Of Neocolonialism

“In the modern planetary situation, Eastern and Western ‘cultures’ can no longer meet one another as equal partners. They meet in a westernized world, under conditions shaped by western ways of thinking.” — W. Halbfass[1]

This essay argues that intellectual svaraj (self-rule) is as fundamental to the long term success of a civilization as is svaraj in the political and financial areas. Therefore, it is important to ask: whose way of representing knowledge will be in control? It is the representation system that defines the metaphors and terminology, interprets what they mean in various situations, influences what issues are selected to focus on, and, most importantly, grants privileges by determining who is to control this marketplace of ideas.

As an implicit body of standards, a representation system disguises a meta-ideology – the substratum of contexts on which specific ideologies emerge and interact. It includes the language used and the unstated frames of reference, and acts as the subliminal filter through which positions are constructed and their fate negotiated.

A people without their own representation system, in a worst case scenario, get reduced to being intellectual consumers looking up to the dominant culture. In the best case scenario, they could become intellectual producers, but only within the representation system as defined and controlled by the dominant culture, such as has happened recently with many Indian writers in English.

Ashis Nandy summarizes how this mental colonialism was brought about:

“This colonialism colonises minds in addition to bodies and it releases forces within colonized societies to alter their cultural priorities once and for all…. Particularly, once the British rulers and the exposed sections of Indians internalized the colonial role definitions….the battle for the minds of men was to a great extent won by the Raj.”[2]

The repetitious use of a given representation system eventually leads to a widely accepted set of “essences,” as stated by Friedreich Nietzsche:

“The reputation, name, and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a thing, what it counts for — originally almost always wrong and arbitrary — grows from generation unto generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be a part of the thing and turns into its very body. What at first was appearance becomes in the end, almost invariably, the essence and is effective as such.”

Therefore, control over the representation of knowledge is analogous to control over the operating system of computers: representation systems are to competing ideas what operating systems are to computer applications. Control over this platform, especially its invisible standards and rules, is of strategic consequence.

The structure of the essay is as follows: (1) Explaining the origins of neocolonialism. (2) Showing that many Indians are themselves perpetuating neocolonialism today. (3) Linking this with Western control from above the glass ceiling.

PART 1: The Origins of Neocolonialism

Part 1 explains the origins and causes of neocolonialism in India today, resulting from the abandonment of its rich classical tradition, and replacement by knowledge representation systems imposed by the colonizers. Let us understand how the West got to control today’s knowledge representation systems.

The hallmark of a good education in an American liberal arts college is based on what is called the “Western Classics.” A study of Western Civilization starts with the study of ancient Greek and Semitic thought, before moving on to Classical Roman, modern European, and finally, American thought. Such an intellectual foundation is deemed important for one to be considered a well educated person in the humanities, regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and regardless of one’s specific academic major. By way of illustration only, the following is what one liberal arts college advertises very proudly about its Classics program.

Classics and Classical Civilization at a Typical American Liberal Arts College[3]:

“From the Constitution of the United States, to the framework of modern law, to the vocabulary and ideas of everyday speech and writing, the classics exert a pervasive influence. The power of Greece and Rome extends into virtually every aspect of our modern lives. Western traditions of philosophy, science, religion, art, and, above all, literature draw their origins from the intellectual curiosity and colorful imagination of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Department of Classics provides a window into the life, times, and ideas of the founders of western society. Students of Greek learn the language of Homer and the idioms of Aristotle and Plato, while Latin classes learn to argue in the words of Cicero and Julius Caesar. The debt we owe to the Greeks and Romans is so large and multi-faceted that the study of classics is interdisciplinary by nature. For example, the classics curriculum includes courses offered by the Departments of Philosophy, Art, Religion, Government, and Science and Technology. Yet, all of these courses form part of a coherent whole for classics majors and minors. Students of the classics reap all the benefits of a liberal arts education, and at the same time, maintain a focus in their studies.

“The Department of Classics is thriving on a resurgence of interest in classical languages and culture….. Students can choose to gain an overview of long periods of classical history, or study shorter periods in great detail…. In class, we apply various modern, even pioneering, theoretical approaches drawn from the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and literary criticism. Between the department’s offerings on language, literature, history, and culture, and the courses offered by other departments on, for example, ancient philosophy, classical art and architecture, and classical political thoughts, students choose from an extensive array of courses.

“The Department of Classics offers majors and minors in two programs: one in classics, which concentrates on language and literature in Greek, Latin, or both, and one in classical civilization that encompasses all the facets of classical culture. Many students in both programs have taken advantage of the opportunity to study in Greece and Italy through programs especially designed for American students. In Athens, the cradle of Western democracy, and the birthplace of Greek tragedy and Plato’s academy, students can further their studies while familiarizing themselves with the Acropolis and Agora. In Rome, they can continue to pursue the ideals of a classical education while breathing the air that the Roman emperors inhaled, and walking the streets that for centuries saw triumphs over distant peoples. In recent years, our joint major in Classics/Classical Civilization-English has become popular, and we have just added another joint major in Classical Civilization-Anthropology.

“The department strives to emulate the intellectual curiosity of the Greeks and Romans. Our activities extend beyond the classroom to various social, yet educational, events. We have enjoyed showing movies and videos related to the classics from time to time.

“We bring prominent experts from the U.S. and abroad to share new perspectives on topics of the ancient world…. We are proud to have state-of-the-art computer support for our students. By tapping a few keys, they can call up any Greek or Latin text, and search through the entire cannon of classical authors in the original or in translation. Furthermore we have book-marked numerous sites of classical interest on the Internet. All of this in a room graced by reproductions of classical statues, vases, and paintings!

“It is the department’s goal to foster keen intellectual curiosity and sound principles of analysis and problem-solving in all our students, by providing academic stimuli and allowing our students to harness the power of the imagination just like the great thinkers, politicians, artists and writers of Greece and Rome. Not surprisingly, graduates of the [Classics] major are pursuing successful careers in law, medicine, teaching, academia, government, art, management, and other fields. The study of the classics trains the mind for much more than the translation of texts and the analysis of a culture. The study of classics also prepares you to meet life with the confidence of Achilles and the self-reliance of Odysseus.”

I find similar deep respect and dignity for the Western Classics at Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago, Yale, Oxford, Paris, and virtually every top Western university. The benefit is not only intended for those specializing in the Western Classics. The Western Classics are in the core curriculum of many colleges, regardless of specialization.

Marginalization of Indian Classics in India’s Higher Education:

It is important to carefully read the above rationale for the Western Classics program, so as to appreciate why this is deemed so relevant today in Western technologically advanced secular democracies, such as the United States.

Compare this to the tragic state of Indian Classics in India’s own higher education. The equivalent to the Greek Classics would be India’s Vedas, Puranas and other Sanskrit, Pali and Tamil texts. In a comparable education system, students would learn about Pannini, Patanjali, Buddha, Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti, Bharthrhari, Shankara, Abhinavgupta, Bharata Muni, Gangesh, Kalidasa, Aryabhata and dozens of other great classical thinkers produced by India.

Unfortunately, in the name of progress, modernity, and political correctness, Indian Classics have been virtually banished from India’s higher education – a continuation of the policy on Indian education started by the famous Lord Macaulay over 150 years ago.. While India supplies information technology, biotechnology, corporate management, medical and other professionals to the most prestigious organizations of the world[4]it is unable to supply world-class scholars in the disciplines of its own traditions.

The reason is that the nexus of Indology studies remains in Western universities, almost as though decolonization had never happened. The top rated academic journals and conferences on Indology and India related fields are in the West, run largely by Western scholars, and funded by Western private, church and governmental interests. The best research libraries in the Indian Classics are in the West. Religious Studies is the hottest academic field in the humanities in the US, and is growing at a very fast rate, but is non-existent as a discipline in Indian universities.

Therefore, to get an internationally competitive PhD in Sanskrit, Indian Classics, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism Studies, with the highest rigor in methods and theory, such that one may get an academic job in this specialty in a leading international university, a student is forced to go to a US, UK or German university.

Hence, one cannot find qualified experts of Indian religions in India, in order to debate Western scholars. The few Indian scholars within the Western academy who are educated in the Indian Classics, are either below the glass ceiling, or else are politically cautious given the risks to their career ambitions.

Furthermore, the marginalization of India’s heritage in its education system, particularly in the English medium system that produces most of the leaders of modern Indian society, has resulted in the leaders of industry, civil service, media and education becoming a culturally lost generation. The result is today’s self-alienated, cynical youth prevalent in many places, especially in elite positions[5].

The justification given for the study of Greek Classics in the West is not that they are considered 100% “true” today (whatever that might mean), or that better thought has not superceded them. Rather, the purpose is to understand the history of the Western mind, so that students may lay a sound and strong foundation for their thinking in order to move this civilization further into the future. The Western Classics provide the Western intellectual with the resources to be a serious thinker for today.

It is also about the identity of Westerners and their culture. Great emphasis is placed on the integrity of an old “Western Civilization” traced back to Greece (although the massive inputs received from non-Western sources are carefully suppressed – see Part 3). This (re)construction of Western Civilization is an ongoing project, and is considered very critical for the survival and prosperity of what is known as the “West”.

One should apply this logic to Classical Indian thought and see parallel benefits for India’s renaissance. Unfortunately, a great disservice has been done to Indian Classics by equating them with religion. Arguably, the most comprehensive and challenging knowledge representation systems available outside the West are contained in the Indian Classics. The sheer magnitude of India’s Classics is over one hundred times as large as that of the Greek Classics. For a brief glimpse into some of the potentials based on the recovery of Indian Classics, see the web site for an academic Colloquium on this very subject[6]. Yet, whatever little is taught about Indian Classics tends to suffer from its ghetto like positioning as “South Asian,” whereas Greek thought is positioned as being “universal.” The dominant (European) culture, into which Greek thought became assimilated, claims to own the logos (the rational principle that governs and develops the universe), while non-Western peoples’ indigenous ideas are mythos and exotica. Greek Classics are taught in mainstream academia and are not relegated to a particular ethnicity or “area” of the world. Indian Classics, on the other hand, are considered relevant mainly as a way to understand what is unique (i.e. peculiar) about Indian ethnicity.

Furthermore, Greek thought is referenced as being of Greek origin, whereas, when Indian ideas are appropriated, their Indian origin is erased over time: real knowledge is implied to come only from Western sources; all others must wait till they get legitimized by being claimed as Western. This is because the knowledge representation system is under Western control, and hence they are the final arbiters of “what” belongs “where.” Only when something falls under Western control does it become legitimate.

Indic Traditions in the Western Academia:

Interestingly, Western academia hires many Indian scholars in the departments of English Literature, History, Philosophy, Sociology, and Political Science, amongst other humanities. However, while the Western audiences think of them as spokespersons for Indic Traditions, the vast majority of them are unwilling and unqualified to explain Indian Classics seriously. But their Western hosts and colleagues are usually unaware of this shortcoming in most Indian scholars. For this deficiency to become public about an Indian scholar is tantamount to a minor scandal, because they derive much of their clout based on the false perception that they are representatives of Indic thought.

To cover up their ignorance, many elitist Indians resort to a combination of Eurocentric and Marxist rhetoric about Indian civilization – the caste, cows and curry theory of India. They quote Orientalist accounts of India and even base their own scholarship as extensions and derivatives of colonial writings superimposed with Marxism. On the one hand, postcolonial studies are at the very heart of their specialization and career paths. But on the other hand, they are only trained in using Eurocentric hermeneutics and methods. Hence, they can deconstruct Eurocentrism with Western methods, but are completely inept at applying Indic categories and perspectives. They cannot replace the Eurocentric representation model with anything indigenous from India. Postcolonial studies often end up as Orientalism by the neocolonized.

Contrast this with Arab scholars, such as Edward Said and Abu-Lughod, who have led the deconstruction of Eurocentrism, not only generically but also specifically on behalf of Islamic and Arab civilizations. Consequently, it is now becoming fashionable to replace Eurocentric history textbooks with accounts centered around the Middle East, going back to the Middle Ages. Likewise, Nell Painter is amongst the leading critics of Eurocentrism on behalf of Africans. Enrique Dussel is amongst many prominent Latin Americans attacking Eurocentric models.

However, in the case of a specifically Indic deconstruction of Eurocentrism, some of the finest academic challenge is often being delivered by Westerners, such has Ronald Inden and Nicholas Dirks. Many Indian scholars who are entrenched in the Western academe of humanities seem reluctant to risk their loyalty ratings, and in many cases, are simply too ignorant of their own heritage and invested in attacking this heritage.

While pockets of such Indic challenges to Eurocentrism do exist, they are not empowered to revolutionize the fields of religion, history, sociology, anthropology, women’s studies, Asian Studies, literature and art. They occasionally get their symbolic ‘day in court,’ but it is usually not the center court, where it really matters[7].

Indian Secularism ¹ American Secularism:

One serious misunderstanding amongst this milieu of elitist Indians has been their confused interpretation of secularism. The USA is a good nation with which to compare India in matters of secularism. It does notdefine secularism as alienation from its traditions. Even though tracing back American civilization to the Greeks is a big stretch, this link and continuity is emphasized. Certainly, the Judeo-Christian foundation of Americanism is made loud and clear. Recently, there is a new movement to rediscover the Native American heritage as being part of the New Americanism. On the other hand, secularism in India has come to mean anti Indic Traditions, especially anti-Hinduism.

To get certified that they are secular, many Indians line up to prove how they hate Hinduism, or at least how distant they are from what they perceive as a denigrated identity. The historian, Ronald Inden explains the root cause of this dis-ease:

“Nehru’s India was supposed to be committed to ‘secularism’. The idea here in its weaker publicly reiterated form was that the government would not interfere in ‘personal’ religious matters and would create circumstances in which people of all religions could live in harmony. The idea in its stronger, unofficiallv stated form was that in order to modernize, India would have to set aside centuries of traditional religious ignorance and superstition and eventually eliminate Hinduism and Islam from people’s lives altogether. After Independence, governments implemented secularism mostly by refusing to recognize the religious pasts of Indian nationalism, whether Hindu or Muslim, and at the same time (inconsistently) by retaining Muslim ‘personal law’[8].”

This agenda, built on a false definition of secularism, has been taken to such extremes that Sanskrit has been demonized, because it is seen as part of the Evil Brahmin Conspiracy to oppress all the victims of contemporary Indian society. Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of India’s elite institutions in the liberal arts, and the seminary that produces many of these maladjusted intellectuals, has fought hard to resist the establishment of a Sanskrit and Indian Classics department, whereas it is proud of its faculty and curriculum in a wide variety of European languages and civilizations[9].

This is the result of sheer ignorance about the scope and value of Sanskrit literature. Indologists believe that there are over 30 million distinct manuscripts in Sanskrit, mostly not cataloged, with less than one percent ever translated into a non Indian language. The vast majority of Sanskrit texts is not about “religion,” and covers a diverse territory of subjects – medicine, botany, aesthetics, fiction, jokes, sex, political thought, logic, mathematics, and so forth.

Sanskrit was the language of scholarship for a period of several millennia, in the same manner as English has become over the past century. To demonize and suppress this language and its vast literature, in the name of political correctness, is a tragedy against all humanity. Yet this is precisely what has been done for 50 years after India’s independence[10].

The Hegemony of Language:

One result of all this has been that the colonial mistranslations of Sanskrit words have now become accepted by the majority of Indians educated in the English language, not only the scholars but also the leaders of India’s media, higher education, industry and administrative services.

Indic Traditions now have the added burden to legitimize themselves in terms defined by its former colonizers’ culture, i.e., using a Eurocentric frame of reference. Nietzsche’s prophecy quoted in the opening section of this essay has come true. By controlling their language, one can subjugate a people.

The richness of the meaning of a word is often very deeply embedded in the cultural context, in the history of how that word evolved over time, and in the wide contextual bandwidth of nuances and implied meanings that accompany its usage. To understand all the nuances of a word, then, is to understand the host culture. And to understand a complex culture is to live it and be it. This is why great harm is done when a foreign culture, especially a colonial one, imposes its own simplistic translations of Sanskrit.

Even greater is the harm when the natives of a colonized culture adopt these foreign translations – a process that is often gradual and subtle, and achieved with rewards of upward mobility offered by the dominant culture.

When a word with contextually determined meanings is reduced to merely one of its many meanings, it is like assigning a specific constant value to an algebraic variable, and thereby eliminating its usefulness as a variable. If someone translates “cuisine = McDonalds,” or “x = 5” when x is defined to be any real number between 0 and 10, then the reduction is a violence to the thing being represented.

Following are some examples of common reductions of Indic culture, where the contextual meaning is lost, and a simple and fixed meaning is imposed, so as to map it to the Eurocentric framework.

For openers, Ishwar is not God. Of course, both Hindus and Christians believe in one Supreme Reality, but the conception of each one is rather different. While Hindus celebrate the multiplicity of conceptions (as internal pluralism), the Abrahamic religions demand mono-conception (which they equate with monotheism). Ishvara has countless forms in which he is manifested inside the cosmos affording an individual access via his/her personal choice of form. But God is said to get very pissed off at “graven images” of Him, according to Abrahamic religions.

The Abrahamic Supreme Being is a male, angry and jealous God, with pathological notions such as Eternal Damnation that drive people into terrible obsessions in order to get “saved.” The Abrahamic God intervenes in history very rarely, and hence ends up privileging some tribe or community exclusively over all others.

If “Ishvara = God” were to be valid, then it would have to be an equality in both directions. Lets take the mapping “God à Ishvara.” This would mean that Jesus would be son of Ishvara. But Ishvara does not have such a son, and in order to preserve the integrity of the Indic narrative about Ishvara, we would have to say that Jesus is an Avatara of Ishvara. However, this is unacceptable to the Church, as it would mean the relativization of Jesus as one of many Avataras, and hence, would remove the need for a Hindu to convert to Christianity. Hindus would simply be able to say, “No, thank you. We already have Jesus as an Avatar in our current system.”

Furthermore, where would Mary, as Jesus’ mother, and the Virgin Birth be accommodated in the Indic narratives about Ishvara? Also, God has an enemy (i.e. the Devil), requiring the mobilization of humanity against him. Where would God’s “other” be accommodated in the Indic system? While God has an enemy on whom all evil gets blamed, Ishvara includes both good and evil internally, and hence, there is nobody external comparable to the Devil.

When Christians talk about these “equalities,” they assume that their Christian myth is sustained intact with the Indic narratives being distorted to fit into the Christian frame of reference. But this would do great violence to the worldview and integrity of Indic Traditions, reducing them to an Indianized Christianity.

My point is not that a merger of Hindu and Christian worldviews and myths is impossible[11]. In fact, I find such possibilities very interesting and promising to pursue. However, I emphasize that this cannot be a simplistic equation in the name of political correctness, as is often the case. It has major ramifications to the relative positioning of the faiths involved. This would have to be a large project, with scholars from both sides working as peers – a friendly merger negotiation, and not a hostile takeover.

Similarly, devas are not gods, and devis are not goddesses. Also, Agni deva is not fire, but is symbolized by it. Murtis are not idols.

Shiva is not destroyer, but more like transformer, moving beings upwards in the evolution of consciousness. This is why Shiva is conceptualized as the lord of dance, yoga, enlightenment, and mysticism. This upward evolution entails “dissolution” of the falsely constructed mental frame of reference (maya), and this dissolution is quite different from everyday “destruction.” Shiva’s transformation is a set of deconstruction processes similar to, but going further than, postmodern deconstructions.

Atman is not soul, because of reincarnation and because of atman’s identity with Brahman (whereas soul does not reincarnate, and “soul = God” is blasphemy in most Abrahamic religions’ interpretations). Moksha and nirvana are not Salvation, because the latter is an escape from Eternal Damnation into Heaven, concepts that are very Abrahamic.

Shakti is not energy, as energy is but one form of shakti. Akash is not the same as space or skyRasa is another term with no Western equivalent, and hence untranslatable except via a thick description[12].

Lingam is not the same as phallus, and has a complex spectrum of meanings. Tantra is not sex.

Prana is not breath. There are many levels of prana, including in the unmanifest levels. Physical breath is a correlate of prana, and hence a way to influence and regulate prana.

There is no Sanskrit word “Aryan” – a noun referring to a race or ethnicity. The Sanskrit word is “arya,” which is an adjective referring to a quality of nobility. What are popularly known as Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths are, in the Sanskrit version, called the four arya truths. But this term does not refer to any race, as was misinterpreted by 19th century German Indologists in order to construct an ancient “Aryan” heritage for themselves. Surely there is no race called “tennis champion” or “good singer” – but if Wimbledon were to become controlled by an ethnic group (to stretch the imagination), then in the 30th century they mightdefine themselves as the Tennischamps race.…you have a picture of what happened in 19th century German Indology.

Kshatriya and brahmin are job descriptions, representing duties that roughly correspond to leadership in matters of state and religion, respectively – and hence serve as a built-in balance between socio-political affairs and spiritual quest. The British mistranslations of Sanskrit texts over-emphasized the other worldly aspects, to glorify the world negation amongst the Hindus, and to make it easy for Hindus to accept British rule. Therefore, Orientalist constructions did not focus on the kshatriya dharma, as that is very world engaging and affirming. The British construction of “Brahminism” was to position themselves as masters in charge of India’s progress.

“Brahminism” is a pejorative name for Hinduism, similar to using “Pope-ism” or “Bishopism” to refer to Christianity. It implies that Hinduism is simply a belief made up by brahmins, with no legitimacy of its own.

Brahman as the ultimate reality is often confused with a different but similarly sounding word, brahmin, which is a job description for a spiritual leader.

Varna is not caste, and in fact, the European term “caste” and its modern Indian manifestation are not the same as the varna system.

People fail to differentiate between srutis (which are eternal truths), and smritis (which are manmade constructions, such as the Manusmriti that is often used to prosecute Hinduism). Smritis are, therefore, entirely amendable. Srutis are not frozen canons either, as there is no unique or final revelation, in contrast with the Abrahamic revelations – Sri Aurobindo claimed to bring us new srutis in recent times, and so have many others. Therefore, neither category of Indic scripture is frozen, contrary to common misperception.

Karma is not fatalism. On the contrary, it is the only metaphysical system that gives an explanation of each individual’s unique predicaments at birth based entirely on the individual’s own free choices previously made. It extols free will and individual responsibility.

Hinduism is not Hindutva, because the latter is a modern political construction. Likewise, Indic Traditions are a superset of Hinduism.

Itihasa is neither history nor myth in the Western sense. As explained by Ranajit Guha, Puranetihasa is its own unique genre of text with no western equivalent[13].

This reduction of Indic concepts is consistent with Western tendencies to homogenize: Christianity asserts one path, one church, one book, and one conception of the divine. Marxism struggles to bring about a homogenous society as its Utopia. White Feminists impose their idea of womanhood upon all other women[14]. Multinationals, in the long run, collapse commerce into fewer brands and choices. Indic culture, on the other hand, did not view life as a zero-sum game.

Besides individual words that are mistranslated, entire Eurocentric models of thinking are superimposed in the study of Indic culture, without critical inquiry as to whether they are applicable. For example:

§ Monotheism Vs. polytheism as lens: Monotheism and polytheism are assumed to be mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories, through which all religions are made to pass. Furthermore, monotheism is falsely assumed to have started in Judaism, when, in fact, Upanishads, much earlier than Judaism, already included monotheism along with other ways to conceptualize the nature of ultimate reality. Also, Abrahamic religions have strains of polytheism as well, but this is downplayed.

§ Only one religion allowed per person: A census of religious beliefs in Japan showed that over 70% of the population believed in more than one religion at the same time. However, given the exclusivist nature of the three Abrahamic religions, it is simply assumed by them that a person may have only one religion at a given time. This exclusivism mentality with rigid boundaries was imposed via the British censuses of India, and has remained a standard in classifying Indians’ spiritual beliefs. However, Indic Traditions have a history of internal pluralism, similar to the Japanese experience mentioned, and it is only recently that external threats have created “boundaries” around India’s religions. For nearly two thousand years, for instance, Christians lived in the pluralist milieu in India, because at that time, there was no hegemony or expansionism from Church headquarters in the West to control spiritual thought in India. This point illustrates that strictly speaking, dharma is not religion.

§ Linear theories of history: The arbitrary theory that all human history has to fit the sequence: archaic à magical à mythical à rational à …., is one of the pillars of mainstream Eurocentrism[15]. Events in Europe were seen to fit into this linear “progress.” Hence, this pattern got universalized into a “law of history,” and imposed upon all humanity. Eurocentric accounts of world history are forced to fit into this grid, by hook or by crook, and whatever does not fit is simply omitted or excused away. One could equally and legitimately claim that this theory is the result of backward projection by expansionist and conquering people, who went about appropriating the physical, intellectual and spiritual assets of others. The view from the colonized peoples would not regard conquest as progress or as a measure of superiority.

§ “West = progressive/superior,” and “non-West = backward/inferior”: In the secular fields such as anthropology, sociology, women’s studies, etc. this view is sustained by carefully selecting the issues to be studied, and by filtering the evidence (a.k.a. fudging the facts), resulting in misrepresenting India’s social problems as being entirely indigenous and as the very essence of Indic Traditions.

§ Erasure of the positive aspects, while appropriating them at the same time: It is almost sacrilegious in academe to include classical India’s positive contributions to world science, technology, agriculture, medicine, linguistics, mathematics, city building, social theory; to many aspects of Christianity[16], the Industrial Revolution of Europe, modern psychology, new-age movements, eco-feminism, and so forth. For, acknowledging these would collapse the Eurocentric theories of the “miracle of European Modernity.”

This hegemony is sustained by asserting power over academics. For instance, the overwhelming majority of academic scholars of Hinduism are Judeo-Christians, whereas in the case of all other major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism) the majority of the scholars are from within the given religion. No civilization can afford to give a facilities management contract to someone else to manage its knowledge representation systems.

Meanwhile, the Hindutva movement, while claiming to lead the revival of Hinduism, has been obsessed with the politics of building one particular temple, while abandoning all the intellectual temples to neocolonial forces. Its scholars tend to be mainly from the Hindu orthodox scholastic traditions, with little capability to engage this global age. Its few “modern” scholars have been too narrow, and interested mainly in refuting the “Aryan” theories. Consequently, the Hindutva’s overall perspective is very limited and intellectually shallow. It misfired in its attempt to bring Indian Classics into higher education, because of its silly choice of astrology as door opener. Blaming Muslims and Christians for all sorts of problems has often diverted from pressing internal issues facing Hinduism. A complete deconstruction of the ineptness of the “Hindu response” is going to be the subject of a separate essay.

PART 2: The Brown (Mem)sahibs[17]

This part illustrates that many Indian anti-colonial thinkers are themselves neocolonialists, for it is they who are propagating a Eurocentric representation system of knowledge and discourse. In particular, I discuss five categories of contemporary brown (mem)sahibs: (1) historians; (2) writers of English Literature; (3) South Asianized Indian American professors and journalists; (4) NGOs[18]; and (5) India’s post-independence rulers.

Eurocentrism and Indian History:

My first category of neocolonial brown (mem)sahibs is Romila Thapar and her dozens of former history students, who often guard the India and/or Hindu bashing fortresses at many American university departments, but who lack an education in Sanskrit and Indian Classics. They compensate for this deficiency with an overdose of Marxist and/or Eurocentric historiographies, often camouflaged as Subaltern studies. Ronald Inden explains how postcolonial Indian scholars have fallen into this trap:

“With the rise of identity politics, ‘postcolonial’ historians have shifted away from imagining class and national unities in India’s past and have started pointing to diversities, but many of these studies have a tendency to recuperate the older colonialist imaginings of India. Representations of the systematic mistreatment of women (patriarchy), the exploitation of the young (child labour), domination by a parasitic Brahman caste of Aryan descent, discrimination by castes (untouchability), and the triumphalism of an atavistic Hinduism reiterate the earlier images of India as an inherently and uniquely divided and oppressive place[19].”

These scholars hate being characterized as Eurocentrics, because that would run counter to their status as anti-colonialists and pro-Subaltern. Yet, they denigrate the sacred traditions of the very subaltern people for whom they claim to speak.

Inden explains the colonial origins of the presuppositions of India that are now commonly accepted by Indian scholars. His very important book, from which the following passages are excerpted, should be required reading for every student of India, in order to understand the origins of today’s neocolonialism:

“I wish to make possible studies of ‘ancient’ India that would restore the agency that those [Eurocentric] histories have stripped from its people and institutions. Scholars did this by imagining an India kept eternally ancient by various Essences attributed to it, most notably that of caste[20].”

“I will argue that Euro-American Selves and Indian Others have not simply interacted as entities that remain fundamentally the same. They have dialectically constituted one another. Once one realizes the truth of this, he or she will begin to see that India has played a part in the making of nineteenth and twentieth century Europe (and America) much greater than the ‘we’ of scholarship, journalism, and officialdom would normally wish to allow. The subcontinent was not simply a source of colonial riches or a stage-setting in which Western hunters could stalk tigers, the sons of British merchants and aristocrats could make a financial killing, or the spiritualist find his or her innermost soul (or its Buddhist absence). More than that, India was (and to some extent still is) the object of thoughts and acts with which this ‘we’ has constituted itself. European discourses appear to separate their Self from the Indian Other – the essence of Western thought is practical reason, that of India a dreamy imagination, or the essence of Western society is the free (but selfish) individual, that of India an imprisoning (but all-providing) caste system. But is this really so? To be sure, these discourses create a strange, lop-sided complementarity between the Western Self and its Indian Other. Yet the consequence of this process has been to redefine ourselves. We have externalized exaggerated parts of ourselves so that the equally exaggerated parts we retain can act out the triumph of the one over the other in the Indian subcontinent. We will be unhampered by an otherworldly imagination and unhindered by a traditional, rural social structure because we have magically translated them to India[21].”

“The effect of these wild fabrications of the nineteenth-century European imagination was to give pre-eminence to caste, the type of society epitomizing at once both constraint and excess, as opposed to the freedom and moderation of Western civil society, and to the lone renouncer rather than the individual-in-society. The result was not, as scholars often claimed, to depict India ‘as it was’. Indologists’ desires to elevate their West by denigrating this Indian Other were not, however, fulfilled simply by turning it into the land of Hindu castes and fakirs. Theirs was an imperial project that entailed the wholesale intellectual deconstitution of Indian economic and political institutions,….[22]

“My main argument, then, is that the agency of Indians, the capacity of Indians to make their world, has been displaced in those knowledges on to other agents. The makers of these knowledges have, in the first instance, displaced the agency of the Indians on to one or more ‘essences’, and in the second instance on to themselves. The essences that they have imagined have been caste, the Indian mind, divine kingship, and the like. Although several generations of scholars have characterized and valued these essences in a variety of ways, they have for the most part considered them as somehow inferior, at least in the sense of explaining why India ‘lost out’ to the West. Since the civilization of India has been governed, they assume, by these dubious essences from the moment of its origin, that civilization’s place in the world has been, so to speak, predetermined from the beginning. Lacking the essences taken to be characteristic of the West – the individual, political freedom, and science – Indians did not even have the capacity on their own to know these essences. They did not, so one would have to conclude, have the capacity to act in the world with rationality. The European scholars and their doubles, the colonial administrators and traders, assumed for themselves the power to know these hidden essences of the Other and to act upon them. They would act both for themselves and for the Indians. Lest we think these practices affected only India, we should consider that the West’s image of itself as the epitome of the modern has depended, for two hundred years, on these changing portrayals of India as the embodiment of the ancient[23].”

While Black American scholars and Native American scholars have made considerable progress in rewriting the portrayal of their people for American textbooks[24], Indian historians remain too invested in Marxist and Subalternist grand narratives of “Hindu oppression.” In this narrative, the Evil Brahmin plays the role of the elite bourgeoisie, and the Dalits and women are mobilized to play as the Oppressed Proletariat. Indian postcolonial thought has dislocated itself from Indian Classics. Therefore, even when criticizing Western hegemony, they are stuck with the use of Western theories.

Since the colonialists plays the Bad Guy, these scholars locate pre-colonial “real India” in Mughal India. The 10th to 15th century period of pre-Mughal Islamic plunder is quickly glossed over. Anything prior to 10th century Islam is superficially treated, except for what is assumed to have been brought into India by other generous foreigners – the so-called Aryans, the Greeks, and many others. The self-serving meta-theory in which these historians are invested, simply forbids the possibility of positive indigenous developments[25].

Furthermore, for political correctness, and to keep their “secular” ratings high, the well-documented genocides of Hindus are suppressed. This is in sharp contrast with the way Black slavery, Jewish holocaust and Native American genocide are mainstream topics and emphasized in American school textbooks[26].

Instead of being suppressed as politically incorrect, a dispassionate treatment of past atrocities would enable today’s Indians of all religions to distance themselves from historical genocides, and to forge a common identity as Indians. After all, it was the invading Muslims who plundered the native Indians, and the Indian Muslims today are mainly descendents of the natives and not of the invaders. For Indian Muslims, it would be far better to get rooted in Indian civilization, which is eclectic and flexible enough to include Islamic thought very hospitably, rather than identifying themselves as part of a pan-Persian and/or pan-Arab diaspora. (In a recent discussion with an Iranian scholar, I learnt that one of the key reasons why Iran is Shiite Muslim rather than Sunni Muslim is that Iranians refuse to Arabize their culture and identity. Recently, many Iranian Islamic scholars have renewed their interest in Zoroastrianism and pre-Islamic Iranian civilizations, which have a family resemblance with Vedic civilization. While the Arabs erased pre-Islamic knowledge systems as best as they could, the Iranians have tried to preserve their pre-Islamic language and culture, and have incorporated it into their reinterpretations of Islam. Indian Muslims could revive a similar trend, started by Akbar and Dara Shikoh, to fuse Islam with Indian Classics[27].)

While the focus by many scholars has been on the negative stereotypes of Indic Traditions, they have failed to adequately treat their many positive contributions, especially those that have been appropriated by the West[28].

Another serious gap in Indian historiography is the lack of a thorough history of Hinduism. This work would show that Hinduism was developed and constructed over a considerable period of time, and has not been frozen (as some “essences”) in a lofty past. The importance of this to present day Hinduism would be to challenge many Hindus today who locate its perfection in some past era. This backward revival, as opposed to forward construction, is the result of not appreciating that Hinduism has had a long history of change, progress, and development in response to circumstances. A philosophy that has historically progressed can also have future progression, whereas one that has remained fixed is locked in orthodoxy.

Since religion, especially Hinduism, has been explained away as an obsolete need, not only do many historians fail to respect it and to understand its basic tenets, but they rely on socio-political theories according to which modernization would put an end to this scourge of humanity. Therefore, most scholars have failed to interpret the recent events in India and elsewhere in the world concerning the enormous popularity of religions.

For instance, it is commonly said by them that: (a) the BJP came to power; (b) this led to the TV Ramayana serial; (c) which, in turn, led to the uprising of popular Hindu sentiments; and (d) this culminated in the Ram Temple controversy at Ayodhya.

However, this chronology is false, made up to fit the theories. The TV Ramayana actually occurred beforethe BJP came to power. This TV serial’s massive success was caused not by the BJP but by the sentiments of Hindus, who had been suppressed for decades by a false notion of secularism. This revival of Hinduism at the grass roots is what led to the rise of the BJP.

For its part, the BJP took political advantage of the opportunity created by this oppression of popular religion. (They frittered it away on misguided causes, in my opinion, but that is another story.) The BJP’s rise to power was not the cause of the revival of Hindu sentiments, but the result of it. I witnessed similar religious revivals in Eastern Europe and ex-USSR, after the collapse of communism.

Ranajit Guha’s recent call to take the Indian Puranas seriously as a way to excavate an indigenous sense of history, is courageous and loud, and especially important since it comes from the very founder of the Subaltern Movement[29]. Guha is a living legend amongst “secular progressives,” the description under which the former Marxist thinkers of India now operate. He writes (and also says in his talks) that India’s itihas needs to be taken very seriously to excavate its sense of indigenous history.

Guha explains how itihas is a unique genre of literature, that cannot be called either Western style “history” or “myth.” Rather than being a history of mainly kings and armies, it is a repository of culture at the grass roots. Nor is itihas a fixed set of archetypal myths, because the audience participates in its unfolding in the present context, interpreting and adapting it over time. One hopes, given the bandwagon effect so important amongst Indian historians, that Guha’s U-Turn will also encourage a rethinking by other Indian historians.

Historiography and Nation (Un)building:

History writing has been used both to build nations and to dismantle them.

China’s government has championed and funded major programs worldwide to promote a history of China that is constructed as being self-contained and insular, with minimum outside influences discussed. This account starts with Confucianism and Taoism as original pillars of Chinese thought[30]. Even contemporary communist ideology is depicted as a continuation of Confucianism and not entirely as a recent foreign transplant into China.

Modern Germany and Japan are also prominent examples of nation building based on constructing an integrated account of their own civilization, history and identity. The European Union is a major new project in the same direction. All these are examples of backward projection by a contemporary sense of positive cohesiveness.

History has never been an objective reporting of a set of empirical facts. It’s a present day (re)conception and filtering of data pertaining to the past, to build a narrative that is consistent with the myths of the dominant culture.

The Saudis invest petrodollars heavily to promote a grand positive narrative of the Arab people and their central place in the destiny of humanity. In fact, the export of Wahhabi Islam is largely a cultural export of Arabism, using religion as a means.

Scholarship is also used in the opposite manner. Imagine a hypothetical scenario, just by way of analogy, in which the USA is colonized by an alien civilization for several centuries. After successfully draining out the massive material and intellectual property, the colonizers finally leave, but a neocolonialism is installed as their control device. Having become immensely wealthier than their former colony, these aliens control the study of Americanology, with a focus on deconstructing the nation’s sense of unity. They sponsor chairs, museums and textbook portrayals that separate out various parts of American culture into conflicting entities: Blacks are encouraged to fight Americanism in the same manner as Dalits in India are being encouraged; women are encouraged to follow the footsteps of their alien women; Mormonism is encouraged as anti-Christian; American Muslims (who by them comprise a significant portion of the US population) are not treated as being Americans; and so forth.

This analogy is relevant because the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has removed Indian art of the Mughal period and placed it in a separate section called, “Islamic Art[31].” Museums in many American cities have separated out Sikhism from the rest of India into its own section for display, and have many cultural programs focusing on it. It is quite fashionable in Asian Studies, Women’s Studies, and especially in South Asian Studies, to have separate “Dalitism” scholarship. All this has become wrapped around serious works on India as being mainly about caste, with all other items of civilization being brought in from elsewhere.

The reality of India is that it is both these: an integration of indigenous and assimilations from elsewhere. This process continues till today. It is the same as with any other civilization. The problem is that in the case of India the imported aspects are exaggerated and the indigenous aspects are largely erased.

While each rich and powerful civilization emphasizes its indigenous cohesiveness and continuity, and with scholarship under control of those loyal to it, the reverse is the trend among the economically weak civilizations such as India. In the case of Indian civilization, the scholars’ emphasis has been on how there might not even be such a historical entity as India or Hinduism, and how its civilization was entirely brought by foreigners into India.

This intellectual breakup of Indic Traditions into historical layers of cultural imports, each with a nexus in some other part of the world, is the intellectual equivalent of the political breakup of India. That so many Indian have sold out to this project is certainly noteworthy, and is a major untold story of our times. In the long run, it is tempting for the West to assimilate this last remaining non-Western knowledge system, and breaking it into digestible modules facilitates this. However, the havoc that such a potential breakup would unleash would also be of catastrophic global proportions[32]. Furthermore, the future positive harvests that this civilization is capable of giving to the world would end.

By falsely portraying Indic traditions as anti-modern, the West and its Indian sepoys[33] have forced many Indians into the false dichotomy of tradition vs. progress. While the historical, revelation-based Abrahamic religions demand belief in a canonized dogma (placing religion and science in direct conflict), no such dichotomy between Indian dharmas and science occurred. This is because Indic Traditions accept an endless series of discoveries, and not just one unique event, and because the classical Indian role models are very often those of skeptics, free-spirited thinkers, and intense debaters arguing against established ideologies. Given its methodologies of discovering new knowledge, known as pramanas, dharma is progressive, and requires change and reformation as part of its on going process. It has become artificially frozen only in recent centuries, and this needs to be unfrozen so that the indigenous engine of progress and renaissance may resume.

For removal of doubt, I am against homogenized religion or homogenized ideas of nation, because that would run counter to the spirit and reality of dharma. Furthermore, I am against any marginalization of minorities, including Dalits, Indian Muslims and Christians. My contention is that just as Greek thought was appropriated to construct diverse and progressive thinking in Europe, and thereby bring about the Renaissance of Europe, it seems to be a promising project to use Indian Classics as the foundation for a universally applicable Indic worldview and renaissance.

The issues discussed in this essay have caused inner conflicts and schisms in Thapar’s Children, that are often written on their faces. This is why their preprogrammed defense mechanisms instinctively flare up – shouting “fundamentalist,” “nationalist,” and so forth – when they are merely questioned on the legitimacy of their qualifications as scholars of India. Inadvertently, and often with good intentions, they continue to feed what might be called Gentooism Studies[34].

The influence of Thapar’s Children in the Western world is considerable. Almost every year, they fly their icon around the world for speaking tours at prestigious campuses, where her cult-like former students are well fed gatekeepers. They make sure that no opposing voice is included on the panels – hardly an academically sound approach. At one of her talks last year, someone from the audience had the courage to ask her whether she knew Sanskrit and whether she had read the original texts, or whether she relied mainly on European sources for her scholarship. Very angry at this “rudeness,” she dismissed the question by saying that she “only answers questions from academically qualified persons.” Clearly, since she did not know the woman in the audience, Thapar had no way of assuming that this person was not an academician, except for the fact that only an outsider to the cult and its sphere of control would dare ask such a question.

The American academe considers her and her former students as the authorities on India. Any challenge to this hegemony of the brown (mem)sahibs is met with fierce personal attacks.

‘Brown Shame’ in English Literature:

Arundhati Roy, Rohinton Mistry (of Oprah fame), Bharati Mukerji, and others of this new genre of English language Indian writers, are my second category of neocolonial brown (mem)sahibs.

They rake in their money and awards spinning a reinforcement of the caste, cows and curry meta-narratives of India. This is to be contrasted with recent Bollywood blockbusters, such as Lagaan, that have depicted the cross-cultural relationship from the Indian perspective, and hence, catered to popular Indian audiences. These writers, on the other hand, are not read by India’s masses, whom they pretend to represent. It is the Western reader, seeking to fortify his/her Eurocentric myth of superiority, who endorses such work. These authors serve as brown-skinned suppliers for the kind of Orientalism previously done by whites such as Kipling. Their work is widely prescribed in American colleges, as insightful approaches into the complexity of exotic India, in a friendly fictionalized manner. It is taken more seriously than it deserves to be, because the publishers are falsely marketing these authors as the real voices of India.

The triumphant myth of the West expands, and these authors get amply rewarded for their contribution to the progressive march of Western civilization. In effect, these are the intellectual equivalents of the sepoys who policed the British Empire with great loyalty and pride, and, in exchange, got rewarded by being upgraded to a tier above the rest of the Indians whom they helped to subjugate.

Noy Thrupkaew, an American feminist reviewer, takes Indian women authors to task for supplying the stereotype of the “hard-bitten, angst-ridden Asian-American protagonists who had ostentatious sex by page 30.” She continues: “But if Asian women weren’t screwing, the publishing world wanted them suffering (and maybe bravely triumphing after they got themselves to the United States). The Asian historical memoirs were based on a simple formula: Asia was hell; the United States is a hell of a lot better. ….the Asian-hell-to-Western-heaven motif leaves a U.S. reader in a nicely complacent spot: reclining in a La-Z-Boy and thinking, ‘Well, thank god for America![35]‘”

This has become a bandwagon on which many Indian women authors want to hitch a ride to instant success. What used to be the White Woman’s Burden has, in many instances, been taken over as the Brown Woman’s Burden. But Thrupkaew is suspicious:

“Is this author exoticizing her ethnicity? Is she just feeding the public more stereotypes of lotus-blossom ladies and guacamole-hipped mamas? If she’s inaccurate or exceptionally critical or dewy-eyed in depicting the culture of her forebears, is it done in a way that suits the general public’s fixed ideas? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ then there’s a problem.”

While a few manage to climb to the top, the ultimate fate of most of these authors is to remain below the glass ceiling, while their white sisters smile from above. Thrupkaew points to the faddish nature of the American reader, as she writes: “At its worst, South Asian and South Asian-American writing is just like tasty Indian food – to be chewed, digested, and excreted without a lot of thought.” Yet this craving for legitimacy and honorary white status is too attractive and irresistible for many. (“Western” is often a politically correct equivalent of what was previously called “white.”)

Richard Crasta, a Christian from Mangalore, India, explains how the neocolonial process is working here:“In its choice of the Eastern writers it will patronize – or not patronize – Western publishing is only following the traditional strategy of conquerors towards a conquered race: unsex the men, ‘liberate’ the women, reward and honor the eunuchs or race-traitors, thus letting them keep their untamed brothers in check. If the conquered women and men don’t get along as a result, so much the better….[36]

Many Indians have learnt to play the game, explains Crasta: “[M]ilking the West has become a major Third World industry, art, or con game – one that we must master merely to survive. We are practiced milkers, and we’ll do almost anything, say almost anything, act any degrading role that’s called for – all for a drop of the gleaming, life-giving, white stuff.[37]

But Crasta warns his fellow Indian writers of the dangers of trying to cross the glass ceiling: “This Western carrot of acceptance and riches is accompanied by a stick: Do not cross the boundaries. Always remember your place.…[T]he carrot and stick are so discreetly transferred by Third World writers onto their internal censor that they are often unconscious of their own self-censorship.[38]

The harm this is causing is very serious, says Crasta:

“Ethnic shame is the opposite of ethnic pride … and it is a sublime example of the success of colonialism in co-opting us in our own subversion, and in our alienation from our culture and our earth, and ultimately the extinction of our own culture…. Educated Indians feel that they must apologize for every Indian who spits or shits by the roadside, for India’s official corruption, for the poor quality of Indian manufactured goods, for our repeated defeats by foreign conquerors, for our dirt and disease and poverty, now and forever. Faced with such a burden, it is no wonder that some Indians succumb to the temptation of simply denying their Indian origins….Why is ethnic shame such a serious matter, and not just some personal oddity? Because it contributes to our collusion with the forces that tend to make us invisible in a foreign society…. But there are other, more serious reasons for our shame, no doubt: the Western media’s and the American people’s association of India with highly negative images…. The India Haters Club is growing larger and larger, and its largest contingent is probably the millions of Indians for whom a few bitter experiences of betrayal have pushed them over the edge into self-hatred: Yes, my skin is brown, but my soul is white.[39]

Most eminent Indian postcolonial and literary theorists, such as Homi Bhabha, Gaytri Spivak and Dipesh Chakrabarty, lack formal education in Indian Classics to help their work, even though considerable classical Indian thought anticipated postmodernism and takes those notions even deeper. Gerald Larson correctly assesses:

“The problem with subaltern theorizing is that it is intellectually derivative from post-modernist and post-structuralist western ‘critical theory’ and thereby runs the risk of being little more than a kind of Neo-Orientalist theorizing.[40]

This growing genre of uniquely Indian Eurocentrism is simultaneously stupid and gifted, living paradoxically on an ivory tower. These young English language writers are of a new breed, often with revulsion to anything even remotely connected with Hinduism. As typical Macaulayites, they see nothing in Hinduism except for inequality between castes and burning of women. The paradox is that they are also sharp and acute critics of the dominance of the whites, colonialism, neocolonialism, corporate greed of America, etc. In other words, they have memorized well the rhetoric of Marxism, nowadays reinvented as “the leftist progressive circle.” But they are dislocated individuals from their souls and, like all loose canons, present dangerous implications.

While masters at deconstructing everything pertaining to British colonialism, what can these scholars replace it with? Answer: nothing that is prior to the Muslim invasion of India. Since the British period was cruel, and pre-Mughal India is dismissed as primitive (except for Buddhism which got intellectually moved from India over to East Asian Studies), what is seen as positive Indian culture is Mughal centric! In these minds, India’s worthwhile culture starts only when the Muslims colonized it.

The reason is simple: they lack knowledge of Indian Classics, and find it very embarrassing when this is pointed out to their white cohorts, because American liberal education includes a solid foundation in the Western Classics. Imagine telling an American liberal arts college to get rid of the Greek Classics, because the Greeks were primitive, pagan, and slave-owners.

This is the lie that these scholars live behind: the pretence that they are authentic ambassadors and representatives of Indian culture, when, in fact, they represent the West’s successful mental colonization of India. Hence, their neurosis and anger, when this contradiction gets exposed.

Their fierce public fight against the dominant culture is a reaction to their shadow side that is unable tobecome the dominant culture. Hypothetically, if there were a FDA[41] approved gene therapy to change phenotypes into “white,” it is precisely this lot who would make a beeline for this ethnicity-changing procedure.

The frustration from being denied white status often gets an outlet via postcolonial studies. This is the syndrome that Richard Crasta has called “impressing the whites.” It is what Enrique Dussel, Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and many others explain as the process by which the dominant culture appropriates a tier of intellectuals from the colonized culture, to serve as proxies in intellectually ruling over the masses. In exchange for this loyalty to the dominant culture, these Uncle Toms receive a considerably enhanced position, various rewards, and a sort of neo-white status.

It is to be remembered that 99% of all bullets fired and all police atrocities committed during the British Empire were done by Indian Sepoys under British command. Interestingly, the Chinese did not make good sepoys, because they refused to sell out. The Blacks had to be physically chained to enslave them. But Indians volunteered with great pride.

Today, the Indian Sepoy archetype, found in the Western academe and journalism, often does the dirty intellectual work. Their role on behalf of the dominant culture is to supply the myth of the “other” in a way that fits into the dominant culture’s grand narrative of itself. Rather than glorifying their success, the sooner their readers start to publicly call their lie, the better.

(As an interesting side remark, Lalit Mansingh, India’s Ambassador to USA, gave his speech at a major Hindu event in English. He can only give speeches in English[42].)

The “South Asian” Syndrome:

SAJA (South Asian Journalists Association) has influenced the movement to “South Asianize” young Indian Americans when they leave home and enter American colleges. SAJA runs on a clever marketing scheme: journalists from prestigious American media firms are brought on to the advisory board to give SAJA legitimacy, in exchange for enhancing their personal resumes as being “India experts.” Annual SAJA Awards, sponsored by corporations seeking to impress the Indian diaspora, are given to create role models of young journalists, who have often accomplished little other than championing the ideals of SAJA – Somini Sengupta is one recent example. This mechanism feeds itself. The SAJA internet discussion lists are carefully censored to filter out opposing views, even disallowing responses to direct personal attacks.

Many Indian journalist (mem)sahibs also serve as chowkidars (gatekeepers) for the West, as Crasta explains:

“Indeed, many of these immigrants are so terrified of voices that may offend the Masters that they will themselves act as filtering devices, as local policemen or toughs. Organizations like the Asia Society, South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA), and many ethnic newspapers regularly act as cheerleaders for those Indians who have impressed the whites, and as bouncers to keep their scruffy and impolite brethren from disrupting the harmony: on one occasion even trying to drop a ‘trouble-making’ Indian author from the program at the Asia Society[43].”

SAJA is but a small node of a vast South Asian movement on American campuses. The South Asian movement carefully hides the fact that this term was invented by Henry Kissinger as part of the Cold War foreign policy to contain the non-NATO world. The South Asian Studies departments across the US have been funded ever since by “Title VI Grants” from the US State Department, intended to promulgate and promote a theory of that “area” in order to support US foreign policy. Edward Said analyzed this and wrote that besides the military, the Western powers also have “armies of scholars at work politically, militarily, ideologically.”

The following quote from a governmental report describes why the US Department of Defense invests in the social sciences to understand and reengineer the “others”: “The Armed Forces are no longer engaged solely in warfare…. For many countries throughout the world, we need more knowledge about their beliefs, values, and motivations; their political, religious, and economic organizations; and the impact of various changes or innovations upon their socio-cultural patterns. …”[44]

The same report recommends specific kinds of social research and reengineering, and one can find in this list many projects that are being carried out in the US academe and via NGOs in India. Never has the Indian media done an investigative report on why the US Defense Department is to be served by Indian scholars in this manner:

“The following items are elements that merit consideration as factors in research strategy for military agencies. Priority Research Undertakings: (1) methods, theories and training in the social and behavioral sciences in foreign countries. …(2) programs that train foreign social scientists. …(3) social science research to be conducted by independent indigenous scientists. … (4) social science tasks to be conducted by major U.S. graduate studies in centers in foreign areas. …(7) studies based in the U.S. that exploit data collected by overseas investigators supported by non-defense agencies. The development of data, resources and analytical methods should be pressed so that data collected for special purposes can be utilized for many additional purposes. … (8) collaborate with other programs in the U.S. and abroad that will provide continuing access of Department of Defense personnel to academic and intellectual resources of the ‘free world.’”

Over 90% of the students who get sucked into the South Asian movement on US campuses are Indians. On the other hand, most Pakistanis are unabashed about their identity, and join Islamic organizations. Even in the UK, where the Indian community is far older than in the US, there is no South Asian movement on campuses. Finally, nobody in India identifies himself/herself as being “South Asian.”

An American academic scholar, who publicly identifies himself as a Hindu, complains about many of his cohorts in South Asian Studies:

“It is very sad that those who once supported free thinking and spirituality now support political correctness and Marxism. I find that the South Asianists on this campus, both westerners as well as the Indians (who are almost exclusively from high caste, urban elite families) and Pakistanis (also ALL from wealthy families) have, for the most part, a real hatred of Hinduism specifically, and religion in general. Because I am not ANTI-Hindu, which ‘good’ scholars here are supposed to be these days, I was long ago labeled a fundamentalist and relegated to the fringe. Whenever there is a conference on South Asia, I am not invited. [But] it is okay because I have a tenured position[45].

Finally, Dinesh D’Souza, who recently wrote in praise of colonialism, as being a great gift to the colonized people[46], is a product of the South Asian movement.

NGOs as Foreign Proxies:

Susantha Goonatilake, a Sri Lankan scholar, has completed a comprehensive study of his country’s NGOs and plans to publish his findings in a major book soon. His conclusions stated to me may be paraphrased as follows. Sri Lanka has been destroyed largely by the foreign funded NGOs operating there. Local scholars do what the sponsors demand, and hence serve as foreign proxies. This is remote-controlled neocolonialism of sorts. Goonatilake says that the same phenomenon has also happened to a fair extent in Bangladesh. But India, he says, is simply too large and resilient to be taken over, and has managed to survive despite all such activities.

It is this kind of NGO mentality that sends speakers to International conferences and to foreign media, so as to sensationalize and “expose” the internal social problems of India. While many NGO staff members and scholars are immersed into the Hindu and India phobia movement, there are also a large number who are simply sucked into this out of sheer ignorance, or out of the temptation for foreign travel and various grants as rewards. Many NGOs are the fifth column of Stealth Eurocentrism.

While the agenda of neocolonialism is rarely visible in the grant agreements, everyone experienced in this cottage industry knows what reports are “correct” to produce, in order to keep the foreign funds flowing. Those who resist “selling out” are weeded out by the sponsors in a Darwinian game in which fitness is defined in terms of anti Indic Traditions.

This explains why so many internal social problems of India get internationalized with the help of Indians, even though the international forums have no capability or track record in actually resolving these issues. Where domestic mechanisms already exist to resolve these matters, they are simply bypassed and their existence is simply ignored. It is a pitiable sight to see these nouveau and neo Westerners sign up as enthusiastic carriers of exotic gobar (bullshit) on their stupid little heads, from one event to another. Many of the problems mentioned in this essay would not be possible without Indian NGOs aiding and abetting neocolonialism.

The “Sixth International Conference on Dowry, Bride-Burning and Son-Preference” to be held in 2003, is one such example. Its intellectual leadership comes from Western feminists[47]. The group’s first conference on the subject was held at Harvard University in 1995, where a “Six Point Program to Eradicate Dowry and Bride-Burning in India” was adopted. This Program was further revised at their subsequent conferences held at Harvard University and University of London. While the sponsors and scholars gained publicity for themselves, and continue to seek to “change mindset” on this issue, they admit that they have made no impact on the ground reality of this problem.

In sharp contrast with this are the many successful social reform movements from within the Indic Traditions. Madhu Kishwar describes in her talks how Western funded NGO feminists failed to make any dent in reforming rural property ownership biases against women, but that different movements run entirely using Indic principles and metaphors were very successful. The Swadhyaya movement is another great example of large scale reform, from within the culture, that is strengthening the indigenous knowledge systems rather than strengthening neocolonialism. There are also numerous successful examples of the practical use of traditional knowledge systems in areas such as water harvesting.

Colonial Style of Governance in India Today:

Hinduism and Christianity each comprise over 80% of the populations of India and USA, respectively. Therefore, it is appropriate to compare the status of each of these in its respective country, in relation to other minority religions. Following are some comparisons that are seldom mentioned by scholars and journalists who analyze India’s religions:

§ Continuing the British colonial practice, Hindu temples in India today are under the trusteeship of civil servants appointed by the Government of India, many of whom are not even Hindus[48]. Therefore, when I give a donation at Tirupati, one of the largest Hindu temples in India, the money goes to the control of civil servants of the government, who then decide how it gets spent. However, the places of worship of all minority religions, such as Islam and Christianity, are entirely run by the management appointed by their respective members, with no governmental interference. By way of comparison, American Christians would never accept comparable discrimination against them. It is unthinkable that Churches in USA could come under the control and supervision of Federally appointed trustees, especially if non Christian religions would be exempted from this, simply as a way to prove the leaders’ “secularism.”

§ There is only one civil law in USA for all its citizens, regardless of religion. There is no such thing as a separate Jewish Law, or Catholic Law, or Mormon Law, or Protestant Law, or Muslim Law, and so forth, to govern the public life of Americans. The very thought of this is reprehensible to Americans. Yet, there is a separate and distinct Muslim Personal Law in India. This has been used by past politicians to grant religious minorities specific provisions. For instance, Indian Muslims may have four wives under Indian law, even in this 21st century – and yet it is fashionable for many intellectuals to defend this minority pampering law, rather than condemning it on grounds of human rights.

§ Imagine if the American affirmative action programs consisted of a list of hundreds of minority groups – including each named Native American tribe, Blacks, Hispanics, Italians, Polish, Japanese, Chinese, Arabs, Indian Americans, Russians, etc. – with a percentage of college admissions, jobs, etc. as quotas reserved for each group. Imagine if these “groups” were categorized under British colonial rule, when the colonialists conducted censuses using sociological categories as per their biased understanding. Furthermore, imagine that these federally enforced social divisions were to become the basis for hundreds of political parties, each seeking votes from its ethnic group, and promising to lobby on its behalf to improve its “deal” with the State. Few Americans with whom I have discussed this are willing to believe that India’s affirmative action program is so ridiculous as this scenario suggests, and yet it is precisely this way. Rather than removing historical distinctions over a few generations, by making affirmative action on individual need and circumstances, this Indian “secular” approach has become the cause for divisiveness in India. Caste is the result of political structure, and, conversely, caste persists to fuel the political opportunities it has created.

§ “Faith Based Initiatives” is a recent US government program by the Bush administration, under which Federal grants are given to religious organizations in order to do social work. This has created a major stir, on two accounts: whether the government should be funding religious organizations at all; and to what extent it should fund minority religions. However, a very similar program has functioned in India very successfully ever since independence. Its characteristics are newsworthy[49]: (a) The majority of funds given under this program in India go to Christian and Muslim organizations, even though they comprise a minority. (b) This quantity given to minority religions has not declined, despite recent religious politics. (c) Nobody has complained about this state of affairs, as it is considered quite normal.

§ Tens of billions of dollars worth of land in India is owned by the Church, and in Mumbai, the Church is the second largest land owner, the largest being the Indian military. Most of this land was given under land grants by the British to the Church, and by subsequent Indian governments. Such generosity to a minority religion followed by only 2.5% of the Indian population has gone unreported. Given the foreign controlled nexus of the various Churches, this is tantamount to giving billions of dollars to subsidiaries of foreign entities that are engaged in social re-engineering of Indian society. The US government has never contemplated such generosity towards minority religions, especially those controlled from overseas.

§ Millions of India’s laborers and entrepreneurs who use Indian traditional knowledge systems are often deemed to be engaged in criminal activities by the government. Many British laws, enacted to de-industrialize India and to transfer manufacturing to Britain, persist today. Madhu Kishwar has started to raise awareness about this, by mediating and renegotiating the “ruler-ruled relations” in specific sectors of India’s economy. For instance, she has pointed out in an educational video, that metallurgical process pioneered in India centuries before the British learnt to make steel, and that had made India the world’s leading exporter of steel, remain criminalized today. Similarly, traditional civil engineering, once the basis for building India’s massive city complexes, is now outlawed in India. Government authorities constantly prosecute activities that are not compliant with Western norms, and treat India’s traditional style workers as common criminals.

Each of the above is a colonial legacy that the government has deepened even further. Indians have replaced British as the rulers of the masses, as colonizers of their own people.

Sitharam, a journalist in a major local vernacular publication in Bangalore, reflects on the ridiculous positions taken by many Indian “intellectuals” in the name of secularism and political correctness:

“It is a great tragedy in this country that words like Secularism, Sanatana Dharma, Social justice, uplifting of Dalits and so on, which are to be the considered greatest goals and ideals in any civil society,…. have become the playthings in the hands of petty politicians and anti-nationals who want to divide people to achieve self-gains even by throwing the society into unrest, and to warm themselves by lighting the pyres. The irony is that those mostly responsible for this state of affairs are the armchair intellectuals… Because of the irrational behavior of these intellectuals, it has now come to pass that anyone who wants to be recognized as secular, should be a professed leftist, and interpret society on a Minority-Majority basis or on Brahmin-Non Brahmin basis or Forward-Dalit basis. He, therefore, has to interpret, without using his critical faculties, any incident that occurs in the country so as to demonstrate that he is a leftist, an anti-Brahmin and a pro-Dalit. If not, he is at risk of being segregated and kept out of the coveted community of ‘Progressive intellectuals’. Now-a-days, to be considered as a member of the progressive intellectual community, it is not necessary as of yester years to be a scholar in Tarka, Vedanta or Mimamsa, or even geography, history or science,… It would suffice if he were committed to the above-mentioned policy…[50]

This armchair intellectualism is often an exercise in juxtaposing ill-defined or inapplicable words. One such word worth deconstructing is “fundamentalist.” I have tried to get a definition of fundamentalism from armchair intellectuals, on the condition that we must then apply it equally to all parties, to ascertain as to whether a given party is fundamentalist or not. I have provided the following background to help this exercise:

  1. If a literalist interpretation of ancient texts makes one a fundamentalist, as is the charge against those interpreting the Hindu Puranas in this manner, then the majority of American Christians and virtually all Muslims of the world, would have to declared as fundamentalists, because they do consider the Bible and Koran, respectively, in the literal sense.
  2. If fundamentalism means believing that one’s own faith is the only true one, to the exclusion of all others, then, by definition, faiths based on unique historical revelations – the three Abrahamic religions – would be fundamentalist.

  3. If “fundamentalism” is to mean an unwillingness to change, based on open-minded inquiry, then it is the same as “orthodoxy” (as contrasted with “liberalism”). In this case, most of the “Left” today is fundamentalist, because they are not liberal in the pursuit of new inquiry, and seem to thrive on repeating the liberal thoughts of icons of bygone eras.

  4. If imposing one’s faith upon society at large is being discussed, then I would consider a better term to be “religious nationalism.” Every Islamic State, which means virtually every Muslim majority nation in the world, would qualify.

I have yet to receive a definition. It seems the term “fundamentalist” is being used for anyone who challenges the syndicated ideology of the incumbent group. Having said this, surely, there are intolerant Hindus, literalist Hindus, chauvinist Hindus, and so forth, as there are for any other ideology. But they cannot all be lumped under one umbrella.

PART 3: The Glass Ceiling

My previous Sulekha column, titled, “The Asymmetric Dialog of Civilizations,” based on a talk presented at the American Academy of Religion (2001) gives an overview of the role of the dominant culture, from above the glass ceiling. in creating and sustaining neocolonialism[51]. Therefore, I shall not replicate that information here.

Inden is quoted in Part 2 above explaining that the West used the “other,” and especially India, to define and construct itself. This happened both at physical and intellectual planes. The intellectual appropriation continues to this day.

The U-Turn process is my model for describing this appropriation, by which the West has been intellectually constructing itself, and it consists of the following stages:

1. Student/disciple: In this stage, the Westerner is very loyal to the Indic Traditions, and writes with the deepest respect. In many instances, India has helped the person to “find” himself/herself.

2. Neutral/new age/perennial territory: In this stage, Indic appropriations are repackaged as “original” claims by the scholar, and/or assumed as generic thoughts found in all cultures. In many instances, this is done in order to expand the market for the books, tapes and seminars, by separating from the negative image of “caste, cows and curry” traditions.

3. Hero’s return to the original tradition: The scholar brings the knowledge into Judaism or Christianity, so as enrich his/her own tradition, once the ego takes over and this identity asserts itself. Alternatively, the scholar repackages the material in secular vernacular, such as “Western psychology” or “phenomenology” or “scientific” framework. Now the sales mushroom, as the Western audiences rub their hands in glee, congratulating themselves for their culture’s sophistication.

4. Denigrating the source: At this stage are those scholars who specialize in trashing the source Indic Traditions.

5. Mobilizing the sepoys and becharis: I already defined sepoys as Indians who become proxies for Western sponsors. Becharis are women who overdo the “I have been abused” roles, so as to dramatize #4. Part 2 of this essay focused on them.

European colonial writers saw India as the theater where their European history was playing out, rather than viewing it from the Indians’ perspective. Likewise, may Judeo-Christian scholars use Hinduism Studies for their personal spiritual journey to enrich their native religion[52].

Not all stages take place in every case, and these stages might not happen in this exact sequence every time. Often, one scholar ends his/her career at a certain stage of this U-Turn process, and the successors continue further along this process[53]. It is important to note that Eurocentrism is most often unintentional and unconscious, because the person is so immersed in the myths of Westernism, that it is simply assumed to be the right thing to do[54].

This U-Turn has served as a way to plunder with one hand and denigrate the victim with the other. In earlier times, the Greeks appropriated much of “their” civilization from Egyptians. Christianity was built on Greek pagan ideas, but the pagans got condemned.

Therefore, subverting India’s Classics, while appropriating from them via a series of U-Turning scholars, is an important process for the sustenance of the myth of the West.

Some academic organizations, such as RISA (Religions In South Asia), remain as bastions of blatant Eurocentrism. See my “Asymmetric Dialog…” essay referenced above for details. Also, see my essay, “Who Speaks for Hinduism?[55]” These scholars control classrooms as forums, in which the students are often naïve and are not given viewpoints that challenge the scholars.

For instance, HCS (Hindu Christian Studies) was set up by academic scholars specifically to have a dialog between these two religions. But the discussions were centered mainly on Christian perspectives of Hinduism, along the lines of the “caste, cows and curry” themes. However, once a few Hindus tried to discuss information on caste in Indian Christianity, social abuses in Christian majority countries, etc., they were severely reprimanded by Lance Nelson, the scholar in charge of HCS. When this did not succeed, they threw out the Hindus, except for those who work under the Christians’ control, and even blocked public access to the discussion archive[56].

Likewise, RISA membership is closed to practicing Hindus, to Hindu pandits, gurus and swamis, even though it is the official scholarly body about religions of South Asia[57].

Both HCS and RISA give various excuses for behaving like the proverbial brahmins and treating the Hindus like shudras. For instance, they claim: (1) Practicing Hindus are not qualified to know about their own traditions[58]. (2) Most Hindus lack the critical thinking and/or the right “style” of presentation skills to merit entry amidst such lofty audiences. (3) It is for the Hindus’ own “good” to leave the controls with the Christians, so as to protect the Hindus from the Marxists. And so forth.

These “restricted” (and sometimes “secret”) societies use abusive language against those Hindus who try to bypassing the hegemony. The archive of these Hindu-bashing discussions is in the process of being researched for a series of future articles. Since their intended audience is not the well informed and self confident Hindu, they often get very embarrassed, afraid and/or angry when such Hindus discover their writings and start to read them publicly in front of large Hindu audiences.

Hindus’ loss of control over their own scholarship for centuries led to the “freezing” of a very vibrant tradition. While Christianity has progressed with constructive theologies (for instance, liberation theology), Hinduism scholarship has been under the trusteeship mainly of non-Hindus. Today, when Hindus re-interpret their texts to make them current with the times, they are dismissed as quacks, when all other major religions enjoy this privilege.

While literal Biblical interpretations are well respected, and this literalism is the belief of roughly half of all American Christians[59], when Hindus base their scholarship on literal interpretations of Puranas, they are condemned as “fascists”, “fundamentalists”, and so forth.

The academy does not encourage the use of Hindu categories to deconstruct and criticize Christianity, in the same manner as Christian hermeneutics are routinely used to deconstruct Hinduism.

It is simply expected of Hindus in the Western academic world to acknowledge acceptance of their servile place and be thankful for it. They are not entitled to the same rights to protest; nor is routine respect accorded – facts at variance with the rights and respect extended to Muslims and other minority religions in USA on their perseverance and demand. It is not surprising, therefore, that most Indian American Hindus confine their religious expression inside the walls of the 800 Hindu temples in North America, and “white Hindus” often prefer to hide their practice behind the new-age cover.


[1]“India and Europe,” by Wilhelm Halbfass. First edition, Delhi: MLBD, 1990, p. 44.
[2]“The Intimate Enemy,” by Ashis Nandy. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983, 1994, pp.6-7.
[3]This entire section is quoted from Colby College’s brochure about their curriculum.
[4] Ironically, these fields are in the Western representation system, and therefore, many modern Indians assume, by association, that the Western Classics must therefore be superior and somehow more relevant as compared to India’s Classics. In reality, Indian Classics are very science and postmodernism compatible, and in fact, many interpretations of quantum mechanics, cognitive sciences and contemporary other disciplines have drawn considerably from them.
[5] Including at Sulekha and other discussion boards.
[6] See:
[7] Writings by prominent scholars who expose Eurocentrism, such as Blaut, Dussel, Inden, Dirks, and Nandy, are often excluded from undergraduate Religious Studies reading lists, where the Christian, Marxist and/or Western chauvinistic lenses takes prominence.
[8] “Imagining India,” by Ronald Inden. Indiana University Press. 2000. p.xii.
[9] A Department of Sanskrit has finally been established after decades of vehement opposition, but it is barely staffed and is of minor impact as compared to the well entrenched Eurocentric and Marxist oriented faculty.
[10] See “Eleven Objections to Sanskrit Literary Theory: A Rejoinder,” by Kapil Kapoor. Posted at:
Also see “Decolonizing English Studies: Attaining Swaraj,” by Makarand Paranjape. Posted at: 
[11] This week’s article in The Washington Post illustrates the strong Christian movement that considers “joining with other pagan clerics in an interfaith service” to be “an extremely serious offense against the God of the Bible.” See:
[12] Clifford Geertz, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” in The Interpretation of Cultures, (New York: Basic Books, 1973), pp. 3-30.
[13] “History: At the Limit of World-History,” by Ranajit Guha. Columbia University Press. 2002.
[14] This has been called The White Woman’s Burden.
[15] Gebser is the most influential thinker on this.
[16] For instance, Buddhism brought into Christianity the following: church bells, monasticism, rosaries, chanting, etc.
[17] The British men were referred to by their Indian servants as sahibs, and their women as ‘mem’-sahibs. The word ‘mem’ was Indianized for ‘madam.’ Now, elitist Indians have stepped into this role, as the brown sahibs and mem-sahibs.
[18] Non Governmental Organizations, the equivalent of non-profit organizations in the Third World, are heavily infiltrated by Western funding sources, and often serve as proxies for their interests.
[19] “Imagining India,” by Ronald Inden. 2000. p.xii.
[20] Inden.p.1.
[21] Inden.p.3.
[22] Inden.pp.3-4.
[23] Inden.pp.5-6.
[24] The major revision from the Native American perspective came when they successfully changed Christopher Columbus’ depiction in history from hero to plunderer of the natives. This caused the 1992 celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Columbus to be marginalized, and textbooks to be rewritten. Recently, they have won a major landmark in convincing California to ban the appropriation of their symbols for frivolous use. See “Calif. may force schools to drop Indian mascots,” May 16, 2002. Posted at:
[25] For a critique of this, see “On the Misportrayal of India: Toward a New Look at Indian History,” by Dr. David B. Gray, posted at:
[26] See, for instance, “Resources for the study of the Muslim Period of India,”
[27] For instance, there could be a “Mohammed Purana.” Sufis have already Islamicized Indic mysticism. Such a fusion would be far better than the alienation now resulting from an overdose of misunderstood secularism.
[28] For a summary of these contributions, see the following two articles: (i)“Global Renaissance and the roots of Western wisdom”:
(ii) “India’s place in global consciousness”:
[29] “The Limit of History,” by Ranajit Guha. Columbia U.P. 2002.
[30] In fact, many Western scholars have told me that there is overwhelming evidence to prove that both Confucianism and Taoism were heavily influenced by Buddhism, and that Chinese archives from that era show this very clearly. However, it is the policy of the Chinese government, in which most Western China scholars are partners, that China’s civilization is to be depicted as internally constructed.
[31] Note, there is no special Hindu-Buddhist Art section. There is a South Asian Art section. This is a contradiction in classification: geography in one instance and religion in the other.
[32] See my previous Sulekha essay, titled, “America’s Last Chance,” on what a break-up of India might trigger in the global order.
[33] Sepoys were Indians working as the police under the British to oppress the Indian people.
[34] I wish to acknowledge Arvind Sharma as the person who proposed this term to me, as a way of describing the popular genre of scholarship against Hinduism. In the late 1790s, the British sponsored a distorted translation of the dharmasastras, in order to legitimize their social and legal policies in ruling India. This mistranslation, that continues to be the foundation of much social theorizing about India, was first published in the 1790s under the title, “The Laws of the Gentoos.” The term “gentoo” was a pejorative based on “gentile,” analogous to the term “nigger” used to refer to Africans. See Madhu Kishwar’s essay on this distortion at:
Similar distorted scholarship continues to dominate today’s academic disciplines such as Indology, Religious Studies, and Anthropology.
[35] “The God of Literary Trends,” by Noy Thrupkaew, AlterNet. June 24, 2002: 
[36] “Impressing the Whites: The New International Slavery,” by Richard Crasta. Invisible Man Books.pp.80-81
[37] Crasta.p.24.
[38] Crasta.p.15.
[39] Crasta.pp.102-107.]
[40] “India’s Agony over Religion,” by Gerald James Larson. State University of New York Press, Albany 1995. pp.41-42.
[41] US Food and Drug Administration, the agency that approves new pharmaceutical drugs and treatments.
[42] This was mentioned by Mr. Mahesh Naithani while introducing the ambassador as keynote speaker at a cultural event in New Jersey, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Chinmaya Mission in 2001, in the presence of 10,000 persons.
[43] Crasta.p.112.
[44] Defense Science Board. Report of the Panel on Defense: Social and Behavioral Sciences (Williamstown, Mass., 1967). As quoted in “Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors,” by Edward Said. Critical Inquiry, Volume15 Winter 1989. P.214.
[45] Anonymous academic scholar of Religious Studies. This person is a white American who claims Hindu identity publicly.
[46] “Two Cheers for Colonialism,” by Dinesh D’Souza. The Chronicle Review, Page: B7. May 10th 2002. Available at: 
[47] The nexus of this is at the Gender and Religions Research (GRR) Centre in the Department of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK. The money comes from a well intending NFI businessman’s International Society Against Dowry & Bride-Burning in India, Inc. (ISADABBI), USA.
[48] This is true in practice of most large Hindu temples and institutions, and it is at the government’s discretion to apply such controls on Hindu organizations.
[49] S.K. Menon, a retired IAS officer who was previously in charge of this program in New Delhi, is conducting research on the data and expects to publish a report. See “A Measurement of India’s Secularist Policies by S.K. Menon” overview at:
[50] “Our Post Independence Intellectuals,” by C. Sitharam. Published in ‘Samyukta Karnataka,’ a daily from Bangalore. 12.6.2002. English translation by Dr. Upendra Shenoy.
[51] See: 
[52] Once they make this U-Turn back, they often explain their appropriations using theories of archetypes, namely, that all ideas were always present within all cultures, anyway. However, the “uniqueness” claims of Western superiority of rationality, science, morality, etc., are never explained away in this manner.
[53] For instance, Jung went to stage 2 and 3. But he was open about his debt to India. After his, his successors, i.e. present Jungians, erased these Indic sources and have sometimes denigrated the Indic sources as inferior in various ways. T. S. Eliot was very Hindu for a period when he composed his most famous poems, including The Wasteland. But today, this Indic influence is never mentioned in literature courses on Eliot.
[54] This is why the term “stealth Eurocentrism” might be appropriate in some instances.
[55] See:
[56] As an unprecedented sign of paranoia, the HCS leaders decided to even remove the old archive from public access, as it contained considerable hate speech against Hinduism. However, many of the abusive posts were saved by some persons in their private archive.
[57] It is open only to those Hindus who are deemed qualified as per the standards and definition of those in charge. The control of the group is with Westerners and their Indian sepoys.
[58] They have organized sessions titled, “Coming out as a Hindu or Buddhist in the academy,” where the few who are brave to face insults have come out to prove that their objectivity of Hinduism scholarship is not compromised by their being a Hindu or Buddhist. Note, my suggestion that they should have sessions on “Coming out as a Christian Proselytizer of Hindus” has not been well received so far.
[59] Per George Gallup’s book of surveys of Americans’ religious beliefs.

  • Rajiv Malhotra

The Asymmetric Dialog Of Civilizations

The History

In contrast with the clash of civilizations now being popularized, I would much rather propose a dialogamong them. But what are the historical reasons for lack of this dialog, and what prevents this from becoming the top priority for humanity today? I researched the writings of eminent scholars in a variety of specialties, such as history, multiculturalism, colonialism, Eurocentrism, to name a few. Serious work by many mainstream scholars abundantly establishes the mutual dependency between the asymmetry of power and institutionalized prejudices in research and education. These asymmetries of power and intellectual representation prevent genuine dialog among the peoples of the world.

Consider the following quotes from prominent scholars of inter-civilization studies:

Eurocentrism is the colonizer’s model of the world in a very literal sense: it is not merely a set of beliefs, a bundle of beliefs. It has evolved, through time, into a very finely sculpted model, a structured whole; in fact a single theory; in fact a super theory, a general framework for many smaller theories, historical, geographical, psychological, sociological, and philosophical. – J.M. Blaut [1]

The conquistador exerted his power by denying the Other his dignity, by reducing the Indian to the Same, and by compelling the Indian to become his docile, oppressed instrument. The conquest practically affirms the conquering ego and negates the Other as Other… [A]fter the innocent Other’s victimization, the myth of modernity declares the Other the culpable cause of that victimization and absolves the modern subject of any guilt for the victimizing act… Finally, the suffering of the conquered and colonized people appears as a necessary sacrifice and the inevitable price of modernization… Modernity justifies the Other’s suffering because it [allegedly] saves many innocent victims from the barbarity of these cultures… The myth of modernity perpetrates a gigantic inversion: the innocent victim becomes culpable and the culpable victimizer becomes innocent. – Enrique Dussel [2]

Notice, in particular, how academic scholarship in the humanities, far from being considered objective, is viewed as a central culprit, even today:

[T]he history which [the colonial scholar] writes is not the history of the country which he plunders but the history of his own nation in regard to all that she skims off, all that she violates and starves. –Frantz Fanon [3]

…[T]he game is still going on, when ‘otherness’ of the other is used to legitimize the oppression and subjugation… The tensions and anxieties that we bear as members of distinct groups are now to be seen in their interconnectedness… It is indeed difficult to fight a battle whose goal is not to defeat anyone but rather that nobody is defeated. The battle is to be waged against a system that produces the oppressors and the oppressed, the exploiters and the exploited, the winners and the losers, cutting across race, gender, nationality or any other form of collectivity… The “institutionalization of universities into departmental structures” plays an important role in the cultural life of the West. This is precisely why when these departments do not represent the intellectual traditions of the East, they are not simply silent but they are helping to perpetuate the image of a mythical, mysterious, non-rational East. – Anindita Niyogi Balslev [4]

Focusing specifically on the misrepresentation of India, I found a wealth of research material. For instance, Wilhelm Halbfass, the Indologist at U-Penn (who unfortunately passed away a year ago) wrote:

“In the modern planetary situation Eastern and Western ‘cultures’ can no longer meet one another as equal partners. They meet in a westernized world, under conditions shaped by western ways of thinking.” [5]

Colonizers heavily sponsored scholars to research and represent their colonized subjects. For instance, the British Census of India was one such process to represent India in British categories, while superficially pretending to use Indian categories. This became the basis for re-engineering India’s society to fit into rigid ‘castes’, a representation that has continued after independence and has become the center of India’s politics today. The ‘essentializing’ of caste in the representation means that it is deemed an inherent and unchangeable quality that Hindus are frozen into forever. (Traditionally, jatis and varnas were independent of one another, and had mobility.) The more flexible language of describing certain communities as socially underprivileged, and implementing affirmative action programs strictly based on economic means, would have de-essentialized the jati, and over a period of time reduced its significance. ‘Dalit’ as a category by birth is self-perpetuating, unproductive and divisive, and the consequence of adopting a colonial representation system.

A representation system is a meta-ideology, providing the implicit frame of reference of the discourse, and acts as the subliminal playing field on which specific scholarship unfolds. The power of representation was explained very emphatically by Friedreich Nietzsche:

“The reputation, name, and appearance, the usual measure and weight of a thing, what it counts for — originally almost always wrong and arbitrary — grows from generation unto generation, merely because people believe in it, until it gradually grows to be a part of the thing and turns into its very body. What at first was appearance becomes in the end, almost invariably, the essence and is effective as such.”

Huston Smith, one of the leaders of the western academy for religious studies, recently described Freudian psychoanalysis of Hindu saints, now a popular academic movement, as “colonialism updated.” [6]

The Challenge of Dialog

To have a genuine dialog of civilizations, the ‘other’ side must be present as itself and not via proxy, must be able to use its own framework to represent itself, and must be free to anthropologize and criticize the dominant culture without fear of undue censorship or academic reprisal. Balslev explains the importance of the process:

“…The challenge before us is not to validate a heritage or a culture at the cost of another but to perceive cross-cultural conversation as a mutually empowering dialogue that raises the consciousness of all the participants involved… [I]n a genuine dialogue, the dialogical partners are not merely “subjects” speaking to each other, but participants in the dialogue. The practice of dialogue is an art that must be cultivated… We must revise our prejudgments, modify our hypotheses, and then listen again. In this to-and-fro movement in which we (mutually) seek to understand each other, the dialogic partners cultivate the art of the hermeneutical circle.” [7]

Before proceeding to describe the asymmetries that prevent genuine dialog specifically between Indic traditions and the scholars, I wish to clarify at the outset that I represent neither pole of what has become a bipolar fight for the representation of Indian culture: I am not representing the Hindutva view, as Hindutva should not be conflated with Hinduism, because: (i) Hindutva is a political mobilization, (ii) it is a recent 20th century construct in response to contemporary situations, and (iii) it assumes a specific (reductionist) package of stances, whereas most Hindus pick and choose positions from an a la carte menu of choices [8]. At the same time, I do not deny the Hindutva their right to a position within the vast spectrum of Hinduism, as one of many ways to be a Hindu. At the other pole, is the theory of Hinduism defined as The Evil Brahmin Conspiracy. Most Hindus I know belong to neither extreme, although there has been a tendency for one pole to insist, ‘if you are not pink, you must be saffron’, and vice versa. The vast middle is un-essentialized, where creative dialog can take place, and it is in this middle space that I position myself and the observations below.

The five asymmetries, of which the first three concern academic translations of Indic culture, are:

Asymmetry I: Anthropologist Dominating the Native Informant

Karen Brown, the anthropologist of religion, recently proposed the following as the credo for western anthropologists: “The people and cultures that we Westerners study deserve our respect, reciprocity, and responsibility.” [9] However, scholars often unintentionally assume that distance (intellectual, cultural, geographic) produces objectivity, whereas reciprocity and not distance is the key to dialog. The dark side of contemporary anthropology is exposed bluntly by Edward Said:

“…[Western scholarship]… carries within it as a major constitutive element, the unequal relationship of force between, the outside Western ethnographer-observer and a primitive, or at least different but certainly weaker and less developed, non-Western society. …The real problem remains to haunt us: the relationship between anthropology as an ongoing enterprise and on the other hand, empire as an ongoing concern…. [A]nthropology is being seen as part of a larger, more complex historical whole, much more closely aligned with the consolidation of Western power than had previously been admitted. … Thus: think the narratives through together within the context provided by the history of imperialism….” [10]

“The fetishization and relentless celebration or “difference” and “otherness” can therefore be seen as an ominous trend. … “the spectacularization of anthropology”… cannot easily be distinguished from the process of empire. …. [I]n so many of the various writings on anthropology, epistemology, textualization, and otherness that I have read, which in scope and material run the gamut from anthropology to history and literary theory, there is an almost total absence of any reference to… imperial intervention as a factor affecting the theoretical discussion. … There are armies, and armies of scholars at work politically, militarily, ideologically…” [11]

And is echoed by Robert Young:

“…The appropriation of the other as a form of knowledge within a totalizing system can thus be set alongside the history (if not the project) of European imperialism, and the constitution of the other as ‘other’ alongside racism and sexism.” [12]

Tzvetan Todorov analyzes anthropology historically using the term “new trinity” to describe “the old-style soldier-conquistador: it consists of the scholar, the priest, and the merchant”: The first collects information about the country, the second promotes its “spiritual annexation” and the third “makes certain of the profits.” [13]

Western anthropologists of India use native informants, who are typically poor and less educated villagers paid to produce the data, and who often place the scholar on a pedestal because of their own limited material resources and the glorification of India’s xenophile elite. Scholars mine such data, filter it through western lens, legitimize it with western peers who are part of their own academic system, and too often assert this Orientalist construction as ‘the truth’. Few today do this overtly or intentionally. However:

There is little counterbalancing information flow to help the villagers learn what was said and published about them by the scholar — except what the same scholar feeds them.

There are hardly any independent surveys or focus groups in the field to ascertain whether villagers disagree with the ethnographies that become standard descriptions about them, or to point out what was left out, distorted or improperly contextualized.

Villagers should be able to give their own opinions of the scholar as the ‘firangi’ from America, including her exotic or peculiar ways: the poor have agency. Researchers do include how villagers react to, admit, get used to, or query the scholar, but this itself is usually the dominant culture’s own filtered presentation.

All measurements disrupt. I am unaware of any controlled studies comparing a neighboring village that was not disrupted by a prolonged scholarly intervention, so as to evaluate the social re-engineering side effect of scholarship.

While there are also many sensitive researchers, there needs to be greater recognition of the need for reciprocity. This calls for dis-intermediation of the role of anthropologist as knowledge broker between the villagers and the American students. I do not claim to know yet how to achieve true ‘independence’, but a plurality of cross-cultural worldviews would be better than one dominant view. For instance, besides reverse surveys, native informants could get invited to panels via video phones that are now very cost effective, with translators. Perhaps, the scholar-as-broker feels threatened that the native informants would be found to have agency after all, and to challenge decades of research. This is especially severe when the White Woman’s Burden drives the scholar to impose her gift of agency on poor people presumed to have none.

Are the native informants becoming victims of the scholars’ violation of trust? I propose that an interactive dialog between equal civilizations become anthropology’s new hermeneutics, and that scholars expand their work to enhance validation and symmetry.

Asymmetry II: Western Scholar of Texts Dominating the Pandit

The use of pandits is another method by which the west re-maps Indian culture. Many pandits are simple and straightforward, not aggressive compared to many western scholars, not into power games or concern for royalty or intellectual property rights, and are trusting of western intentions. The misappropriation of basmati rice and other intellectual property may be used as an analog to appreciate that the Indian ethos does not emphasize personal ownership of know how (including spiritual knowledge), and that some of what the west does is unethical and exploitative as per the traditional Indian system of professional ethics. One must inquire whether the publish-or-perish syndrome and personal egos cause some scholars to try to own pre-existing knowledge and to reduce pandits to native informants, whereas in their own tradition they deserve respect as great humble teachers.

Furthermore, since pandits are rarely invited as respondents or co-authors when the work gets presented, they do not always find out what finally gets published, and their interpretation sometimes gets distorted along the way. For instance, when scholars write that Ganesha symbolizes the limp phallus, or when they over-interpret sati as a defining feature of Hinduism, should the reader not be told what the insider has to say also? Sanskrit terms that deserve thick descriptions often get reduced to simplistic Eurocentric and Abrahamic representations [14]. Even comparative religion is often framed in a paradigm of western superiority. Is it that scholars see pandits as not having western PhDs, and hence as not legitimate experts of their tradition?

Asymmetry III: Cognitive Scientist Dominating the Yogi/Meditator

The laboratory measurement of higher states of consciousness achieved by advanced yogis and meditators is at the cutting edge of transpersonal and humanistic psychology, mental health, neuroscience, and phenomenology. And some Indic theoretical models are at the center of the philosophy of quantum physics based emerging worldviews. But many ancient Hindu-Buddhist inner science discoveries are being misappropriated and/or plagiarized:

‘Lucid Dreaming’ is the western name for Indo-Tibetan nidra yoga, and Stanford’s Stephen LaBerge is nowadays the acknowledged discoverer.

‘Mindfulness Meditation’ is Jon-Kabat Zinn’s repackaged and trademarked vipassna.

Herb Benson repackaged TM into his ‘Relaxation Response’ and now runs a multimillion dollar business based at Harvard, claiming these as his discoveries. Numerous spin-offs in mainstream stress management and management consulting theories came from this source.

Rupert Sheldrake recently ‘came out’ in an interview acknowledging that his famous theory known as ‘Morphogenic Resonance’ was developed while researching in India’s ashrams.

Ken Wilber started out very explicitly as an interpreter of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy for the benefit of psychologists, but now places himself as the discoverer on a higher pedestal.

Esalen Institute appropriated J. Krishnamurti and numerous other Indic thinkers into what its contemporary followers regard as it own ‘New Worldview’.

Thomas Berry, Father Keating (in the footsteps of Bede Griffiths), and others have constructed the New Liberal Christianity, using Indic appropriations. Jewish scholars have likewise constructed the ‘non-dualistic Kabala’ based on Vedanta. While these pioneers recognize and admit the source, there followers are often ignorant and see these innovations as emerging entirely from Judeo-Christianity.

This is only part of a long list: the core of the emerging ‘western’ worldview and cosmology involving physics, cognitive science, and biology is being rapidly built upon recycled Indic knowledge, but too frequently the source is being erased and over time. Yogis and meditators, who should be regarded as co-discoverers, usually remain anonymous ‘laboratory subjects’ and native informants.

Does this remind us of the way America is said to have been ‘discovered’ in 1492, as though the millions of Native Americans who lived here for thousands of years did not matter? It became a bona fide discovery only when Europeans registered it as such. Because land owned by the natives had not been recorded in European registration systems, their ownership was declared illegitimate. Much of the Renaissance and Enlightenment of Europe was based on the appropriation of Indic and Chinese civilizations, and yet these civilizations were demonized to justify colonialism [15].

I have been told in private by some of the cognitive science misappropriators that they respect Indic traditions greatly and personally know them as the sources, but that in public the distancing is good for book sales and for securing research grants, and that the stamp of ‘western science’ is what legitimizes these traditions. Their position, stated quite openly in many cases, is that discovery occurs only when the west appropriates something. This appears to be a racist theory of knowledge, one that denies agency and rights to non-westerners. Also, while plucking the fruits, there is no attempt by these appropriators to nurture the roots of the source traditions.

A plausible theoretical model for this is: The west plagiarizes from Hinduism-Buddhism with one hand (e.g. cognitive science), while another western hand stereotypes the source as ‘caste, cows, curry’ exotica and worse (via anthropology/religious studies). The academic arson referenced here is merely a continuation of the age old ‘plunder while you denigrate the source’ process at work. It is a continuation of the paganization of pre-Christian religions while at the same time appropriating many central elements from the pagans into Christianity.

Asymmetry IV: Who Speaks as Insiders of Indian Culture?

In contrast with science, technology, business, and other professions where Indians now routinely occupy many high positions, Indology remains perhaps the last holdout of colonialism. However, Indians in the above mentioned fields, with successful experience in dealing with westerners, are seldom included as dialog representatives. The Diaspora that identifies with Indic traditions publicly and positively and the non-Indian Hindus in yoga-meditation centers are often not the ones who the western academe dialogs with as spokespersons for the tradition.

Instead, it is a layer of elites from within the colonized culture who are groomed to become proxies for the tradition. Frantz Fanon explains:

“The colonialist bourgeoisie… had in fact deeply implanted in the minds of the colonized intellectual that the essential qualities remain eternal in spite of all the blunders men may make: the essential qualities of the West, of course.” [16]

In the case of Indians, such persons are commonly referred to as Macaulayites, after Lord Macaulay, who developed this strategy in 1835 as a way to create Indian intellectual sepoys serving the British rule. The program was highly successful and has now assumed a postcolonial life of its own. Eurocentric representation systems have been installed into the minds of elite Indians, who now function as the internal agents working from within Indian society, typically remote controlled by a western incentive system – of visas, jobs, foreign travel, grants, and various forms of career advancement. The Eurocentric mental representation is commonly applied subliminally, and often there is only slight self-awareness that this is being done. Many westernized Indians are radically convinced that the indigenous tradition is a backward one, and that their mission in life is to uproot it and replace it with a superior western import – often done with a passion as though to earn a ticket to neo-white status. They often consider biases against Indic traditions as a great compliment to their own sense of modernity, and also as a great western gift to the Indians, and volunteer as partners to facilitate this process. When this mental colonialism is pointed out to them, it often evokes severe anger and defensiveness.

Richard Crasta, a Goan Christian now living in New York, is rather blunt about the obsession to become a Macaulayite by trying to imitate the image of the dominant culture,

“…whether we be Bombayites trying to put on Oxford accents and fake a knowledge of cheeses and wines; or whether we be Delhi literati striving to make a favorable impression on Delhi’s western diplomats – minor potentates who have, either by their power to throw parties and patronize locals and soak’em up with Scotch and grant them visas, favors, or cultural junkets, or by their personal charm, become resident reminders of the superiority and the power of the white race.” [17]

He explains that the end result is a dislocation from the roots:

“…ethnic shame is a phenomenon that is particularly intense among Indians abroad… Ethnic shame is the opposite of ethnic pride… and it is a sublime example of the success of colonialism in co-opting us in our own subversion, and in our alienation from our culture and our earth, and ultimately the extinction of our own culture… [I]t contributes to our collusion with the forces that tend to make us invisible in a foreign society.” [18]

Eventually this turns into hate for the tradition as a way to assume superiority by proving one’s alienation from it:

“The India Haters Club is growing larger and larger, and its largest contingent is probably the millions ofIndians for whom a few bitter experiences of betrayal have pushed them over the edge into self-hatred:Yes, my skin is brown, but my soul is white.” [19]

Yet, the Macaulayites remain second class in the western space, notwithstanding whatever financial success and even prestigious positions they attain:

“This Western carrot of acceptance and riches is accompanied by a stick: Do not cross the boundaries. Always remember your place…the carrot and stick are so discreetly transferred by Third World writers onto their internal censor that they are often unconscious of their own self-censorship.” [20]

Along with Macaulayites, Indian Marxists – born again as ‘progressives’ after the Cold War — dominate India’s academe, and often power broker as strategic allies of western academicians. But there are many contradictions in these ‘experts on India’:

(i) Such Indian scholars, despite their Subaltern studies, are often alien to the masses and culture of India, and disrespect and caricaturize Hinduism in a reductionist Eurocentric way.

(ii) They know mainly western thought and hermeneutics. Few have education in Sanskrit or the Indian Classics, which were abolished in post-Independence India in the name of ‘secularism’ and to promote ‘modernity’ by eradicating ‘intellectual backwardness’. (By contrast, in the west most experts in the western humanities have a grounding in Greek Classics.) To get a good PhD in Sanskrit, Indology, or Religious Studies, one must go to a university in the west, as India’s own education system abolished these disciplines.

(iii) Yet, their personal careers are based on being proxies for the very tradition that they regard as a scourge.

The phenomenon of South Asianizing, which has emerged from this confluence of excessive ethnography and Indian Macaulayism, has subverted Hinduism’s universal truth claims. Contrast this with other world religions — for instance, Christianity is not defined in terms of Middle Eastern ethnography, although it is studied also in sociological terms. Furthermore, the Diaspora feels that the ethnographies of South Asia get superimposed as their image.

It is the ethnography of elitist anti-tradition Indians that would make a fascinating field of research. Defensive about their awkward position, these elitists often brand anyone speaking assertively for Indic traditions as Hindutva, saffronist, fundamentalist, fascist, fanatic, neo-BJP, nationalist, or equivalent [21]. In fact, the only way to be a good Hindu in the eyes of some is to behave in accordance with Orientalist images. This name-calling has now been picked up by many western scholars as well.

Asymmetry V: Politics of Representation and Power

There is asymmetry also in the license to criticize: western scholars control the vyakhya (i.e. hermeneutics, right to criticize, what is deemed important and interesting, etc.), manage the adhikara (i.e. appoint those in charge of gate-keeping the academic channels), and sometimes even field the persons who represent Indic traditions. When criticized by truly independent Indians (i.e. those who do not seek visas, PhDs, jobs, tenure, etc.), some academic scholars have resorted to intimidating name-calling to affect censorship. This attack on the messenger serves to deflect from the message.

Crasta’s reaction is an outburst:

“We refuse to perform monkey-dances for your pleasure. And what makes you think we cannot be spiritual and sexy at the same time? That is your own hang-up. We’ve become prisoners of your ideology. We are invisible to you. Either we are what you want to see in us, or we don’t exist.” [22]

Many culturally proud Indians feel disenfranchised and outcast in the academic study of their traditions, perhaps because of a smaller presence of the practitioner-scholar than in the case of Buddhism, for instance. Until two years ago, there was one-directional name-calling, only by the ‘licensed’ scholars. But then Hindus started several Internet forums which scholars could not control, and these have become vehicles to mobilize and develop counter name-calling, returning in kind the ad hominems used by scholars. Frankly, this is unproductive, and the time has come to move beyond rudeness and name-calling in eitherdirection.

My survey shows that representation systems and power are mutually interdependent. Many Indians blame the current world power structure, but that part is self-evident. It is simply a statement that there is a problem, but one must understand the mechanisms behind this power imbalance and how to alter them. Here is my model: Ross Perot pioneered ‘facilities management’, a field wherein the supplier takes over the entire ‘burden’ of information management on behalf of the client, including and especially the staff, the infra-structure and the total responsibility for results. As times goes by, the supplier gains greater control over the client, and the client loses freedom, independence, and even the know how to be able to get rid of the supplier at a future date.

In an analogous manner, the British did facilities management for India’s Nawabs and Rajas — operated their armies, collected taxes on their behalf, educated their citizens as they deemed fit, operated the courts, etc. — who had already become nominal second tier rulers under the Mughals. These local rulers were the ‘clients’ and the British East India Company (later to become the British Empire of Queen Victoria) was the facilities manager. Under the revenue sharing arrangements, the local ruler received a tiny fraction (usually under 10%) of the taxes collected by the British (often involving draconian tax rates). Additionally, the massive profit margin on trade between India and Europe was also Britain’s to keep, besides the transfer of textiles, steel and other essentials of the Industrial Revolution from India to Britain. The Indian ruler was a nominal figurehead in the arrangement, so as to preserve the appearance that the British were in fact there to help upgrade the level of civilization on his behalf. This facilities management was the greatest transfer of wealth between one place and another ever in human history.

As part of this facilities management ‘contract’, the British also became trustees of the scholarship and hence the intellectual representation systems of India. They researched Indic traditions, translated and interpreted the texts. They constructed the famous interpretation of the Manusmriti so as to be able to say that they were in fact enforcing Hindu law in ruling India. The sophisticated technique, still in use, has been to first master Sanskrit texts, so as to understand the native representation system; then to map Indic texts and re-interpret them using the western meta-narrative discreetly and invisibly, while maintaining the aura of authenticity by using enough Sanskrit terms. Hindus continue to accept a de facto facilities management arrangement by letting outsiders control Indic intellectual know how and identity. There is no other major world tradition so abandoned intellectually by its own people. Remedy: both the insider and the outsider view of a tradition must be represented in a balanced way.

The criticism of Hinduism in academe is done in a fashion that it appears to be fair. The evidence is presented as authentic Hindu understanding, and the motive is claimed to be the well-being of the oppressed Hindus — to save them from themselves. Never mind that no defense side is often practical given the above asymmetries, and evidence is often exaggerated. Hindus are co-opted as Macaulayites to make the kangaroo court seem legitimate, and there has been no shortage of such opportunistic Hindus. The trial of Sri Ramakrishna in absentia, with no defense side allowed except by way of a reaction against the verdict, is a recent example. [23] Most seriously, the representation system in which the discourse takes place, and in which modern Indians have been programmed to think, is of the west and by the west, and under the intellectual, financial and political control of the west.

Nicholas Gier used “Titanism” to describe Hindu gurus who are larger than life and assume unquestionable authority. But in the Indian mind, the West has a Titanic presence. There are western Scholar Titans now dominating Hinduism Studies, who have usurped the ultimate authority that traditionally belonged to the Vedas — a sort of colonialism.

The Gandhian Response

Gandhi’s innovation in reversing the massively asymmetric power that the British enjoyed was based on two profound insights: (1) The British self-identity was built on the deeply rooted belief that the British were highly civilized (and hence the White Man’s Burden to go around civilizing others.) (2) The British depended upon the Indians as consumers, having appropriated India’s centuries of supremacy in textiles and steel exports, and reduced Indians to poor consumers. On #1, Gandhi continually challenged them by taking the moral high ground, compelling them to respond as civilized people, which they could not refuse to do, until the moral standard he set became too high for the British and their system imploded. On #2, he initiated successful consumer boycotts and indigenous production.

Learning from #1: When asked what he thought of British civilization, Gandhi is said to have replied, “That would be a good idea.” I would have to give the same assessment of western objective scholarship. Being seen as objective is to the academicians of Indic traditions what being civilized was to the British. Hence, by compelling them to be objective — in receiving criticism, in acknowledging falsities that they have perpetuated, in re-examining the asymmetries — we have our best chance to change the very system of objective scholarship that they control. Since sat-chit-anand is everyone’s inherent nature, western scholars will of their own begin to distance themselves from their abusive cohorts. Learning from #2: A growing number of students in class nowadays are Indian Americans. Once these and other consumers of the scholarship de-legitimize the instances of abusive scholarship, the scholars will have to change.

Many western scholars have already been very sympathetic, have devoted their lives to positive and fair scholarship, and have had the courage to step out of the orthodoxy of scholarship. We need more truly independent scholars to stand up:

“It is indeed high time that independent, unattached scholarship… shed the constricting crutches of corporatist paradigms, tied to the newest fashion of academic respectability, to perform the simple, but signal, intellectual service required of a scholar — of thinking for oneself.” [24]


[1] The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History, by J.M. Blaut. The Guilford Press, New York, NY. P.11.

[2] The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of “the Other” and the Myth of Modernity, by Enrique Dussel. Translated by Michael D. Barber. The Continuum Publishing Company, New York, NY. Pp. 44; 64-67.

[3] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth. P.120.

[4] Cross-Cultural Conversation, Edited by Anindita Niyogi Balslev. The American Academy of Religion. Pp.23-24.

[5] India and Europe, by W. Halbfass. First edition, Delhi, MLBD, P. 44.

[6] Harvard Divinity Bulletin. Spring 2001. P.2.

[7] Cross-Cultural Conversation, Edited by Anindita Niyogi Balslev. The American Academy of Religion. Pp. 24; 37-38.

[8] For instance: (i) I have criticized the introduction of astrology as a ‘science’ into the academic curriculum, and the notion that there is a ‘Vedic Science’. (I have argued that Newton’s Laws of Gravitation are not ‘English Laws’ or ‘Christian Science’). (ii) I have expressed concern that the Aryan theory controversy is overdone in its significance, at the expense of more serious issues. (iii) I do not subscribe to the literalist interpretation of the Puranas – neither to claim hi-tech accomplishments (that the Hindutva claim), and nor to literally interpret the verses suggesting social abuse (that westerners like to rub in). (iv) I have written about the general intellectual shallowness in many instances of Hindutva scholarship, at least in its current stage. (v) I am against the demolishment of mosques, even when there is compelling evidence (including from Muslim sources) of some of these having being built by destroying Hindu temples.

[9] Karen Brown, the anthropologist of religion, speaking at the World Conference on “Gender and Orality” — May 2001, Claremont CA.

[10] Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors, by Edward W. Said, Critical Inquiry, Volume 15 Winter 1989. Pp. 217-224.

[11] Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors, by Edward W. Said, Critical Inquiry, Volume 15 Winter 1989. Pp. 213-214.

[12] White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, by Robert Young. Routledge, London. 1990. P.4.

[13] The Conquest of America, by Tzvetan Todorov P. 175.

[14] Examples of terms deserving better treatment include: murti, deva, varna, lingam, tantra, agni, sati, atman, etc.

[15] See for example, J. J. Clark’s book, Oriental Enlightenment.

[16] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth.

[17] Impressing the Whites: The New International Slavery, by Richard Crasta. Invisible Man Books. Pp. 10-11.

[18] ibid. Pp. 100-103.

[19] ibid. P. 107.

[20] ibid. P.15.

[21] As one example only, those adopting a literalist interpretation of Indian texts are deemed fanatics, nationalists, and fundamentalists. But in Bible Studies, literalist interpretations are a well-respected hermeneutical approach. George Gallup’s book of surveys of Americans’ religious beliefs says that over 50% of all Americans believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Yet, we don’t denounce the majority of Americans as fundamentalist-fanatics. In the case of Islam, the Koran is viewed as the literal history and not metaphorically by the mainstream. Personally, I prefer the metaphorical interpretation of all religious texts, but feel that literalist interpretations are a person’s right without facing abuses.

[22] Crasta. P. 79.

[23] See Swami Tyagananda’s criticism of the book, Kali’s Child posted at:

[24] Breaking With The Enlightenment, by Rajani Kannepalli Kanth. Humanities Press, New Jersey, 1997. P. xv.


  • Rajiv Malhotra

The American Guilt Syndrome

The subconscious mind of a victim of heinous crime often responds to the trauma by developing a Victim’s Guilt Syndrome, which is a psychological defense mechanism to stop having to deal with an external adversary. This is accomplished by internalizing the adversary within the victim’s own notion of selfhood. For instance, rape victims are often known to acquire guilt, as a rationalization that rape was their own fault and that they even deserved it. Fearful of dishonor to their families, they hide in shame over their status as rape victims. A variation of this pathology exists amongst some kidnapping victims, a prominent example being the case of Patricia Hearst. After being kidnapped by a terrorist organization, named The Symbionese Liberation Army, in the 1970s, this young woman from a billionaire family joined her captor’s ideology.

Utilizing this human tendency, colonialists engineered the minds of their subjects into an inferiority complex as part of the psychology of governance; and then ‘upgraded’ the status of a small slice of the ruled community to be the sepoys (with physical power) and the Macaulayites (with intellectual power) to help rule over the rest. This also happened to the Irish, in the form of a new category of Irish being created by British rulers, that was called the Anglo-Irish. This syndrome is the basis of ‘Hindu shame’ that is so prominent on many American campuses today, with Indian American Macaulayite faculty members becoming the role models of self-hate.

In the wake of the terrorist attack, are we as Americans being made to feel guilty of having caused the terrorism of which we are the victims? The topic, ‘Why did America cause hate against itself?’ has become a common theme for college discussions in the past three weeks. Most anti-war activism is rooted in the theory that US foreign policy and Israel’s attitude towards Palestinians caused Islam to become nasty. Hence, Americans are being asked to accept the responsibility for their own victim-hood, and to be apologetic to the Muslim world.

However, Islamic jihad predates Israel and the existence of the United States by a thousand years. For 1,300 years, a great many individuals, societies and rulers have interpreted Islamic jihad as a license to kill infidels and as a mandate for expansionism. The 7th century invasion of Sindh (India) by Arabs was explicitly celebrated as jihad, and history is filled with one wave of Islamic plunder of India after another. Modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan were largely Buddhist until these conquests. The Taliban’s atrocities look benign by comparison. These Islamic jihads, such as those by Mohammed of Ghazni, Ghauri and all the way down to Aurungzeb, were not rationalized by the conquerors based on any dispute. Rather, these were justified as wars to kills infidels and to destroy their idols. Therefore, attempts to rationalize terrorism by blaming US and Israeli policies ignore the history of jihad that precedes the existence of the United States and Israel. This guilt is part of the denial and internalization of the problem, so as to avoid dealing with the external reality that appears too ominous.

Today’s leftist anti-war ideology is based on the communist struggle against capitalism, and this is the wrong framework to analyze the problems of Islamic terrorism. The Taliban are not fighting for economic development or modernization the way communist terrorists did. Islamic fundamentalists are fighting against the forces of modernization in general, as these seem to threaten the stranglehold of fundamentalist dogma and the power of the clergy. They are equally against capitalism and communism, and against any model for secular ‘progress’. The leftists need a new ideology today, since the ‘communism versus capitalism’ dialectic is obsolete and irrelevant. Unfortunately, many leftists are left with slogans and anger but no resources to bring to the 21st century.

I am disappointed that very few leaders from the Islamic public relations machinery, which has swung into rapid deployment, call for honest introspection on the part of Islam itself, especially to re-examine its own policies towards non-Muslims. Islamic law divides the world into two categories: ‘dar-ul-Islam’ (the world of Muslims) and ‘dar-ul-harb’ (the world of non-Muslims, also called kafirs). Muslim law demands different standards and norms by which Muslims must deal with insiders and outsiders. Such built-in chauvinism towards others is dangerous and deserves public attention. Pan-Islamic organizations should focus on Muslims’ respect and responsibilities towards others, and not just push for greater rights and privileges for Islam.

In medieval Europe, Muslims tolerated Jews better than the Christians did. But in the 20th century, minority religions have been oppressed in Islamic countries. Rights of non-Muslims in Islamic countries need to be made comparable to the rights that Muslims demand for themselves in the west. Islamic leaders should create Islamic commissions and forums on pluralism, where non-Muslims could submit complaints and get a fair hearing on instances of Muslim hate speech against infidels, prejudicial laws or practices in Islamic countries towards non-Muslims, and crimes committed in the name of Islam. They should reject Islamic triumphalism, since it has led to ‘religious cleansing’ of religious minorities in virtually every Islamic state since World War II (as evidenced by a decline in the percentage of religious minorities). No religion is free from radical elements, and no religion is essentially radical. There are many moderate and liberal Islamic scholars, but they fear the clerics, and their voices are subdued.

Pan-Islamic global organizations have a westernized face of peace and tolerance, in contradistinction with a different internal face of Islam back home. The rulers of Islamic societies who deal with the west are projecting an image that is democratic and peace-loving, whereas the Muslim clergy who control the religious teachings and interpretations often tend to be radical exclusivists and expansionists. Hence there is a ‘westernized Islam’ practiced by a small elite and a different ‘native Islam’ practiced by the vast majority. This has resulted in a good guy / bad guy role-playing, in which Islamic lobbyists are the good guys claiming to save the west from some bad guys of Islam.

Unlike Christianity, Islam has resisted attempts at reformation and enlightenment, to secularize and / or pluralize it. Since the Sunni Muslim law was frozen by order of the caliph in the 10th century, the only mechanism which exists in Islam to update the law is the ‘fatwa’, which may be considered as the case lawof Islamic jurisprudence. There are many ‘muftis’ who can issue fatwas, and the Holy Quran and the Hadith are often misinterpreted to promote extreme positions. The equivalent situation would be if Christian churches were criminal courts, in which preachers were judges, empowered to issue harsh verdicts for violation of Christian law.

Islamic leaders should immediately set up a panel to amend the sharia (Islamic Law), especially as it pertains to non-Muslims, so as to be compatible with democracy and pluralism. Either they should delete references to non-Muslims entirely, or else they should invite non-Muslim representatives from all religions to participate in formulating balanced, ethical, and fair norms for treating non-Muslims. They should invite and encourage critical examination of Islamic history and texts by all, without intimidation, just as is common for other world religions.

Before proclaiming any and every fight by a fellow Muslim anywhere in the world as a freedom struggle, Islamic leaders must first introspect: could a religion whose clergy subverts the freedom to disagree, the freedom to question and doubt, the freedom of other religious choices and of democracy, be capable of fighting for freedom? Freedom must begin at home.

The dialog between the west and Islam should involve such introspection by both sides. Meanwhile, Islam, Inc.’s unholy media war should voluntarily ceasefire.


— Rajiv Malhotra

Stereotyping Hinduism In American Education

This essay is based on an inquiry in which I wondered why:

  • Hindu kids and even adults in America are apologetic about their religion, generally preferring to distance themselves from it and keep quiet about it.
  • Educational material used to teach Hinduism focuses on caste, idol worship, lack of social values among Hindus, and other negative portrayals.

  • A major academic Web site examines the Bhagavad Gita in negative terms of Arjuna killing his relatives because of his Hindu outlook.

  • Teaching grants to train secondary school teachers on religious pluralism have been used to develop material that portrays Rama as ‘oppressing’ women and lower castes.

  • There is minimal coverage given to the positive contributions by India’s civilization to mathematics, science, medicine, metallurgy, linguistics, logic, and other ‘rational’ areas; and when pointed out, such avoidance is sometimes defended.

  • Most of the educational material on Indic religions is written very authoritatively by Americans who have advanced degrees in Sanskrit and/or Religious Studies, who have spent years researching in India, and would easily impress anyone with their scriptural knowledge about India.

  • Very few Indians have gone for academic careers in Religion or Philosophy, and those in such careers must be very cautious not to step out of line in complaining about the above matters.

There are two major families of religions in the world:

The Greco-Semitic family consists of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, characterized by their faith that God revealed his truths to man through prophets only, that these revelations ended early, and hence these revelations must be inferred from the interpretation of the original texts, parts of which have been codified into the equivalent of ‘law’ books by human.

The Indic family consists mainly of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, which combine revelations through historical persons with truths discovered by an endless line of humans (rishis, buddhas, etc) upon attaining higher states of consciousness attainable by all humans.

This essay addresses how the Greco-Semitic religious paradigms, being the prevailing undercurrents in Western civilization’s narrative of the humanities, have influenced the portrayal of the Indic religions. Hinduism is used in this essay to make the points concerning Indic religions, but similar issues also apply to all Indic religions. This paper raises the following questions:

A. Is Hinduism being portrayed inappropriately through Greco-Semitic concepts and categories? For example, monotheism and polytheism are a priori assumed as mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories, and Hinduism gets incorrectly classified as polytheistic. The notion of a ‘complex unity’ that is neither purely mono nor poly is absent from the discourse.

B. Should Hinduism be described primarily through the lens of anthropology and socio-political history, or does it offer us universal ideas in the same sense as Greek thought does?

C. Does Hinduism have something useful to say in the fields known as consciousness science, humanistic and transpersonal psychology? Did these post-modern Western disciplines receive key ideas from the East, and are there further opportunities for collaboration?

I  The Challenge of Teaching About Hinduism.

The intellectual spectacles formed by one’s own culture determine how one perceives the world. According to the postmodern theory of constructivism, no meaning of any kind ever stands on its own. Instead, there is always mediation by prior mental programming and assumptions, even though these biases might be unconsciously applied. As W.C. Smith, E. W. Said and others have noted, we select, group, and organize the multiplicity of events experienced within our own conceptual categories to give coherence to the world.

Are we aware of the effects of mapping other religions onto Greco-Semitic theological categories, even when there is no intentional agenda? Is the narrative being colored by beliefs and even dogma, perhaps unconsciously, of the academic narrator? Does the process known as academic ‘objectivity’ in fact, facilitate a facade to cloak the prejudices of the scholar, and if so, how might one extricate oneself from the presuppositions of one’s heritage?

To appreciate the challenge further, consider the following essential characteristics of Hinduism:

i. It has no founder whose history could become the exclusive benchmark of truth.
ii. The prophetic-theistic branches of Hinduism (such as most Vaishnavism) believe in and celebrate God’s prolific communication with humanity in many different times and places, and using many different methods of revelation. Such prophecies have resemblance to those in the Greco-Semitic religions, except that God’s interventions are very few and exclusive in the Semitic religions.
iii. Even more challenging to characterize in Western conceptual terms are the non-prophetic aspects of Hinduism. These encourage humans to achieve self-realization by attaining a level of consciousness where the ultimate truth gets experienced directly, unmediated by scriptural or other intellectual context, and not requiring one to wait until after death. Teachings of rishis who achieved this are common in Hinduism and are subsequently given scriptural status by their followers. This has resulted in a vast diversity of literature embedded in the many micro-cultures of India. Since Greco-Semitic religions do not have adequate conceptual categories to deal with the psychology of higher states of consciousness, such study has been appropriated by consciousness studies programs, humanistic and transpersonal psychology, and post-modernism in the Western academy. Hinduism’s portrayal within religious studies generally ignores the study of yoga and consciousness.
iv. Hinduism endorses multiple spiritual paths as being valid, and encourages experimentation and personalization of practice. The spectrum of beliefs even tolerates ‘secular’ Hindus who profess no strong religious beliefs.

While other religions are compared to a pillar or a monolithic palm tree, Hinduism is more comparable to a banyan tree. Such a tree has many trunks and new ones keep developing and taking root. Often completely new trees start from a particular branch, taking root within that branch. Branches merge into a network maze that is non hierarchical.

A creature whose world were such a complex banyan tree would find meaningless questions asked by someone from a monolithic pillar or palm tree universe, such as: where is the root or main trunk from which the tree begins; which is the ‘right’ path to get to a place on the tree; what component of the tree is in control of the entire tree, etc. Likewise, there is no simple way of talking about what Hinduism ‘has’ or ‘believes’ or ‘accepts’.

Many Hindus may well believe or accept certain principles, but one cannot say that of others. Hinduism is more like a mother of diverse religious experiences and thought. Hindus often feel that it should retain its role as the crucible for new creative experiences and their incubation, rather than ossified and frozen into dogmas. This is no different than not having a canonization of art, music, or notions of beauty into rigid formulations.

How does one teach such a religion responsibly to avoid tabloid-style sensationalism as illustrated below?

II  Examples of Inappropriate Context in Portraying Hinduism.

This section illustrates these difficulties by giving contemporary examples of portrayal.

Example 1: “Arjuna chose to kill his relatives.”

The University of Evansville’s Web site on Ancient History inappropriately positions a key passage from theBhagavad Gita. It says that Arjuna found himself justifying the killing of his relatives on the basis that they would get reincarnated. It compares this with Schindler (and by implication drags the Nazis into the context), and asks the student to examine whether such justification of killing would be acceptable to Western ethics. Then, rather patronizingly, it suggests that such comparisons would be improper (after having already planted the seed for the negative context), because what might be acceptable to another culture cannot be applied to our own (‘Western’) way of thinking.

Suppose instead, the presentation had compared Arjuna with General Eisenhower on the eve of launching D-Day in World War II, wondering whether he was morally right by killing so many persons. Or suppose the comparison had been made with General Colin Powell and President Bush on the eve of launching the desert war against Saddam Hussein, wondering about the ethics and morality of war. Had there been such association with popular American heroes, there would have been a sympathetic context in which Arjuna’s dilemma would have been presented.

The authors who wrote the web site material cannot be accused of falsifying the content, but they could be guilty of putting it within an inappropriate context. A meaning gets completely changed merely by the skillful use of analogies, examples, and metaphors, especially before young impressionable minds. Is this honest and fair portrayal?

Example 2: “Hinduism is polytheistic, and hence by implication, pagan.”

Dr. Margaret Case, former editor of Princeton University Press, is quoted in the August-September-October 1996 issue of Hinduism Today as follows: “Americans find India much more inscrutable and don’t have as warm an empathy for Indian things as they do for Chinese and Japanese culture. I have always found that hard to explain because I love India so much. A lot of it has to do with the reaction to what is perceived as a polytheistic culture by the West…”

Let us examine why such ‘polytheistic’ prejudice exists. A recent article in Quest magazine explains at length how Judaism started monotheism in the world. It positions Semitism as superior to other religions based on this distinction. Given modern civilization’s value of monotheism as opposed to say polytheism, it positions religions such as Hinduism as being akin to the pagan religions that Judaism replaced. Popular books with this theme (of Semitic origins of Western civilization) are now proliferating.

In the Greco-Semitic context, polytheism meant belief in many gods as ultimate realities, and not as different images or aspects of one reality. Such writers conveniently ignore that the Upanishads clearly define one single ultimate reality, and can hardly be considered polytheistic. The ultimate reality may, at the practitioner’s option, be viewed as impersonal or as personal (i.e. as Saguna Brahman).

There is no ceiling in Hinduism on how many such personalized views may be constructed by devotees, since all views are inherently approximate representations of God. For example, in Vaishnavism, Krishna is clearly the single God and very personal. In Shaivism, Param-Shiva is the single ultimate reality, both personal and impersonal and yet beyond such human categories.

This notion of polytheism as a defining characteristic of Hinduism is perhaps the single most serious misunderstanding about Hinduism today. Hans Kung acknowledges it in his book Christianity & World Religions, on page 260: “Should there be a double standard for Christianity and Hinduism…If we understand ‘God’ to be the highest and deepest principle of all, the very first and last reality in the world, in human beings, and in things, then most of the Hindus are monotheists…Hindus, too, believe in only one God…simultaneously impersonal and personal…but if we understand ‘God’ to be all those beings who are venerated through invocation, prayer, hymns, or the offering of gifts, then a great many Christians are polytheists.”

Again, on page 138: “We shall need to discard a few concepts: for example, the idea that Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.”

The Greco-Semitic categories, when applied to portray Hinduism, are seriously confused between plurality and polytheism. A fairer comparison between Greco-Semitic religions and Hinduism would not be through the lens of monotheism verses polytheism.

Instead, it would be a distinction between:

  • Greco-Semitism’s exclusivity of God’s revelation through a unique set of historical circumstances, and hence privileging certain people’s conception as exclusively valid, verses.
  • Hinduism’s plurality of human conceptions of the divine resulting from a plurality of revelations in different forms along with innumerable instances of discovery through human enlightenment achieved by many methods. Hinduism’s plurality is at many levels: multiple spiritual methodologies; multiple historical instances of humans knowing the highest truth by these methodologies and by revelations; and multiple human conceptions of the divine resulting from all this diversity. Furthermore, there is no limit on the magnitude of this plurality.

Milton’s Paradise Lost elaborates at length the traditional Christian belief that all the “pagan” (Greek, Egyptian etc) deities were ‘created’ from the ‘fallen’ angels who took the side of Lucifer/Satan and so were hurled headlong into the infernal abyss specially created for them. From this Hell they then rose with the intention of turning into evil God’s newest creation — the Earthly Paradise.

This belief gets superimposed in the portrayal of Hinduism consciously or unconsciously, since Hindu deities are placed in a polytheistic context:

-Many average Americans regard Hinduism as neo-pagan.

  • Students of Hinduism courses have incorrectly concluded that polytheism defines their core understanding of Hinduism.
  • Modern Hindus, having often discovered their own traditions as portrayed through the British education system in India, often have such doubts as well.

  • Doesn’t that give a divine sanction to the evangelists’ Hindu bashing — after all they are only saving Hindus from these devilish designs that come disguised as ‘gods’. It is clear that the subtle and varied role ofcomplex unity in Hinduism has not been understood.

    Example 3: “Clinical psychology should help clients get out of the negative archetype of Kali and advance them towards the positive archetype of Goddess Diana.

    At the Tucson 2000 Conference on the Science of Consciousness, one of the exhibits was by Professor Peterson from Toronto University’s Psychology Department. This example illustrates how misrepresentation of Hinduism by religious studies academics sometimes gets picked up and magnified by others (such as this psychology professor), who are not so expert in Hinduism and get used in a ‘novel’ but dangerous way.

    In his book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, Routledge, 1999, he starts with a detailed and well-diagramed analysis of how humanity’s ideas evolve through stages such as ritual, myths etc, before they finally reach religion and philosophy. Deep-rooted archetypes store various psychological fixations, which he shows with art from around the world.

    The conclusion is in a diagram with various pictures. It shows ‘anxiety-threat’ on one side, and this is depicted with Kali in all her details. On the other side of the diagram is ‘hope-promise’ depicted by a picture of the Greco-Roman Goddess Diana. The message of several hundred pages basically boils down to the conclusion that one must rise above the evil-terror-anxiety-threat side that drives humans (i.e. the archetype of Kali) and move to the positive side depicted by Diana. This is a college textbook on psychology by a major publisher.

    Nobody would argue with the suggestion to move from negative to positive archetypes. But a better method of illustration would have been to use another Hindu deity also as the hope-promise archetype in the diagram. Hinduism is rather rich in deities depicting positive aspects, and there is no need to switch to the context of the West when depicting the positive side.

    The Hindu Goddess has millions of forms in which people have conceived of her, of which four are especially popular: wisdom (Maheshwari), strength (Durga-Kali), harmony (Lakshmi), and perfection(Saraswati). Within the ‘strength’ aspect, Kali is but one of her many manifestations, Durga being another popular form. And even within Kali, there are at least three levels of worship: as terrorizer to be feared and placated is the lowest view; as Shakti expressing herself as the power of nature is the middle level; and at an even higher level she is the divine power operating through the devotee.

    The author’s understanding of Kali is incorrect. But even if she were the icon of evil, it would still not justify in a textbook on psychology to make the contrast with Diana. He should not have departed from Hindu symbolism when it came to explaining the positive outlook on life. His methodology portrayed the West as the positive culture while the East as the proverbial ‘world negating’ burden on humanity. In fact, any religion could supply the author with both kinds of art, the dark side and the light side.

    If he wanted to remain in Western iconography throughout, he could have chosen negative pictures from the holocaust, witch burning, and genocide of the Native Americans, the list of candidates for negative imagery being rather long. So why would a college text depict the dark side using an Eastern tradition and the positive side using Western tradition, unless there is also a subliminal message intended to position one culture better than the other.

    This is a case where the facts in isolation might be correct but their juxtaposition and context creates a false impression. The effect of this psychology book might be that clinical psychologists will attend weekend seminars on diagnosing and treating ‘Kali syndrome’, as the archetype afflicting clients who suffer from negative conditions. I could not help being reminded of the racial stereotyping by the media until the 1970s, in which crime and drugs were depicted showing blacks and Hispanics, while positive achievements were depicted using whites.

    Amazingly, other colleagues of this psychologist have been very busy appropriating the pioneering knowledge of Indic spiritualists precisely in the realm of higher states of consciousness — including Jung, Wilber, Maslow, etc. So one team of psychologists takes the cream of Indic contribution an re-labels it as their own, while the other team such as this book’s writer, are busy enhancing the negative stereotypes about the same source tradition.

    Example 4: “Hinduism involves weird practices repulsive to Westerners.”

    A teacher of Hinduism at a prestigious US University told me of a conference where she had an argument with a Hindu pundit because she wanted to discuss animal sacrifices by Hindus, while he insisted on denying such practices. She did not want persons present to think of this pundit’s views as the “true authentic voice of Hinduism,” and therefore felt compelled to argue.

    Yes, I too have come across the practice of animal sacrifice in a Hindu temple in Nepal recently. But my position would be that one should responsibly choose whether the ‘true authentic voice’ should be at the lowest or at a higher standard within a tradition. Would one responsibly explain Christianity’s true authentic voice as that of its founders, scriptures and contemporary leaders, or would one represent it in terms of the conduct of those Christians who are at the low end of the spiritual scale?

    One can find many poorly educated, low demographic and unethical persons who are proud to be born-again Christians and have full faith that they will be saved by Jesus. But these would not be the role models for Christianity, and developing a video series or textbooks based on their lives would not be what a Christian would like to have their kids taught in an introduction to Christianity. Nevertheless, it could make colorful anthropology.

    Perhaps, as a percentage of India’s population, those who do animal sacrifices are no larger than the percent of Christians in New York who are on various fringes of religious practices. By way of another comparison, a manipulative context designed for denigrating Christianity to vegetarians could suggest that when a Christian says grace before eating meat, he is mentally ‘sacrificing’ the meat to God, which would make it animal sacrifice. Would the author be better of quantifying what percentage of Hindus would be doing such a practice, or how many of the various Hindu denominations would endorse it, so as to avoid portraying it as a mainstream practice in an introductory textbook.

    Consider another issue, that of satiSati was undoubtedly held as a practice in some regions of India and to this day, some satis are worshipped in parts of Rajasthan and U.P. as goddesses. But there has been only one confirmed case of sati in the past dozen years, which is smaller than the percentage of Christians convicted as serial killers.

    So my problem with such portrayals is not that they mention false things, but that the context (and quantity) in which students understand them makes them appear as standard for Hinduism. A sober and responsible examination of this issue can be made without apology or bigotry, within the context of all the variety of inhuman problems (which do not even have the condemnation of sati) associated with Christianity — like the defense of apartheid until recent times, and even now of racism through recourse to scripture (e.g., Bob Jones University).

    Two criteria could be used to define what constitutes a standard practice. One could be the frequency of occurrence of a given practice as a percentage of total Hindus, and the second could be whether the leaders of specific denominations condone that practice. For example, what would the head from a Shaktitradition consider as the relative level of spiritual advancement at which animal sacrifice is a practice? When teaching a new religion, academicians should stop highlighting the photogenic anthropology that portrays the fringes and should focus on building foundational concepts.

    As other examples of the perversion of Hindu symbolism in academic teaching, Shiva has been portrayed as the sex God, Goddesses as sexual fantasies of rishis, etc. Many otherwise well-educated Americans have told me that Hindu deities remind them of devil worship. One American ashram in New York State with Eastern practices received threats from neighbors claiming that they were engaged in witchcraft.

    III  Orientalism and reduction to anthropology

    Wilfred Cantwell Smith’s The Meaning and End of Religion posits that religion is taught from the West’s ‘conditioned spectacles’, thereby emphasizing the exotic, peculiar, ritual and cultural aspects of other religions. Smith highlights the distinction between faith and tradition, faith being based on the inner first person experience of a believer. Tradition seeks to follow the footsteps of a spiritual master and worship him, while faith seeks to experience what he experienced and view him as a mirror and archetype.

    While prototype paths are useful guidelines, faith does not always have a fixed methodology; one experiments and discovers one’s own path or dharma, and spirituality can also arise spontaneously. History, culture, rituals, and videos can only capture the outer tradition and not faith, he maintains. Academics often emphasize the photogenic aspects of tradition and not faith or inner experience, especially if the proper context is missing from the presentations. The students’ pre-existing indoctrination and media prejudices become unconsciously superimposed in the interpretation.

    As Ashis Nandy has said, the ‘Orient’ was a construction serving as the inversion of the ‘West’ and representing the projection of the shadow side of Western culture. The needs of colonialism, he argues, defined Western and Eastern images as reverses of each other, with the East being portrayed as ‘poetic’, ‘mystical’, irrational, uncivilized and feminine.

    Furthermore, the Western category of ‘mysticism’ was constructed under influence of the Church’s fear that it would undermine the Church’s authority as institutional mediator between man and God. Hence, the Church did not allow mysticism to develop. Luther outright condemned mysticism as being Platonic and unChristian. Post-Kantian intellectual culture defined it in opposition to rationality and therefore not acceptable to academics.

    This dichotomy between rational and mystical still remains large in the West. On the other hand, India’s yogis and Buddhist meditators pioneered in systematic consciousness research for centuries, and therefore these traditions explain deeper experiences involving larger samples of practitioners. The de factosuperimposition of the West’s downgraded mysticism onto Indic traditions has served to marginalize Indic metaphysics, language, and contributions to post-modernism. The power regimes of Western philosophy have boycott non-Western philosophy based on this bias (while borrowing from Indian philosophy continues without due recognition).

    Figure 1. illustrates how the West’s understanding of Hinduism has been impacted by such construction, sometimes known as ‘Orientalism’. Eurocentric cultural and religious categories, whose meanings reflect their Greco-Semitic origins, have been unconsciously superimposed and Hinduism has been reduced into anthropology. This is particularly problematic since a large amount of Hindu content has now become widely available to audiences without the contextual prerequisites to be able to understand it correctly.

    As McGrane writes, the profession of Anthropology, “Is an institution fundamentally involved in the reproduction of Western society.” He recommends that the West needs to self-anthropologize, both through non-Western anthropologists and by its own efforts, in order to understand itself better and also appreciate the relative nature of its categories and views. Since the West was not colonialized, it misses a neutral view of itself.

    IV  Consequences of Hinduism’s portrayal in America

    Media opinions in America, based on such perceptions, are at best condescending and patronizing, and at worst disparaging and hostile. Hindu kids routinely report such misleading portrayals in some schools, which impact their self-esteem and sometimes cause serious consequences. Many Hindus in America are apologetic to identify with their religion in public, and Westerners practicing Hinduism are afraid to ‘come out’ in the open. Inter-religious relationships within American communities have been hurt.

    Despite claims of objectivity, bias often gets cloaked in ‘neutral’ garb. Scholars sometimes try to get away with questionable portrayals by using the excuse of diversity in Hinduism practices. This problem has two parts:

    • First, the diversity of beliefs is often portrayed as contradiction and chaos. Diversity could also be portrayed as progressive, because it is in the same spirit as scientific experimentation, openness and democracy, all of which are values cherished in the West. Highly canonized religions that are intolerant of multiple paths and based on rigid dogma could be viewed as autocratic, similar to Soviet style dictatorship, against discovery and freedom of choice. Hence, the portrayal could be drastically altered by the choice of analogies.
    • Second, the academic teaching also confuses practices that are not religion but simply happen to be done by someone who is a Hindu, or are religious but obscure and not mainstream beliefs of most predominant denominations.

    Since the motive of most Americans studying about Hinduism is not to become Hindus but rather to better understand their fellow humans in business, neighborhoods, schools and the world at large, which also coincides with the mission of most teaching institutions, one should develop an effective curriculum to meet this goal. The personal or career objectives of scholars should not enter the selection of what and how to portray?

    The authors must also consider how their publications get used. There do exist persons and institutions that wish to denounce and demean Hinduism, because that helps convert, build internal self-esteem for Christian identity and heritage, and increase compliance and revenue collection. But many such prejudiced agendas lack the credentials to do a credible negative campaign without academic references.

    So they quote from scholars, although sometimes not in the context originally intended by the scholar. The scholar would say that it’s not his/her fault if they got quoted out of context. The prejudiced person would say that it’s not their fault for projecting based on a credible writer’s work. It’s the combined effect of independent persons that results in a misleading portrayal. If certain kinds of writing are likely to get misapplied, are they considered irresponsible?

    Many Hindus have veneration of their heritage without understanding. Hence, they defend against this portrayal of their tradition motivated mainly for reasons of political power or identity. Also, some Hindu activists have unclean hands, being themselves bigoted towards other religions. This has earned them a new label of ‘fundamentalism’, which is contrary to the open and tolerant spirit of Hinduism. All this has pre-empted legitimate efforts to improve the standards of teaching Hinduism, because honest sympathizers wish to distance themselves from such counter-bigotry.

    While there are many sympathetic and truly balanced academicians of Hinduism, the field has often been often left to those wearing Greco-Semitic lens. Like an unauthorized biography, this cannot always be authentic. Academics do shape society long term, through their writings that are referenced by others, and such misrepresentations get magnified further downstream.

    V  Need for independent research on public attitudes and stereotypes

    There has been no public research on attitudes of Americans towards Indic religions, so as to monitor how various segments of the U.S. population perceive these religions. This should be conducted periodically to track trends, and to identify areas where misrepresentations exist. It would also serve as a barometer of progress. This research should be done by some well-known independent organization.

    It should uncover attitudes and levels of understanding among Americans of various income, religious affiliation, gender, age, education, occupation and geographical segments. It should identify what the key stereotypes are, what outright false ideas people have, and how these affect their attitudes towards persons from such faiths. It would also indicate where academic and/or media approaches have failed in the past.

    This would then enable informed and truly ‘objective’ conclusions to be reached for the first time. So far, academicians have reached consensus based on various scholars’ official standing, credibility, popularity, scholarly record and other factors from the politics of academia. Such inbred attitudes cannot be objective, and could potentially be self-serving perpetuations of the myths of academic quality.

    • Rajiv Malhotra

    RISA Lila – 2 – Limp Scholarship And Demonology


    The growing Indian Diaspora is gradually learning how its heritage has been both portrayed and mis-portrayed in the American education system, and about the urgency to engage the system along the same lines as is already being done by other American minorities, such as Jews, Muslims, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native-Americans.

    This engagement requires the members of the Diaspora to be equal participants at the discussion tables where Indian traditions are the topic – including schools, colleges, museums, media, political think tanks and corporate policy meetings. However, getting such a seat involves a complex process of negotiation, because the incumbents who are entrenched in the institutions often see any power-sharing as a dilution of their authority.

    Dating back to the earliest occupation of India by the British, academic scholarship has often studied and depicted India and its religious and cultural traditions as consisting of the exotic cultures of distant and primitive peoples. For generations, these views went unchallenged. Although more recently, a number of educated Indians, as well as contemporary American scholars, have sought to stimulate a rethinking of this approach and bring into the scholarly dialogue an expanding knowledge and awareness of the traditions, a significant portion of the scholarly community continues to adhere to and promote myopic and outdated views.

    Moreover, such scholarship sadly fails to acknowledge that the adherents of these traditions are not primitive foreigners, but they are increasingly one’s Indian-American neighbors, doctors, classmates and friends. Furthermore, it fails to recognize that these traditions are finding adherents among a significant number of Americans and other Westerners who find them compelling and important. This increasing presence and participation of Indians and Indian culture in American society not only provides new and valuable resources for scholarly research understanding, but it also demands that scholars become more aware of and sensitive to the traditions and their followers.

    The events described below illustrate how the Diaspora is disadvantaged in its attempt to enter the negotiation process with the Western academic structure. Many Diaspora leaders have opted not to articulate their indigenous viewpoint (many, no doubt, never had a native Indian viewpoint in the first place, having been raised in a Eurocentric education system). Several spiritual leaders remain cocooned within the security of their introverted spiritual groups, and lack the required skills for successful negotiation in the global context on behalf of their cultural identity. Therefore, it is challenging to find knowledgeable individuals who are committed to a fair and balanced approach to tradition, and are willing to stick their necks out amidst a hostile environment, whereas it is not hard to find atheist, Marxist Indians in academia today, who are happy to trash Indian traditions.

    This leadership vacuum has spawned a plethora of self-appointed activists, who often lack the sophistication to engage the systems effectively. Nonetheless, this may be a part of the cross-cultural learning process.

    This dilemma in cultural discourse about Indian Traditions in the academy may be illustrated by the following fast-moving events which occurred recently. This essay is structured as listed below:

    I. Petition against the “Limp Phallus” depiction of Ganesha.
    II. Dialog with Paul Courtright.
    III. Critique of the Petition.
    IV. Threats and attempts to stop them.
    V. Another RISA Lila begins.
    VI. In India: Motilal Banarsidas withdraws the book.
    VII. “Good boycotts” and “Evil boycotts”
    VIII. “Good against Evil” witch-hunts begin
    IX. Reality begins to sink in
    X. The Myth of RISA
    XI. (Re) negotiating our place in globalization
    XII. Letter from a 14-year old Indian-American schoolgirl

    I. Petition against the “Limp Phallus” depiction of Ganesha

    On October 6th 2003, I received an email that was mass-distributed, asking people to sign an on-line petition. It was the first time I had read the petition, and had had no prior interaction with its author. The petition web page read:


    Against the Book insulting Lord Ganesha and Hinduism

    To: President James W. Wagner of Emory University, Governor Sunny Perdue of Georgia, President George W Bush of U.S.A, Prime Minister Atal B. Vajpayee of India, Members of India’s Parliament, Members US-India Congressional Caucus, and US Attorney General, Ashcroft.

    There is a Book titled: “Ganesa – Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings” by Professor Paul Courtright, Department of Religion, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. First Edition in USA published in 1985 by Oxford University Press, Inc. First Indian Edition, Published in 2001 by Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd., with a nude cover picture and insulting interpretations directly from the book.

    For nude cover picture of the 2001 edition of the book please click here.

    Here are some of the author’s vulgar interpretations:

    –          “Its (Ganesa’s) trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of Siva’s linga. It poses no threat because it is too large, flaccid, and in the wrong place to be useful for sexual purposes.” (Page 121)

    –          “He [Ganesa] remains celibate so as not to compete erotically with his father, a notorious womanizer, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter.” (Page 110)

    –          “So Ganesa takes on the attributes of his father but in an inverted form, with an exaggerated limp phallus-ascetic and benign- whereas Siva is a “hard” (ur-dhvalinga), erotic and destructive.” (Page121)

    –          “Both in his behavior and iconographic form Ganesa resembles in some aspects, the figure of the eunuch…Ganesha is like eunuch guarding the women of the harem.” (Page 111)

    –          “Although there seems to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex; his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones.” (Page 111)

    –          “Ganesa’s broken tusk, his guardian’s staff, and displaced head can be interpreted as symbols of castration” (page 111)

    –          “Feeding Ganesa copious quantities of modakas, satisfying his oral/erotic desires, also keeps him from becoming genitally erotic like his father.” (Page 113)

    –          “The perpetual son desiring to remain close to his mother and having an insatiable appetite for sweets evokes associations of oral eroticism. Denied the possibility of reaching the stage of full genital masculine power by the omnipotent force of the father, the son seeks gratification in some acceptable way.” (Page 113)

    There are plenty of other insidious passages in this book aimed at tarnishing not only the image of Ganesha, but Shiva and Parvati as well: “After Shiva has insulted Parvati by calling her Blackie [Kali], she vows to leave him and return to her father’s home and then she stations her other son, Viraka—the one Siva had made—at the door way to spy on her husband’s extramarital amorous exploits.” (Page 105-106).

    We believe these are clear-cut examples of hate-crimes inflicted on innocent Hindus who worship Ganesha, Shiva and Parvati.

    We the undersigned strongly ask you to take the necessary actions to achieve the following:

    1) The author and the publisher(s) to give an unequivocal apology to Hindus.
    2) The author expunges the above and other offensive passages and revises the book with clarifications and corrections.
    3) Publisher(s) to immediately withdraw this book from circulation and the author to stop use of this book in academics.


    The Against the Book insulting Lord Ganesha and Hinduism Petition to
    President James W. Wagner of Emory University, Governor Sunny Perdue of Georgia, President George W Bush of U.S.A, Prime Minister Atal B. Vajpayee of India, Members of India’s Parliament, Members US-India Congressional Caucus, and US Attorney General, Ashcroft. was created by Hindu Students’ Council – University of Louisiana, Lafayette and written by Devendra Potnis, President HSC-ULL.


    II. Dialog with Paul Courtright

    On October 28th, I received a one-line email from Paul Courtright which I read to mean that he was falsely accusing me of generating the petition. My instant response was to set the record straight on who started what. I replied:

    Dear Paul, First of all, YOU started this – when you wrote, you started a dialog with the Hindus, even though at that time it might have seemed liked a monolog. Please note that freedom of speech works both ways nowadays, as sustaining an asymmetry of power/privilege is no longer as easy as it once was…But first you must stop the “blame” habit yourself. Think of this as the native informants talking back, using the age of interactivity as in so many other fields. You could also consider ENGAGING your opponents and taking your chances – Jimmy Carter did that on the footsteps outside a building when critics attacked him live before the media. Many pundits predicted that it would turn out to be a fatal mistake of his political career, but he won. I am no expert or public relations advisor and you know best what to do. Personally, I don’t support banning books in print, but I do feel that controversial issues must be debated in a balanced way in the open. In fact, my proposal to Kripal has always been that he should include an unedited rejoinder by Swami Tyagananda as a final chapter of his book, so as to balance out the perspectives. He decided against it, saying that it was not possible in academia. But Francis Clooney’s book, “Hindu God, Christian God,” took my advice and has a final chapter by Paramil. Good for Francis! So you might have your opponents select a Ganesha scholar-practitioner to write a rejoinder in your book, and start a new chapter in “interactive” scholarship.


    In his reply to this, Courtright seemed interested to move beyond the blame game, but also insisted that my writings had inspired others. He charged that “my quotes” from his book on Ganesha had “taken on a life of their own.”

    I wrote back: “Regarding your book, those are not “my” quotes. Nor was I the first to point them out…If you feel there is a solid scholarly basis, then why be afraid of criticism? Why not give your theory as a rejoinder – write an article on Sulekha – and let the chips fall where they may.”

    III. Critique of the Petition

    Meanwhile, on reading the petition – which I chose not to sign – I critiqued both sides, trying to raise the level of abstraction in the discourse. I sent the following critique in an email to many persons in the Diaspora and in academic Hinduism Studies:[1]

    I disagree with the petitioners’ stance that the issue is about “feelings” being hurt – such a petition can and is dismissed easily as being irrelevant to objective scholarship. The petition is facile in its lack of critical analysis.  

    However, my problem with many scholars is entirely different: It is about their works’ lack of authenticity and objectivity – a charge that they are not responding to, because they prefer to construct a false purva-paksha that is easier for them to deal with.

      The issue of non-authenticity takes us deep into questioning the “critical theories” that are the very foundation of liberal arts. I want PROOF that these “theories” are valid and especially in the Indian context. Just because they are widely quoted does not make them valid scientifically, as popularity simple means that they have the power of distribution channels on their side – which comes with money and institutional control. So the burden of proof of the validity of the “theories” should be on the shoulders of those who wish to use them. Nobody in Religious Studies to the best of my knowledge has proven these “theories,” and, instead, they merely quote others who quote others. Its all about having established a brand name for oneself, or learning to use someone else’s...It is this shallowness and lack of scientific objectivity that is the crux of my criticism and not “feelings” – but these scholars have not even acknowledge the true nature of the complaint, which is disingenuous on their part.  

    Freudianism, as a theory for such purposes, has long been rejected by psychology departments in the west, but it has become the “export” product to mis-educate those third worlders who are in awe of the west. Roland and others have gone far to explain, based on their empirical data, that such “theories” do not work in explaining Indian culture.  

    In the same manner, I wish to openly challenge much of postmodernism, western feminism, and many other many sociological and anthropological constructs – in fact, Wendy’s entire “tool-box.”

      The concept of nation state is being applied based on the west as the gold standard, and others are being rated based on how “western” they are – the irony is that globalization is moving beyond this Eurocentric nation state criteria, closer to the Indian Ocean open economy prior to colonialism closing it. Christianity is being used as the basis to define what a “religion” should be and how it is to be studied. Feminism is being defined based on western ideas of womanhood – I can cite many criticisms against this by African and Asian women scholars.  

    Here is what one popular level introduction to “critical theory” has to say: “It is an “alternative metaphysics” promoting a particular world view, and, at least implicitly, a particular politics…We cannot assume that any criticism is a “value-free” activity…Being critical is being political: it represents an intervention…The cultural analyst can pick or mix from the catalog of theories to put together synthetic models for whatever the task may happen to be.”  

    Essentially, the student is taught to be able to quote well and apply the set of theories, simply assuming that they are some sort of canon: “The successful student in higher education reaches theoretically-informed conclusions in essays and exams, and can show precisely how the theory informed those conclusions.” In other words, these “theories” have become like absolute and ultimate authorities – which makes them akin to the authority of the Vedas, their originators akin to the Vedic rishis, and the liberal arts educators like English language based brahmins.  

    So I request that the discourse be upgraded by both sides – which Courtright should support – to the meta-level discussion of “theories” in circulation these days, including Wendy’s theories of “myths” as agents that seem to deny Indians’ individual agency.

      Many RISA scholars have defended this state of scholarship by telling me that “of course, all theories are relative and not scientific,” as if that solves the problem. Subjectivity and relativism merely compels us to take the inquiry further: this is where the role of power in distribution channels/ control, and hence in the adoption of “standard theories” or lenses becomes important. The asymmetry of power becomes a relevant topic for discussion – but Religious Studies avoids it. No longer can one claim emic/etic irrelevance, because the power asymmetry in the case of (neo) colonized religions determines who is licensed to say what using which lens – and to reproduce more of their own kind as graduate students who depend on them.  

    So far I have addressed two aspects: the relativeness of the theories in style, and the role of power asymmetry we find today. There are other issues as well: (1) Why has the academy used its gate-keeping role to consistently abuse any and all critics of its ways, and what does this say about its claims of objectivity? Here I can supply lots of written abuses against those who raise such matters, and many more verbal anecdotes. (2) Why have academic scholars been one-sided in their condemnations of human rights violations, citing academic neutrality when they choose to look the other way, but getting deeply engaged when it’s politically expedient? The list goes on…

      The Hinduism Unit of AAR has a unique opportunity to examine such meta-level issues, and to be open about allowing participation – which means not using asymmetric power to block off dissent as “unqualified.” If there is any forum that wishes to seriously debate at the meta-level, please do let me know and I would be delighted to participate.

      I hope to have explained how the petition does a disservice to serious dialog by downgrading the issue into “feelings,” while masking the more serious problems of methodology.

    There were many supportive responses to my critique, some of which are summarized next.

    Prof. Stuart Sovatsky wrote: [2] Rajiv – Thanks for putting out your response to the Courtright petition — also, M Foucault seem to be a primary ally in critiquing the “Power-Knowledge” game of academia. In reference to tantra and its distortion by psychoanalysis, his concept of ars erotica is the only Western lens (I know of) that is capable of understanding the former while critiquing the latter. Thus, he is one example, I think, of what you are looking for, from Western academia.” 

    Prof. Antonio de Nicolas wrote:[3] Your exchange on the issue of the book is exemplar and leaving the lesser issue (feelings) you have managed to force the focus on the real (RISA) issue: incompetence and dissemination of trivialities and dis-information about Indic studies.”

    Dr. Cleo Kearns wrote:[4]“The outrage some Hindus feel about this book is similar to (though not identical with, due to the unequal political context) the outrage felt by many Christians in this country about the treatment of Christianity in the academy (and in the arts as well). In saying this I am not trying to equate the two situations, because the power relations are very different, but merely to draw what I hope will be a warning parallel. The result here has been a deep split between the popular consciousness and the intelligentsia – the so-called “culture wars.” This rift in our society has been and is very dangerous. The only way to resolve this is by open, educated and critical debate of the kind you have been trying to foster. This debate, while always civil and respectful of good form, should involve both academics and non-academics, those who speak from within and those who speak from without the traditions involved, and informed minds should not in my opinion hesitate to exert leadership here as you have done.”

    Francis Clooney responded that he found my email “stimulating as usual” and explained that academics were individualistic in their work, and simply ignored others’ works when they disagreed, and rarely argued. But Clooney might want to reconsider his views on the nature of scholars after reading the recent demonizing by RISA on this matter.

    Alex Alexander wrote: [5]“I agree with you that this petition lacks much of the sophistication that is needed in pursuing an item of this kind. However, I do believe that the concerns that are being voiced by people on issues like these ought to be heard by leaders who have the responsibility to both oversee academic standards and also preserve civility among communities that practice different faiths.”

    Dr. Susantha Goonatilake, a Sri Lankan Buddhist scholar, wrote:[6]

    I broadly agree with what Rajiv is saying. The study fields that he mentions started about 25 years ago as a response to western hegemonic thought. But they were picked up as mechanical tools by others to do its opposite on S Asia. Post colonial studies became pro colonial studies. Feminism, whose aim was to understand what white males left out, became [about] repeating what white females said. So without a Huntington you have civilizational ideologues for the west.

    What you are saying about Indic Hindu studies is worse in Buddhist studies. Buddhist studies in the 19th & 20th c. were an attempt to grasp what Buddhism was. It was a goof effort. During the last 25 years there has been an anthropological turn in Buddhist studies and instead of careful scholarship one has gross inventions and partial truths that do not meet basic criteria of scholarship or test.

    Nobody messes up like this with China, (I have seen Western scholars kowtowing there), Japan or even S. E. Asia. (I am writing this from Cambodia.)

    But we have to see this in broad geo political terms. In 25 years’ time India – in spite of numerous problems – will probably be the number 3 or 4 economic power in the world. With this clout it can dictate the terms of scholarship and [remedy] its anti Indic biases. I think one should let the Indic studies community know this inevitability.

    Prof. Mandeep Singh of Hofstra University replied to my critique with just one phrase, “Brilliant thought.[7]

    But many others wrote back defending the petition, and opposing my criticism of it. Chitra posted her very impressive rejoinder to my critique on the Abhinavgupta list:[8]

    …the drafters of this petition are equally entitled to express their deep outrage over the book. To you, the issue is not about “feelings” being hurt; but to them, at the level they operate, it is…I hope she [Laurie Patton] realizes that this petition should be read purely as a barometer of collective sentiment, not as an incitement to inflict harm.

    There appears to be a perception that “progressive and secular” Hindus ought to be able to roll over and take anything that is written about their religious traditions. They should be “objective” about people who turn some of their most sacred iconography into an object of obscene, practically derisive interpretation. Those who stand up and protest are either ignored as either excessively “emotional;” or, if their language turns extreme, are eyed warily as recidivist fanatics.

    …Do representatives of all religious traditions in the West have to try so hard to maintain the right tone, to calibrate their approach to such an extent, in order get a proper hearing? Do they take a tuning fork to their arguments to ensure that it resonates with the right “objective” frequency if they believe they have experienced an opprobrious assault either to their belief systems, their community, or their culture?…I never cease to be amazed at the double standards that permeate the Western perspective…

    Professor Courtright…writes as an academician with the expectation of influencing young minds in his classroom and beyond. He writes about the most widely beloved and central deity in the Hindu religious tradition. I do think it is uncivilized and deplorable to level threats of physical harm to anyone on the basis of any level of disagreement. However, it is necessary that Prof. Courtright and other luminaries at Emory University understand what they are taking on, and be prepared and open at the very least to face fierce opposition and spirited debate over his book.

    In summary, I believe that double standards in the treatment of faiths exist for a number of reasons and that fear of repRISAl is only one of them…It is truly energizing to know that people such as yourself continue to push for the move from double standards to higher standards of academic accountability. But this effort is in no way diluted by diverse voices. Let them be heard.

    One energized Hindutva leader was very blunt about conveying to me the petitioners’ anger against my critique. He confirmed his telephonic complaint in writing, calling my position “trifle impolitic,” “poor PR,”and that he was “turned off” by it. He referred to the “depth of resentment that this has generated” amongst Hindus against me, which, he wrote, was “not a happy state of affairs” for me.

    IV. Threats and attempts to stop them

    Meanwhile, the petition was gaining momentum and had over 4,000 signatures in a few days. However, the end of the petition started after some comments posted on it started to turn “threatening”, thereby bothering many persons, including myself. This triggered a new series of events in which Courtright’s academic supporters rightly responded, but did so, unfortunately, by repositioning themselves as “victims”.

    Regulations required Emory University to report the matter to appropriate authorities. A prominent scholar in Hinduism Studies made a well-meaning private request to me, to help reduce the tension:[9] “Rajiv,” she wrote, “I urge you to contact the petitioners and offer your opinion that their behavior is unwarranted, and that their petition lacks credibility. It would also be helpful to remind them that it is ‘never’ acceptable to threaten someone physical harm for what they have expressed ‘or’ to continue to circulate a petition containing such threats. Never.”

    My offer to facilitate a dialog was emailed to her on the same day. Her response was quick: “Thanks. The generators of the petition should also consider the legality of what they are doing when they circulate documents that contain direct threats against an individual. I could be wrong, but I think it is illegal to directly threaten someone’s life, as some of the signatories have done – ? Someone circulating those threats might be opening themselves up to prosecution under the law.”

    Separately, in response to my critique, another senior colleague of Prof. Courtright replied privately:[10]“There are many death threats on the petition. That is my concern right now,” she wrote. She requested my help by speaking out to prevent any further threats, calling the petition “A document of hate” and adding that “Hinduism is not well represented at all.” She requested that we have a telephone conversation.

    I offered to try and diffuse the situation concerning abusive comments on the petition, and also presented my meta-level analysis of the larger dialog issue. In my email to her, I wrote:[11] “Please note that I have tried many times to set up AAR-Diaspora dialog mechanisms but there has been no reciprocity. All I get back is more insults…My own interest in is theory and methods as it gets applied to Indic traditions. Regarding death threats, you must find out who made these and get them to stop. But at the same time, I would advise against blowing things out of proportion, as “victimhood” has been tried many times before but does not deal with issues. It’s best to be balanced and not lose perspective.”

    She wrote back:[12] “Re victims: I hate victim stuff. I am not playing victim re the death threats. I am simply saying that 20+ statements about Paul’s being hanged, burned, and shot with his address publicized on the same petition is a serious issue, and it undermines the credibility of ALL the signers.”Later, she also wrote: “I will send you via snail mail the threatening ones we have collected to date. happy reading. Rajiv, I am grateful for the conversation.””

    A third prominent Western scholar of Hinduism wrote off-line:[13] “I think it’s great you are making the effort to elevate the discourse.” In another email, she wrote that the petition was in her opinion “appropriately interpreted as a cyber attack.[14] But later she also accepted my thesis that scholars must not remain so aloof from the Diaspora, and wrote: “I completely agree with you, Rajiv, that better means of communication need to be put in place[15].

    On Friday, October 31, I had a conversation with someone associated with the petitioners, and requested that unless they could delete all any abusive comments and prevent new ones, they should remove the petition completely. By Monday, November 3rd, the petition was off the air.

    Meanwhile, the academic outcry from Emory against the petition had reached scholars around the world. I received various requests for my intervention, such as the following one from Prof. Robert Thurman:[16]

    I received distressing news that Paul Courtright is receiving all manner of over-the-top death threats and would-be fatwas from outraged Hindus for publishing a picture of some statue of Ganesha in the nude! What is the egroup? This is really unfortunate, since it is so baseless and immoderate and gives all the scholars a perfect excuse for their u-turnings and not to consider seriously the intellectual critiques of their biases. If there is anything you can do to use your clout as a major spokesperson to try to quell this explosion of verbal violence, it would be very positive in giving you better leverage to press your reasoned case against the Freudianisms and missionary types of misrepresentations. Please, make a strong statement against such harsh and self-defeating threats, merely giving Hinduism a bad name. It is a perfect opportunity for you to come to the side of our dialoguers and re-energize the transformation you have worked so hard to effect.

    While criticizing the “threatening” comments on the petition, I was at the same time equally critical of the academic scholars for refusing to open up the channels for honest dialogue. In a private email to some Western scholars who appeared interested in dialogue, I wrote:[17]

    The Diaspora is now highly aware of AAR/RISA, suspicious, and getting mobilized rapidly. They are challenging at fund raisers, and their kids are getting bolder about raising their hands to question the items selected for depiction in a one-sided manner…

    If left to itself, things will deteriorate, and there may well be someone who will file a lawsuit on hate speech or something similar. This must be avoided by proactive positive thinking. It would take leadership skills replacing career politics as the driver…

    The Diaspora activists are not one or even a small number of groups. In classical Indian fashion, it is highly decentralized and there are more such self-styled activists popping up all the time…

    I have made the same offer many times before to the academy: I am available to participate in win-win deals that consider the views of all sides.

    I have repeatedly clarified that the intellectual debates I seek would expand the discourse rather than collapse it – i.e., my position would have exactly the opposite effect than censorship.

    For instance, my comment to Sunthar explained the problem in terms of my U-Turn Theory, and was posted by him at his Abhinavgupta egroup:[18]

    The issue is not sexuality (which Indic traditions have more than the western counterparts), but language and framework. Freudian western language brings with it value judgments, lenses that are not necessarily authentic to the Indic culture, and certainly a privileging of the gatekeepers in charge of those systems, i.e. the western(ized) English-language “brahmins.” Furthermore, the careless mapping to the dominant culture’s language/framework causes the native systems to atrophy, which, in turn, further exacerbates the appropriation.

    In summary: I was unhappy about the petition’s sole emphasis on “feelings” and also about the abusive comments. At the scholars’ requests, I engaged in private efforts to try to diffuse the “threatening” situation, working simultaneously with both sides. At the same time, I have been forthright about severely criticizing the methodologies of RISA scholarship, and have made numerous but unsuccessful attempts to get the academy to engage in serious dialogue on these issues.

    However, I got attacked from both sides, as will become clear below.

    V. Another RISA Lila begins

    Meanwhile, on the RISA-list, the official discussion list for academic scholars of Religion in South Asia, a major controversy over the petition was taking shape. Among the contributors to that controversy were many powerful scholars whose institutional positions enable them to shape the direction of the academic field. Among the bothersome aspects of this controversy were the way in which invidious and prejudicial statements and personal attacks were made with impunity, establishing a level of tolerance for ad hominems and insults that calls into question the quality of the list and its moderators.

    Prof. Antonio De Nicolas posted the following condemnation of Courtright’s book on RISA-list (the official discussion list for academic scholars of Religions in South Asia), and it sparked off a major controversy:[19]

    Dear friends,

    It is now obvious that we have a revolution of sensitivities on our hands, and the correction of such a distempered situation is now in the court of Indic studies scholars and the Universities we serve. Are we as scholars commanded by the freedoms and privileges of our professional degrees entitled to stand the ground of silence in the case of Dr. Paul Courtright and his thesis on Ganesha, or is it our obligation as such scholars to call into question the scholarship of Dr. Paul Courtright and demand a corrective of some kind?

    In more veridical terms, did Dr. Courtright act, in writing his book on Ganesha with the discipline and scholarship demanded of him by his degree or did he act irresponsibly and unscholarly in such a manner that both his freedom of speech and his freedom to teach are both in jeopardy?

    Point number one: The first responsibility of a scholar in describing, writing, speaking, teaching other cultures is to present those cultures or the elements of those cultures in the same manner those cultures are viewed by themselves and by the people of those cultures. If not, then the scholar is using those cultures in name only and his goal is their destruction, if not in intention at least in fact. “The flaccid phallus of Ganesha” is an invention of the author when this is not the only depiction of Ganesha, since He appears in other statues with large erection.

    A scholar who does not know how to present other cultures by their own criteria should not be allowed to teach those cultures. His freedom of speech is not guaranteed by his ignorance. His degree is a privilege of knowledge, not ignorance. Freedom stops here. Opinions are not the food of the classroom at the hands of Professors. They guarantee knowledge.

    In the case of Lord Ganesha and Hindus the case is even more dramatic and irresponsible, or demands even more responsibility than in other cases. Lord Ganesha is considered a God my millions of Hindus. We Westerners may think whatever we want about Indic gods, but it is the case that in the Indic classical texts gods are “intelligence centers,” pilot brains to give light to our lives and decisions. Who is the Western Scholar that can use his freedom of speech (but not his responsibility to know better) in order to destroy, dethrone, or laugh at a God made naked for that purpose or consequence? And which is the Institution of learning that will condone such behavior from one that has promised, by accepting his degree, to strive to continue to impart knowledge, not falsehood, or opinions. Would Dr. Courtright like to open a door to the enemies, or outsiders, of Christianity to do the same with the Bible, for example? Would he or others find it offensive if a Hindu scholar with full credentials and knowledge described the Creation myth of the Bible as an absurd and gross sexual representation? For one thing Freud would not be needed. The Bible is very explicit. The creation myth (history) says very clearly that the Creator created the world by ejecting his semen (ruh= pron.ruah) and mingling it with the waters. In other words, the creator created through masturbation. And if you stretch the story all the way to Jesus and follow the patrilineal lines given to him turns out that Yahweh is his father. Can you be more gross? And would any Ph.D. in Religion be able to answer this attack?

    You see, a Pandora’s box is let open to inflict enormous pain on believers. Why not see the same pain on Hindus when their gods are attacked? We are talking about interpretations not realities!!! All stories about gods are bad stories.

    I think I am making my points clearly. Emory University and the AAR should investigate this and similar cases and keep an investigating body available to make sure this does not happen again. And also make sure that the present crisis is immediately stopped from spreading with a large apology for such irresponsible behavior.

    One of the first responses on RISA-l was from Narasingha Sil:[20]

    Professor Courtright’s depiction of Ganesha reflects his idealization of a particular state of the male organ and we need not exercise ourselves unnecessarily on Ganesha’s proboscis seen as a limp phallus.  I have seen (so have many others) limp phallus of most of the male nude statuary sculpted by the Greeks and even by the Renaissance Italians. Nobody has interpreted the statue of a young David or a muscular Adam (the perpetrator of the “Adamic” sin!) with a small and limp phallus in Florence or in the Sistine Chapel as something to be excited or exercised about. Let Ganesha have his phallus limp when he is not shown as gawking at a divine female. If Courtright intends to insinuate impotence of Ganesha (which I sincerely doubt he does), then that may be an instance of his personal anxiety about a male organ to be ever up and ready for action. 

    The interesting and intriguing point to underscore here is that Ganesha being a “pagan” god with juicy legends about his origin, is an object of curiosity to those who really have no stake in stuff Hindu. I, for one, would neither castigate Courtright for his disappointment with or disapproval of the state of Ganesha’s trunk (or phallus) nor applaud the professor’s critics, but I really give a damn to the ‘Sidhdhidata’s’ trunk with the conviction that he being a Hindu god and especially related to his ethyphallic father Shiva, would surely rise to the occasion with his virility at the appropriate time.

    William Harman then started the anti-Nicolas and pro-Courtright movement on RISA-l:[21]

    De Nicolas has assumed that he and he alone knows the Truth about Ganesh and about how the culture that reveres Ganesh thinks. In fact, I know many Indians who much appreciated Courtright’s meticulous scholarship, and who felt that it represented an affectionate, provocative, and exploratory study into the nature of this wonderfully protean Hindu deity.

    J. O. Perry – a retired professor with no religious studies background who thrives on the typical Marxist-Postmodernist “literary theories” – chimed in against Indians, in a predictable fashion:[22] “Freudian thinking has, after all, penetrated even the apparently dim and “different” {Other? unable to be scholarly, only sensitive to slight} minds of scholars in India.” Perry did not bother to substantiate why the scholarly minds in India were judged “dim” or “slight”. His RISA peers did not raise objections: When Indians are belittled in this elitist forum, it has become traditional for others to remain quiet. More insidious examples will be given later.

    But Ramdas Lamb broke ranks with his cohorts and saw things as a practicing American Hindu:[23]

    I cannot help but believe that the vast majority of Hindus would be appalled at such an approach, which seems to say far more about the writer and his focus than about the way Ganesha has been historically understood by Hindus. If the text was simply meant to take a Freudian approach to Ganesha, with the inevitable outcome of such tact, then, maybe, it was successful. However, if it was meant to provide good historical scholarship on Ganesha, then I do not see where such depictions accomplish that, unless they have been integral in the development and understanding of Ganesha within the Hindu tradition. Is it wrong to suggest scholarly understanding should take historical reality into consideration? While I am sure that there are currently, and may have long been, some Indians who may view Ganesha in that way, but when have such views been characteristic of Hindu thinking with respect to Ganesha? Just because we are scholars, does that mean we can say and write whatever we wish, irrespective of its accuracy or impact?

    Such flare-ups present opportunities for otherwise unnoticed scholars to make sensational statements – in exchange for brownie points to help their career politics. Stephen Brown deserves a nomination in this category, as he displayed his ability to quote on “etic” and “emic” jargon, even though nobody pointed out that he had missed the point. For instance, he failed to address whether etic (objective-outsider) intellectual freedom might impinge upon emic (insider-practitioner) freedom, given the asymmetry of power held by the etic side, and his peers failed to explore ways to balance both kinds of freedom. (While beyond the scope of this discussion, it is worth pointing out that sexual harassment laws and practice have a concept called “hostile environment,” and RISA should evaluate whether certain academic practices in religious studies would qualify, by analogy, as hostile with respect to cultural/identity harassment.)

    One scholar after another criticized Hindus for making the petition, while showering praise upon their own academic cohorts.

    Gene Thursby explained that Sikhs had raised similar objections in the past:[24]The current flap itself mirrors earlier ones. For instance the complaint a decade ago that Harjot Oberoi ought not occupy a “community” chair of Sikh Studies because his book The Construction of Religious Boundaries represented Sikh history inaccurately and inappropriately. Ironic in the context of the current flap since in a way Oberoi had done too much historical study and it is claimed that Courtright has done too little.”

    Lance Nelson tried to legitimize the naked Ganesha cover picture by asking how it differed from naked pictures of baby Krishna that were part of the tradition. Herman Tull furthered Nelson’s theory, dropping Edmund Leach’s name, as if merely citing prior Western interpreters wins the day. Joanna Kirkpatrick offered further ‘proof’. She exclaimed that Carstairs work on Rajputs and Doniger’s work in general were based on Freudianizing, and that, therefore, de Nicolas’ complaint indicated ignorance. It goes to show that mere repetition of a theory by credible Western scholars is grounds for legitimacy and construction of “truths.” However, everyone simply ignored Swami Tyagananda’s post: “…a naked Ganesha is certainly not a “tradition” the way a naked baby Krishna is part of the popular culture expressed through songs, pictures and images.”

    Deepak Sarma, who got his Ph.D. under Wendy Doniger, and is the moderator of the RISA-l discussion, chastised Antonio De Nicolas for supporting the petition and sent him warnings to stop further posts that criticized RISA members. But Gene Thursby wrote off-line to support de Nicolas’ right to free speech, which Sarma was censoring, stating that de Nicolas’ post was of far more importance than many other items that RISA-l was routinely being used for. He felt that RISA-l needed more posts similar to de Nicolas’. De Nicolas complained about being censored and publicly posted:[25] RISA Members…I was told to shut upand/or be approved by the RISA administration…”

    Kathleen M. Erndl established some principles of good behavior:[26] “Whatever the merits or demerits of certain types of analysis and interpretation may be, they ought to be debated in an informed, scholarly (and dare I suggest) civil manner.” However, many of RISA her colleagues have failed to apply these principles: The “civil” manner advocated was violated in the Demonology described below, without receiving any protest from her, as “civil” conduct was suspended to facilitate attacks against the Diaspora and those scholars who criticized RISA.

    VI. Meanwhile, in India…

    In large newspaper advertisements across India, Motilal Banarsidas, Courtright’s publisher, announced that they were withdrawing his book on Ganesha. I will first quote the news item and then comment on the way in which the resulting debate broke rules of academic due process in a new way:

    Publishers apologise for ‘offending’ Ganesha picture 
    [Monday, November 3 2003 23:11 Hrs (IST)]
    New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Indological Publishers and Distributors, who had published a book containing an “offending” picture of Lord Ganesha, today (November 3) offered their apologies and announced withdrawal of all the copies from the market. Motilal Banarsidass Indological Publishers and Distributors said they were “deeply hurt” to note that the book ‘Ganesh: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings’ which was originally published by Oxford University Press in 1985 has “appeared to be offensive to a section of beloved readers”.

    “Respecting the sentiments of the culturally conscious scholars, the publisher and distributor have withdrawn the circulation of the book from the market,” a press release said.

    It said the publisher and the distributor also offered apologies to the readers.

    “The reason that we undertook the publication and distribution of the book is because we thought that the book, originally published by Oxford University Press with no adverse response and reviews, deserved a wider circulation in a relatively lower price for the benefit of the academic world,” it said.


    VII. “Good boycotts” and “Evil boycotts”

    The resulting controversy and attempt to start a boycott of Motilal Banarsidas led to self-righteous defenses of freedom of speech for the academics, and also the demonizing of the “outsiders.” This demonizing was directed at specific individuals and also against a commercial publisher exercising its commercial freedom. The contradiction that has escaped the attention of many RISA scholars’ posts is this: They champion the freedom of those who are presumed to be among of the “Good” and the chosen “us”, while lobbying in the fiercest manner against the freedom of “others” who are declared as “Evil”.

    Besides demonizing some individuals, including myself, these scholars turned their anger against Motilal Banarsidas like a pack of wolves, denying Motilal Banarsidas its freedom to make commercial decisions.

    In an open letter to Motilal Banarsidas, Patrick Olivelle, one of the most powerful Sanskrit scholars in the world of Western academics, hinted at boycotting Motilal:[27] This is a book [i.e. Courtright’s book] that won the 1985 prize of the Committee on the History of Religions of the American Council of Learned Societies, the most prestigious scholarly organization of America, an organization to which almost all scholarly associations of America belong…I think your reputation as a serious publisher of scholarly books is being undermined by withdrawing a good scholarly book from circulation for non-academic reasons. I will find it difficult to recommend you to my colleagues as a venue where they may publish their works.” One academic scholar requesting anonymity wrote privately to me: “Doesn’t the insinuating, blackmailing tone of this just set your teeth on edge?”

    Prof. Kathleen Erndl gave her colleague a ‘shabash’:[28] “I’m happy to see RISA members rallying to support our colleague, whether we agree with every word or not.” Closing ranks is typical of many RISA members, contradicting its claim of objectivity and individuality. Amod Lele, a Ph.D. student at Harvard, lacking any thesis of his own, continued his predictable role as bandwagon follower and sepoy-in-training.

    It was Prof. Cynthia Humes who openly rallied the RISA troops to charge against Motilal, on November 3rd:“I suggest that scholars should either lobby Motilal Banarsidass to reverse this decision, or to beginboycotting Motilal Banarsidass, or both. Paul Courtright’s book was peer-reviewed. If we allow ourselves to be censored, then there is no point to the academic enterprise. Friends, this is something to take a stand about.”

    And she continued in another post on the same day, functioning as the chief strategist on boycotting Motilal Banarsidas: “If I were he [i.e. Courtright], I would get some of those famous Emory lawyers on the case and sue both the company [i.e. Motilal] as well as Jain individually. I would take that book, and with all of its newfound interest, find a reputable publisher and come out with a new foreword detailing the story, excoriating the press linking them to the petitioners, and publicizing it on the back cover with retorts to choice absurd quotes from the websites. People will come out of the woodwork to buy it, because of the frenzy. It will be adopted in courses, not just for the subject matter, but to reveal the importance of academic freedom. I would then create a website on the controversy, with direct sales of the book offered at the click of a button.”

    It is important to bear in mind that the British East India Company first focused on controlling thedistribution channels of trade, and this enabled them to control India’s production as well. The rest, as they say, is history. Likewise, in the field of knowledge dissemination, the academic scholars know the strategic implications of keeping Motilal Banarsidas on a leash controlled by Western interests. Motilal Banarsidas is the only major Indology publisher with global reach and reputation that is controlled by Indians. Therefore, it is important to remind it of who the boss is, and thus also teach other Indians a lesson on the limits to their independence.

    Prof. John Hawley further intimidated Motilal Banarsidas by the power vested in him as a member of the dominant culture. His threat was loud and clear: “May I ask for the current status of copyright information on any titles of mine that MLBD [i.e. Motilal Banarsidas] has published? Are AT PLAY WITH KRISHNA and DEVI: GODDESSES OF INDIA still in print? In both cases, other authors/editors are also involved, as are other presses, but once I have consulted with them, I would like to initiate a process that would allow me to withdraw those books from your care, if possible.”

    Later, someone composed a spoof on John Hawley, using a pseudonym, “John Yes, Holy,” and it was forwarded by a person claiming to be “Michael Witzel of Harvard” to various Diaspora egroups (not RISA). Michael denied that it was done by him. This spoof, by an anonymous author, deserves a nomination for the most hilarious piece on this controversy. It read as follows:

    Mr. Ramesh Jain
    Motel Benares Bookstore

    Dear Mr. Jain,

    I deeply regret your recent decision to discontinue publication of Paul Courtright’s book on the pagan God Ganesha. Employing psychoanalytical methods is an old tradition in the English speaking academia: but how can an unwashed coolie like you know about such things? These methods reveal a great deal about the person doing the analysis, much like a Roshak test. That is another little psycho-babble concept that you don’t know about.

    So let me explain it to you. I will speak very slowly for your benefit. Paul Courtright’s limp phallus imagery is clearly derived from his own lack of fertility as a scholar. He tends to see limp phalluses everywhere. In fact, the limp phallus is a good symbol for the state of Indology in general. That is why we are all obsessed with phalluses, limp or otherwise. Where would we be as a field without our little limp phalluses? You have seriously tarnished your good name (in my opinion) by missing such an obvious point. It is our right as scholars to publish anything we like. It is your duty to publish everything we ask you that has been peer reviewed. No real (i.e., European) publisher ever considers the marketability of a book. Am I speaking slowly enough for you?

    May I ask for the current status of the books I sent to you to publish because I could not find a real (i.e., European) publisher for them? Are AT PLAY WITH PAUL and WENDY: GODDESS OF INDIA still in print? I know I am striking terror into your heart, by threatening in my devilishly clever and subtle way, to withdraw these books from your care. Take that and add that to your curry!  

    Yours sincerely
    John Yes, Holy
    The One and Only

    Feeding the publisher boycott frenzy, Prof. Kathleen M. Erndl continued to explain how her culture’s funding power gave her the ability to control the distribution channels of knowledge:[29] As far as a boycott of MLBD is concerned, my thinking is this: I have spent thousands of dollars on MLBD books over the years. I have a limited amount of money to spend on books, and I am loathe to give my hard-earned money to a publisher who engages in censorship and denial of academic freedom and who has participated in a smear campaign to defame a respected friend, scholar, and colleague. If the decision is reversed, I’ll be happy to return as a customer of MLBD.”

    Prof. Cynthia Humes made sure that the frenzy would not die out:[30] “If nothing else, a no-holds-barred academic boycott against Motilal Banarsidass will provide Indian presses with an answer to extremists on why they should not censor peer-reviewed works in the future…RISA, take a stance against efforts to deny academic freedom. Boycott Motilal Banarsidass. Spread the word. Act.”

    Prof. Philip Ludgendorf and many others joined the call for boycott on the same day. As the anti-Motilal mayhem picked up steam, Prof. John Grimes suggested burning Motilal’s books:[31] “The yuga known as Kali has just become blacker! By the by, I am curious if those who are considering boycotting Motilal are going to dispose of all their personal copies of Motilal’s books??? Fahrenheit 451anyone?”

    Meanwhile, an academic scholar who has been the target of attacks at RISA, and requests anonymity, exposed an important contradiction:[32] “It is amusing that folks at RISA are calling for a boycott of MLBD [i.e. Motilal]. I haven’t heard a word anywhere about boycott of CBS that pulled the movie on Reagan (peer-reviewed etc etc) only yesterday. Neither is the Republican party that carried out this campaign against the movie being called fascist.”

    Sunthar Visuvalingam also pointed out a double-standard, by reminding us that in 1990/91 he was informed by Cynthia Humes (co-editor) that SUNY Press had rejected their existing draft simply on the excuse of being too inflammatory on account of its focus on Hindu-Muslim conflict. Sunthar feels that this ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ pressure was without any academic due process. Yet the same kind of decision by Motilal Banarsidas is being condemned. I personally know of several other instances where Western academic presses of considerable reputation have dropped works, not because of any peer review, but because of other marketing considerations.

    VIII. “Good against Evil” witch-hunts begin

    During the three centuries long witch-hunting across Europe, it was sufficient to accuse someone of being a witch, and then the accused person had the burden to prove his or her innocence. If one were even remotely linked, howsoever indirectly, to any person or organization that had been demonized by the Church, or if one were charged with wearing a symbol or using certain terminology that had been condemned, it was enough to be declared guilty-by-association and burnt at the stake.

    As the Ganesha-Courtright controversy unfolded, RISA scholars’ publicly engaged in a series of witch-hunts, that are summarized below, using theories and methods that bear a striking resemblance to the Church’s demonology in the Dark Ages. RISA rules for scholarship and “civil” behavior seemed to have been conveniently suspended to allow this witch-hunting to proceed with impunity.

    Zydenbos’ witch-hunting of Belgian scholars:

    Prof. S. N. Balagangadhara (“Balu”) and another academic scholar from Belgium became targets of vicious and libelous attacks that clearly violated RISA rules.

    Prof. Zydenbos’ guilt-by-association attack had the following logic: He felt “disappointed and troubled” that Balu was listed on an Indian Diaspora yahoo egroup as “an author,” alongside “well-known names,” including a “fellow who campaigns against this [RISA] list as a whole (as well as against academic freedom and freedom of the press, as the present Courtright case has shown)”. Zydenbos did not supply any facts behind these insinuations.

    Another “crime” that Zydenbos accused Balu of was that he was referred to as “Balu” on that demonized egroup – a sign of being “close to the Devil” – even though Balu pointed out that many people routinely called him “Balu.”

    Zydenbos expressed anger that Balu had been elected to lead the Hinduism Unit at AAR, as if only anti-Hindu scholars should be allowed to control the discourse on Hinduism. Zydenbos went on the record wishing his peers “sagaciousness” as he publicly warned them against Balu’s election.

    A second named victim of Zydenbos’ witch-hunting was Jakob De Roover, also in Belgium, whose “crime” was that he had posited that secularism in India was not necessarily the same as elsewhere[33]. Zydenbos concluded from this thesis that De Roover and Balu must have links with anti-Muslim groups in Belgium and elsewhere. De Roover called this allegation “unworthy of any intellectual,” accused Zydenbos of “slander,” and asserted his own right to propose “alternative conceptual solutions” to Indian cultural studies. He challenged the RISA scholars to respond to his thesis using legitimate methods of criticism.

    Zydenbos’ witch-hunting case against De Roover relied on the charge that De Roover had posted at least one message on the IndianCivilization yahoo egroup – yet another demonized Diaspora egroup – but De Roover responded that he had not even been a member of that yahoo egroup.

    To clear his name of fascism, De Roover had to publicly declare his distance from Satan. He wrote: “Let it be clear that ‘I do not have any connection’ to the fascist political party that is popular in Flanders or to the Sangh Parivar in India. Neither have I ever had contact with any “notorious Indologist” who is associated with these political movements. My argument about secularism in India should be taken at face value.”

    The guilt-by-association extended beyond just Balu and De Roover. Zydenbos applied it to the entire university where Balu works, and explained that whatever was posted on the yahoo egroup “helps us hermeneutically to gain an insight into the intentions behind the writings coming out of Ghent.”

    Balu was angry that he was being denied his academic freedom by this guilt-by-association. He protested publicly on RISA-:[34] “Zydenbos launches personal attacks on me, on Jakob De Roover and on those coming from the University of Ghent. He tries to make my credentials appear suspect because, heaven forbid, provides a link to an article I wrote and published elsewhere! Koenraad Elst hails from Belgium, I teach at a Belgian University, my article is referenced to by a ‘Hindutva filth factory’ and, voila, he suggests, “perhaps a glance at Bharatvani helps us hermeneutically to gain an insight into the intentions behind the writings coming out of Ghent.”

    Balu criticized Zydenbos for engaging in “character assassination,” and publicly declared no links to the Devil: “I would like to formally declare that I am not associated in any way (directly or indirectly) with any political, religious, or social movement in India; I am not nor have I ever been a member of any of the Sangh-Parivar.”

    Sarma was also sent a notice from Balu: “Because this is a moderated list, the listserv is liable if someone takes it into his/her head to prosecute for libel.” And he went on to warn: “In any case, it is just about conceivable that my next response to libel and innuendo’s will not be a friendly warning. I hope earnestly that people like Stephen Brown and Zydenbos also realize that they cannot simply go around assassinating the characters and reputations of people with impunity.”

    While Sarma had scolded de Nicolas for criticizing Courtright’s scholarship, he did not take Zydenbos to task for these much greater violations. Furthermore, both Balu and Jakob De Roover were warned by Sarma that, if they persisted in carrying on with the “discussion”, their posts would be put on moderation.

    Stephen Brown accuses me:

    In parallel, there were two simultaneous attacks against me personally. In response, I sent the following off-line email to Deepak Sarma, with copies to several RISA members in order to make sure that this email could not be denied later:

    Dear Deepak,

    I would like to report to you a violation of your rule that “no personal attacks or flaming will be tolerated on this list.”

    Stephen Brown’s post of November 4 (see: ) violates this when he says:

    “Rajiv Malhotra, who seems to be behind this attack, has been behind the open attack of several scholars in the past several years. I have personally been witness to the verbally violent interrogation and attack of scholars by individuals acting “on his request” at the past two AAR annual meetings, and have heard by word of mouth of other incidents at other major academic conferences (such as the Tantra conference in Flagstaff, AZ).”

    COMPLAINT 1: This post is libelous and a violation of your rules, as he could not possibly prove his charge that individuals act on my “request” when they make petitions. He has neither done the research (hopefully his academic publishing is of a higher standard of rigor) and nor are these allegations true.

    COMPLAINT 2: Regarding his reference to the Flagstaff conference, the only person I can think of being referred to at that event was Arjun Bhagat. But Mr. Bhagat categorically denies the allegation and in fact he has brought the above referenced post to my attention today. So Stephen Brown must be prepared to prove his allegation.

    QUESTION: I request you to please let me know in particular what rights individuals have who are not allowed to become members of your list to be able to respond when they are attacked on the list. This is a serious matter of fair due process that cannot wait, as the list management’s complicity makes it a party to slander and libel by allowing such items to get posted with impunity.

    REQUEST: Given the above set of facts, I request that an unedited post by me in response to EACH POST that refers to me (separately if I choose) be an option available to me, and, furthermore, that this right to defend and reply be extended to EVERY person named or implied who is not a member.

    In considering my request, please bear in mind that scholars take great pride in their sense of objectivity and examining all aspects of a situation. One of my charges against many scholars has been this one-sided “native informant” positioning of “outsiders”, which has been denied but here we have a live example where I am being denied a fair chance to respond.

    Furthermore, please note that when I criticized Doniger, Kripal, Caldwell and Courtright, EACH OF THEM RECEIVED AN ADVANCE DRAFT WITH A REQUEST TO COMMENT. Courtright did comment and pointed out errors which I corrected via private email exchanges. Doniger refused to engage with me other than if I became the native informant and she the scholar (very explicitly using those words in an email I have saved). Kripal stated that he would write a separate response, which he did and Sulekha was very open about posting everything anyone had something to say. Caldwell wanted to have an email exchange that could be published; this went thru several dozen iterations of private email and was posted ONLY AFTER BOTH SIDES AGREED THAT THE DRAFT ACCURATELY REPRESENTED THE SITUATION.

    I have saved all the emails from the above set of private interactions. The point is that I have acted with reciprocity in my criticisms and now it is the turn of the scholars to give me a fair chance to speak my side on these matters on their forums.

    Many scholars fail to understand that their methodology of treating Hindus as some far away anthropological group “out there” is obsolete. Today the Hindu is likely to be one’s American neighbor, doctor, classmate, boss, etc. Hence, many such voices of protest will pop up especially as kids of the Diaspora go to college and bring back ideas that the parents consider strange. Rather than a scholarly grade analysis of this new cultural phenomena, Brown and others seem to think that all this must somehow be artificially crafted by one man.

    The truth is that there are many dispersed groups that pop up, that argue and fight amongst themselves, and most vanish after a while. Speaking for myself, I have had many bitter arguments with Hindu activists on a variety of issues both of substance and style. So the scholar who lumps all Hindu voices in a reductionist fashion before any investigation at all, is not living up to the standards claimed by the academy.

    Finally, it seems that the RISA-l threads these days are fodder for a few more RISA Lila type of articles over the next few months. As you probably know, Dr. Yvette Rosser already did a 5-part series on such RISA-l posts over the years, and this may be read at:

    As its moderator, you must ask whether these scholars are exposing themselves to further mockery and satire. A recent satire about one specific Wendy’s child is posted at:

    Now, does Brown suggest that all these authors and many dozen others over the past 2 years are working on my “request”?

    Looking forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Rajiv Malhotra

    Meanwhile, Balu criticized Stephen Brown’s attack, because it offered “No proof, no evidence, but a free-for-all accusation directed against an individual, who is in no position to defend himself.”

    Balu also sent the following challenge off-list to Deepak Sarma:[35] “If he [Stephen Brown] has [proof], he should “name” the individuals, who have acted thus in “the past two AAR meetings”, and specify the “times” (it must have happened at least twice), where and when Rajiv Malhotra made this request. If he cannot, he is indulging in libel. He claims to have “heard by word of mouth of other incidents”. This is plain defamation of character.”

    Balu wrote privately to Stephen Brown, but got ridiculously illogical responses. Brown’s only point was that he had seen individuals at conferences wearing The Infinity Foundation badge, and that this proved according to him: (i) that whatever these individuals did or said had to be requested by me; and (ii) whatever any other individuals did or said (such as the petitioners) which was critical of scholars must also be caused by me. He called this “Mr. Malhotra’s authority,” and referred to my prior RISA Lila article as further proof, even though readers of that article know that it has nothing to suggest that any specific individuals acted on my behalf.

    Stephen Brown seemed to lack even a basic understanding of institutional affiliations: The Infinity Foundation is an institution just as College X is. Just as a conference attendee with a badge saying “College X” may not be deemed to be acting on behalf of a colleague from College X, simply by virtue of institutional affiliation, so also, the advisors and scholars who work with any foundation are diverse, autonomous and independent and speak for themselves. Anyone who has attended our foundation’s events or worked on its projects would attest to this autonomy. In fact, our foundation lacks full-time in-house scholars. It is classified as a “non-operating foundation”, meaning one that gives grants to third parties but does not perform much work in-house. (This is the same classification as Ford, Fulbright and most other foundations, except that ours is tiny by comparison.)

    Furthermore, I can categorically say that The Infinity Foundation has not had any affiliation with the students involved in the petition or the HSC (the organization that put up the petition). (Note: To prove our innocence, the Inquisitors demand that we show that we have no relationship with the Devil.)

    This goes to show how RISA often relies upon flimsy or manufactured “evidence” entirely based on the political capital of the parties involved – which is not a sign of “objective” scholarship. That such nonsense occurs, and remains unopposed, puts reasonable doubts into the claim that academic peers ensure quality.

    John Richard Pincince demonizes me: 

    Yet another RISA member, John Richard Pincince, used false and wildly speculative third or fourth level indirect “links” to demonize me.[36]

    His post began by establishing his intentions: “So, like any bored doctoral candidate in the midst of completing his dissertation on “Savarkar and Hindutva,” I decided to cruise the internet, and examine the ‘roots’ of this petition…”

    His outlandish witch-hunt was based on a five-step flawed logic, as follows.

    First, he claimed establishing my “link with the Devil,” with great aplomb and sensation, by writing that the“activities and pursuits of the ‘Infinity Foundation’…[consist of] numerous exciting essays, such as those by Prof./Dr. de Nicolas, Director of the ‘Biocultural Research Institute’ in Florida, David Frawley, Subhash Kak, Koenraad Elst, and former RISA subscriber/participant Ms. Rocher, who is a member of the ‘Indigenous Voices Abroad’ org…”

    However, a site search of our foundation on “Frawley” shows that Frawley’s name comes up only in the bibliographies of some other authors’ essays. By that token, any academic journal whose articles include bibliographical references to author X would have to be condemned as being “linked to X.” Regarding Subhash Kak, later I shall explain that this allegation puts Pincince in a corner, because Kak is a speaker at the DANAM event which so many RISA scholars now hope to attend for redemption from their own guilt.

    Second, John Richard Pincince claimed to have uncovered the plot behind the petition: “Now, the ‘petition’ appeared on the petition on-line site, where the anti-Prof. Thapar appointment to LoC also appeared (a petition started by Brannon ‘Vrin’ parker, member of the ‘Indigenous Voices Abroad’ and ‘Vedic Friends Association’).”

    However, the petition’s on-line site has several thousand petitions, and is an independent organization that probably never heard of any of us in this discussion. Also, Pincince failed to do rudimentary homework, because I did not sign or have anything to do with the anti-Thapar petition, and nor am I associated with the organizations listed by him.

    Third, to establish the “nexus” of links, Pincince continued: “The anti-Courtright petition was posted by a graduate student and member of the Hindu Students Council (Indian Students Assoc.) at the Univ. of Louisiana at Lafayette (where Prof. Kak teaches).”

    As already noted, I am not associated with the Hindu Student Council. Furthermore, Prof. Kak wrote off-line to point out an error in Pincince’s allegation: “I am at another university called Louisiana State University, situated in Baton Rouge which is 50 miles away from Lafayette.  Pincince seemed to imply that I must be behind the petition. In reality, I had nothing to do with it.” Besides, Kak is in DANAM, the very same organization that dozens of RISA scholars plan to attend in order to be seen as distancing from Hindu-bashing. The contradictions and double standards that escaped the attention of RISA’s peers seem to suggest that these peers might suffer from attention deficit.

    Fourth, to establish the “motive” behind the petition, he superimposed what has now become a standard and over-done syndicated “theory”: “So, I would imagine the issue is related less to Ganesa’ state of affairs (e.g. “limp,” “flaccid”) and more a part of a larger campaign for the “self-defense of ‘Hinduism’” in the face of ‘attack’ by Western scholars (the new colonial gaze) and problematic Muslims (the feared ‘other’).”

    Cynthia Humes posted a friendly note to John Pincince:[37] Greetings. Thanks for this post, John, but folks should bear in mind that Rajiv Malhotra is not in favor of the petition in question, and his financial support for dialogue efforts between Hindu laity and western scholarship is a matter of public record. yrs, Cynthia.”

    Note that she focused on my “financial support” for dialogue with the Hindu “laity,” but failed to acknowledge my intellectual positions on academic issues, although she is well aware of them. Nevertheless, her intentions were good, even if she has not yet moved past the veil of maya separating the unwashed “laity” from the “scholar” jati.

    Despite Humes’ clarifying remarks, John Richard Pincince’s demonology continued:[38] [H]ere is what Rajiv Malhotra wrote re: ‘Infinity Foundation’: ‘Many of its projects strive to upgrade the portrayal of India’s civilization in the American education system and media. This involves both challenging the negative stereotypes and also establishing the many positive contributions from India’s civilization.’” Pincince includes a few links to my writings, most notably the rather well-read, “Wendy’s Child Syndrome,” and“The Axis of Neocolonialism.[39]

    In the fifth and final step, he simply pronounced his conclusion – without even making any attempt to justify his conclusion – based on my articles cited: “I would not call this an attempt to bridge the gap in “understanding” between so-called ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ perspectives, a form of discourse exemplifying ‘neo-Orientalism’ more than that derided by the articles mentioned above.”

    Not only do these articles of mine have no bearing on what he is trying to establish, they represent a tiny portion of what The Infinity Foundation has done. His approach is equivalent to citing one or two articles published by a university and reaching a sweeping conclusion about its “activities and pursuits.”

    The conclusion that he claims from this “examination” is something that he did not establish at all. He wrote: “And, there appears to be some sort of ideological affinity between ‘Infinity Foundation’, it’s contributors (names I included in my previous post), and the sort of ‘petitions’ like the Courtright and Thapar ones.”

    But here are some dramatic facts: John Richard Pincince is a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii. Yet his examination into The Infinity Foundation fails to identify the programs that Infinity has sponsored at the University of Hawaii since the mid 1990s. The single largest set of grants cumulatively given by The Infinity Foundation to anyone has gone to the University of Hawaii, where Pincince is a graduate student, and yet he does not mention it in his demonology of the foundation.

    A partial listing of The Infinity Foundation’s activities at the University of Hawaii is at: . These activities have included conferences, talks by eminent scholars, stipends for graduate research, and grants for faculty research. The well-known Prof. Eliot Deutsch has been personally involved in overseeing these activities.

    Especially noteworthy is Wendy Doniger’s talk in Hawaii sponsored by The Infinity Foundation. (See )

    Whether Pincince is plain incompetent or plain prejudiced, the implication is the same – RISA gets disgraced every time it allows fools to use its forum, which is guarded by chowkidars determined to exclude views that expose RISA’s Demonology of Hindus.

    Since Courtright criticizes those who selectively quoted from his book, is the selective misquoting by Pincince to be exempted from criticism?

    RISA must establish academic standards:

    A major complaint that I have had against RISA has been its refusal to give the other side an equal say in the discourse – because of its monopolistic control over the academic distribution channels on Indic religions. The above instances of asymmetry unfolded right before everyone’s eyes, and yet the scholars did nothing, in effect making a mockery out of their proclamations of “civil” conduct.

    Using such incidents as a barometer, one shudders to think how much false academic reporting there could be in some scholars’ work with Indian villagers and pandits. The Indian native informants do not get to read what is published after the scholar returns back to the West, and, even if they were to find out, they lack the power, the self-confidence and the means to protest in any manner at all. If this is how badly a member of the Diaspora is treated right before academic peers, one should not place much confidence in the field work of such scholars since there is seldom any credible and neutral witness to attest that their data is authentic.

    Therefore, it is important for RISA to establish clear policies, such as on the following matters of methodology:

    1. What is the RISA policy on guilt-by-association? If a RISA member belongs to institution X (which could be their University or Church, for instance), to what extent is the person guilty by association with every other member of X? Furthermore, if an article posted at a web site of institution X has a bibliography listing of another person Y then is every member of X guilty by third/fourth level indirect association with Y? In addressing these, RISA must bear in mind that if Pincince’s methodology was applied to RISA members, every Catholic in RISA would have to be accused of the child molesting cases in the Catholic Church. One can see how this policy could implicate just about everyone in RISA by association with their universities, Marxist seminaries, synagogues, churches and temples.

    1. What is the hermeneutical role of guilt-by-association”? Once guilt-by-association has been established pursuant to Policy #1 above, what is its relevance in the examination of a propositionwhose author is deemed guilty-by-association? In other words, are propositions to be examined independently of their authors or not? Again, this must be consistently applied to RISA members with the same standard as to outsiders.
    2. Can/should the scholars be psychoanalyzed? I see nothing wrong with using the same psychoanalysis techniques to inquire whether the scholar could be projecting his own fantasies on to the Indian cultural psyche. Since the writer(s) of the Ganesha narratives are unknown to us, the scholar could not possibly be making psychoanalytical claims about them. Therefore, he must be making claims about the psyche of the billions of people to whom such narratives have appeared meaningful for millennia. Keeping this in mind, it is plausible that the scholar could have a limp phallus complex about his own body? Could he have been abused as a child by someone with a potbelly who ate sweets and who performed oral sex, leading him to subconsciously superimpose this on to Ganesha’s imagery? Is it conceivable that, as a child, the scholar might have had some sexual encounters with his mother, in competition with his father’s harder penis, and that this latent unfulfilled fantasy now gets superimposed as the interpretation of Ganesha competing with his father, Shiva?

    These policies would help establish transparency that would be critical in any RISA campaign to revive its tainted image.

    IX. Reality begins to sink in

    Finally, there were courageous interventions on RISA-I as well. It must have taken special courage and conviction for Ram-Prasad to write his very extensive and thoughtful piece on RISA-l that covered many issues. His post best reflects my own views on the RISA Lila[40]. I shall summarize each of his main points individually, as they deserve careful reading.

    On the strange silence of Hindu scholars who are RISA members: “[I]t has struck me how few [discussants here] have been scholars of Hindu origin. Are there so few people of Hindu cultural background on the list? If so, it does speak, one way or another, of some fundamental problems of scholarship and representation…If not, I am intrigued by the silence, for it must say something about the complexity of their personal positions?”

    Ram rightfully rejects a ban on the book, while claiming his identity as a brahmin Hindu scholar. Then he asks directly: “Can there be some understanding, without acceptance, of where some of this [protest] is coming from?”

    Ram has the courage to be able to put Motilal’s decision in a bigger context, one that also puts the spotlight on Western publishers and media: “On MBDL – which publisher, which TV station, which cinema, which media outlet now sensibly stands against intense campaigns directed at a product in their charge? Remember Penguin and the Satanic Verses? Numberless cinemas and the Last Temptation of Christ? And so it goes…let those who boycott boycott; but let those who don’t, not.”

    I wish that Hindu leaders would pay close attention to Ram’s criticism of how Hindus are responsible for having neglected serious scholarship about their own tradition: “It’s true that Western Indians have pushed themselves into a strange place in which high standards of professional education have combined with ignorance of and engagement with their ancestral traditions (only very recently and rarely do I get British Hindus taking Religious Studies at Lancaster, because they are all off to become doctors and engineers and management consultants). So they [Indians] do not find themselves usually able to intervene in the way that western scholars demand.”

    At the same time, he is quick to point out that the common Christians have refused to get reduced to the status of passive consumers, in the way the academy might expect of Hindus: “But a similar demand [of academic sophistication] by theologians from Christians in the west would be treated as intellectual snobbery and castigated as such! (Note that I am not saying that lay Hindu interventions are therefore to be treated as intellectual respectable just for that reason – only that there ought to be an awareness of the problem of expecting them to be invariably intellectual in the first place). To invite those who disagree with Courtright’s reading of Ganesa to write their own version is, I suspect (and I say this with great respect for a wonderful scholar, Patrick O), perhaps to miss the point?”

    Ram urges his colleagues in the academy to treat Hindu conservatism on par with religious conservatism in the West, with the critical difference that there is much less self-representation in the case of Hindus:

    “Deeply reactionary apologetics is not something confined to elements of the Hindu community (in America, or in India itself), as the well-explored literature on fundamentalism, evangelism and their relationship with political conservatism has shown. The difference is that there has not been either the critical mass or the structural opportunity for Hindus of that ‘right-wing’ cast… to develop programmes and forums comparable to Christian fundamentalism in America. Now, I would guess that practically every western member of the list would be deeply resistant to such fundamentalisms – but I am suggesting that the analytic understanding of reactionary and/or fundamental Christian politics be extended to Hindutva in the west. Given the lack of a developed, self-sustaining and politically sufficient power-base, there is bound to be a confrontational exploration of possibilities for self-expression by those feeling alienated, mis-represented and insulted by the academy. (Where are the Hindu equivalents for the journals, the presses, the radio and television stations, the universities even, the political power-bases, that many Christian groups, some surprisingly moderate in their theology, use to inveigh against and counter the perceived excesses of liberal theology?)”

    Ram makes no secret about the privileged position occupied by Westerners in the study of Hinduism:“’Western’ scholars alone are entrusted with writing in the New York Times or the (London) Times Literary Supplement, again and again – and we ask ourselves, is it just that none of us is really good enough to be asked to write about our culture and our philosophies, or is it something else…”

    He openly expresses his sensitivities as a Hindu: “I found much of the Ganesa book rigorous and useful, but was disquietened (for all that I come from a Sri Vaisnava family!) by the psychoanalytic passages. See, this was a matter of speculation; not something falsifiable through counter-argument…But here too, I asked myself, is it just some primeval Hindu reflex that I do not feel exhilarated or even enlightened by this interpretation, or is it something else…There are conflicts here, between…the academic process of review and recognition on the one hand, and the vast asymmetries of access, exposure and privilege that still mark non-western efforts to have a voice in the west.”

    Ram’s final advice to his peers is to understand where the Diaspora is coming from: “…I respectfully suggest that the vigor of your convictions could perhaps be leavened by an understanding of those who perhaps perceive their stake in the matter differently…”

    Another much-needed balanced voice in the discussion was that of Ramdas Lamb:[41]Can we question nothing any other scholar writes? Clearly, if we wrote nothing that offended anyone, there would soon be no books at all, but at the same time, should we not consider the implications and value of what we write?What happened to the emphasis in academia on cultural awareness and sensitivity? I thought that is one of the concepts we are supposed to teach at liberal academic institutions. Is it that we just teach it, but not actually practice it? I guess we should not let the views of Hindus get in our way…Another [RISA scholar] labeled me an “anti-free speech Hindu fundamentalist” for my comments…For a long time, people have looked at academics as residents of an ivory tower, out of touch with “the real world.” If our research does not reflect reality, then we are out of touch. If our writings are not relevant to the people and traditions about whom we write, then we also make ourselves irrelevant.”

    Ram’s position emboldened Professor Rambachan, a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who is the head of Arsha Vidya Gurukulum, to make very important and helpful comments:[42]

    As a Hindu scholar…if we delight in representing our tradition as one that encourages the freedom of inquiry and discussion, we must not condone measures, directly or indirectly, that limit such freedom, even when the fruits are not to our liking. If we affirm the universal relevance of the Hindu tradition, our notions of “ownership” must be examined critically. At the same time, a faith-community has a right to express its thoughts and feelings about our scholarship, without everyone being branded as fanatical extremists, as a reminder to us that the subject of our study is a living sacred tradition in which deep emotions and meanings are invested. Scholarly discernment is required also to know the pain of those whose traditions we make the object of our study.

    Hopefully…we [scholars] will embrace the opportunity to thoughtfully consider the broader issues involved. How can our exercise of academic freedom be balanced with sensitive responsiveness to concerns of the faith community and its self-understanding? How are such concerns relevant or irrelevant to our scholarly pursuits? How can dialogue between these two communities be facilitated in order that the nature of the academic study of religion be properly represented and mutual stereotyping, suspicion and mistrust, so evident in these exchanges, be overcome?

    Laurie Patton echoed this new thinking in RISA: “I also think we might think about how we might write differently, too. Who is our audience and readership and how do we focus on the balance between freedom and offence?” She asked: “How does the Internet contribute to the problem, and how does it help? How can the issue of offence be dealt with in a constructive and positive way, through mechanisms which do their best to avoid unnecessary suffering?” She concluded with hope that lessons would be learnt: “I am hoping this episode, which is far from over, and which is so sad and hurtful to everyone on all sides, can be turned around for new and hopeful conversations in precisely this vein.”

    Once Ram-Prasad had let the genie out of the bottle, it triggered the watershed event. Paul Courtright acknowledged his own change of perspective: “One of the things that has been painful for me in the controversy around my book is that I wrote it over twenty years ago, in a different discursive environment than we have now.” Courtright goes on to explain that “were I writing that book today I would, hopefully, be more aware of how it might be read by some Hindu readers in both India and its diasporas.”

    After hurling so many insults at me over the past few years, RISA scholars finally seemed to heed my call to stop treating Hindus as native informants and to start to interact with them as equals. It was a new position from Courtright when he went on to write on RISA-l: “In the early 1980s, when I wrote my book, the audiences for our work were much less interactive than they are now. I think there would be value in featuring a RISA or Hinduism Group panel on the issue of changes in audiences and how to think better in advance about how we present our scholarly work today. I hope we will think carefully about the methodological applications of the sorts of concerns Professor Rambachan articulates and develop more nuanced hermeneutical approaches to our research and writing.”

    Once Paul Courtright had opened this door, other voices of reason from within the Western academic system spoke up in a constructive manner. On November 6th, Constantina Rhodes Bailly, Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College, wrote:

    Dear RISA colleagues,

    As Paul has graciously pointed out, if he had written the book today, some of the issues would be framed differently than they had twenty years ago. One of the interesting and disturbing points here is that what is happening with Paul’s book and with “Hindu Studies” is happening in other areas of religious studies as well. Similar and perhaps even more heated debates are going on, for example, in Native American studies. In our RISA discussions, there has been mention of the possible origins of such sentiments against the way we Western scholars approach the study of “other” religions, but much of it seems to be heated and volatile reactions against particular works, and the objections are mostly coming from non-academics.

    Aside from the diatribes against our approaches that come from non-academic writers, there are references to (unnamed) writers (scholars?) who approach the issue of subaltern and post-colonial studies. I would like to read these works to acquire a more systematic understanding of what native Hindu scholars are saying about how non-Hindus do scholarship. Who are the “respected” writers on post-colonialism? I don’t think I’ve seen any such writers mentioned by name on our list. Can anyone recommend any such writers and/or their works? And would we want to invite them to join any such panel that seems to be in the process of formulation? Or is this just a naive assumption on my part??

    The postcolonial critique has not been allowed to have much impact on Hinduism Studies thus far – perhaps, a case of departmental turf protection? But there must also be caution because many postcolonial scholars are out of sympathy with religion, especially with Hinduism, and might not approve of their work being applied to defend Hindu perspectives.

    What must be understood in this welcome soul-searching that appears to have started in RISA is that American Hinduism is a minority religion in America, and that it deserves the same treatment that is already being given to other American minority religions – such as Native American, Buddhist, Islamic – by the academy. The subaltern studies depiction of Hinduism as being dominant religion of India must, therefore, be questioned in the American context.

    Graham Schweig posted on RISA-l the forthcoming DANAM 2003 program, designed and sponsored by the Hindu Diaspora to foster intellectual dialogue between scholars and the community of Indic traditions. This event now assumes new significance – as the vehicle for redemption-by-association. As a Diaspora, we have come a long way over the past three years, and the academy must start to take non-academic intellectual positions more seriously and less arrogantly than before.

    The irony is that the DANAM program features many speakers who have been demonized on this very RISA-l discussion, and consistently in many other academic forums. Pincince considered an article by Subhash Kak that was posted on an Infinity Foundation web site as his “evidence” for demonizing me personally, but would he now like to similarly condemn all those in RISA who are lining up to attend the DANAM event? Or are the rules different now that Courtright has blessed the need for change? Is RISA behaving like a cult that follows the latest bandwagon? Attending the DANAM event is now important symbolically for RISA members.

    But RISA must also confront yet another featured speaker at DANAM, Mona Vijaykar, a Hindu activist from California, who wrote off-line: “Westerners are careful not to hurt the sentiments of Muslims, even if they privately ridicule them. Hindu death threats in the petition are as hollow as the menacing look of a toddler with a plastic sword.” Vijaykar then went to on explain the importance of the spontaneity of Hindu activism: “As a ‘self-styled’ activist, I know that I hardly popped up but gradually evolved from a disgruntled immigrant to one who was forced to take things into her own hands. It is a matter of pride that there are so many Indians who have taken the initiative to form groups all over the country.”

    George Sudarshan, emeritus physicist of considerable renown, is another well-known non-RISA scholar with a publicly pro-Hindu stance, and he, too, is on the DANAM speaker list.

    Professor Pappu is another DANAM speaker, and here is yet another conflict that RISA must face: Pappu’s bi-annual Vedanta Conferences have been sponsored by The Infinity Foundation since the late 1990s. Finally, I am on the panel at DANAM as well[43].

    So what does the DANAM event do to the hermeneutics of guilt-by-association that has become so central to many RISA-ologists? On the one hand, it is a must-attend event, because the RISA big-wigs have made a beeline for it, and the rest of the cult must follow. On the other hand, DANAM’s very existence came about to bring out voices that have been abused or suppressed by RISA directly or indirectly. Will all RISA attendees also have to be demonized as guilty for attending DANAM? If not, should RISA offer retribution to Diaspora members who have been abused by it based on guilt-by-association? From guilt-by-association, it has changed to redemption-by-association.

    Fred Smith continued to push open the new door wider, as RISA’s old guard realized that there was a new reality to deal with, and that the days of their neocolonial chauvinism and Hindu-bashing arrogance seemed to be drawing to a close. Smith wrote:

    As Constantina pointed out, this proprietary stance towards the study of religion is not something indigenous to recent South Asia. Brown’s book (reviewed recently in the NY Times) addresses Native American religion, though the ramifications clearly go much further. To set our own situation in a broader academic context, I would like to suggest a series of interrelated panels at next year’s AAR, dealing with these issues in different regional and conceptual areas of religious discourse (e.g., South Asian religion, Japanese or African religions, gay and lesbian issues, etc.).

    It is important to note the change in language that has taken place: For the first time in RISA’s history, to the best of my knowledge, the Diaspora voices are not being branded as saffronists, Hindutva fanatics, fascists, chauvinists, dowry extortionists, Muslim killers, nun rapists, Dalit abusers, etc. One has to wait and see whether this is temporary or permanent.

    Pratap Kumar joined this soul-searching bandwagon as well: “Paul is right in identifying the “changes in audiences” in today’s class rooms and also in society who read the academic books. In my humble view, it is not so much that the earlier audience was “less interactive” as Paul suggests, but rather there is a new audience who are not merely scholars but practitioners…Secondly, there is growing concern in our contemporary world about the way “west” in general depicts the non-western world… One thing that must happen, if we need to progress in our scholarly endeavors, is that there should be more interaction and contact between scholars from outside and from within. The intent of the Delhi conference in December 18-21 is precisely about this and to enable Indian scholars to create linkages with their non-Indian scholars from the outside. Hopefully the intended goal of creating a more structured Indian Association for the Study of Religion will have been achieved during this important meeting. Those of you who might be there should become active participants in the endeavour.”

    The following is yet another challenge to RISA’s practitioners of demonology by association: The Delhi conference on Indic Religions, in December 2003, that Pratap Kumar recommends scholars to attend, has The Infinity Foundation as its major sponsor. Furthermore, certain US based academic scholars with considerable power vested in them by virtue of institutional affiliations had made phone calls complaining to the Indian organizers of this conference, and pressured scholars to boycott it because it was “tainted” by The Infinity Foundation’s sponsorship. The conference plans proceeded despite these persistent threats of censorship by the scholars. Today, the Delhi conference is positioned as large and prestigious, thanks to the hard work of CSDS, and the very same scholars are now feel compelled to attend it and erase their earlier attempts to boycott it.

    XI. The Myths of RISA

    If Wendy Doniger pursues what I consider to be her most significant potential area of inquiry, there could be a major breakthrough in the study of Western culture. For, she more than any other scholar today, has promoted the theory that culture is a playing out of ancient myths and archetypes, and the human actors unconsciously perform imagining being free agents.

    So far, she has trained her children to apply this mainly to Hindu myths and modern culture. But she could also inspire scholars to apply the same theory in the reverse direction, i.e. to interpret contemporary “liberal” culture, such as the behavior exemplified by some RISA members.

    Below are some archetypes to interpret this RISA Lila in terms of Biblical myths that appear tosubconsciously drive many RISA scholars’ behavior, despite professing secularism. “Liberals” hate the thought of being associated with such George Bushisms as “Good versus Evil”. But because these archetypes operate subliminally, one cannot blame the scholars, who are, after all, not aware of these behavior patterns.

    One close Christian friend and academic scholar of religion read this essay and pointed out that she considered this entire section to be a matter of “ridicule” and “cheap shots” against her faith. But, it is precisely this kind of scholarship that is being applied to the interpretation of Hindu myths, for which the Wendy School has become so famous, and has won awards and prestigious appointments. My friend’s emotional outburst against what she considers to be a “tendentious caricature” of Christianity is telling for two reasons: (i) It goes to show how much psychoanalysis is yet to be done to interpret modern Western society in terms of Biblical myths. (ii) It demonstrates how similar ordinary Hindus and Christians (including secular Christian scholars) are when it comes to such emotional reactions concerning their respective faiths. My friend is quick to point out that “two wrongs do not make a right,” so I apologize in advance if there are any hurt feelings cause by what follows below.

    At the same time, many Christian and Jewish friends and scholars have complemented this section as the best part of this essay, and have expressed great interest in further pursuing its proposed research ideas.

    The absolute nature of Evil:

    In Hinduism, the essence of every self is the Ultimate Reality and Supreme Being – “Thou art that” – and the equivalent of Evil is avidya (ignorance) that masks this truth. On the other hand, in the Bible, because of the Original Sin of Adam-Eve, every human being is condemned to Eternal Damnation. The contrast could not be greater: The self is the Original Divinity in Hinduism, and the self is the Original Sinner in Abrahamic religions. The cosmology of God versus Satan in the Bible divides everything into Good/Evil essences that play out on Earth. By contrast, Ishvara in Hinduism has no external enemy, and everything is internalized with no “other” to blame.

    For instance, in the Mahabharata, the enemies are not “Evil”, but are simply people like us – in fact, our relatives – who are violating the dharma and must be fought. Therefore, in the evenings, when the war is in “pause” mode, the elders from the warring sides meet in harmony to have intellectual discussions, and remain above the animosities. In Abrahamic cultures, the “other” is essentialized as Evil in an absolute manner and “fraternizing with the enemy” is a crime in its own right.

    In the case of RISA, this archetype makes it problematic for most scholars to work with the Diaspora Hindu “others”. It has made it difficult for RISA leaders to appreciate why I wish to engage in intellectual discourse with them while at the same time disagreeing with them, not essentializing them as Evil but as ignorant and selfish.

    The Chosen People:

    While at first only the Jews were given “chosen people” status by God, He later amended his rules and extended the offer to all human beings, provided they accepted the History of God’s one Son on Earth as unique and unquestionable. This offer by God operates as a sort of opt-in history club, where belief in the specific history – as memorialized in the charter of the club – is the sole basis for one’s Redemption upon death and entitlement to a condominium in Heaven forever.

    Recently, (pseudo) intellectualism, based on the liberal arts and humanities, spun off as another elitist club where membership is based on acceptance and use of certain “theories” that are always by Europeans and that privilege Eurocentric ideas as being universal.

    Some RISA scholars have built fortresses to remain separate from the Hindu “laity,” such that any engagements with the latter are depicted as being a big favor on the part of the scholars.

    Martyrdom and Victimhood:

    Most Christian saints were martyrs – killed by Evil others – whereas in Hindu-Buddhist history, saints were always living saints and not because they died in action in “Good against Evil” battles. Related to this is the archetype of victimhood, where a Good Victim” is glorified and becomes a role model. Jesus is history’s most famous victim, central to God’s own personal plan for humanity.

    This archetype has played out in Western society in the form of glorifying victimhood as a sign of being “Good”. A major industry in the US is for rich lawyers to help “victims,” defined as anyone who had coffee spilled on them, or had “emotional damage,” or is upset at others for some reason that qualifies for litigation. There are over a million such lawsuits annually in USA. These lawyers outspend all other categories of advertisers in yellow pages advertising. They secure their clients “Retribution,” which is another Biblical archetype.

    Therefore, Western human rights activists, and non-Westerners trained and funded by them, go around the world creating new categories of “victims” that can be used in divide-and-conquer strategies against other cultures. In India’s case, the largest funding of this type goes to middlemen who can deliver narratives about “abused” Dalits and native (especially Hindu) women.

    Victim glorification in Western culture extends beyond humans. Every year, before Thanksgiving Day, US television broadcasts video clips of the turkey that has been chosen as the White House Thanksgiving Dinner Turkey. It is presented as a great honor to be eaten at the White House. Television commercials for Sunkist Tuna show a fish explaining how proud it is to be worthy of being canned in a Sunkist can, because not every fish would qualify.

    In almost every encounter that I have had with RISA, they are quick to adopt the “victim” role. In fact, this was the biggest weapon that was used in this RISA Lila to end the petition: The small handful of “threats” by anonymous persons was ignored for too long by those responsible for the petition, because they did not understand the politics of victimhood. The interjection by Shiv Sena was another bad event as it enhanced the “scholar victim” sympathy factor. Hindus leaders must understand the myths that drive others’ subliminal behavior, and must learn to think strategically.

    Any means for Good to defeat Evil is justified:

    The Biblical meaning of human life is expressed in narratives about fighting on God’s “Good” side to defeat Satan’s “Evil” side. By contrast, Hindu and Buddhist philosophies do not have any Satan “out there”. This Biblical archetype has played out in history as Good versus Evil political theory, and is nowadays being used to justify taking control over the world’s oil supply in order to put it in the “Good” hands.

    Likewise, Pincince, Brown, Zydenbos and some others are seen by many RISA colleagues as justified in fabricating whatever it takes for the sake of defeating the “Evil” Hindu Diaspora. It naturally follows that the “Good” side’s methods are not to be subject to ethical scrutiny. The end justifies the means – hence, the silence when RISA violates its own rules for “civil” conduct.

    Freedom of the Good side to conquer the Earth:

    It is God’s ultimate wish that the Good (being God’s People) shall rule. In this day and age, the distribution channels by which knowledge gets filtered, selected, packaged, positioned, and spread into every corner of society are the most important institutions that the Good People must control in order to rule.

    Hence, Motilal Banarsidas, as the only non-Western major academic-grade publishing channel on Indology, must be brought under the control of the Good People of RISA.

    Motilal is to be allowed freedom only so long as it performs what the RISA scholars want. The moment it exerts its own commercial independence in the same manner as every Western publisher does, it is to be bombed out of existence, just as “democracy and freedom” are to be imposed upon another country even against its own will. Freedom only applies to the Good side.

    Original Sin and guilt-by-association:

    The Original Sin in the Bible caused all humans worldwide to be declared “condemned”, as guilty-by-association. In the centuries-long witch-hunting by the Church in Europe, any association with any condemned symbol, organization, relationship – no matter how indirect or casual – was grounds to be persecuted by the Church, whose police powers would make today’s Islamic fatwas look benign by comparison.

    One of the sure ways to condemn someone was to charge that he or she had had sexual intercourse with the Devil. The Inquisition would then pry into the most intimate imaginable details of the guilty-by-association accused person. The burden to prove his or her innocence was only rarely achieved.

    Demonology as the hermeneutics of guilt-by-association:

    The Church theologians perfected a sophisticated tool-box of intellectual devices to prove guilt-by-association, and this became known as Demonology.

    The Wicca religion was the first to be demonized, and the language started to reflect this. This is why “wicked” (from wicca) has an evil connotation, because it is a description of the Wicca people. Witches are now considered to be bad, suspect and outright dangerous, but at one time they were simply priestesses of pre-Christian European religions.

    Tour guides in Romania inform visitors that Count Dracula was a very nice ruler who did a lot for his people. But his enemies demonized him so successfully that today his name is synonymous with Evil.

    The thugs were a jati in India that fought against the British very fiercely and violently, and the British classified them officially as a “criminal tribe.” Today, their jati’s name is commonly accepted as a pejorative that means being criminal.

    Human rights activist Vandana Shiva describes how the West demonized the “beedi” child-labor to fill the pockets of multinationals.

    Veena Oldenburg’s book, Dowry Murder, explains how the British demonized native culture by blaming it for all sorts of social problems that were not caused by the culture, and, in fact, in many cases, were caused by the British. This enabled them to enact new “human rights” laws to save the natives from Indian culture, and, in the process, to expropriate massive amounts of property in India.

    Today, Christian evangelists openly say that Hindu deities are demons.

    Many Hindu gurus – such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Muktananda and others – have become demonized by RISA scholars. This is a part of the Evil Brahmin Conspiracy Theory that is often the meta-narrative of certain RISA scholarship, in an attempt to demonize the Sanskrit traditions and texts. Under the pretence of using what is a discredited Freudian analytic framework, many attributes of Hindu deities are given a heavy pornographic gloss by many RISA scholars.

    Numerous examples from the RISA-l archives demonstrate how Demonology principles get applied today, even by supposedly liberal and secular scholars. While untouchability has been outlawed in India, it seems to have become reincarnated in RISA. Demonology is the method being used to create new untouchables. Individuals and institutions that challenge RISA’s hegemony are to be demonized and turned into untouchables.

    The strategy behind RISA’s Demonology is to try to brand Diaspora opponents as untouchables, so that others will fear association with them.

    For example, Jack Hawley of Barnard College has – with the help of Indian students under his direction – branded me as the “rich Rajiv Malhotra” who he accuses of buying up scholars with money and using money to “construct a new Hinduism” that would not be embarrassing. Prior demonology has tried to turn Subhash Kak and others into untouchables, and now Pincince attempted to use guilt-by-association with Kak to also turn The Infinity Foundation into another untouchable. The strategy behind all this is to discourage RISA scholars from working with the foundation.

    Physical genocides are unlawful, but turning the Hindu Diaspora into a metaphorical Evil/Untouchable has become a highly prized skill in RISA today.

    Appropriation of symbolic capital:

    Another kind of takeover by the Good side is of symbols of conquered (Evil) peoples. Many pagan symbols such as the “Christmas” tree, “Easter” eggs, etc. were hijacked even as the pagans were genocided. Native Americans have successfully sued in US courts to put a stop to the appropriations and distortions of their symbols for all sorts of frivolous uses – sports team names, etc. – by a culture which the Native Americans regard as the reason for their genocide.

    Likewise, yoga, meditation and Bharat Natyam are among the latest Hindu symbols being rapidly taken over by Christianity, while in parallel, other sacred symbols – such as Ganesha – that cannot be Christianized are being denigrated into oblivion. This dynamic must be examined in the context of symbols as a form of capital. What can be appropriated as positive serves to boost the portfolio of the conqueror, and what remains unavailable is trashed so as to turn it into a liability of the other side.

    Ramdas Lamb explained this as follows[44]“Western academia rightly claims to promote multicultural awareness. Additionally, however, it also has the potential and tendency to promote a hegemonic Westernized globalization, in which it picks and chooses which aspects of other cultures are to be considered acceptable and which aspects can be denigrated and rejected at will. In this way, some elements of Western scholarship not only ignore other cultures’ self views, but express a disdain for them in much the same way as the colonialists of the past.” I have previously called this “academic arson,” and developed The U-Turn Theory to explain it.

    AAR 2002 had as its major presentation a Christianized Bharat Natyam dance (featuring the story of Jesus/Mary). Prof. Arti Dhand and another young Indian woman – both heavily dressed in native costumes – were displayed as “good” Hindus who appreciated this. Dhand then gave a remarkable paper that was a response to a Hindu group’s complaints over the Christianized performance. (My assumption is that the group was HICAD, but I cannot be sure.) Her central thesis was that the dance technique and symbolism are in the public domain for anyone to claim, and that she, as a Hindu, approved of Christianizing the dance because the “only thing that mattered” was the genuineness of feelings with which it was performed. Since the dancer’s feelings were sincere, she said, the Christian Bharat Natyam was a good thing. The audience gave her a big applause.

    However, Dhand’s analysis of what was going on was too narrow and shallow. The broader canvas required to contextualize the issue seemed to have escaped her completely. She did not start with a good purva-paksha in the first place.

    Symbols are a form of capital – see Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of cultural capital for more background. Competing civilizations hijack opponents’ symbols to boost their own capital, and denigrate others’ symbols to lower others brand value. This principle is known to anyone with even a rudimentary background in any competitive field, such as marketing. To make her position tenable, an assumption that becomes necessary is that religions and cultures are not competitors against each other, but this assumption was not even acknowledged by her, much less proven.

    Since Christianity has a public strategy to aggressively “harvest Hindu souls” and has allocated several billions of dollars of budget to accomplish this, and since Christianity fields a massive sales force with quantitative measures of performance (such as dollars per conversion achieved), it seems facile for academic scholars of RISA to ignore the reality of competition.

    Once the competition between religions – which is a Christian mandate and independent of whether Hindus want to compete or not – is put on the academic table for examination, the impact of appropriating symbols/techniques from the other while denigrating the other at the same time is too central to be dismissed simply as a matter of whether the thief did his deed with “sincere feelings.”

    Why Ganesha is a strategic target of Demonology:

    The denigration of sacred symbols serves to embarrass young impressionable Hindus, so that they feel pressured to dilute their Hindu identities. Ganesha is a very strategic symbol in this regard. The reason for this may be appreciated from the following historical facts.

    The psychoanalytic hypothesis proposed below is unproven at this stage, but is certainly plausible. Therefore, it is suspicious that no scholar has even tested this hypothesis.

    In the second edition of the widely ready anthology, “Sources of Indian Tradition,” (Columbia University Press, 1988), edited by Stephen Hay, Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856 – 1920) is described by British journalist, Valentine Chirol, as the “Father of Indian Unrest” against British rule. One of Tilak’s major tools was the use of Ganesha as a symbol of nationalist self-assertion against the British:

    “His Marathi style was particularly effective and made a direct appeal to villagers, who would gather to have it read to them. Tilak also promoted in his papers the celebration of two new annual festivals – one dedicated to the Hindu god Ganesha, the other honoring the Maratha hero Shivaji. His purpose in organizing these festivals was to develop in the Maharashtrian people a sense of pride in their common history and religion;” [p.140][45]

    As a member of the Congress, Tilak promoted militancy against the British. He was arrested by the British for “countenancing political assassination,” and was imprisoned for six years in Burma. While in prison, he wrote his magnum opus, a large commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Stephen Hay explains the importance of Tilak’s interpretation of Gita in India’s nationalist activism: “He stressed that Hinduism’s most popular sacred poem preached political as well as religious activity and hinted that violence in a righteous cause was morally justifiable.”

    The psychoanalytic hypothesis is as follows: Subconsciously, Western scholars have a latent aversion to Ganesha because of the role his symbolism played in anti-colonial activity.

    In evaluating this theory, one must consider that Western scholars have recently given Ganesha a Nazi image, clearly with the motive to demonize him.

    Srinivas Tilak discussed this point on RISA-l, but it was simply ignored by the scholars, as if to hush up the issue:[46] I particularly found the cover illustration of Social History of that number [Social History, vol 28, no 2 (May 2003)] very offensive. The illustration is by James Ferguson which first appeared in the Weekend Edition of the Financial Times of May 4, 2002. It shows a very mean looking seated Ganesha wearing Nazi style boots. In one hand he carries a staff which looks like a stop sign with a Christian cross. A line runs through it striking the cross. Across from this sign at the bottom left is Ganesha’s cushion. It has a star and crescent sign on it with the end of Ganesha’s ‘angavastra’ running through it (and crossing it out as it were). The fist of another hand is tightly closed ready to hit. The palm of the third hand is open and about to strike. By the side of Ganesha lies an open book showing a page with the swastika.”

    Clearly, Ganesha has been hijacked in the above symbolism and portrayed as a Nazi demon persecuting Muslims (crescent), Jews (star) and Christians (cross), wearing his Nazi boots.

    Academic scholars often excuse themselves from social responsibility by claiming that their works have very limited readership. But, over time, their ideas and images disperse into society at large, because of the legitimacy given to them by prestigious academic voices. For example, Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, one of the foremost art museums in the US, features some of the rarest and most precious art objects of Asia, and its coffee table book explains the large 11th century Ganesha carving in the collection, as follows:[47] “Ganesa, is a son of the great god Siva, and many of his abilities are comic or absurd extensions of the lofty dichotomies of his father.” And then goes on to say: “Ganesa’s potbelly and his childlike love for sweets mock Siva’s practice of austerities, and his limp trunk will forever be a poor match for Siva’s erect phallus.”

    US Museums are mainstream distribution channels in disseminating ideas about culture. Journalists, schoolteachers, kids, parents and public officials go to museums. They assume that what they see there is an authentic portrayal, and what they learn there gets assimilated as part of their long-term attitudes and biases.

    Anthropology of RISA:

    Rather than focusing on Courtright, I have examined the behavior of many RISA scholars as another opportunity to do anthropological analyses on scholars of Hinduism in the Western academy. Clearly, much more work needs to be done in this regard and this essay is a humble beginning.

    A serious Hindu (and in fact, Indian) intellectual failure for the past several centuries has been in not studying and developing theories of “others.” When others attacked us, often we were confused about whether they really were others, whether we were to blame for our predicament, whether these others were really helping us, and miscellaneous excuses to justify not doing anything. This is a very common reaction from many Indians even today, when such discomforting matters are brought to their attention.

    Yet, every Indian cricket team studies its opponents, India’s army researches its opponents, Indian diplomats theorize about the other side prior to negotiations, Indian businesses do competitor research, Indian political parties have elaborate frameworks to understand other parties, and the Indian darshana systems were built on intensely debating competing darshanas systematically. Therefore, one cannot say that Indians are inherently uncompetitive. Certainly, in their jobs and businesses, Indians are fierce competitors.

    The problem could be that the preachers of Hinduism have focused exclusively on moksha dharma, and neglected the teaching of pravitti-marga – life in the mundane world where others exist and are to be engaged. Yet, others are a central part of the teachings of the Mahabharata.

    XI. (Re) negotiating our place in globalization

    An alternative to the use of myths would be to model this Lila as the great RISA-Diaspora Power Game:What is happening is not about intellectual positions of genuine interest to RISA, but is about the game for individual and collective power to control the discourse, symbols and identities of Indian culture.

    The diagram below illustrates the power structure of the institutions of production, distribution and retailing of knowledge about Indian traditions. It indicates how the power-play hinges on control over the distribution channels.

    The dominant culture’s power is invested in its theories, and the academic gatekeepers are usually loyal to these theories. Conversely, these theories are the source of scholars’ personal power. Therefore, a challenge to the methods and theories is treated as the most serious form of threat imaginable, especially when it comes from free thinkers located outside the institutional framework.

    Theories in the humanities are a form of capital that the contemporary Western academy has increasingly developed and monopolized. They are the lenses through which students are trained to examine cultures. Even most Indians trained in Western scholarship use the Western categories. The journals in which they must publish their works are mostly Westernized in their ideology; the research grants or NGO (non-government organizations) projects they seek come from Western foundations; and the prestigious jobs they seek are with Western or Western sponsored institutions. These theories – a form of unconscious Eurocentrism – are so entrenched that they have become positioned as universal truths.

    Globalization has, in practice, become the Westernization of the globe, because the Western intellectual framework is being promoted as the universal standard. At the same time, Western academia has created its own style of Neocolonialism that has replaced the political colonialism of the past, and non-Western people are being pressured through a variety of means to give up their native identities and frameworks, and to adopt Western identities for advancement. Use of Western theories in one’s discourse is a measure of progress and success. The wider implications of this in cross-cultural and geopolitical terms are an interesting subject to be examined in separate essays.

    XII. Letter from a 14-year old Indian-American schoolgirl

    The following has been published in many Indian-American newspapers, and I quote it in its entirely. It was written by Trisha Pasricha of Houston, TX, a 14-year old schoolgirl, who writes an advice column for kids.


    It’s 8:00 a.m., and students slowly trickle into Mr. West’s 6th grade history class. The majority of the people, including the teacher, are white. One African-American, two Orientals, and myself, a second generation Indian girl, make up the rest of the class.

    On the blackboard is written “World Religions.” As the rest of the class prepares for a boring two hours, I can already feel my stomach sink – what did I do to deserve this?

    We are handed a fill-in-the-blank chart of major world religions and are instructed to look in our books for the answers. Finishing quickly, I hand in my chart to Mr. West at his desk, and turn to leave. “Now wait a minute, you put ‘monotheistic’ down for Hindooism,” he remarks.

    “I know,” I reply, feeling my face burn as the class looks up.

    “Hindoos are polytheistic.”

    “No, they’re not,”

    “Are you a Hindoo?”



    Scattered murmurs break out among my peers, whispering about how freaky Hindus worship elephants and monkeys. Great.

    “Well,” Mr. West says standing up and going to the chalkboard, “from what I understand, Hindoos are all about their caste system.” And he begins a long, irrelevant, and incorrect explanation, which he memorized from our textbook. What does that have to do with being monotheistic? I don’t even bother correcting him, to save myself any more embarrassment. I wanted to get out of there. Fast.

    7th grade starts, and it’s culture day in history. “Both of my parents are Indian–” I begin when it’s my turn. “Do you mean Native American Indian, or Middle Eastern Indian?” my teacher asks. Sounds like it’s going to be another fun year in social studies.

    When 8th grade starts, India and Hinduism are summed up in a few short sentences by the teacher. India is described as filled with pollution, cows, and poverty-stricken people. Hindus love to bathe in rivers where they throw the ashes of their parents and yes, they do worship elephants and monkeys.

    “Do you speak Indian?” I’m asked at least two times a week. “I heard there were two thousand gods and every full moon you had to give a sacrifice to them. Do you do that?” No, I try to explain that all the gods are really aspects of one almighty being. I’ve never sacrificed anything except my dignity, which slowly dwindles with each question.

    The release of popular award-winning books such as Homeless Bird, which portrays the typical Indian girl who is forced to get married at thirteen, didn’t help Indians anywhere. And, who could have guessed, the author hadn’t even been to India! No kidding.

    Six entire chapters in the textbook were devoted to Christianity, whereas one page is given to the history of India and the teachings of Hinduism. A second page is entirely about Lord Shiva, accompanied by a rather unbecoming picture of an ancient dancing Shiva statue. Buddhism gets one paragraph.

    This doesn’t make sense, as most of the school already knows so much about Christianity, but hardly any even knew Buddhism or Hinduism existed. Now that they did, we would be ridiculed publicly. Thank you, Board of Education.

    At last, high school starts. I almost die of shock when I see the 9th grade textbook has devoted an entire 3 sentences to Sikhism and Jainism. It claims Sikhism “combines the Muslim belief of one god with the Hindu belief of reincarnation.”

    Christianity in India and the ever-popular “western influence” get pages and pages of text. One of the main pictures which help represent “typical life in India” is one my fellow students describe as some sort of drag-queen in make-up doing an obscure peacock dance. Out of all the dazzling pictures of Indian culture, that is the one they have to stick in? They chose that one over a picture of, say, the classic Taj Mahal?

    But the fun just gets funnier — the next picture of a sari earns a whole two sentences. Oh, but it’s not an exquisite silk or glittering embroidered sari. Nope, it’s a dirty yellow (perhaps once white) cotton sari worn by an old woman bathing in the Ganges River. In spite of its pollution, “Hindus readily drink and bathe in the Ganges’ water; people even come to die in the river.” To further prove their point, they stick in a picture of a filthy and trash laden section of Ganges, not a clean part, which much of it is.

    I kid you not, upon reading this and looking at the picture, a boy in my class had to be excused to the nurse’s office because his stomach had become queasy.

    Now we come to the sacred cow. They say entire streets are blocked because Hindus don’t want to run over our beloved cow. C’mon, even in America, people aren’t going to just run over a local cow; they’ll find a way to move it or get around it.

    On an ending note, Indians are technologically behind. They fail to mention that we have a space program, nuclear capabilities, and many Indians, believe it or not, have heard of a computer.

    Every day, young desi children and teenagers are unreasonably tormented because of our perceived background. The school textbooks are half the cause. The average American doesn’t know squat about India, and with the help of poorly researched textbooks, they learn nonsense. The sheer embarrassment of the situation is enough to make desi students everywhere wish we could have been “normal” by American standards. Explaining to your peers that you don’t worship a thousand gods like the Greeks; your grandmother doesn’t force you to bathe in dead people’s ashes every full moon; and even though you know how to bhangra, kuchipudi, or whatever it may be, you’ve never danced with a drag-queen, is not fun for any young desi.

    But why do we put up with it? Jewish, African-American, and Orientals all have organizations against defamation and they are represented correctly in the textbooks. Why aren’t we? If Christians can effectively lobby to remove the theory of evolution from school science textbooks, then certainly we should be able to at least correct the blatant misinterpretation of our culture. Reading what you or your child’s Social Studies textbooks says on India and Hinduism and writing a simple letter or e-mail to the editor can make a world of difference for not only you but for thousands of others. A letter to the Board of Education for your district can’t hurt either, since they decide which textbooks will be used. It only takes five minutes of your time, but it can change how you, an Indian, are viewed in society.

    Desis are being ridiculed everywhere in America because of what today’s modern student is learning. It’s not going to change unless we become part of the solution.


    Request to the reader:

    I request the reader to please carefully examine the diagram earlier in the essay. Schools are at the retail level of knowledge dissemination. Changing one school at a time would mean tens of thousands of campaigns. But if you go to the source of all this, it is the scholars who write with great authority, and their books then get used as references to write textbooks, encyclopedias, newspaper articles, television coverage, corporate policies on India, US foreign policy, and so forth.

    If you want to change the dirty tap water, cleaning what comes out of each individual tap would be very inefficient. Going to the source of the town’s water supply and fixing the problem there would be far more efficient.


    [1] October 31, 2003.

    [2] October 30, 2003.

    [3] Private email on October 30th.

    [4] Private email on October 31.

    [5] Private email on October 31.

    [6] Private email on Nov 3rd.

    [7] October 30, 2003.

    [8] Abhinavgupta egroup on Oct 30th

    [9] Private email on October 31.

    [10] Private email on October 31.

    [11] Private email on October 31.

    [12] Private email on October 31.

    [13] Private email on October 31.

    [14] Private email on October 31.

    [15] Private email on November 2nd.

    [16] Private email on November 3rd.

    [17] November 3rd.

    [18] November 1st.

    [19] November 1st.

    [20] November 1st.

    [21] November 2nd.

    [22] November 2nd.

    [23] November 2nd.

    [24] November 3rd.

    [25] On RISA-l on November 3rd.

    [26] November 3rd.

    [27] November 3rd.

    [28] November 3rd.

    [29] November 4th.

    [30] November 4th.

    [31] November 5th.

    [32] Private email on November 5th.

    [33] On RISA-l on November 5th.

    [34] November 5th.

    [35] November 5th.

    [36] November 3rd.

    [37] On November 3rd.

    [38] November 3rd.

    [39] Wendy’s Child Syndrome: and The Axis of Neocolonialism: [40] November 5th.

    [41] November 4th.

    [42] November 6th.

    [43] Unfortunately, family health issues might prevent my attendance.

    [44] November 8th.

    [45] For a balanced assessment of B. G. Tilak’s motivation in starting the public Ganesha festival see his biography by Dhananjay Keer.

    [46] November 7th.

    [47] “Asian Art in The Walters Art Gallery: A Selection,” by Hiram W. Woodward, Jr. Publisher: The Trustees of The Walters Art Gallery, 600 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, p.20.

    RISA Lila – 1: Wendy’s Child Syndrome

    “The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think…Throughout the Mahabharata … Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war…. The Gita is a dishonest book …”

    – Wendy Doniger, Professor of History of Religions, University of Chicago.
    Quoted in Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 November, 2000.[ ]

    In my previous Sulekha column[ ii ], I pointed out that whereas elite colleges in the West teach great respect for Greek and other Western Classics as being the bedrock of their civilization, it has become fashionable for elitist (i.e. Westernized) Indians to denigrate their own Indian Classics. Furthermore, these Indians see their education in Western literature as validating their Western identity (falsely equating modernization with Westernization), and go out of their way in putting down their Indian heritage.

    The present essay deals with yet another important discipline, namely, Religious Studies, which is growing rapidly in the US and in many other countries. Unfortunately, this is not so in India, where a peculiar brand of “secularism” has prevented academic Religious Studies from entering the education system in a serious manner. Therefore, most Indians do not have the necessary competence in this academic field to be able to understand how it differs from both (i) religious instruction that one expects to find in a temple, church or mosque, and (ii) political or popular ideological depictions of religion in the media.

    Article 28.1 of The Constitution of India reads: “No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds.” However, the scholarship and teaching about religion in the academic field of Religious Studies would not violate the intent of this Article, because academic Religious Studies does not preach (i.e. does not “instruct”) any religion, and nor endorse or negate any religion’s claims. Rather, it teaches about the truth-claims[ iii ] made by a given religion, along with its history, its sociology, and so forth. This is an important separation enshrined in the US Constitution also. Nevertheless, “Indian secularism” has prevented the population from becoming educated about the diversity of religions so central to Indian life. This vacuum of authentic knowledge has been filled by unscrupulous elements in many instances.

    This essay’s thrust revolves around the portrayal of India’s religions in the West. Being unable to appreciate how and why academic Religious Studies is different from other activities that might appear similar, most Indians are ignorant of the abuses being caused in the West as a result of (a) the negative stereotyping of Indic traditions, and (b) the misappropriation from Indic traditions while erasing the sources.

    Here is a typical anecdote that illustrates my frustration: I sent an article to an Indian journal about how Hinduism was (mis)portrayed in American academe. The editor was very interested. But the reviewers’ comments were incredibly naïve about the basic structure and nature of the field of Religious Studies — one reviewer was confusing academic Religious Studies with something that Hindu temples or ashrams in USA were already teaching, while the other reviewer wondered why this field was so important in a secular age! When I showed it to Western friends in academics, they found this Indian thinking amusing.

    As with any large academic field, Religious Studies in the US is highly organized, with prestigious journals, chairs and programs of study. To carry out the studies and research, there is a well-defined system that uses the tools and methods that have come to be known as “hermeneutics”. This is the theory of interpretation, especially of religious texts, using a process of deriving new interpretations from a body of text or knowledge, so that (hopefully) our insights about the text or subject keep growing.

    To control and regulate this field pertaining to Indian religions, there is the association known as RISA (Religions In South Asia). RISA is a unit within The American Academy of Religion (AAR), which is the official organization of academic scholars of Religious Studies in the Western world.

    Around fifty years ago, there was a partition of the guild of scholars who studied religion, and two organizations were created: AAR and SBL (Society of Biblical Literature). AAR and SBL maintain very close relations and influences, and hold their annual conferences jointly. While SBL members study and promote the insiders’ view of Judeo-Christianity, AAR members are supposed to pursue the objective view from outside a given tradition and to not promote anything. However, as I have noted many times, outsiders to Hinduism are insiders to Judeo-Christianity, and/or to Western Feminism, and/or to Marxism, and/or to other ideologies, and hence they are not “neutral” as advertised.

    With a membership of over 10,000 scholars — and growing — the AAR has enormous clout over the future direction of Religious Studies, and indirectly, over the humanities at large.

    Because the depictions of India in the West are inseparable from depictions of India’s religious life (something that Indian secularists have tried to wish away unsuccessfully), the work done by RISA scholars has implications that go well beyond the discipline’s boundaries. Religion is prominently featured in South Asian Studies, Asian Studies, International Studies, Women’s Studies, Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology, History, Literature, and Politics, and indirectly also influences Journalism, Film, and so forth. Therefore, the utter ignorance of Indians regarding such a discipline is a major gap that deserves attention and remedy.

    Meanwhile, under Western control, Hinduism Studies has produced ridiculous caricatures that could easily be turned into a Bollywood movie or a TV serial. This Lila[ iv ] of the inner workings of RISA is the subject of this essay. (Readers who are unfamiliar with RISA and AAR should read this essay as a general account of Western academic engagement and control over India-related studies. While the examples given are RISA-specific, the message applies more broadly.)

    Act 1 of the RISA Lila deals with the eroticisation of Hinduism by Wendy Doniger[ ], who is undoubtedly the most powerful person in academic Hinduism Studies today, and by others inspired by her. She is a former President of the American Academy of Religion, now leads Religious Studies at the University of Chicago, chairs many academic and powerful bodies, has two PhDs (from Harvard and Oxford) and is a prolific author. She was also a past President of the very influential Association of Asian Studies.

    The most important leverage she has is that she has given more students their Ph.Ds in Hinduism than any other person in the world and has successfully placed these former students in high-leverage academic jobs throughout the Western world, to carry the torch of her theories and principles of researching Hinduism. There is no place one can go to in this academic discipline without running into the effect of her influence, through her large cult of students, who glorify her in exchange for her mentorship.

    The BBC-linked site introduces her as follows: “Professor Wendy Doniger is known for being rude, crude and very lewd in the hallowed portals of Sanskrit Academics. All her special works have revolved around the subject of sex in Sanskrit texts…” (For a picture of Wendy Doniger, see the footnote.[ vi ])

    In the Annual Convention of the AAR in 2000, Wendy (as she is affectionately known) was felicitated by her fans at a special session in her honor. She has enjoyed building her franchise and sees her own immortality through it[ vii ]. One speaker after another spoke about her great accomplishments. Many persons from the audience joined in — presumably to ensure their tenure, or job, or promotion. Then I raised my hand, and when Wendy acknowledged me, I stood up and asked: “Since you have psychoanalyzed Hinduism and created a whole new genre of scholarship, do you think it would be a good idea for someone to psychoanalyze you, because an insight into your subconscious would make your work more interesting and understandable?

    There was both uneasy tension and laughter in the audience, and she replied that there was nothing new that any psychoanalyst would find about her, because she has not hidden anything. I stood up again, and stated that most clients also tell their psychoanalysts that they have nothing hidden in their mental basement, but that such clients are precisely the most interesting persons to psychoanalyze. She laughed again, took it well, and said, “You got me on this one.” I concluded with a remark that I would predict that research on her own private psychology would get done in the next several years, and that it would become important some day to psychoanalyze many other Western scholars also, since they superimpose their personal and cultural conditioning on their research about other peoples.

    This Act 1 of the RISA Lila begins such an analysis. I wish to clarify that it is not intended to be a generalization applicable to all members of RISA. It deals specifically with one important phenomena in Religious Studies, that I have defined as Wendy’s Child Syndrome. The structure of this Act 1 is to first summarize four examples of recent RISA scholarship of this new genre that is being championed by Wendy’s Children[ viii ]:

    1. Sri Ramakrishna, the 19th century Hindu saint, has been declared by these scholars as being a sexually-abused homosexual, and it has become “academically established” by Wendy Doniger’s students that Ramakrishna was a child molester, and had also forced homosexual activities upon Vivekananda. Furthermore, it has become part of this new “discovery” that Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences, and indeed those of Hindu mystics in general, are pathological sexual conditions that need to be psychoanalyzed as such. Furthermore, these scholars have concluded that the entire Hindu society needs to be psychoanalyzed in terms of sexual deviance, in order to understand modern Indian society and politics objectively.

    1. The Hindu Goddess is described by these scholars as a sex maniac, with a variety of pathological conditions. Western scholars are busy debating which kinds of pathologies best apply in specific instances, and are hard at work to capture supporting data in the backwaters of Indian society.
    2. Other conclusions by these well-placed scholars include: Ganesha’s trunk symbolizes a “limp phallus”; his broken tusk is a symbol for the castration-complex of the Hindu male; his large belly is a proof of the Hindu male’s enormous appetite for oral sex. Shiva, is interpreted as a womanizer, who encourages ritual rape, prostitution and murder, and his worship is linked to violence and destruction.

    3. Hindus are being profiled by these scholars, potentially setting them up for denial of the same human rights as the “civilized West.” For instance, anthropologists have concluded that nursing Hindu mothers do not bond with their babies the way white women do, that Hindus lack a sense of individuality because of their inability to perceive separation in space or time, and that the Mahabharata is best seen as Krishna’s Genocide.

    After a brief review of this “scholarly” literature, there awaits a major bombshell in this essay — reasonable doubts on whether these acclaimed scholars properly know the Indian languages in which they claim to be working.

    After this background, I go on to define and analyze Wendy’s Child Syndrome, and analyze the anger my investigative research has triggered. The essay concludes with responses to criticisms that I have received from certain RISA members who commented on the draft of this “scandalous” report.

    Before you dismiss the significance of the RISA Lila to the Indian community at large, please bear in mind that college professors write most of the school textbooks in the US. These scholars’ writings are also used to teach the next generation of journalists, political leaders, and our own kids when they leave home and go to college. Wendy Doniger and her Children contribute to many articles on Hinduism and India in widely used resources such as Microsoft’s Encarta and other encyclopedias. Therefore, if you wish to get to the bottom of figuring out how and why the American mainstream misunderstands India so pathologically, RISA is certainly one of the places to investigate.

    I hope this essay begins a feedback loop to educate the Indian community, which is the subject of RISA’s work, but which has so far been kept in the dark concerning what is being written and said behind its back.

    Target: Sri Ramakrishna

    Introducing One Wendy’s Child:

    As a student of Wendy Doniger at University of Chicago, Jeffrey Kripal did research on Sri Ramakrishna for his Ph.D. dissertation. He visited the Ramakrishna Mission for information and discussions on this research, and they helped him openly and enthusiastically. As one of the sisters of the Mission puts it, “He seems to be such a nice and endearing young man that anybody would trust his intentions.” However, contrary to well-accepted academic ethics and common decency, he did not give the Mission’s experts any chance to review his dissertation’s draft in order to make sure that there were no factual inaccuracies in it.

    The Ramakrishna Mission scholars found out about Kripal’s scandalous conclusions only years later, after his book had come out and had immediately won enormous acclaim from Wendy Doniger’s club. The book published by him on this work, titled Kali’s Childix ], won him the first book award by the AAR, a job at Harvard and a prestigious academic position at RiceUniversity. Encyclopedia Britannica listed his book as the top choice for reading about Ramakrishna. While the entire thesis was based on alleged misinterpretations of Bengali writings about the life of Ramakrishna (see details below), none of the persons who finally signed off on his PhD dissertation, or who were on the AAR Book Award Committee, or who glorified and endorsed his book, are, to the best of my knowledge, Bengalis with a familiarity with cultural nuances that are at stake here. Based on information given to me, and subject to being verified and corrected, the sole Bengali expert left before the conclusion of the project. But my main point is more general: If this Ph.D. dissertation (or book) had been based on sources in Hebrew or Greek — in short, had it been in the Bible or early Christianity fields – would it have passed? The standards that prevail in those fields are indeed rigorous. This needs to be independently evaluated by someone in the field of Bible/early Church. Of course, as a fringe thesis, many things could be approved. But would an equivalent thesis, based mainly on Freudian psychoanalysis, be supported to a similar extent in the mainstream academy, if it were about the Bible? That should be the benchmark, and that should have been how such a bold new hermeneutics should have been academy-tested before attempting it on any far away neocolonized culture whose direct representatives were not even part of the process. In short, is this new fashionable hermeneutics of eroticisation of spirituality a form of Eurocentrism being projected upon “others”?

    I started to complain that RISA had prematurely and incorrectly passed sweeping judgments on Ramakrishna, without even a proper representation of the opposing point of view (which happened to be the view of those who know Ramakrishna best). This seemed to me to be a blatant violation of academic due process and ethical norms. However, I was told many things by the chowkidars and sepoys of the academic fortress, that bordered on deception and intimidation.

    First, I was told that Kripal is suffering from depression because of “threats” he received from critics, and that he regrets having written the book, and wishes to forget it completely. I found just the opposite to be true: Kripal very much enjoys the controversy as a way to advance academically and, when asked point-blank to produce any evidence of “threats,” he slips his way out of it.

    Second, I was advised in person, by emails, and via other associates, that if I criticized Wendy, I would get personally attacked and blackballed, and my projects would be boycotted. Guess what? This intimidation is precisely what motivated me, even more enthusiastically, to continue my research into this incestuous cult. I felt like the investigative reporter who is on to something big. I wondered: why would they not take my critical investigations in their stride, given how they pride themselves on claims of being open-minded?

    While at first the Ramakrishna Mission was reluctant to battle against the academic establishment on these blatant misportrayals, one of its monks, Swami Tyagananda, started to take the matter seriously. But this happened only after Kripal’s thesis began to devastate Ramakrishna’s reputation in the mainstream, including in American schools. This led Swami Tyagananda to write his 130-page rebuttal, that lists many serious errors in Kripal’s work[ ]. Kripal turned down my suggestion to include a summary of Tyagananda’s rebuttal at the end of his book, in a new edition, and cited all sorts of technical and scholarly reasons that are illogical.[ xi ]

    After summarizing a few of Kripal’s glaring errors of scholarship below, I shall explain why such bogus scholarship, especially since it gets legitimized and popularized by sheer mafia-like politics, is very dangerous at many different levels.

    How to Fabricate a Best-Seller:

    This section summarizes some of the errors in Kali’s Child. The reader gets a good idea of the kind of scholarship at work.

    1) Lack of required language skills:

    Swami Tyagananda and many other Bengali scholars have had extensive discussions with Kripal, and they have little doubt that he simply does not know the Bengali language in which he claims to have read the documents on Sri Ramakrishna’s life, these being the documents that Kripal cites as his references. When spoken to in Bengali, he does not understand, and when asked something about Bengali directly, he cannot respond. Swami Tyagananda explains:[ xii ]

    Kripal’s conclusions come via faulty translations, a willful distortion and manipulation of sources, combined with a remarkable ignorance of Bengali culture. The derisive, non-scholarly tone with which he discussed Ramakrishna did not help either… Kripal’s ignorance of Bengali culture jumps right off the page. Many of the author’s misrepresentations are due to a simple lack of familiarity with Bengali attitudes and customs… [Furthermore,] it’s painfully clear that he also has little knowledge of Sanskrit…

    Prof. Narasingha Sil is a historian who is a Bengali language expert. He is not associated with the Ramakrishna Mission, and does not regard himself as a religious person. Here is his independent assessment:[ xiii ]

    Jeffrey is very adept at using Bengali-English dictionaries and picking the most appropriate synonyms of words (disregarding the primary, secondary, tertiary meanings) he feels could make his point… [He] is unable to converse in Bengali (but very prompt at using dictionaries)… In order to fit the square peg of a Tantrika Ramakrishna into the round hole of a homosexual Paramahansa, Kripal manufactures evidence by distorting the meaning of sources.

    2) Misinterpreting Tantra:

    Kripal’s central thesis is summarized in his own words as follows: “Ramakrishna was a conflicted, unwilling, homoerotic Tantrika[xiv]… Tantra’s heterosexual assumptions seriously violated the structure of his own homosexual desires. His female Tantric guru and temple boss may have forced themselves … on the saint… but Ramakrishna remained… a lover not of sexually aggressive women or even of older men but of young, beautiful boys.xv ]”

    Responding to this charge, Swami Tyagananda replies: “What is Kripal’s understanding of the word, Tantrika?” He says it is a term associated with “magical power, strangeness, seediness, and sex.” He dismisses the “philosophical expositions” of Tantra as inauthentic because they are “designed to rid Tantra of everything that smacked of superstition, magic, or scandal.”[ xvi ]

    But given this predisposition, Kripal insists: “Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences were constituted by mystico-erotic energies that he neither fully accepted nor understood.”[ xvii ]

    Let us examine how Kripal develops his claims.

    3) Superimposing psychological pathologies upon Ramakrishna, with no basis:

    Kripal posits with supreme confidence, but with no evidence whatsoever, some rather sweeping assertions about Ramakrishna, by merely superimposing generalizations out of some introductory textbook on psychology. He proclaims:

    The literature on sexual trauma suggests that individuals who have experienced abuse often become adept at altering their state of consciousness …lose control of their bodily, and especially their gastrointestinal functions, experience visions and states of possession, become hypersensitive to idiosyncratic stimuli (like latrines), symbolically re-enact the traumatic events, live in a state of hyperarousal …become hypersexual in their language or behavior, develop hostile feelings towards mother figures, fear adult sexuality, and often attempt suicide. This list reads like a summary of Ramakrishna’s religious life.

    However, as Swami Tyagananda responds:

    None of the symptoms enumerated in the “literature on sexual trauma” is present in Ramakrishna’s life. But since Kripal has approached his subject with a predetermined verdict, he resorts to specious reasoning in order to come up with the judgment he has in mind. Ramakrishna has “pronounced homosexual tendencies,” ergo he must have suffered childhood sexual trauma, ergo he must re-enact the traumatic events. This exercise in weak-link logic is reminiscent of kangaroo courts where the prisoner is convicted first and then the “evidence” is manufactured at a more convenient time.”[ xviii ]

    4) Mistranslating “lap” as “genitals,” and later as “defiled sexual space”:

    In the first edition of Kripal’s book, the Bengali word for “lap” was translated as “on the genitals.” In the second edition, Kripal changes it somewhat: “It is clear that Ramakrishna saw ‘the lap’ as normally defiled sexual space.” [ xix ]

    Tyagananda replies:

    Why does the author consider the lap (kol) to be ‘normally defiled’? In Indian culture – and Bengali culture in particular – the lap has an extremely positive and warm maternal association. For instance, the national anthem of Bangladesh, written by Tagore, contains the following line: “Takhon khela dhula sakal phele, O Ma, tomar, kole chute ashi”. Translation: ‘After the day’s play is over, O Mother, I run back to your lap.’

    5) Mistranslating “head” as “phallus”:

    Kripal justifies his translation that “head= phallus” in Hindu texts, because, according to him, “The head in the mystical physiology of yoga and Tantra [is] the ultimate goal of one’s semen and so an appropriate symbol for the phallus.”[ xx ]

    6) Mistranslating “touching softly” as “sodomy”:

    Based on his mistranslation of “softly touching” as being synonymous with sodomy, Kripal claims that Ramakrishna was “uncontrollably rubbing sandal-paste on the penises of boys.”[ xxi ]

    Tyagananda explains: “I must admit that when I read Kripal’s interpretation of “touching softly” (aste aste aparsha korchhen) as attempted sodomy I could only laugh.” In Indian culture, elders lovingly pat and caress children out of affection. There is nothing sexual in it. Perhaps, the scholar is superimposing his own culture’s coldness towards kids.

    7) Mistranslating “tribhanga” as “cocked hips”:

    The Bengali text used by Kripal refers to the term “tribhanga”, the characteristic curved pose that is seen in Indian sculpture and Indian classical dance (tribhanga = Sanskrit ‘ three bends’). This is also Krishna’s common pose with the body bent in three places — at the knee, waist and elbow — with flute in hand. A common expression used for Lord Krishna in the Bhakti poetry is ‘tribhangi-laal’.

    However, Kripal translates this pose as “cocked hips” and uses this to conclude that “stunned by the cocked hips of the boy, Ramakrishna falls into samadhi.”[ xxii ] This is Kripal’s “scholarly proof” that Ramakrishna’s mystical states were homoerotic!

    Since Krishna is commonly depicted as bent in three places, with flute in hand, it would follow from Kripal’s psychoanalysis that any Krishna devotee’s love for his form is a sign of the devotee’s homosexual arousal by Krishna’s “cocked hips.”

    8) Kripal’s imagination runs wild:

    Referring to Ramakrishna’s meeting with a member of the Naga sect of sanyasins, Kripal simply assumes that a lot was happening about which there is no record whatsoever:

    [W]hat it must have been like for Ramakrishna, a homosexually oriented man, to be shut away for days in a small hut with another, stark-naked man. Vedanta instruction or not, it was this man’s nudity, and more especially, his penis, that normally caught Ramakrishna’s attention. How could it not?”[ xxiii ]

    9) Mistranslating “vyakulata” to give it a sexual spin:

    Regarding the Bengali word “vyakulata,” Tyagananda confirms that “there is nothing in the word to suggest ‘desire’, which, typically for Kripal, carries a sexual connotation… To load the Bengali words heavily with sexual innuendo is to completely distort the meaning of the text.” Yet, Kripal mistranslates this word to conclude: “Ramakrishna’s anxious desire was often directed to his young male disciples.”[ xxiv ]

    10) Mistranslating “uddipana” to give it erotic meaning:

    Another Bengali word distorted by Kripal is “uddipana.” According to Tyagananda, the word’s meaning is “enkindling” or “lightening up.” But Kripal arbitrarily gives it the meaning of homoerotic excitation, in his translation: “Ramakrishna turns to the youth and says: ‘Please don’t leave today. When I look at you, I get all excited.’”[ xxv ]

    11) Special effects thrown in:

    To spice up his research with erotic special effects, as if writing for a Bollywood screenplay, Kripal inserts the phrase “his nearly naked body” while referring to the Lilaprasanga. However, Swami Tyagananda writes that, after carefully examining the entire Lilaprasanga text, he can say that “nowhere in the Lilaprasanga is there even a mention of the boy’s nakedness.” Similarly, since Kripal wants to make the claim that the temple manager “sexually forced himself upon Ramakrishna,” he dramatizes by translating the “manager” of the temple as the “boss”.

    There are many other amusing and outlandish remarks that Kripal interjects, without having done the rigorous due diligence to understand his subject matter in a genuine manner. For instance, Tyagananda explains: “Kripal may be at his most laughable when he tells us that Ramakrishna’s practice of Vedanta consisted of only taking the monastic vows and eating rice in the portico of the Dakshineswar temple.

    12) Suppressing the facts:

    The massive archive on the life of Ramakrishna has more than enough material to provide authentic accounts of his life and of the theory and practice of his teachings. However, since that would run counter to the conclusions that Kripal premises his work upon, he simply ignores the evidence that contradicts his thesis. Tyagananda charges:

    Kripal has omitted portions of the texts he quotes in order to suppress information that would run contrary to his thesis…. Isn’t this just a convenient form of censorship?

    Kripal’s soft spoken and endearing demeanor has deceived many gullible Indians, who often find it hard to believe that he would make blatant attempts to falsify the facts. But Tyagananda catches him red-handed several times. For example:

    Kripal says that he has never argued something as simplistic as that Ramakrishna was a pederast [sexual lover of young boys]… While Kripal may not have used those words in his book, that was certainly his conviction which guided his interpretations. How else can one explain his letter (14 August 1996) written to the secretary of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society, Boston, in which he wrote that it was quite “obvious” that “Ramakrishna’s mystical states were accompanied, and likely generated, by some ethically problematic acts, among them pedophilia.”[ xxvi ]

    13) The Kangaroo Court trial of Sri Ramakrishna:

    Tyagananda summarizes Kripal’s methods used in the name of scholarship:

    Since Kripal wants to associate Ramakrishna with boys, no matter what, we shouldn’t be surprised that he first suspects, then assumes, then presents as a fact that Ramakrishna was sexually abused as a child. That there is absolutely no evidence for this makes no difference to Dr. Kripal; we have the effect – Ramakrishna’s “homoerotic impulses” – so now the cause must be found. Aha! Certainly he must have been sexually abused as a child. The spiritual ecstasies that Ramakrishna experienced as a child are thus reinterpreted as “troubling trances”[xxvii]. The only one “troubled” by them is Kripal who feels compelled to find sexual abuse somewhere in there.

    Rubbing his hands in glee, Jeffrey Kripal proclaims: “The case of Ramakrishna’s homosexuality… seems to be closed…. Kali’s Child has been lauded by scholars… for being right.”[ xxviii ]

    However, Tyagananda replies: “One wonders if any of those praising the book have ever read its citations. Have any of those scholars who have given the book so much acclaim actually read the Bengali sources that he quotes? How many of them can actually read Bengali well, if at all?

    Huston Smith, perhaps the most widely read Western scholar of Religious Studies of all times, has severely criticized Kali’s Child in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, calling this type of scholarship, “colonialism updated.”[ xxix ] Granted that Wendy’s team has got a head start because of stealth scholarship, but I am not prepared to concede that they shall have the final word.

    14) Evasive dismissal of criticism, by psychoanalyzing the critics:

    Tyagananda rejects Kripal’s attempts to put the spotlight on Hindus’ alleged narrow-mindedness, as a shallow ploy to shift attention from his bad scholarship:

    To say, therefore, that those who reject Kripal’s thesis are doing so from their own homophobia is to completely miss the point…. To sum up: The problem I address in my critique is not the sexualized reading per se. The problem has nothing to do with homosexuality. The problem is with the evidence, and in particular the massive distortion and misuse thereof in Prof. Kripal’s book. Where there is adequate evidence, let there be homoerotic, hetero-erotic, or otherwise erotic readings of the lives and motivations of saints – and scholars! But let not the evidence be manufactured.”[ xxx ]

    And again:

    To make the facile claim that the criticism leveled against Kali’s Child was due to [the critics’] homophobia is to deflect from the real issue of shoddy and deceptive scholarship…. Kripal, in discussing the angry reaction to his book received in India and among Ramakrishna devotees, views their outrage as an expression of their fear of homosexuality. … Now with pious admonitions rising like the full swell of a church choir, Kripal pleads: ‘I can only encourage them not to walk down this path, as so much of our humanity (and divinity) lies in a decidedly different direction.’

    Psychological Profile of the Scholar:

    Kripal’s Indian name comes from his father, whose family was of Roma (“gypsy”) extraction and lived inCentral Europe for many generations. Jeff admits to this only when asked point-blank, and identifies himself as a white man.[ xxxi ] It has not been psychoanalyzed as to what extent his Oedipal struggle to distance himself from his father might have compelled him to prove his alienation from Indic traditions by engaging in scholarly Hindu-bashing.

    Furthermore, Prof. Sil explains Kripal’s “psychosexual psychology”[ xxxii ]:

    We learn that prior to joining graduate school at Chicago, Jeffrey was training to be a monk or a minister at a Catholic seminary, where he was “forced to explore the interfaces between sexuality and spirituality” and he felt “more than tortured by [his] own psychosexual pathologies.” By “psychosexual pathology” Kripal means, as he put parenthetically, anorexia nervosa. This means, as is well known, a pathological condition in which the patient cannot retain any food (or feces, if we choose to go by a Kripal-like psychoanalytic symbolism which he applied to Ramakrishna) in the body. He also writes that he felt his readings in Christian bridal mysticism somewhat unholy because of its apparent homoeroticism. However, upon further cogitations (or perhaps, meditations) on the subject Kripal “came to a rather surprising conclusion in regard to [his] own mystico-erotic tradition: heterosexuality is heretical.” He then tells readers that his “religious life was quite literally killing [him]” – his “body weight had sunk well below the normal.” It was at this juncture that the future biographer of Ramakrishna turned his attention to stuff Hindu and chanced upon the Bengali priest of Dakshineswar.

    Kripal’s personal psychosis includes at least (i) his self-acknowledged homophobia, and (ii) his deep-rooted complex of being half Roma (and therefore wanting to prove his separation from that part of his roots in order to claim full-fledged white pedigree). This psychosis has entered his work, and become the driving force behind it.

    Similar anecdotes of personal psychosis, that seem to infect this cult of scholars, or at least a large portion of it, became the basis for my interest in Wendy’s Child Syndrome. As the additional examples will show below, it is quite common for Western scholars to play out their private lives through their scholarship about “others”, in ways that are both positive and negative.


    Besides the numerous errors in translation, there are other methodological problems with Kali’s Child that the academy is refusing to investigate. For instance:

    1. Western scholars in psychology departments no longer regard Freudian methods as being solid proof of anything serious. Hence, such misapplications by religion scholars, who are not formally trained in psychology, especially when applied to topics that are far removed from their familiar Western culture, is a case of the blind leading the blind.
    2. Freud had ruled out the possibility of applying his methods either posthumously to dead people, or via native informants to third parties who are not directly engaged by the psychoanalyst. This alone makesKali’s Child a bogus work.

    3. Freud never had access to non-Western patients, so that he never established his theories’ validity in other cultures. Wendy’s school of scholarship universalizes Freudian methodologies and pathologies, and combines it with extreme and obscure Indic materials, to distort and weave these wild theories of Indian culture.

    Notwithstanding all these issues, RISA scholars dare not challenge the work based on Wendy’s theories, given the political power of her club.

    To appreciate that this is not an isolated case, but rather the dominant variety of scholarship by certain important scholars, let us read how Wendy interprets Mahabharata (I.101) as symbolism of homosexuality and Indians’ sexual pathologies:[ xxxiii ]

    A sage named Mandavya is wrongly supposed to have participated in a robbery and is impaled on a stake. We may see masked homosexual symbolism in the impalement (a homosexual violation) and the cutting off of the long stake (a castration), though we should also notice what the Indian tradition makes of this episode: In a kind of reverse castration, Mandavya feels that he has gained something, has been given a stake that, however shortened, he still seems to regard as an extension of himself, a useful superpenis, as it were. The childhood guilt that inspired the episode of anal intercourse gives way to the fantasy of the large penis of the grown man.

    As Edward Said explained, the West’s “other” and “self” are co-constructed intellectually, the construction of one being used to construct the other. This is why it pains Wendy and her Children to have their pet theories about Indians refuted, because their self-images rest on such Orientalist constructions.

    An imagined and exoticised Indian culture, with its imagined pathologies, is the mirror in which these scholars define themselves and enact their deepest fantasies. This psychosis often drives the scholars work — via the topics and questions selected, the data imagined and filtered, and the interpretation given. Therefore, the book Kali’s Child gives great insights into what is being defined here as Wendy’s Child Syndrome, rather than being a legitimate portrayal of Sri Ramakrishna.

    Target: The Hindu Goddess

    Goddess as symbol of sex and violence:

    Sarah Caldwell is also afflicted by Wendy’s Child Syndromexxxiv ], and is another powerful leader of RISA. She is a winner of the prestigious Robert Stoller Award for her scholarship on the Hindu Goddess, and is amongst the elite who decide which papers and topics get included at academic conferences on Hinduism. To judge for yourself as to whether scholars like her represent Hinduism in a balanced manner, below are a few excerpts from her recent research paper, titled, “The Bloodthirsty tongue and the self fed breast, homosexual fellatio fantasy in a south Indian ritual tradition” for which she was given the award mentioned above:

    This essay demonstrates that in Kerala, symbolism of the fierce goddess [Kali] does not represent abreactions of the primal scene fantasies of a Kleinian ‘phallic mother’ or introjection of the father’s penis; rather, we will show that themes of eroticism and aggression in the mythology are male transsexual fantasies reflecting intense preoedipal fixation on the mother’s body and expressing conflicts over primary feminine identity.”[xxxv]

      “The essential rituals of the Bhagavati cult all point to the aggressive and fatal erotic drinking of the male by the female, the infamous orgy of blood sacrifice of male ‘cocks’ at the Kodugallur Bhagavati temple; the male veliccappatu’s cutting of his head in a symbolic act of self castration…. [Kali] is herself, first of all, a phallic being, the mother with a penis, … she is the bloodied image of the castrating and menstruating (thus castrating) female…. In this type of analysis the phallic abilities of the goddess disguise castration anxieties ultimately directed toward the father as well as homosexual desire for the father’s penis. Following Freud, such analyses stress the father-son polarity of the oedipal conflict as the central trauma seeking expression.”[ xxxvi ]

    “As Alter and O’Flaherty amply demonstrate, milk and breast-feeding are also symbolically transformed in the male imagination into semen and phallus…. The ascetic male who retains the semen becomes like a pregnant female with breasts and swollen belly; the semen rises like cream to his head and produces extraordinary psychic powers… Not only are the fluids of milk and semen, symbolic equivalents, but the act of ‘milking’ or breastfeeding becomes a symbolic equivalent to the draining of semen from the phallus in intercourse.”[ xxxvii ]

    Notice how Caldwell uses the English word “cock” for the animal, so as to link the ritual with the phallus. Since the Keralites in the ritual are not superimposing this English word onto their ritual, this is an example of how the scholar’s own psychosis is entering her supposedly objective work. It shows how important it is to psychoanalyze these scholars in order to evaluate their work.

    It has been reported that Caldwell was able to establish intimate “trusting relationships” with Indian men in Kerala, so as to extract useful “confessions” from them, presumably by paying them to perform services that could be classified as “native informant services.” One such 21-year-old is quoted by her to the effect that homosexual encounters are rampant in the society of Kerala. Many more similar “confessions” fill her work, and sweeping conclusions are drawn.

    Recently, Caldwell has published another book titled, “Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence and Worship of the Mother Kali.”[ xxxviii ] To get a glimpse of what her latest book is all about, here is an excerpt from Cynthia Humes’ critical review of the book:[ xxxix ]

    …Caldwell documents numerous themes of sexuality, abuse, and vengeance in Keralite religion and culture. She concludes, “Mutiyettu actors who are particularly talented at playing the role of Kali might be traumatized individuals whose particular psychological propensities and histories compel them towards this form of performance” (259). I find this unconvincing. As she herself notes, Caldwell did not conduct a detailed study of or even collect the life histories of the individual Mutiyettu actors playing the role of Kali; so there is no direct evidence of even one individual fitting this typology (259). The implications she sees, while tantalizing and truly fascinating, are based on extended digging into and assembling a dispersed array of sensationalist and homoerotic mythological themes, combined with rumored sexual activity. The unlikelihood of the thesis is underscored by the fact that the role of Kali is only open to a handful of individuals, who must wait until the age of over fifty to even assume this coveted starring role, and further, they would need to evidence “particular talent.

    However, later in this review, Cynthia Humes agrees with certain aspects of the sexual interpretation of the ritual, even though she superimposes a different personal psychosis than Caldwell:

    The lack of evidence is noteworthy, for it contrasts sharply with other trenchant psychoanalytic assertions based on detailed, sustained, and well-argued descriptions rooted in recorded male and female experience of the Mutiyettu. For example, Caldwell does convince me that “by coopting this power in transvestite possession performance, males reclaim the envied feminine procreative power within their own bodies, while denying actual social, sexual, and political power to women” (189). Yet I do not dismiss out of hand homoerotic themes in Mutiyettu. I find it likely and in keeping with the evidence that the audience consists largely of male Keralites exposed to homoerotic rumor and possible clandestine homosexual activity, as well as unwelcome sexual advances by older female relatives. It would take little to convince me, based onCaldwell’s data, that such an audience could experience vicarious attraction to the male transvestite ritualists, especially in reenactment of their own fears of female sexuality and preferred company of men.

    Autobiography as Scholarship:

    Later in the same review, Cynthia Humes confirms that Caldwell’s work, as Kripal’s, is largely autobiographical in nature — a psychodrama that uncovers the scholar’s own warped pathologies, often hidden beneath deep wounds of past trauma:

    I do not doubt the sincerity of Caldwell’s belief that the goddess was “somehow ‘running my show’” or that her personal tragedies had “meaning and significance beyond my personal lusts, fears, neuroses, and confusions” (267). Abundant examples of Caldwell’s lingering resentment are given free reign, deservedly in some ways toward her now ex-husband but less so toward her disapproving academic guide. This guide (despite his assistance in interviews, and arrangements to have one of his students aid her in settling in, and provision of some obviously helpful advice) she grills for his attempt to influence her research program. She further suspects him of avariciousness toward her grant and, ironically, belittles his suspicion of her possible infidelity (a suspicion that turns out to be justified) (54). These become examples of Obeyesekere’s theories of “progressive orientation”, underscoring how Caldwell’s personal confession authorizes her broad psychoanalytic theories about a remarkably similar projected rage and resentment in the person of Bhadrakali. In so doing, Caldwell preserves and in important ways, I believe, even enlarges the power differential between author and reader that authorizes her participant-observer projections onto her subjects.

    The “personal confession” refers to Caldwell’s writings about how she was abused sexually by her family, and the leading role she played in organizing a movement to attack the late Swami Muktananda for alleged sexual abuses of women in his ashram. While I have written extensively about U-Turns by Western scholars for the purpose of enriching their native Judeo-Christian traditions, one must not ignore the significance of U-Turns that are caused by personal trauma, such as alleged sexual abuse. This was the case with Caldwell.[ xl ]

    This projection of the scholar’s personal psychosis upon the subject matter, using very loose and arbitrary interpretations to stretch the facts and to seek similar pathologies elsewhere, is the very definition ofWendy’s Child Syndrome. One could, therefore, enjoy reading the book, Kali’s Child as an insight into one particular Wendy’s Child, namely, Jeff Kripal. Caldwell’s writings should, likewise, be seen as an autobiographical projection of a traumatized Western Feminist struggling with feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

    Starting out as psychosexual deviants or other misfits in their own culture, many such scholars find hospitality and meaning in India, but later make U-Turns for various reasons, especially upon realizing that there is a lucrative market, both for negative exotica and for positive cultural loot. This empowerment of the scholar’s ego, done at the expense of the source culture that gave them a dignified life to begin with, raises ethical and moral questions as well.

    Having said this, I also feel that Hindus must show sympathy for the scholars’ psychosis, as this would be a kinder and gentler way to let them know that their scholarship is about their own private lives, and is unsuitable for teaching about India.

    Misleading Scholarship:

    Hindus know that no single form of the Goddess represents all of her forms, and, therefore, any view of the Goddess is incomplete if it is not seen as one part of a wider and more comprehensive portrayal of her multiple forms. Therefore, the Western over-emphasis on her sensational forms, and especially sexual and violent ones, is a reductionism of the worst kind. This would be analogous to a textbook on Bill Clinton in which the entire presidency is depicted as being about Monica Lewinsky. Scholars should see this as misleading and irresponsible.

    The argument that such works are only for scholars’ internal consumption is false, because in this Internet age there can be no secrets from the public at large. My advice to scholars is that if they don’t want to be embarrassed by people publicly quoting their writings and talks, then the best policy is not to utter such words in the first place. However, as is amply clear from examining the works of Wendy’s Children, these writings are not incidental to their work, but comprise the very heart of their claims to original thinking, without which they would not have much else to say!

    Psychologizing Popular Hindu Culture:

    As expected, Caldwell supports Jeff Kripal’s work, but she adds another important dimension to it: she interprets all complaints from the Hindu community as a sign of psychological disorder of the Hindu community, something that she strongly feels needs to be psychoanalyzed, in order to find out what is wrong with Hindu people. She writes:[ xli ]

    The hostility with which Jeff’s book has been attacked in India is due, I believe, not to what Jeff has to say about the real, historical Ramakrishna, but what his thesis implies about Vivekananda, and by extension, contemporary Hindu nationalism.

    “Anyone who has seen Anand Patwardhan’s “Father, Son, and Holy War” film series (particularly part 2, “Hero Pharmacy”) understands the deep connections between male sexual prowess, virility, and Hindu nationalist violence that are so explicitly presented therein. Ramakrishna’s tantric “madness” easily fits a South Asian understanding of the behavior of saints; many gurus and saints display anti-social or inverted tendencies (and Ramakrishna’s open and active rejection of heterosexuality, even more than his homosexuality, was a deeply antisocial act in Ramakrishna’s social world); and the tantric use of sexuality as reversal (both social and spiritual) goes back deep into Hindu tradition, as we all know….

    “To get back to the point, I suggest it is not really the problematic of Ramakrishna that underlies the hate mail Jeff has received. Implications that Vivekananda, who reformulated Ramakrishna’s message into the masculine, cleaned-up reformist Hinduism that first presented itself to the world stage in presentable form a century ago, was the passive homosexual object of his guru’s lust is deeply threatening. Such an image raises spectres of the “feminine” male of India that was so much a part of colonial discourse, and that pervades contemporary Hindu nationalism. I suggest we view this entire debate in a broader perspective than simply that of religious studies and hermeneutics. We need to consider issues that Ashis Nandy has explicated in THE INTIMATE ENEMY, and that Joe Alter has written about eloquently as well, vis a vis, the role of male sexual potency and masculine identity in the nationalist struggle…. Homosexuality in contemporary Indian political discourse is not a sign of individual sexual proclivities but a symbol of weakness and dominance relations between males. Lawrence Cohen has written about this in a provocative article about Holi political cartoons, showing political rivals homosexually penetrating one another, etc.

    Caldwell continues to stretch her thesis further, and claims that these alleged sexual pathologies of Hindus, their saints and their Goddess, are the window to understand their public culture and politics as well:

    In short we need to be careful to examine what “homosexuality” means in the rhetorical and personal contexts in which it is being used, and the historical and political background of the discussion of masculinity in South Asia, and not to focus exclusively on the personal domain as is common in Europe and America. We need to psychologize public culture as well as the private sphere. Jeff’s book, while providing a nuanced and empathetic account of an individual life, invites us to broaden our lens to understand the reception of that life and its distortion in a century of highly contested religious posturing. With the current election of a BJP-led government, such careful analysis is timely and essential.

    To “psychoanalyze a public culture” is a politically correct way of stereotyping and ethnic profiling. Note how she separates out the “personal domain as is common in Europe and America” because she gives white people individuality and agency, whereas Indians, and especially Hindus, are being denied individuality and agency.

    Caldwell ‘s scholarship may be summarized as reaching the following conclusions:

    1. Sexual “madness” in Hindu saints and in the Goddess is common and expected.
    2. To hide this pathology from the West, Vivekananda (who Caldwell claims was Ramakrishna’s “passive homosexual object”) repackages Hinduism into a masculine image.

    3. The alleged sexual deviance and hyper-masculinity resulting from #2 applies not only to Hindu individuals but also to the social culture of Hinduism.

    4. Hence, there is urgency in her mind to study contemporary Hindu culture in this fashion, especially since the BJP-led government came to power.

    Ergo, academic Religious Studies must now get into contemporary Indian politics! This thesis legitimizes and gives cover to Prof. Gerald Larson’s U-Turn[ xlii ] — from being a serious scholar of Samkhya for decades, to his new career in deconstructing “Hindu Nationalist” politics.

    You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours — this seems to be the modus operandi of this cult of scholars. Jeff Kripal, the editor of the book in which Caldwell’s psychoanalysis of the Hindu Goddess appears, gives the following legitimization of this cutting-edge scholarship:

    … Hindus sometimes find the conclusions of psychoanalysis so offensive to their own self-perceptions and cultural understandings; given the psychoanalytical attempt to crack the codes of the social and intra-psychic censors and its explicit desire to reveal secrets and uncover hidden truths, it would be very surprising indeed if they reacted in any other way. In short, psychoanalysis is a method that expects to be rejected. Psychoanalysis, then, goes well beyond the anthropologist’s field study and the Sanskritist’s text and the historian of religions’ phenomenological study to answer questions that no interview, text, or phenomenological study is willing to ask, much less answer.“[ xliii ]

    The Myth of Objective Scholarship:

    The reader should note how many of these Eurocentric academic scholars who specialize in Hinduism, virtually end up reinventing the subject (for instance, the Goddess), in line with their own agendas, psychoses and cultural prejudices. (For my bibliography on Criticisms of Eurocentrism, see the endnote[xliv ].) This is achieved largely by:

    1. Arbitrarily selecting the topics and questions, the subsets of the texts to be used, the filters and lenses applied.
  • Superimposing false translations — all in the name of authentic objective scholarship.

  • Excluding the community of Hindus, or representing them by proxy, or reporting upon them as “native informants.” For instance, the representatives of specific sampradayas are not invited to be respondents when the conclusions are discussed or published. This is illustrated by the secret trial of Sri Ramakrishnain absentia, as discussed earlier.

  • Attacking any independent challenger with the worst ad hominems imaginable. Minimal criticism by RISA insiders, who know where to draw the line, is encouraged, so as to give the aura of peer review and integrity. As a case of defense by offense, those who put the spotlight on the skeletons in the closet become objects of intense anger, especially when this is done in front of the Diaspora, whose kids are sitting in classrooms where the RISA scholars teach.

  • Target: Ganesha and Shiva

    In an undergraduate textbook authored by Paul Courtright, a Professor of Indian religions atEmoryUniversity, Ganesha’s stories and rituals are depicted from various perspectives, including the following psychoanalysis[ xlv ]:

    [F]rom a psychoanalytic perspective, there is meaning in the selection of the elephant head. Its trunk is the displaced phallus, a caricature of Siva’s linga. It poses no threat because it is too large, flaccid, and in the wrong place to be useful for sexual purposes. … So Ganesa takes on the attributes of his father but in an inverted form, with an exaggerated limp phallus – ascetic and benign – whereas Siva is “hard”, erotic, and destructive.”[xlvi]

    “He [Ganesa] remains celibate so as not to compete erotically with his father, a notorious womanizer, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter.”[ xlvii ]

    “Ganesa is like a eunuch guarding the women of the harem. In Indian folklore and practice, eunuchs have served as trusted guardians of the antahpura, the seraglio. “They have the reputation of being homosexuals, with a penchant for oral sex, and are looked upon as the very dregs of society.” (Hiltebeitel 1980, p. 162). … Like the eunuch, Ganesa has the power to bless and curse; that is, to place and remove obstacles. Although there seem to be no myths or folktales in which Ganesa explicitly performs oral sex, his insatiable appetite for sweets may be interpreted as an effort to satisfy a hunger that seems inappropriate in an otherwise ascetic disposition, a hunger having clear erotic overtones. Ganesa’s broken tusk, his guardian staff, and displaced head can be interpreted as symbols of castration…. This combination of child-ascetic-eunuch in the symbolism of Ganesa – each an explicit denial of adult male sexuality – appears to embody a primal Indian male longing: to remain close to the mother and to do so in a way that will both protect her and yet be acceptable to the father. This means that the son must retain access to the mother but not attempt to possess her sexually.”[ xlviii ]

    Many Indians wrote angrily against this to an Internet list. One man, who said that he respected Jesus, wrote a “fictitious distortion” of Christian symbols and narratives, using Prof. Courtright’s genre of hermeneutics, as an analog for feedback to the scholars:

    Jesus was a filthy and indecent man. He learned some magic tricks from the visiting Persian merchants. The Romans often invited him to perform at their parties, and in exchange, they offered him wine. So he routinely got drunk, tried to be “a notorious womanizer,” and was a hobo all his life. Since Jesus’ mother was a prostitute, she did not want to announce the true identity of his father, and had to make up a story for the illiterate nomads. Therefore, Mary claimed that Jesus was born without physical intercourse. So all his life, Jesus guarded the myth of his mother’s virginity and hid the immoral activities of his father and other customers who visited her for sex. The Roman commander played a joke upon Jesus by crucifying him using the cross, symbolizing that the cross was the phallus which his mother must have used for his conception. Thus, his followers today carry a cross as the phallic symbol of his immaculate conception.

    The author then asked: “How would the above be considered if it were written by a non-Christian academic scholar in a country where Christianity is a small minority – just as Hinduism is a small minority in the US?” While there exist many criticisms and negative caricatures of Christianity, the point is that in introductory courses, and especially if the audience is non-Christian, such caricatures are not used.

    Wendy wrote the foreword to Courtright’s book, even though he did not get his Ph.D from her. Courtright differs from Kripal and Caldwell, because his use of psychoanalysis is suggestive and not definitive. He says that he does not put the psychoanalytic material at the center of his project, but as one angle of interpretation.

    Regarding his affinity towards Wendy, he wrote[ xlix ]: “You are using the term ‘child’ metaphorically, but I’m honored to be considered part of her [i.e. Wendy’s] kinship group.

    Courtright also considers Wendy to be good for Indic traditions: “Wendy has been influential in raising the visibility of Indian civilization through a presentation of the liveliness of its mythic tradition and shifting it away from a more bland and pious and negative image that came through a lot of the Orientalist and missionary scholarship that you rightly take issue with.

    In response, I must say that no scholar whose work is considered offensive by Hindus regards himself/herself as hating India or Hinduism. The British also loved India, so do the Christian proselytizers who try to ‘save’ Hindus, so do the multinationals who are devastating local farmers and producers, and so do Marxists who try to eradicate indigenous culture so as to “progress” the poor. My concern is precisely that Wendy raised the “visibility of Indian civilization” and “liveliness of its mythic tradition,” but in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons. She has turned it into stereotyped exotica and erotica, trivializing its rationality and its spiritual truth-claims as fodder for psychoanalysis, and hiding its relevance for today’s world.

    Courtright also praises that “Wendy has worked hard at Chicago to recruit Indian graduate students (as we have here at Emory) because we are concerned that there is an imbalance between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ — whatever that means — in the field.” But I have personally seen both kinds of Indian students in Hinduism Studies from Chicago: those who got reprogrammed into neocolonized sepoys, and those who remain loyal to their heritage despite the pressures.[ ]

    Another scholar, Dr. Patrick Bresnan, writes about Shiva in a manner that is now considered a common depiction of Shiva in certain Western academic circles[ li ]:

    Entering the world of Shiva worship is to enter the world of India at its most awesomely mysterious and bewildering; at least for the non-Indian. In Shiva worship, the Indian creative imagination erupts in a never-ending multiplicity of gods and demons, occult rituals, and stunning sexual symbolism …Linga/yoni veneration was not the whole of it …Young women, known as devadasis, were commonly connected with Shiva temples, and participated in the rituals, sometimes only in a symbolic fashion; sometimes not. In a degraded form the devadasi became nothing more than temple prostitutes. These extremes were more often to be found among the practitioners of Tantra, that enigmatic antithesis of conservative Hinduism that developed in northeastern India. Some Tantra temples became notorious for all kinds of extreme practices, including ritual rape and ritual murder. In Calcutta, at the Temple of Durga (one of the forms of Shiva’s shakti) there was an annual festival at which many pigs, goats, sheep, fowl, and even water buffaloes would be slaughtered and ritually burned before the statue of the goddess.

    It may well be true that many of these things happen in some situations and contexts. But my point is different. The typical American student uses his/her pre-existing Eurocentric biases as the context for interpretation. This depiction of Shiva gets filtered through Eurocentric lenses, consciously or unconsciously, into the student’s life-long worldview about Indian culture. These biases are usually loaded with tremendous ignorance about Indic culture and non-Abrahamic religions. There would be nothing wrong with such depictions if they were contextualized properly, derived from valid evidence, and were not essentialized as the primary teaching about Shiva — but there is hardly enough time in the typical American curriculum to properly build a foundation first.

    Consequently, the spiritual ideas of Shaivism are often lost, because the erotic-exotic image assumes center stage. At its best, the tradition is seen as not having anything positive to offer to a serious and rational young person. At its worst, Shiva is denigrated as the cause of all sorts of social ills such as rapes, sexual irresponsibility, violence, and so forth — in other words, depicted as a criminal cult god, but without saying it in so many words in order to remain politically correct.

    Billions of dollars have been spent on Western scholarship to gather field data about Indic culture, so as to “scientifically prove” various theories. Why have these scholars failed to gather data on how ignorant Americans are about Indic culture, on how anti-Hindu prejudices harm American society, and especially on how Americans’ prejudices are correlated with what the scholars have written and taught?

    Here is yet another example of how the cut-and-paste academic scholarship collapses important Hindu ideas into one simplistic bundle of meanings, to produce a distortion:[ lii ]

    The myths of ‘Hindu tolerance’ and ‘Indian inclusiveness’ have been questioned before, but have become increasingly difficult to maintain in the light of contemporary conflicts. Those familiar with Indian myths know that destruction as well as creation and preservation has been a recurring theme. If the god Brahma is thought of as the creator and Vishnu as the preserver, it is also true that Siva and Kali are thought of as destroyers.

    This is a common but dangerous and false superimposition of classical Indian texts to over-interpret contemporary society. Dissolution by Shiva has numerous context-sensitive meanings, including transcendence out of human misery by dissolution of maya — which is why he is associated with yoga. The reductionist mapping “dissolution = destruction” is incorrect. Likewise, Kali’s meanings are multifaceted, and depend on the context and level of the practitioner.[ liii ]

    Academic Profiling

    Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist of India, uses psychoanalysis to conclude that Hindu mothers do not have “a Western-style loving, emotional partnership” with their babies:[ liv ]

    The special relationship between the Hindu mother and her son appears here as a variation on a distinctive Hindu pattern rather than as a mere intensification of a style of intimacy found in the West… Nursing is not therefore, an occasion through which mother and child cement on an emotional union. The child is frequently fed, yet the mother seldom lingers to mirror the baby’s satisfaction. Thus, while the child no doubt develops a strong emotional attachment to the mother as a result of the physical gratification she provides, the mother does not respond by setting up a Western-style loving, emotional partnership.

    This is utterly false, namely, that Hindu mothers do not see nursing the baby as opportunity to cement emotional union, the way white women supposedly do. This kind of racial, ethnic and cultural profiling and denigration has replaced what used to be blatant racism. Today, this racism is justified as “objective” research findings, and is especially dangerous because many Indian scholars have sold out to join this movement.

    In yet another book, “All the Mothers Are One,”[ lv ] Stanley Kurtz has constructed a new model for the psychology of Hinduism, based on his studies into Indian social and family structures, and interviews with devotees of Santoshi Ma. Claiming that Durga symbolizes the castrating Mother Goddess, he has propounded the Durga Complex to explain “the characteristically Hindu form of conflicts over unconscious incestuous strivings,”[ lvi ] in which “castration symbolism at the most mature level represents transformative self-willed sacrifice signaling the abandonment of infantile attachments…”[ lvii ]

    To deny Hindus their sense of individuality, he writes: “Their notion of the divine knows neither boundaries of time, place, substance, nor identity.”[ lviii ] And therefore claims: “Individualism is built into our psychic structure but not into that of the Hindu.”[ lvix ]

    Besides finding many technical flaws in his methodologies, Humes criticizes his work severely as

    a method which in the end borders on racism: despite arguing for greater sensitivity to cultural difference in psychology, “those people” over “there” are actually all alike – but not like “us”…Kurtz psychology excludes Hindu women…they are, after all, “mommies” whose psychology can be dispensed with in a few words and a note.

    The new editor of the major 15-volume critical edition of Mahabharata being published by The University of Chicago Press, said at the Mahabharata Conference in Montreal, that MB is “God’s Genocide,” the main theme being “Krishna commanding the destruction of mankind,” and that this should be the overarching theme of the entire translation. So what do we have here? Islamic scholars are busy trying to clean up the image of Islam. On the other hand, Hinduism scholars are trying the opposite — appearing to demonize it, and thereby causing, intentionally or otherwise, Hindu shame amongst the youth.

    History shows that genocides have been preceded by the denigration of the victims — showing them as irrational, immoral, lacking a legitimate religion, lacking in compassion towards others and love towards their babies, etc., i.e. not deserving of the same human rights extended to white people. Notice how these so-called practices of mothers are labeled as “a distinctive Hindu pattern” per se. This is also why “dowry murders” have been very aggressively put on the dominant culture’s agenda, to be prosecuted specifically as “a Hindu problem,” even though the scholarship of Veena Oldenburg and others clearly establishes that it is not a “Hindu” problem.[ lx ]

    The time has come to ask: How does today’s scholarship compare with the Eurocentric scholarship in earlier times about Native Americans, African slaves, Jews, Roma, and others, who were subsequently victims of genocide in various ways? Are certain “objective” scholars, unconsciously driven by their Eurocentric essences, to pave the way for a future genocide of a billion or more Hindus, because of economic and/or ecological pressures of over-population later during this century?

    Even in those instances where the scholar might be criticizing genuine social problems within “Hindu society,” Dave Freedholm explains how Hinduism is not being given the same treatment as Christianity:

    When scholars examine the world’s religions they usually attempt to distinguish between their ‘universal’ theological/philosophical foundations and the particular historically and culturally bound social structures of societies that practice those religions. To take Christianity as an example, biblical scholars, using a sophisticated hermeneutics, extract a ‘universal’ Pauline theology from the social context of Paul’s letters that presumed slavery, the subjugation of women, etc. Pauline statements that seem to support this social order are reinterpreted in light of passages that are deemed to reflect more universal values.”[ lxi ]

    How Reliable is Wendy Doniger’s Sanskrit?

    There are many ways to define “correct” translation. My criteria is that it must be accepted by the mainstream community whose tradition is in question — in accordance with the concept known as purva-paksha. If the text’s authors’ intentions and the practitioners’ interpretations are to be over-ruled, then there should be a rigorous burden of proof on the scholar’s part. I also feel that a “correct” translation is inseparable from the culture and the contexts applicable. I am not criticizing the entire academic work of Doniger, but merely those items that are specifically discussed here. However, I was unable to find a single comprehensive critical evaluation of Wendy’s work, nor any plans to produce such a criticism, despite the enormous importance given to her work, and the fact that what is as stake is the legitimacy of the insider’s view of the world’s oldest literary tradition. One must also bring into this discussion the hermeneutics of power — especially since there is a concentration of control over the distribution of academic knowledge. Finally, one cannot defend the criticism of her work X by showing the greatness of another work Y, nor by psychoanalyzing the critics, and nor by disqualifying the critics.

    Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard was once publicly challenged to prove his claim that Wendy Doniger’s knowledge of Vedic Sanskrit is severely flawed. Witzel’s claim seemed as audacious as saying that the Pope is not a good catholic. Therefore, Witzel quickly published on the web several important examples of Sanskrit mistranslations by Wendy Doniger.[ lxii ]

    It is said, that Witzel was privately reprimanded for being so critical of the Queen of Hinduism. Witzel was unfairly demonized and blackballed — it was certainly his right to criticize such blatant blunders, especially given the clout and power enjoyed by Wendy. If gods, goddesses and saints can be deconstructed by her, then why should her work be exempt from criticism? The following three examples raise some doubts over whether she should be the Queen.

    Witzel on Doniger’s Mistranslation of the Rig Veda:

    With due respects to Doniger’s scholarship and insights, it must be pointed out, because it is not universally known even among Indologists, that the depth of the professor’s knowledge of Sanskrit has been called into question by Professor Michael Witzel of Harvard University. To quote Witzel, Doniger’s “rendering of even the first two paadas [of Rig Veda] is more of a paraphrase than a translation,” and her style “is rather a stream of unconnected George-Bush-like anacoluths.” He goes on to illustrate his point by referring to  Doniger’s translation of one verse, “He will shed tears, sobbing, when he learns,” and commenting that “there is no sobbing here,” and that she simply made that up to give the desired effect.

    But it is not just in translation that Doniger fails. Her interpretations are also flawed. Witzel charges that Doniger “denies the possibility of male/female friendship — perhaps a current local cultural bias — but certainly not a Rgvedic one.” He also reveals that in her translations, “Sakhya is completely misunderstood, as is usual in such cases with Indologists not very conversant with Vedic; it is understood on the basis of Epic/Classical sakhi “friend” and thus the whole point of the apparent saying is missed. A Vedic sakhi is not just any friend…

    Astonished, Witzel concludes: “In this hymn (of 18 stanzas) alone I have counted 43 instances which are wrong or where others would easily disagree.

    Witzel on Doniger’s Mistranslation of the Jaiminiya Brahmana:

    Regarding Wendy’s translation of “Jaiminiya Brahmana,” Prof. Witzel remarks: “And of course, the translation, again is a ‘re’-translation” of others’ works” in which she has “merely added a fashionable(?) Freudian coating…

    Witzel continues: “The trouble again is that [Doniger] did not follow up the secondary literature well, not even with the help of the students she mentions…if the sec. lit. had been used — the translation would have turned out much better.

    Witzel exposes “her predilection for street language colloquialisms,” such as “balls of cowshit, balls of shit” and “balls of Indra”, which Witzel considers to be “Vedic slang” not found in the Sanskrit texts. Furthermore, he charges, there are “many gaps in the translations where words or whole sentences have been forgotten…

    Even more seriously of concern to Witzel are Wendy’s errors in what he calls the “serious grammatical business,” for which he scolds her for “misunderstanding the ‘first-year Sanskrit’.” “Difficult sentences,” writes Witzel, “are simply left out without telling us so.

    Witzel concludes: “Simple question: if ‘that’ much is wrong in just one story (and this is a small selection only!) — what about the rest of this book and her other translations?… It might have been better to have used the old translations and to have added her Freudian interpretation to them… In sum: The “translation” simply is UNREALIABLE.

    Witzel on Doniger’s Mistranslation of the Laws of Manu:

    Reviewing this translation by Doniger, Witzel writes: “I give just one example which shows both wrong (rather, lack of) philological method and lack of simple common sense.” (See endnote for the rather technical example.[ lxiii ])

    Furthermore, Witzel criticizes Doniger for using only a small selection of the available variations. She does not invest serious energy in selecting what variations to use where and why. Therefore, concludes Witzel, her scholarship is not of the standard required by Harvard: “In view of all of this, I wonder indeed whether D’s translation would have been accepted in the Harvard Oriental Series rather than in Penguin…

    Witzel’s Conclusions:

    This brief but devastating review of the Queen’s scholarship was just the tip of the iceberg of what Witzel could have done, had he not been asked to stop. His overall remarks about the above three examples of her mistranslation:

    Note that all 3 translations are RE-translations. Mistakes of the type mentioned above could easily have been avoided if the work of our 19th century predecessors (and contemporaries!) had been consulted more carefully… Last point: Looking at the various new translations that have appeared in the past decade or so: Why always to RE-translate something done ‘several’ times over already — and why not to take up one of the zillion UN-translated Skt. texts?

    Witzel is also critical of the heroic proclamations by Wendy’s cronies about her books: “And a little less hype would also do: ‘a landmark translation, the first authoritative translation in this century’ (cover); ‘to offer to more specialized scholars new interpretations of many difficult verses.’ (p. lxi) — I doubt it.

    The claim of critical inquiry with an open mind would require that RISA should have taken up these issues seriously. At the very least, there should be panels of scholars, whose careers are outside her influence, to critique Wendy’s work, because of her enormous power in academe.

    Other Examples:

    Prof. Antonio de Nicolas gives more hilarious insights[ lxiv ]:

    Wendy, as you know, wrote her Rg Veda putting my translations next to hers. By giving “maska lagao” to me, she avoided a bad review,…. The theoretical headings she uses for the Rg Veda are arbitrary… the jewel is her translation of “aja eka pada”. Literary it means “aja” = unborn, unmanifest, “eka” = one, “pada” = foot, measure. It is the unmanifest one foot measure of music present in the geometries of the “AsaT”, meaning, the Rg Vedic world of possibilities where only geometries live without forms. Well, Wendy translates it as “the one footed goat” because “aja” in Hebrew means goat. What is a one-footed goat doing in the Rg Veda?

    Commenting on Wendy’s book, “Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts”[ lxv ], Nicholas Kazanas writes how she is always obsessed with one meaning, the most sexual imaginable based on the greatest amount of stretching of the imagery, overruling all other interpretations and varied aspects of meaning:[ lxvi ]

    O’Flaherty seems to see only one function, the third one of fertility and sexuality, copulation, defloration, castration and the like: even bhakti ‘devotion’ is described in stark erotic terms including incest and homosexuality (1980: 87-99: 125-129). Surely, erotic terms could be metaphors for spiritual or mystical experiences as is evidence in so much literature?

    In her book titled, “Acseticism and Eroticism in the Myth of Siva,” there are many other problematic translations, such as:

    · Tantra = Sexual practice: Hugh Urban on the AAR 2001panel on “Embracing Orientalism” emphasized that ‘tantra’ is not even an Indic category in the sense in which it is used now. It is a false Western reification, constructed in 19th century America, in order to appropriate it for popular use by a society starved for such erotica. This new construct became a thing-in-itself, and even got resold back into the Indian market very successfully. Certainly, the sexual idea of tantra is true also, but is not the only truth or even the main idea concerning the practice.

    · Maithuna = Sexual intercourse: This is another simplistic definition given in Doniger’s glossary[ lxvii ]. But within the tantric tradition, this term means intercourse with the world with all our senses, the ultimate idea being to intensify this engagement so as to transcend the duality. It is used as a metaphor for a positive engagement with the world, a sort of radical realism — quite the opposite of the stereotype of Hinduism as being a ‘world negating’ religion. Whereas Wendy has been stuck in the lowest two chakras all her career, this other view from the higher chakras gives an entirely different perspective. She should give all the different levels and contexts of meaning, especially in an authoritative book where students expect to learn the definitive meaning of a term.

    · Linga = Phallus: Wendy defines linga as: “The phallus, particularly of Siva.”[ lxviii ] She makes no attempt to nuance or to explain the diversity of interpretations and the levels of meanings at various stages of practice. Diana Eck is rather blunt about criticizing this misportrayal: “Christians look at the Hindu worship of the linga and see it as phallic worship, while Hindus look at the Christian sacrament of communion and are repulsed by its symbolic cannibalism.”[ lxix ]

    It is little wonder that her “Purana Perennis” was criticized in Bakker, Hans T. et al[ lxx ], who felt that the racy books of Doniger are fast-food-like publications designed to attract attention, readership and sales, but are devoid of meticulous scholarship or authenticity.

    The Queen’s Power:

    Her students have been encouraged to go to India with the specific purpose of looking for data on “Christian persecution in India,” even though everyone knows that a genuine scholar cannot embark upon research with the conclusions already fixed[ lxxi ]. Much activism is being disguised as scholarship.

    Reverse Anthropology and Psychoanalysis

    Let’s Accept Kripal’s Principles:

    I wish to utilize Kripal’s position on this new genre of scholarship, but in a manner than reverses the role of the parties: I want to apply similar methods to psychoanalyze and deconstruct the community of Eurocentric scholars themselves. Clearly, my quest for inter-cultural symmetry cannot be denied. Let us examine some implications.

    Kripal writes:

    With Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” we can see quite easily just why the hermeneutic may in fact legitimately understand the text in ways quite different than those of the original author of culture: in effect, the historian’s present life-world and categories provide probes or techniques of analysis that were simply non-existent in the meaning-horizon of the text’s past. This present horizon of meaning fusing with the past horizon of the text produces a third, unprecedented space in which new meanings and possibilities of insight can appear. Hence Gadamer can write that the “meaning of a text goes beyond its author, not only occasionally, but always. Understanding is therefore not merely reproductive but also productive” (Ormiston and Schrift 224[ lxxii])… [T]he modern study of Ramakrishna extends and radicalizes the history of the texts themselves through the various fusions of horizons that it enacts in its own texts and critical practices (gender studies, psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, etc.). What, of course, we end up with is radically new visions of who Ramakrishna was and what his life meant that are a bit shocking to someone locked into only one horizon of meaning (that is one cultural worldview, past or present) but entirely plausible to those who inhabit others…. Why, then can Americans such as myself, so deeply inspired by Hindu religious traditions, not think about them with all our religious categories and intellectual practices?”[ lxxiii]

    “I do not honestly believe that the many important differences that have become apparent through this controversy can be fully resolved here or in any other format, as many of us are clearly operating out of radically different worldviews, moral values, and understandings of human sexuality and language.”[ lxxiv ]

    Here is my restatement of Kripal’s position:

    A) Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” is a method by which today’s people may reinterpret classical texts in ways that differ from the original author’s intent, and such new interpretations are legitimate, as they expand the orthodox meaning with “new meanings and possibilities of insight.”

    B) Important differences between people of different worldviews cannot be fully resolved.

    Implications of ‘A’ – New Methods of Interpretation:

    Agreeing with his principle ‘A’, I wish to ask why, then, are Hindu scholars denigrated when they apply “probes or techniques of analysis,” such as the use of astronomical data in classical Indian texts, to bring about “fusions of horizons” and “radically new visions” pertaining to Indic traditions?[ lxxv ] Are these fresh conclusions “a bit shocking to someone locked into only one horizon of meaning” — namely, his own RISA cohorts’ boxed-in mentality? Why do they not critically examine these new claims, instead of rushing to condemn such scholarship as neo-Fascist, Fundamentalist, Hindu Nationalist and other assorted abuses, without any basis? Or is it that Gadamer’s theory of new hermeneutics works in only one direction — the direction in which the dominant culture, by imposing its foreign hermeneutics, wants to overrule the methods of interpretation indigenous to the colonized culture?

    Taking this point further, why are Hindus’ own new religious interpretations not given credence and why are such interpretations dismissed as being not authentic — often by this arrogant, self-appointed cult of scholars? Do non-white people not have the same right of re-reinterpretation, without supervision by the dominant culture, and not as mere proxies?

    Furthermore, why am I attacked when I use ‘A’ to deconstruct certain RISA members, even though I use the very same methods they themselves use? Could it be that my conclusions are “a bit shocking to someone locked into only one horizon of meaning?”

    Finally, who — and on what basis — should determine which hermeneutics are valid and which are not? It cannot simply be a matter of prior usage or acceptance by the power structure, for that would perpetuate hegemony and go against the very innovation that Kripal espouses. In practice, how does one avoidadhikara (authority) being usurped by the dominant coterie based mainly on crude power? RISA has evaded debating this openly.

    For removal of doubt, let me clarify that there are many instances in which agency is denied to free thinking individuals by both sides of the Left/Right divide. This is why orthodox classifications are no longer useful. For example, I recently received a criticism from someone who is self-defined as a “secularist..” His point is that it is inconsistent for me to simultaneously oppose both (i) the political ideologies of Hindutva and also (ii) those of the “secularist-Christian-Marxist” axis. Unfortunately, too many people are stuck in fixed ideologies of various kinds, and are unable to appreciate that their simplistic toolbox does not comprise an exhaustive set of possibilities, especially for someone who does not believe in finalities of dogma. Why should a la carte choice-making be banned?

    I welcome the ‘A’ principle, provided it is equally available to all.

    Chakras as Indic Hermeneutics:

    One of the ways to think in an Indic framework is to use the Hindu-Buddhist Chakra System as a seven-layered hermeneutics. Imagine each chakra as a template of contexts, that may be used for multiple purposes. When a phenomenological experience is interpreted or processed from a given chakra, it provides a perspective corresponding to that chakra. The physical locations of the chakras are relevant to yogic or tantric transformative practices, whereas their archetypal meanings are what I am interested in here.

    At the risk of oversimplification, I shall assume that the seven chakras may be grouped as follows:

    · Lowest: The lower three chakras correspond to basic animal instincts. The lowest, near the anus, is about security. Chakra 2, near the genitals, is about pleasure and reproduction. Chakra 3, near the navel is about power over others.

    · Middle: Chakras 4, 5 and 6 represent the positive human qualities, such as love, interconnection and bonding, altruistic vision, etc. In other words, these represent the higher qualities that all religions espouse. Behaviorism or any other strictly mechanistic worldview, being devoid of spirituality, might not recognize these, and would limit itself to the human needs and desires corresponding to the lowest chakras.

    · Highest: The crown chakra corresponds to nondualism and transcendence — moksha, nirvana, etc. Most Indic traditions culminate in such a state. For Abrahamic religions, the mainstream orthodox worldview denies any such possibility, but there are fringe minority views, of mystics who are considered heretic by their traditions, that are compatible with chakra 7.[ lxxvi ] The rage against Hindu-Buddhist chakras by many scholars may be resulting from the tension between this heresy in their native traditions on the one hand, and their craving to want to appropriate Indic technologies of adhyatma-vidya on the other.

    Depending on where a given scholar’s mental state is located in this hierarchy of contexts, things will appear corresponding to the template of the corresponding chakra. This means that the same thing may be seen at many levels — which is exactly what Hinduism stresses.

    For instance, one may safely say that Wendy’s children mentioned above reside at the lowest two chakras, at least in their scholarship. Kripal is seeing Hinduism from the anal perspective (in keeping with his own homophobia, and insecurity about his Roma heritage), which is a valid view, but by no means “the” truth. It is just one perspective, and not the highest vantage point, and nor is it the place where one should remain stuck forever. Likewise, Doniger and Caldwell seem to oscillate between the anal chakra and the genital chakra. This is why their interest and depiction of Hinduism is what it is.

    On the other hand, other RISA scholars such as Father Clooney, Chris Chapple, Ian Wicher, Edwin Bryant and many others, see Hinduism from the middle chakras, and are also able to theorize about chakra 7 in an authentic manner. They examine the practices of love, bhakti, elimination of kleshas (negative conditions), and rituals from the perspective of spiritual advancement. They look at the same things with a different pair of eyes than do Wendy’s children.

    Note that these chakras are not fully independent of one another. A typical experience by a person involves a combination of multiple chakras, and this combination changes from one experience to another.

    Also note that my use of chakras in this epistemological manner is unconventional, because they are conventionally used as transformational devices for spiritual advancement.

    The History of Western Psychology may also be classified using these three categories of chakras:

    · Freud spent his entire life stuck in chakras 1 and 2: hence his obsession in depicting everything in terms of sexual anomalies.

    · Later on, Jung studied Hinduism intensely, practiced yoga based on Patanjali’s texts, and claimed to have achieved chakras 4 and 5. This enabled him to break away from Freud (a significant historical development in Western thought), to spiritualize Western science, and to reinterpret the Christian myths using a neo-Hindu worldview[ lxxvii ]. Given his enormous influence over the leading Western thinkers for several decades, he transformed Western thought radically by appropriating Indic concepts[ lxxviii ]. However, his subsequent followers erased his Indic influences, and he, too, replaced Indic metaphors with Greek-Abrahamic ones and with his own terms. Till the end, he denied the existence of the top chakra, because nonduality and transcendence went beyond what he was willing to accept empirically.

    · Recently, Ken Wilber, after decades of studying Sri Aurobindo, Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism, has understood the non-dual state — at least intellectually. Hence, he has become the leading proponent of what amounts to the view from chakra 7 in the West, at this time.

    Western anthropological and sociological dissections of Indic traditions focus on chakra 3 — dealing with power-plays between castes, genders, modern political movements, and so forth. The sanskaras(archetypes) of gladiators, and hence of many RISA scholars, are also located here. These depictions, just like the views from chakras 1 and 2, are not the crux of what the Hindu texts are trying to convey, but are often a caricature made to serve an agenda.

    Given this frame of reference, I would consider Wendy’s children to be scholars operating from the anal and genital perspectives. Kali’s Child should have as part of its title: “An anal perspective of Ramakrishna.” Similarly, for several of the works of many others.

    The scholarship published by Wendy’s children, based on a worldview resting at the lowest chakras, does not provide to their students the opportunity of the liberating glimpse afforded by the higher chakras. They essentialize Hinduism by reducing it to their own ( self-imposed ) station at the lowest chakras.

    Islam is nowadays being dramatically repackaged for Western audiences so as to emphasize its higher levels of meaning — even though the vast majority of the 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide stick to the orthodox view. However, the case for multiple levels of meaning is relatively weak in any doctrine that is based on one book, one unique historical event, and one assertion that declares the doctrine to be final and closed forever. In spite of this, the repackaging is seriously afoot — which I feel is a good idea. But a different standard is being applied to Hinduism, despite the fact that its history and library of texts cry out loudly and clearly in favor of multiple layers of meaning and multiplicities of interpretive contexts. Hindus are simply being denied their agency.

    The different levels of Hindu contexts should be used to interpret narratives, lingam, Kali, tantra, symbols, and various ceremonies and rituals. For instance, when seen from the middle chakras, the head represents the ego, and ‘cutting the head’ symbolically means getting rid of the ego. But Wendy’s children see the head as phallus, and cutting it as a message of castration, because they are stuck in the anal-genital perspective. It would be less problematic if they were to acknowledge that theirs in not a comprehensive view, and that it might not even be the most desirable or relevant view for the students.

    Collapsing Hindu texts, practices, and symbolism to one Eurocentric low level is a great violence to the tradition. This is the problem with these scholars, not that they choose to interpret sexual symbolism. A. K. Ramanujan’s famous paper on the context-sensitive meaning of Indian thought receives much attention in academe, but its purport seems to be missed in the scholarship.

    While the higher chakra interpretations are being plagiarized rapidly into all sorts of New Age, Judeo-Christian and “Western” scientific terminology, academic Hinduism is being reduced to the views from the lowest chakras. Carolyn Myss has claimed, based on highly stretched readings of obscure Christian texts that the chakras are Christian — equating them to the seven churches, and calling the highest chakra as the Christ Chakra. Likewise, Maslow studied this system and developed his multiple levels of human personality and needs, corresponding to the Hindu-Buddhist chakra levels — but few of his readers today know of this influence.

    It is especially unethical for scholars to apply the lower chakra lens to interpret the higher chakras — seeing mystical experiences as “madness,” weirdness, or as various sexual pathologies.

    Therefore, in keeping with Gadamer, Hindus should be allowed to use the chakra hermeneutics as outlined above.

    Implications of ‘B’ – Competing Worldviews:

    While Kripal’s ‘A’ principle allows me to defend the case for diversity of perspectives, and hence, desire a diversity of scholars, his ‘B’ principle says that these different views will not get fully reconciled.

    This raises the serious question: which amongst the divergent views shall prevail in the marketplace of ideas and in classrooms, given that time and space segments are very small as compared to the material available, and hence critical choices must be made as to which spin to present Hinduism in.

    This is where the power of the dominant culture — in controlling the distribution of scholarship, media, and classroom teaching — has resulted in Hinduism being reduced to the lower level in the spectrum of meanings.

    To understand this asymmetric distribution, notice how Kripal concludes his response in Evam with: “Thank you again for giving me a voice.”[ lxxix ] However, he must be reminded that he has not at all been open to the idea of giving the Ramakrishna Mission any voice whatsoever in giving its perspective on his scholarship. He categorically refused to allow Swami Tyagananda’s rejoinder to get published at par with his own work, such that Tyagananda’s work would also get catalogued, indexed, and distributed to the same extent as his own. (This reminds me of many Christian positions that “tolerate” other religions, but cannot “respect” them, because the latter would be tantamount to legitimizing them in their own right. This archetype of Abrahamic exclusivism seems to be driving Kripal’s decision not to let Tyagananda’s views become available at par with his own, while at the same time, Kripal proclaims innovation, openness, and liberalism.)

    It is this massively funded and politically backed, syndicated scholarship and its distribution, that legitimizes certain “probes or techniques of analysis,” and that brings about skewed and lopsided “fusions of horizons.” The “radically new visions” are, therefore, shaped by AAR Awards and other honors, Harvard appointments, and patronage from Wendy’s children and other cronies.

    While the production of scholarship is open to all, distribution is what determines who has influence in shaping the norms. The Khyber Pass of the distribution of Hinduism scholarship in academics is carefully controlled by a small handful of well-entrenched scholar titans. This Khyber Pass consists of journals, university presses, appointment committees, curricula development, and conferences.

    For instance, Wendy’s books are amongst the most widely prescribed in the college curricula on Hinduism. She is also the Editor of an encyclopedia of world religions that is an influential reference work. And she is rumored to be the editor of a new Encyclopedia of Hinduism that is being planned by Routledge.

    Ethics of RISA:

    One is left wondering: who, if anyone, oversees and critiques the power structure and methods of RISA and related entities, from an independent and autonomous perspective?

    This also raises the ethical question of scholars misappropriating Indic traditions as their personal property, or on behalf of their sponsoring ideology, and thereby turning their scholarship into a mining expedition.

    Wendy’s Child Syndrome


    Scholars cannot avoid unconsciously superimposing their own psychological and cultural conditioning on to their scholarship, by pre-selecting the topics of interest, by filtering the data, by viewing the data through linguistic and methodological lenses that suit a given agenda or private psychographics — all this in order to confirm a prior conceptual formulation.

    We have to thank Jeff Kripal for opening this door for research into a behavior pattern of scholars that I have termed the Wendy’s Child Syndrome. Now they are hardly in a position to resist this inquiry, or to call it rude or inappropriate. Wendy wields far greater power in Western academe than does Kali, and to fully appreciate certain academic disciplines, one must study her influence playing out through her cult’s psychosis.

    One must classify the psychographics of Western scholars of India into categories. Below is the beginning of such a taxonomy, and over time, I expect this to be re-examined several times and elaborated continuously:

    1) Western women, such as the famous professor herself, who are suppressed by the prudish and male chauvinistic myths of the Abrahamic religions, find in their study of Hinduism a way to release their innermost latent vasanas, but they disguise this autobiography as a portrayal of the “other” (in this case superimposing their obsessions upon Hindu deities and saints). For example, here is Wendy acknowledging projecting her psychosis onto her scholarship:[ lxxx ] “Aldous Huxley once said that an intellectual was someone who had found something more interesting than sex; in Indology, an intellectual need not make that choice at all…. Is sex a euphemism for god? Or is god a euphemism for sex? Or both!

    2) American Lesbian and Gay women’s vasanas, also suppressed by Abrahamic condemnation, seek private and public legitimacy, and therefore, interpret Indian texts for this autobiographical purpose.

    3) Sexually abused Western women, seeking an outlet for anger, find in the Hindu Devi either a symbol of female violence or a symbol of male oppression — another cultural superimposition.

    4) Given the Abrahamic God’s obsession with his enemy (the Devil), the dualism of ‘us versus them’ is unavoidable in Abrahamic theology. In this zero-sum game, Western Feminists must fight men and displace them by becoming like them, as there is no respectable place for women in the Western myths. Hence, this myth also plays out as a theory of ‘tutelage’ over women of color, as a sort of White Woman’s Burden. It is very fashionable for Indian women to get inducted into this by the lure of degrees, grants, publishing projects and other rewards. The more ethnic such an Indian woman appears, the more precious the catch. Meanwhile, all self-assured Hindu women are shunned as a threat to the paradigm — dismissed as not being the ‘real’ Hindus. The Hindu woman of the Western myth is therefore a straw-woman constructed to fit the needs of the White Woman’s Burden. Many Indian women activists, such as Madhu Kishwar, bitterly contest Western Feminist portrayals of Indian women.

    Faulty Methods of Scholarship:

    The hermeneutics, or methods of scholarship, deployed by the scholars who are afflicted with any of the above conditions, are characterized hereunder. Jeffrey Kripal’s case, and the other cases briefly summarized in this essay, clearly illustrates each of these:

    1. Many of the scholars lack the full knowledge of the cultural context and/or language to be able to legitimately supercede the beliefs of a living tradition, and yet this is what they have been doing.
    2. Insiders to the tradition are excluded from participating as equals, being reduced to native informants of various sorts, or else are brought in under the tutelage, supervision, or authority of those who are licensed as Wendy’s Children. Those who resist don’t advance in their careers. Controlling who is licensed to be a scholar is crucial to the survival of this enterprise.

    3. Many critical terms are simply mistranslated, or else are taken out of context. Words that have a wide range of meanings are collapsed into a simplistic meaning that is most sensational and fits the thesis of the scholar.

    4. There is often complete disregard for the tradition’s higher layers of meaning, and there is dramatic use of the lenses of sexuality, social abuse, irrationality, and other features that serve to marginalize the seriousness of the tradition’s truth claims.

    5. Exotic imagery and Bollywood-style effects are lavishly superimposed so as to fortify the depiction as being authentic. Even before Bill Gates developed cut-and-paste capabilities in his software, certain Western scholars had mastered the art of cutting-and-pasting Indian texts and contemporary narratives. This went along with the ability to sprinkle content from the scholar’s imagination and from his alien culture. The final product was then coated with hyper-jargon to make it incomprehensible and labeled as cutting-edge hermeneutics.

    6. Evidence that would refute the thesis is ignored and suppressed.

    7. The subject matter being studied is mapped by the scholar for his or her personal purposes, as personal “property” of the scholar, and, therefore, protected in a very patronizing manner. It ceases to belong to the community for whom it is a living tradition. As his/her property, the scholar will defend it fiercely, but at his/her own will, and subject it to U-Turns in the future. The true insider is excluded or reduced to native informant even in his ability to speak on behalf of the tradition.

    8. Ph.Ds, academic papers, academic press books, book awards, and jobs at prestigious institutions are rewarded by committees who are part of the establishment, and who often suffer from this Syndrome. There is no independent review or audit of RISA’s policies and practices, contrary to what is normal in most organizations of significance.

    9. When their scholarship is criticized by someone who is not under the control of their power structure, they simply ignore the criticism and refuse to deal with it squarely. If criticism persists, they personally attack the critic, as if to say: “How dare you, a mere native informant, talk back this way? Don’t you know your place?

    10. Any criticism or corrective scholarship that is from outside this tightly-controlled cult has a short shelf-life at best: it is not placed in major libraries, or catalogued for on-line search, or prescribed reading in colleges. In many instances, it is not even available for purchase at mainstream book retailers. Tyagananda’s response is a case in point: distribution is controlled by the syndicate.

    Why This Is Very Important:

    The Myth of the West is the most important myth to study today, as the West is the center of world power.Wendy’s Child Syndrome is that portion of the Western Myth that sustains the myth by eroticizing the ‘other’, superimposing its own archetypes as the lens, such as the idiosyncrasies listed above, and serving to reify and strengthen the Western Myth as a result.

    Far from being independent thinkers, scholars afflicted with Wendy’s Child Syndrome are very much driven by vasana bundles into performing their roles within this Western Myth. They lack agency to a large extent, as the archetypes of their myths compel them to perform in predictable ways.

    Prof. Narasingha Sil describes this[ lxxxi ]:

    I have a vision of the descent of the ‘avataras’ of the missionaries of yester years who sought to bring the divine light in the land of the benighted pagans and thus make them civilized and Christianized. I see here these ‘avataras’ as the neo-missionaries hailing from the great secular temples of learning of the powerful and resourceful Western countries and possessing impressive credentials, considerable personal charm and social grace, including, above all, a remarkable gift of packaging, processing, and producing information. Yet, beneath their bonhomie and academic garb (empathy, postmodernist skepticism of positivist knowledge, etc), they are tough customers who mean business, literally as well as metaphorically. This business, alas, echoes the agenda of their simple hearted and minded forbears: to relegate a pagan faith of a distant disturbed land to exoticism and esoterism to affirm its “otherness” and at the same time, in contrast to the earlier mission of conversion of souls, make a name and also some bucks along the way by aligning the distant “other” with the normalized and socialized “others” of their own culture. The ‘Iila’ of this academic market economy as played out in the hullabaloo surrounding ‘Kali’s Child’ thus achieves the twin objectives of discovering the human (in this case homosexual) Ramakrishna and selling him to the campus communities (where acceptance of alternative sexuality, often described as “queer lifestyle,” have become a badge of respect) throughout the country.”

    “’Kali’s Child’ is a product, par excellence, of a relatively new fad — postorientalism. The currently fashionable and freely and frivolously used methods of critical and literary theory, which is a product of the West like its adversary Enlightenment rationality, is keen on McDonaldizing (and thus homogenizing) norms and values of “other” culture and world views. This agenda is parallel to the political and economic evangelization of the world in the ‘mantra’ of free market and democracy — a spin off from the imperialistic Christian evangelization of the pagan orient. Hence the penchant for the pathological on the part of the author of ‘Kali’s Child’.

    Edward Said also articulated the geopolitical injustice caused by this genre of scholarship: “The fetishization and relentless celebration of “difference” and “otherness” … “the spectacularization of anthropology” … cannot easily be distinguished from the process of empire.”[ lxxxii ]

    Frequent Objections I Hear


    Drafts of this and similar writings were criticized by a few RISAologists as being rude and “negative”. However, anyone who has seen RISA scholars’ own ad hominems, against those who dare to criticize them, would quickly point out the double standards.[ lxxxiii ] The proclaimed scholarly standards should be demonstrated. But there are other justifications for me to be making this challenge.

    It is natural to find Hindus using satire, parody and caricatures to criticize those scholars who proclaim god-like status. Nicholas Gier’s book used “Titanism” as a metaphor, to describe gurus who are larger than life, and who assume unquestioned authority. In the Indian mind, the West has a Titanic presence. I submit that there are Scholar Titans dominating the field, and who have hijacked the Vedic authority and assumed the position of final authority on Hinduism for themselves — like the British assumed the position of rulers ofIndia.

    Scholars who properly understand this Hindu habit of summoning gods down from the clouds and poking fun at them, would not be so angry at our sharp criticism of them. Since we feel disenfranchised, as outcasts in the academic study of our own religion, we resort to the traditional method of dealing with arrogance even with the gods.


    Gerald Larson has accused the Diaspora, being outside the academicians’ sphere of control, of trying to “hijack” his profession. But it has been argued in response that hijacking is a form of theft, and since the faith community is the real owner of the tradition, it is the alien scholars who have hijacked it. These arguments from both sides are the same as the British-Gandhi arguments about self-rule. Scholars’ attitude of self-glorification and expectation of obeisance from Indians, and especially from Hindus, reminds me of the way the British East India Company had to be addressed by the subjugated Indians as “Company Sarkar.”

    Given that Indology was started by the East India Company as part and parcel of colonialism, RISA appears to have stepped into those shoes and proclaimed itself as the new Sarkar. Dilip Chakrabarti, on the faculty of the Archaeology Department at CambridgeUniversity, explains very emphatically:[ lxxxiv ]

    …one of the underlying assumptions of Western Indology is a feeling of superiority in relation to India, especially modern India and Indians. This feeling of superiority is expressed in various ways. On one level, there are recurrent attempts to link all fundamental changes in the Indian society and history to Western intervention in some form. The image of ancient India which was foisted on Indians through hegemonic texts emanating from Western schools of Indology had in mind an India that was steeped in philosophical, religious and literary lores and unable to change herself without external influence, be it in the form of Alexander the Great, Roman Ships carrying gold or the Governor-Generals of the British East India Company. On a different level, expressions of Western superiority can be more direct and encompass a wide range of forms: patronizing and/or contemptuous reviews of Indian publications, allusions to personal hardships while working in India, refusal to acknowledge Indians as “agents of knowledge” or even blatant arrogance which makes one wonder if the civilized values of Western Academia have not left its Indology mostly untouched…

    After all, Western Indology is an essential by-product of the process of establishment of Western dominance in India. Racism — in this case a generic feeling of superiority in relation to the natives — was, quite logically, one of the major theoretical underpinnings of this process. It is but natural that Western Indology should carry within it a lot of this feeling of superiority…

    Funding Sources:

    The Infinity Foundation was recently attacked for providing grants to scholars (alleged as being a way to influence research). But then it was loudly and clearly pointed out by me, and reinforced by some RISA members, that thousands of times larger funding of Indian studies in the West comes from the Government, the Church, and various Western multinational interests. Given how many RISA scholars have many skeletons in the closet, and that the data on their funding sources is largely available in the public domain, my call for a systematic disclosure and analysis of all funding sources was ignored and hushed up. My point is that Indians’ funding the humanities should be seen in the context of the very large funding by Western interests, along with the funding by other non-Western minorities, such as The Japan Foundation, Korea Foundation, The China Institute, and a large number of Islamic and Arab sources.

    Insiders/Outsiders and Objectivity:

    The Hindus’ own views of Hinduism are considered unreliable and biased. But it has been already pointed out that outsiders to Indic traditions are not neutral, because they are insiders to other traditions, which also happen to be competitors in the very real battle for market share. Furthermore, the adhyatma-vidya(inner science) level of interpretation is what the texts and traditions often call for, and this is based on the experience of the practitioners. The “outsiders” can often be traced to the mentality of the “one book” culture lurking beneath the mask of objectivity.

    Psychoanalyzing RISA’s Anger

    Perception of Threat to the Monopoly:

    RISA’s internal power structure encourages many chowkidars to control entry, and sepoys to go out on hit-and-run missions — in the sense of ad hominems – against those who question their methods, power structure, or conclusions.

    When, in 1995, I started to examine the academic scholarship about India, I was told many times that I must first pay homage to the power bosses of this club. My initial reason for not patronizing the RISA bosses was to gain an independent perspective, in the same manner as corporate executives bring independent consultants to tell them what the insiders hide. I wanted to hear voices and perspectives that are marginalized by the power structure, as is often the case in any incestuous and corrupt institution. Why empower the fox even further to manage the hen house?

    But I was repeatedly warned that to be considered legitimate, I must invite the bosses to lead or at least to participate in each activity that I do. Even if they did not accept, the invitation would provide us with “protection.” However, my entire corporate career has been fighting one entrenched hegemony after another, and the notion of playing along with the flow of power has never been appealing. I invite an individual when it makes sense based strictly on merit, and not when it does not make sense. Period.

    In the computer industry in the 1970s, I enjoyed working for the underdog minicomputer and then the personal computer suppliers, at a time when the mighty IBM mainframe ruled supreme. Subsequently, in the telecom field, once again I enjoyed working on emerging paradigms that challenged old monolithic behemoths. As a management consultant, I specialized in studying industry structures to find vulnerable spots where new entrepreneurial players could enter and ultimately defeat the old (and inevitably inefficient)nawabs. Facilitating change has always appealed to me. I prefer working with those who challenge the status quo and the monopolistic mechanisms.

    Therefore, the academic field of humanities is not the first time that I have encountered entrenched bureaucracies, the old boys’ (and old girls’) networks, with their hostilities against “outsiders” — first ignored as being unqualified, and then seen as threats to the incumbents of power. The price of shaking up this neocolonized field of India studies includes facing insults.

    I have been studying the anthropological and psychoanalytical methods used by these scholars, and have applied the very same methods to study the scholars themselves. It is fascinating to see them as an exotic, strange and peculiar community. Their attacks against their critics provide further data points for research. The emperors and empresses are often intellectually naked!

    The Colonizer’s Mentality:

    Here is one theory I propose about why some RISA scholars are so desperate and angry. These scholars are used to dealing with certain categories of Indians only, and when someone does not fit any of these stereotyped “boxes”, their attempts to apply their standard tools fail, leading them to great frustration:

    1. Many Western scholars of Indian religions are used to manipulating and dealing with poor villagers inIndia, whom they term “native informants,” and from whom they extract “research data” using their own biased filters. This has been done often with the collusion of Indian scholars, NGOs and intermediaries. The native informants feel obliged to dish out what is expected of them by the firangi scholar, who has a lot of grant money to throw at the data gathering process.
    2. In more recent times, the scholars have also had to deal with a second category of Indians: these are the semi-ignorant and naïve Diaspora students sitting in their classes, on topics such as “Introduction to Hinduism.” Given the power and knowledge imbalance, scholars have been able to adjust their teachings to not seem blatantly anti-Hindu, and many have adopted deceptively friendly demeanors and portrayals that often succeed in fooling the youth into imagining that these scholars genuinely respect their traditions and that what they teach must be authentic. Duplicity and ambiguity are used as strategic tools, because it is widely believed that Hindus are non-confrontational by nature. Here, a classic tool of British colonial entrapment has been used. This is best described in the words of the historian John Keay: “Other foes made their intentions clear by denunciations of one’s family or religion, and by ravaging the countryside and plundering the towns. The British, generally so restrained in their language and so disciplined in the field, were very different. They could make hostility look like friendship and conquest like a favor. It was difficult to rally support against such tactics.”[ lxxxv ]

    Prof. Antonio de Nicolas explains the obsession to claim superior rationality for European people:[ lxxxvi ]

    Nothing of what RISA scholars claim of yoga or “Hindu Religion” has much to do with Indic texts and the practice of religion in India. Notice also, that you are dealing mostly with the University of Chicago. My personal experience with them in philosophy is as bad as yours in religion. [According to these scholars,] Indic texts have no rationality, they are mythical and therefore not historical and therefore false or irrational. Have you asked yourself why? My conclusions come from the way they handled history in ancient times when those same scholars were called Akkhedians , stole writing from the Phoenicians and rewrote history for everyone else so that their dates would make them be the first to hold knowledge, the One (conceptual) God, and mostly revelation, the prophetic voice. Of course we know all this is wrong , but their attitude has not changed. I was told that it was impossible for a Hindu, mythic text to be philosophical for it was not historical and therefore irrational. My answer is that to proclaim one single rationality as RATIONAL is sheer irrationality and conceptual imperialism.

    Prof. Gayatri Chakravorty-Spivak explains this denial of Indians’ agency by Western historians, to make the same point:[ lxxxvii ]

    …it is almost as if we don’t exist. That is to say, colonials, even upper-class colonials, do not exist as agents. It is not as though these historians don’t know a lot of people like that when they go for their fieldwork and so on. But when it comes to the work they present we never hear of people…you never see anything that puts them on the same level of human agency.

    Prof. Dilip Chakrabarti explains how the West has bred and bought off a whole generation of elitist Indians, and how this axis operates today:[ lxxxviii ]

    …after Independence… [Indians] – especially those from the ‘established’ families – were no longer apprehensive of choosing History as an academic career…. To join the mainstream, the historians could do a number of things: expound the ruling political philosophy of the day, develop the art of sycophancy to near-perfection or develop contacts with the elite in bureaucracy, army, politics and business. If one had already belonged to this elite by virtue of birth, so much the better. For the truly successful in this endeavour, the rewards were many, one of them being the easy availability of ‘foreign’ scholarships/fellowships, grants, etc. not merely for themselves but also for their protégés and the progeny. On the other hand, with the emergence of some specialist centers in the field of South Asian social sciences in the ‘foreign’ universities, there was no lack of people with different kinds of academic and not-so-academic interest in South Asian history in those places too, and the more clever and successful of them soon developed a tacit patron-client relationship with their Indian counterparts, at least in the major Indian universities and other centers of learning. In some cases, ‘institutes’ or ‘cultural centres’ of foreign agencies were set up in Indian metropolises themselves, drawing a large crowd of Indians in search of short-term grants or fellowships, invitations to conferences, or even plain free drinks.

    We Are Not Native Informants Any More!

    Therefore, the specific kind of Indian that certain RISAologists are most uncomfortable in dealing with is anyone who is already successful in a “Western” organization, and especially anyone who has managed over a large number of Westerners for an extensive period of time. Such a person is not likely to idolize them, or be easily taken for a ride. Any Indian who has succeeded in dealing with Westerners on their own turf must have enough insight into the Western mind, its strengths and weaknesses, and must be self-confident. Scholars can neither exploit such a person as a “native informant,” nor patronize him in the same manner as a young NRI student looking for a good grade. For one thing, any such Indian is bound to challenge them, rather than accepting their scholarship at face value, and is likely to be skilled at negotiation.

    The Eurocentric superiority complex, so blatant among many aggressive RISA members, is a reaction and Freudian cover for their deeply-rooted inferiority complexes and insecurities. Just as most East India Company officers working in India were low-class Englishmen, often from poor and semi-educated backgrounds, who suddenly transformed themselves into wealthy and powerful rulers after arriving in India, many RISA scholars are rather poorly regarded within mainstream Western society, and yet boss over Indians using their assumed authority.

    This has to do with their personal backgrounds. After early years of hippie-like wandering around to “find themselves,” many of them successfully “became somebody” when they were nurtured by Indic traditions of various sorts. This led to the academic route, and eventually to becoming high-ranking scholars who can boss over the very traditions that gave them sustenance and made them who they are. Few such scholars have any alternative skills to fall back on within the Western career market. Hence, it is understandable that their bloated egos must cling on to Indic traditions as their personal property.

    Meanwhile, within the Western academy, the more specialized someone becomes, the less oversight and due diligence is possible, because there are very few others who are able to challenge them within an ultra specialized field. This breeds cults of micro-specialties, each of which assumes a life of its own.

    When assertive Indians show up, the tables are suddenly turned, as described below:

    1. The Western scholar of the humanities is sometimes unable to deal with the reality that he/she is lower on the West’s own scale of rational training, as compared to successful Indians who are well-educated in science, engineering, medicine, finance, management, entrepreneurship or other areas where analytical skills are critical. (I have challenged certain professors of Hinduism to compare their own SAT college entrance scores with those of the average Indian student in their class, especially in math, to decide whether they should be portraying the Indic traditions as being less rational than the West. I have yet to find anyone accepting this challenge.) Therefore, this business of depicting the Indic traditions as somehow irrational or backward is unsustainable in front of the rational Indians, except by distortion of the facts as illustrated earlier in this essay. It is ironic that some scholars hide behind their “dense writings” with great pride, failing to appreciate that a solid experience in theoretical physics, or in writing software compilers or network protocols, or in negotiating complex 500-page business contracts, involves high-caliber, very terse and rigorous work. Frankly, far too many writings from the religious studies are poorly structured, loosely argued, and sometimes outright illogical.
  • Eurocentric scholars are used to exerting power over Indians who are in Ph.D programs, or are seeking jobs in academe, or must appease them for the sake of being included in conferences or publishing projects, or would like a favorable recommendation for a tenure. Many Indians thus get reprogrammed as sepoys to serve the RISA Raj.[ lxxxix ] However, when someone is secure, and does not want or need any such favors that they could possibly offer, Eurocentric scholars feel terribly insecure and powerless.

  • Most Indians who have encountered scholarly nonsense of the kind described in this essay, who are successful professionally to be assertive, and who are also independent of the academy, are simply ignorant of the subject matter to be able to deal with the scholars on their own turf. This is why, from 1995 through 2000, I devoted almost all of my time reading hundreds of academic books and papers in a wide variety of humanities subjects. Most scholars have read less than this, and are too narrow in their knowledge of academic publications. They are far too busy with administrative and other routines to be able to read so much. This makes any knowledgeable challenger especially threatening to their sense of cultural and personal superiority.

  • The combination of all three factors mentioned above creates an interesting reversal of the conventional power structure in the field of India related studies. (This is analogous to the complaint from Western corporate women that men often find it hard to respect a female boss, because the conventional power structure is reversed.) They would love to get rid of such “threatening” persons who call out their shortcomings, so that they may go about their exploitative scholarship unimpeded.

    Let us now re-examine the anger of Gerald Larson and his cohorts, over the alleged “hijacking” of Hinduism studies by Hindus. Any attempt by Hindus to claim agency, or to take charge of their own affairs — be it looking after their poor people without Mother Teresa or other Western movements, or be it doing scholarship to interpret and reinterpret their dharmas as they choose — is seen as an attack on the Eurocentric person’s control over agency, which includes the Eurocentric person’s right to license those neocolonized persons he chooses to appoint under terms and conditions and under supervision ultimately controlled by Eurocentric people. One has to psychoanalyze the strange behavior of many neocolonialized Indian scholars in this light.

    I am quick to add that I personally know and work with many Western scholars, both in RISA and outside, who have distanced themselves from Eurocentrism, and who, in fact, go out of their way to help the neocolonized people restore their religions and knowledge systems. Clearly, such individuals are not working from chakra 3 of power plays, but are able to deal from the middle chakras. This is a very hopeful sign and is to be encouraged.

    Because of the foregoing, if Hindus apply psychoanalysis to deconstruct some of the Western scholars’ own exotic personal lives — wild sex, exotic “trips” and affairs, various pathologies, power games, U-Turns to/from India — enough to make a Bollywood serial, it is condemned as being an “attack” on the high priest(esse)s. I am routinely attacked for exercising my freedom to do psychoanalysis of certain scholarship that I have described as the Wendy’s Child Syndrome.

    Double Standards:

    Does the academy, as most good organizations do, conduct routine post-mortems of its processes? Should the cult of scholars itself be under the anthropologist’s lens for ethnographic studies? Should it invite the Hindus to criticize the scholars’ work, rather than throwing them out with abusive name-calling?

    Every inbred organization defends its integrity by citing its so-called ‘independent’ reviews. But the standard definition of ‘independent,’ as used in business and law, would fail to qualify RISA scholars as being truly independent, given the well-entrenched traditions of blackballing, and the whisper circuit. Criticism that is controlled and licensed by those who are to be criticized, is not legitimate criticism. Therefore, isn’t silencing the ‘external’ critic dangerous to the integrity and credibility of RISA?

    When all other arguments fail to silence the independent critics, they are attacked personally as being “anti-social” elements. This is an entirely arbitrary ruling, without any critical analysis by fellow RISAologists.

    Scholars must stand up to challenge their cohorts when they essentialize an entire Internet discussion list as though it were homogenous, or when they essentialize the Diaspora with a few simplistic dismissive adjectives. By engaging in such rhetoric, and poorly researched at that — namely, the overdone habit of branding critics as “fundamentalists” or “nationalists” among other essences — they discredit RISA under whose banner they function.

    Furthermore, activism that opposes the scholars’ positions is condemned as being unscholarly, and yet the RISA’s Internet archive amply documents routine activism by the same scholars for their own pet causes.

    My Proposal to RISA

    I wish to make the same offer to RISA, as Kripal made to Hindus, when he wrote:[ xc ]

    I am eager to resolve these issues in a friendly and open-hearted spirit that can be as faithful as possible to academic standards of free inquiry and intellectual honesty and to the felt needs of significant segments of the Hindu community, whose religious sensibilities I am all too painfully aware of.

    Substitute “ideologies and presuppositions” in lieu of “religious sensibilities,” and “RISA” in lieu of “Hindu,” and you have a fair representation of my offer.

    Kripal regrets if he hurt the feelings of 800 million Hindus, viewing it as collateral damage. Likewise, I consider any hurt feelings of the less than 100 scholars who belong to Wendy’s powerful club as unfortunate side-effects of this search for inter-civilizational balance and harmony. The main difference is that, unlike Kripal, I subscribe to symmetry between the parties in the true spirit of samvad (dialog).

    On the other hand, if RISA continues to fight every attempt at dialog initiated by practitioners of the Indic traditions, especially without initiatives from its own side, then it should beware of Swami Tyagananda’s warning:

    If contemporary scholars condone sloppy documentation and self-serving translations to support a thesis, then the future of the present scholarship looks bleak to me.”[ xci ]

    The denial of agency to Indians who are outside the academy’s controls and supervision continues to hide questionable practices, including potential academic violations, and violation of social and personal ethics, ironically, by certain scholars who wear masks of human rights activism. There are social-ethical implications of degrading the dignity of American minorities, by shaming them for their culture. Rights of individual scholars must be balanced against rights of cultures and communities they portray, especially minorities that often face intimidation. Scholars should criticize but not define another’s religion.


    [i] (I) Dave Freedholm, a schoolteacher in Princeton, first brought the Philadelphia Inquirer article to our attention, on Nov 28, 2000, when he posted on the IT egroup the following: “One of my students brought me a newspaper article from the Philadelphia Inquirer (11/19/00) entitled “Big-screen Caddy is a Hindu Hero in Disguise.”……” Later, Dave Freedholm posted the entire article. Following is the relevant excerpt that I used in my essay: “”Big-screen caddy is Hindu hero in disguise” By David O’Reilly, Inquirer Staff Writer,Philadelphia Inquirer. “Myth scholar Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago was on hand earlier this month to lecture on the Gita. “The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think,” she said, in a lecture titled “The Complicity of God in the Destruction of the Human Race.” Throughout the Mahabharata, the enormous Hindu epic of which the Gita is a small part, Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war in order to relieve “mother Earth” of its burdensome human population and the many demons disguised as humans. “The Gita is a dishonest book; it justifies war,” Doniger told the audience of about 150, and later acknowledged: “I’m a pacifist. I don’t believe in ‘good’ wars.” Several in the audience objected to her reading of the Gita, but she made no apologies and “begged” her listeners to plunge deeper into the Upanishads and other great literature of Hinduism.” Prof. Doniger now claims that the Philadelphia Inquirer did not quote her properly, but, to the best of my knowledge, the Philadelphia Inquirer has not retracted the story.
    (II) SOME DEFINITIONS USED IN THIS ESSAY: (i) Eurocentric: The view of the world as seen fromEurope. Not about a race. Europeans could be, and often are, non Eurocentric. (ii) Orientalism: When a Eurocentric view is used to portray non-Western cultures. (iii) Macaulayite: An ethnic Indian who adopts a Eurocentric view. Usually linked to ignorance of Indian Classics, plus some inferiority complex, identity problem, or simply a matter of conditioning by the system. I happen to know more Indian Eurocentrics than Western ones. (iv) The term, “Wendy’s Child” was first used in a scholarly forum by Prof. Jack Hawley in a panel of the AAR 2001. But I believe that he was quoting another person. I looked at Kripal and a few other Wendy’s students in the audience, and they appeared to enjoy this description. From that moment, it seems to have gained currency. (v) Psychosis: A mental disorder, trauma or phobia, such as, but not limited to, homophobia or sexual abuse or repression of sexuality, that could result in the person’s scholarship becoming prejudiced.
    (III) The overriding attitude intended in this essay was expressed by Sanjay Garg on 11/29/00: “We should not behave like paranoids. Let us show how mature we are in dealing with these situations. Let us not put ourselves in the situation of Muslims when they reacted to the “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie.” I wish to also explain that my criticism does not imply that every RISA scholar is being described by every Act of the RISA Lila — the Indic traditions do have a large number of friends in the Academy, many of whom have privately encouraged and assisted in my critical writings. Much of this information is already known inside the academy, and now it is merely being brought to the general community’s knowledge.
    (IV) This Act 1 of the RISA Lila basically covers the following postcolonial studies issues, which should NOT be taken as anything personal concerning any individuals, but as general systemic issues: (A) How legitimate is Freudian psychoanalysis of non-Western religions, when the same has been rejected within Western academics? (B) What should be the new equation between insiders and outsiders in the post-9/11 scholarship process? (C) How authentic are the various translations and interpretations of Sanskrit and Indian languages that Western Indologists have dominated since over 200 years and made into “standard” meanings today? (D) What ethics committees and ombudsmen should be installed in humanities academic associations, such as AAR, that would allow the community voice to have a hearing in such matters as were illustrated in the essay? I hope the specific examples in the essay are seen not as the end in themselves but as door openers to start a wider inquiry into the study of the non-West by the West.
    (V) This essay is about cross-cultural hermeneutics as noted above. The “Hindutva Vs. Secularism” debate is NOT what this essay is about. I reject both those reductionist models, anyway. There is a re-assessment, by thinkers from both sides of the old divide, to define new categories. The Int’l Conference planned by IAHR in Delhi, 2003, hopes to address issues such as “secularism” within classical dharma texts, so that dharma and secularism are not necessarily mutually exclusive. So I hope the readers of this essay do not superimpose other agendas and debates, no matter how intense or important.

    [ii] See The Axis of Neocolonialism, posted at:

    [iii] Meaning “here is what religion X claims as its truth,” and not “here is the truth that I, as the instructor, want you to believe.”

    [iv] Lila usually means divine play, as in rasa lila. In Spanish, Risa means laughter (as per Antonio deNicholas.) Here, RISA Lila is the farce of certain scholars, who take themselves too seriously, and fear that the Indian community they study will find out what they say behind the community’s back.

    [v] [v] Wendy Doniger is the Mircea Eliade Professor of the History of Religions in the DivinitySchool,University of Chicago. Note that she claims that the Philadelphia Inquirer has misquoted her in the quote mentioned at the front of this essay, but it must also be noted that the Inquirer has not retracted its statement.

    [vi] See:

    [vii] Wendy loves this idea of her children and even grandchildren as a sort of cult: “In a sense you are my past; I worked with you when I was younger. But in a much more important sense you are my future, my living academic Nachlasse, my Doktor-kinder (if I may invert the usual phrase). And as you continue to send me your own students, who become my Doktor-grandchildren (one of whom — Liz Wilson, out of Billy Mahony, out of O’Flaherty — is beginning to send me Doktor-great-grandchildren), you have provided me with a parampara more enduring than my own books, let alone my flesh.” (See: )

    [viii] Wendy’s Children is used metaphorically to denote her followers and those who share her mentality. Many but not all are also her students. Conversely, not everyone who has a Ph.D from Wendy is necessarily a Wendy’s Child.

    [ix] Kripal, Jeffrey J. “Kali’s Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and teachings of Ramakrishna.”University of Chicago Press, 1998.

    [x] The complete 130-page response by Swami Tyagananda is posted at:

    [xi] A good example of an outsider’s account where an insider is invited to write the final chapter as a response is Father Francis Clooney’s recent book, “Hindu God, Christian God,” in which Dr. Paramil Patil was asked to write a response in the final chapter from the Hindu perspective. However, Kripal gave all sorts of excuses as to why this had never been done and could not be done by him.

    [xii] Kali’s Child Revisited, or Didn’t Anyone Check the Documentation?” by Swami Tyagananda, in “Evam: Forum on Indian Representations,” 1: 1 & 2 (2002).pp.173-190. Contact for Evam is: Professor Makarand Paranjape, English Department, JNU, Delhi. Email:

    [xiii] Sil, Narasingha. “Is Ramakrishna a Vedantin, a Tantrika or a Vaishnava? – An Examination.” Asian Studies Review 21.2-3(1997):220.

    [xiv] Kali’s Child.p.3

    [xv] Kali’s Child.pp2-3.

    [xvi] Kali’s Child.pp.28-29.

    [xvii] Kali’s Child.pp.4-5.

    [xviii] Kali’s Child.pp.298-99.

    [xix] Kali’s Child.p.2.

    [xx] Kali’s Child.p.76.

    [xxi] Kali’s Child.p.301.

    [xxii] Kali’s Child.p.66.

    [xxiii] Kali’s Child.p.160.

    [xxiv] Kali’s Child.p.65. The word ‘vyakulata’ can indeed be used for longing, with a slight erotic sense. However, in the context under consideration, it denotes just plain anxiety and longing for someone who is dear.

    [xxv] Kali’s Child.p.67.

    [xxvi] Evam.p.207.

    [xxvii] Kali’s Child.p.57.

    [xxviii] Kali’s Child. pp.xxi-xxii.

    [xxix] Huston Smith, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Spring 2001, p.2.

    [xxx] Evam.p.208.

    [xxxi] He pronounces his name ‘Cry-pal’, and says the name came from his father who is a dark complexioned Roma/Gypsy married to a white German woman. Kripal told me about his ethnic ancestry at AAR 2000.

    [xxxii] See Sil’s postscript of March 22nd 2002, at:

    [xxxiii] Wendy Doniger, “When a Lingam is just a Good Cigar: Psychoanalysis and Hindu Sexual Fantasies.” In “Vishnu on Freud’s Desk”, Jeffrey Kripal and T.G. Vaidyanathan (Eds.). OxfordUniversityPress. Delhi. 1999. pp290-291.

    [xxxiv] As defined in this essay, the Syndrome has gone beyond Wendy’s own students, as in the case ofCaldwell.

    [xxxv] Vishnu on Freud’s Desk,” by Jeffrey Kripal and T. G. Vaidyanathan (Eds.). OxfordUniversity Press.Delhi. 1999. p.339.

    [xxxvi] Vishnu….p.343.

    [xxxvii] Vishnu….p.350.

    [xxxviii] Oh Terrifying Mother: Sexuality, Violence and Worship of the Mother Kali.” OxfordUniversity Press.New Delhi/New York. 1999.

    [xxxix] Humes’ review of the book in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, November 2001.pp.901-02. Page numbers in parenthesis refer to Caldwell’s book. I feel that Humes set a very low standard for what it would take to convince her of Caldwell’s thesis.

    [xl] A forthcoming essay will focus on the syndrome personified by Caldwell.

    [xli] Posted on 5th May 1998, at the RISA-L discussion list, which is reserved for exclusive use by academic scholars in their pursuit of “objective” scholarship.

    [xlii] See my earlier column, “The Axis of Neocolonialism”, for a short summary of The U-Turn Model.

    [xliii] Vishnu….p.444.

    [xliv] Bibliography on Criticisms of Eurocentrism:

    [xlv] Courtright interprets Hinduism from various perspectives, including historical, anthropological, theological (including use of Abrahamic categories), psychological, etc.

    [xlvi] Ganesa, by Paul Courtright. OxfordUniversity Press. p.121.

    [xlvii] Ganesa.p110.

    [xlviii] Ganesa.p.111.

    [xlix] Private email received on August 28th 2002.

    [l] As a recent example of the former category, one has to see the hateful diatribe by Aditya Adharkar, who recently got his Ph.D from Wendy, against the WAVES (Vedic) Conference, on the rather inconsistent complaint that the Vedic Conference did not include Islam, and that it was about Indic Contributions! Then he went on to make further high profile scenes as if to score points with Wendy’s Club.

    [li] Patrick Bresnan, Awakening: An Introduction to the History of Eastern Thought (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001) 98-101.

    [lii] Prof. Robert D Baird, of The University of Iowa, in “Religious Conflict in Contemporary India,” Religious Studies in Kansas. Vol. 2, No.1. Fall 1993.

    [liii] See the later sub-section of this column titled, “Chakras as an Indic Hermeneutical Lens,” for an explanation of different levels of meanings.

    [liv] Stanley N. Kurtz, ”Psychoanalytic Approaches to Hindu Child Rearing.” In “Vishnu on Freud’s Desk”, Jeffrey Kripal and T.G. Vaidyanathan (Eds.). OxfordUniversity Press. Delhi. 1999.pp.199-200.

    [lv] Stanley N. Kurtz, “All the Mothers Are One: Hindu India and the Cultural Reshaping of Psychoanalysis.”ColumbiaUniversity press. 1992.

    [lvi] P.134. as quoted in Cynthia Humes’ book review in The Journal of Asian Studies.

    [lvii] Cynthia Humes’ book review in The Journal of Asian Studies.

    [lviii] All the Mothers….p.4. I am indebted to Cynthia Humes for bringing this and other information to my attention after her review of my draft.

    [lix] All the Mothers….p.143. I am indebted to Cynthia Humes for bringing this and other information to my attention after her review of my draft.

    [lx] Veena Oldenburg, “Dowry Murder,” OxfordUniversity Press.2002.

    [lxi] See Hinduism in American Classrooms

    [lxii] The posts were removed from the original archive, and were reposted at the following URLs:
    For Jaiminiya Brahmana 
    For Manu 
    For Rig Veda

    [lxiii] Manu 8.134, on weights, is translated by Doniger as follows: “Six (white) ‘mustard seeds’ equal one medium-sized ‘barley-corn’, and three ‘barley-corns’ make one ‘berry’; five ‘berries’ make a ‘bean’, sixteen ‘beans’ a ‘gold-piece’. 135. Four ‘gold-pieces’ equal a ‘straw’….” Witzel’s criticism of the above translation is as follows: “First logic or common sense: Take 3x5x16x4 (960) barley corns and weigh them… and see whether they equal any blade of straw. Even if you believe, with Herodotos, in gold digging ants and other wonders in India, I haven’t seen Indian (rice/barley) straw of that weight…But we forget simple philology, the hand-maiden of any translation that is supposedly better than Buehler’s in Victorian English and the recent partial one by Derrett, etc. The last straw is : If you check pala in the Petersburg dictionary (PW), or even in its copy, Monier Williams’ dict., you see that pala ‘straw’ is attested only with some lexicographer, who turns out to be Hemacandra (according to the PW, in his AbhidhaanacintaamaNi 1182), that is, and the word apparently is attested only once). If you check the surrounding words, you find palaala in Manu, Mbh. (and Atharvaveda: palaalii) which mean ‘straw’; and palada’ (AV) of similar meaning. It is clear that Hemacandra got his truncated (hapax!) word pala from the well known word for RstrawS palaala/ii / palaada’ (cf.TURNER 7958) — while pala (Turner 7952!) always meant ‘a certain weight/measure’ and also ‘meat’.– Mayrhofer suggests an Indo-European (see: palaava “chaff,grass”), and a Dravidian (Tamil: pul etc.) etymology. Common sense apart, to establish pala ‘straw’, [Doniger] should at least have searched in texts of similar nature and time level before accepting the meaning of ‘straw’ in Manu.”

    [lxiv] In a private email on August 28th 2002. Prof. de Nicolas is Emeritus Prof of Philosophy at SUNY, Stoneybrook.

    [lxv] O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts. University of ChicagoPress: Chicago and London. 1980.

    [lxvi] Kazanas, Nicholas. Indo-European Deities and the Rgveda. Journal of Indo-European Studies, vol. 29, nos. 3-4 (Fall & Winter 2001), pp. 257-293. Footnote #14 on page 283.

    [lxvii] Doniger. Pp. 323-325.

    [lxviii] Asceticism and Eroticism in the Myth of Siva, by Wendy Doniger. OxfordUniversity Press. Glossary, pp. 323–325.

    [lxix] A New Religious America, By Diana L. Eck. 2001. p. 99.

    [lxx] Bakker, Hans T. et al., “The Skanda Purana, Volume I.” Egbert Forsten: Groningen. 1998.

    [lxxi] Details on file.

    [lxxii] Ormiston, Gayle L. and Alan D. Schrift. “The Hermeneutic Tradition: From Ast to Ricoeur.” SUNY Press. 1990.

    [lxxiii] Evam.p.204.

    [lxxiv] Evam.p.192.

    [lxxv] For example, Subhash Kak has written extensively to date the Rig Veda and other Indian texts using unambiguous astronomical observations whose date of occurrence is well established by modern physics.

    [lxxvi] Sufism in Islam is a small minority of Muslims who do believe in transcendence, but their notion of nonduality is as a temporary epistemology only and not an ontological reality. In Christian history, mystics have always been a small minority with neo-Vedantic worldviews.

    [lxxvii] “Jung and Eastern Thought”, by Harold Coward. StateUniversity of New York Press. 1985.

    [lxxviii] Joseph Campbell’s, “Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks,” (in six volumes), shows that the participants were like a who’s who of Western thinkers. This prolonged conference series was a major mechanism for the dissemination of Indic thought into the Western mainstream, Jung being the presiding deity. Campbell did his own U-Turn from India when he visited India in 1954, and saw squalor and misery, leading him to write his book, “Baksheesh and Brahman.

    [lxxix] Evam.p.205.

    [lxxx] Wendy Doniger, “When a lingam,….” p.279, 288.

    [lxxxi] See Sil’s posts of May 10th 1998 and March 30th 2001 at:

    [lxxxii] Edward Said, “Representing the Colonized: Anthropology’s Interlocutors,” Critical Inquiry, V15, Winter 1989, pp.217-224.

    [lxxxiii] A future Act of this RISA Lila will focus on the unscholarly conduct that pervades this body of scholars.

    [lxxxiv] CHAKRABARTI, Dilip. 1997. Colonial Indology – Sociopolitics of the Ancient Indian Past. Munshiram Manoharlal: New Delhi.p.1.

    [lxxxv] John Keay, “India: A History” , Grove Press New York, 2000 p.425.

    [lxxxvi] Private email dated August 28th 2002.

    [lxxxvii] Chakravorty Spivak, Gayatri, 1991, “Neocolonialism and the secret agent of knowledge: an interview,” The Oxford Literary Review, 13:220-51.

    [lxxxviii] Colonial Indology – Sociopolitics……pp.6-7.

    [lxxxix] I shall give examples in a subsequent Act of the RISA Lila.

    [xc] “Textuality, Sexuality, and the Future of the Past: A response to Swami Tyagananda,” by Jeffrey Kripal.Evam. p.191.

    [xci] Evam.p.208.

    Related Links :

    1. Lalita Pandit’s column: Ten Reasons Why Anyone Who Cares About Hinduism Should be Grateful to Wendy Doniger by Patrick Colm Hogan
    2. The Tantric Truth of the Matter by Jeffrey Kripal

    — Rajiv Malhotra

    Dialog On Whiteness Studies

    “I advance it, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, author of the famous statement, “All men are created equal.””Whiteness studies [is] a controversial and relatively new academic field that seeks to change how white people think about race. The field is based on a left-leaning interpretation of history by scholars who say the concept of race was created by a rich white European and American elite, and has been used to deny property, power and status to nonwhite groups for two centuries. Advocates of whiteness studies – most of whom are white liberals who hope to dismantle notions of race – believe that white Americans are so accustomed to being part of a privileged majority they do not see themselves as part of a race.”
    – “Hue and Cry on ‘Whiteness Studies’: An Academic Field’s Take on Race Stirs Interest and Anger,” By Darryl Fears, Washington Post. June 20, 2003.”Whiteness is a derogatory name for Western civilization”
    – Matthew Spalding, Director of the Center for American Studies, Heritage Foundation.”White American culture holds power to control resources, set rules, and influence events…It must give up the center…Colorblindness encourages silence that continues the status quo.”
    – Jeff Hitchcock, Center for the Study of White American Culture”Many Asian/Hispanic immigrants regard white as synonymous with American, with belonging, with fitting in… They equate whiteness with opportunity and inclusion…”
    – L.A. Times [1]“[T]he American education system (with strong reinforcement from the media) has bred a nation of what I will call ‘closet racists.’ Closet racists are unaware of their prejudices.”
    – Paul Gorski

    It is clear from the above quotes that the examination of whiteness is a hotly contested field even without introducing Indians into it.

    This column is a conversation with Jeff Hitchcock, a liberal white American who specializes in studying white culture. I hope to bring Indians and Indianness into this vibrant debate, and to use whiteness as the context in which to re-examine various issues concerning Indian identity and culture.

    But first I introduce the reason for wanting to do this. Every serious thinker in the world today must have an independent and deep understanding of America and its culture. While American pop culture is understood by many Indian intellectuals, one must look beneath this surface to discover the underlying reality of America. For example, a foreigner judging America on the basis of sports and entertainment could falsely conclude that blacks enjoy a high status in American society. The danger of being an outsider looking in is that generalized surface impressions become naively accepted as deep-seated truths rather than the superficial façade they truly represent. Far too many Indian writers have interpreted America by focusing only on its pop culture, where they disproportionately focus on symbols of postmodernity, i.e. such images as Madonna with a bindi or the latest belly-button of Britney Spears.

    However, America’s institutions of power – government, business and church – are the true windows into her soul, and yet have not been adequately examined by Indians in the humanities. One must even go beyond the institutions and analyze the white culture, both codified and uncodified, both known and subliminal, by which these institutions operate. In understanding white culture, one must bear in mind that Middle America is distinct from Elite America of Ivy League cocoons, Broadway shows and The New York Times best-sellers.

    For years, I have wanted to start a new discipline, which I had tentatively called Westology, to study the West in the same manner as Indology was started in the 19th century by outsiders to study India.

    But luckily, I came across an exciting new academic field that already does much of what I had envisioned in Westology. This field is called Whiteness Studies (or White Studies), and is taught in over 30 US colleges. For instance, in Princeton University, an undergraduate course on Whiteness is among the most popular courses in the entire university, and the vast majority of students taking it are whites who want to better understand themselves.

    In the late 1980s, an article by Richard Dyer appearing in Screen, a British film magazine, sparked great intellectual interest in the field. But Whiteness Studies gained academic momentum only after a watershed event where some students organized a highly successful academic conference on this topic in Berkeley, in April 1997.

    A central concept of this discipline is white privilege, which has been defined as “a package of benefits, granted to people in our society who have white skin, which allows them certain free passes to certain things in our society that are not easily available to people of color[2].

    In his speech, The New Abolitionism, Noel Ignatiev said, “Race is not a biological but a social category. The white race consists of those who partake of the privileges of white skin. The most wretched members share a status higher, in certain respects, than the most exalted persons excluded from it, in return for which they give their support to a system…Just as the capitalist system is not a capitalist plot, racial oppression is not the work of racists.”

    While reading the scholarship in this field, I came across an interesting research and outreach group, calledThe Center for the Study of White American Culture, and its co-founder, Jeff Hitchcock[3]. We are now developing a series of joint projects to study whiteness through the lenses of anthropology, mythology, etc., and the complex relationships that Indians have with it.

    The reasons I consider it of paramount importance to understand white culture may be summarized as follows:

    1. Whiteness as the cultural currency: Gazing at whiteness (rather than from it) enables one to better recognize that white epistemologies and worldviews are relative, not universal. This would help level the playing field between cultures as equals.
    2. Expanding the epistemologies and worldviews: European culture’s systematic study of others for centuries became an instrument of power and led to representations that were spread as “universal truths and values.” Undoubtedly, white people’s epistemologies have made major contributions to all humanity, but they also need to be understood as being relative to certain experiences of certain people.

    3. White persons’ identities: While some liberal whites champion the objective study of their identity and culture from various perspectives, many other white liberals resist being gazed at so intimately. This discipline remains largely ignored and sometimes even blocked. However, since whites are a small minority in the world population, and may become a minority even within the US (which depends on the extent to which non-white immigrants “become white” over time), it is imperative that they should know how others perceive them.

    4. Human rights and peace: Lowell Thompson, who describes himself as the world’s first whiteologist, concluded that “the reason America still has a race problem was because we were studying the wrong race [i.e. blacks].” He advocates that scholars should be studying whiteness in order to deal with race issues, and not using white gazes to study exclusively black, Hispanic, Asian, and other cultures of color. Indian intellectuals who wish to promote multiculturalism must better understand the dominant white culture in order to help decenter it as one of many cultures.

    5. Indians’ identity formation: Those Indians who are trying to become “whitewashed” must first properly learn about white culture to be able to mimic it authentically. Other Indians who are keen to retain and better understand their own non-white identities must understand how to interact with and negotiate with the dominant white culture as their equal “other.” As a byproduct, Indian scholars would advance the global project of understanding whiteness. This would also serve to “return the favor,” given that white people have studied Indian culture and civilization for centuries, and taught us many of the commonly accepted ideas about ourselves.

    The goal of White Studies is to neither demonize nor glorify whiteness, but to understand it, and to give white culture its rightful place among the various cultures of the world. The idea is to show that though whiteness dominates by occupying the central spot today, it is neither intrinsically superior nor inferior to other cultures, and that its dominant position is the result of history. (See endnotes for some references on Whiteness Studies[4].

    Dialog with Jeff HitchcockRajiv: You have mentioned that the main power of whiteness is silence. Could you explain this?

    Jeff: There is a concerted effort to keep discussion of whiteness out of public discourse. This begins with mis-education in our primary and secondary schools, and to a lesser extent, even in higher education. Mainstream media engages in a studied ignorance and selective forgetting. This makes it seem like whiteness is not really an issue, so innocent looking is the lack of attention paid to it. But raise the topic and you will witness a sudden flurry of repair work brought forth by self-appointed guardians of the status quo. Whiteness is a powerful, unseen, and sometimes vengeful force that permeates every part of our lives. White Americans enjoy the privileges of whiteness without having to accept the identity of white.

    For people of color who are assimilating to whiteness to enter the mainstream, collaborating on the silence becomes a key requirement. They can reap rich rewards by pretending denial of the situation.

    White culture creates the conditions it wants to hear; it makes it so it cannot hear what people of other races are actually experiencing. Through control of the media and suppression of alternate views, it demands unity on white terms and rewards both white people and people of color who police this demand.

    Rajiv: What is at stake that makes this denial so important?

    Jeff: Whiteness is not neutral. It looks out for its own interests. White American culture holds greater power to control resources, set rules, and influence events. This position of dominance is not an accident, but rather a product of our history, involving elements of economic and political struggle. In the past, this struggle included practices such as enslavement and genocide of people and cultures of color, justified by an avowed white supremacy that celebrated whiteness as God’s appointed agent.

    Rajiv: Why is white privilege a problem?

    Jeff: White American culture was created with a frontier mentality that encouraged a nearly ravenous exploitation and consumption of newly appropriated natural resources, and a disregard of those defined as not white. In our contemporary world, these elements of white culture are clearly becoming dysfunctional.

    We need to accept that white culture cannot deliver multiracial comfort. It can only deliver white comfort. White culture cannot deliver multiracial safety. It can only deliver white safety. White culture cannot deliver multiracial community. It can only deliver white community. White culture cannot deliver multiracial justice. It can only deliver white justice. White culture must give up the center if multiracial justice, multiracial community, multiracial safety and multiracial comfort are ever to become central to our society.

    Rajiv: I often hear liberal persons say that they are colorblind, i.e. they do not see any difference among persons based on color. But you and most White Studies scholars criticize the policy known as colorblindness. Why?

    Jeff: Of course, colorblindness is far better than racism. But it is not good enough. Colorblindness says that race shouldn’t make a difference in people’s lives, and hence we should not mention it because mentioning it creates problems. But in practice, this silence preserves the status quo of white privilege.

    White people who claim to be colorblind do not want to publicly see themselves as white in other than a superficial way. They know which box to check on census forms, but do not believe (or at least do not want to believe) that the status of being white has any effect on their lives. By this denial they absolve themselves of the need to undo the problems that history has given us. It is irresponsible to suppress the problems behind blind spots, just to avoid the discomfort that pops up. Structural change cannot be made using colorblind policies.

    Whiteness forms the center of our society and as long as it does, we cannot have a society centered on multiracial values. The irony of colorblindness is that by not seeing whiteness, it keeps whiteness centered. In order to decenter whiteness we need to name it. White culture has been described as invisible, normative, transparent, raceless, and the undefined definer of others. These are all descriptions that come from within whiteness itself. Most white people cannot name whiteness.

    Rajiv: In short, colorblindness leads to invisibility, which perpetuates the status quo. We started with silence as the source of white power. The vicious cycle will continue as long as we do not break it by examining whiteness explicitly and publicly.

    Furthermore, colorblindness allows the closet racist to hide. Paul Gorski writes in The Language of Closet Racism: “[T]he American education system (with strong reinforcement from the media) has bred a nation of what I will call ‘closet racists.’ Closet racists are unaware of their prejudices. They have learned from text books presented to them by people who are supposedly knowledgeable enough to choose the best possible materials. They are trained, or more precisely, coerced into believing in ‘the system’…A closet racist is defined, then, as simply a person with racial prejudices who is unaware of those prejudices as such, usually because he or she has never been afforded the opportunity to discuss racial prejudices…”

    Jeff: The invisibility of whiteness behind the claim of neutrality has enabled it to hide from scrutiny, and this has been misused by whites to speak for universal humanity. Ani explains it as follows:

    “The Roman self-image as “world conqueror” and “savior” issues from an ego that does not confine itself to the limitations of a culture, a nation, or even a continent, but from an ego that views its boundaries as ultra universal. This is the counterpart of the intellectual self-image of the European as “universal man”…he, therefore, has the right to spread himself universally in order to “enlighten” the world.” (Ani, p. 253)”According to European nationalism, other traditions and earlier ones were expressions of mythological beliefs only: Christianity was an expression of historical fact. To this day, the most threatening appositional phrase that an avowed Christian can be presented with is ‘Christian Mythology.’ To accept its validity is to shake the ground of her/his belief.” (Ani, p. 141)

    Warren Hedges writes:

    “In order for white men to rationalize their privileges under segregation, they imagined themselves as transcending their particular self-interests and speaking for society as a whole. As Toni Morrison has pointed out, this meant presenting whiteness as something neutral – the blending of all colors that somehow transcends and contains them. The belief that white men represented society’s interests was at least as old as slavery in the Americas, but it had formally applied mainly to the wealthy. However, with the onset of universal male suffrage, first for whites, then supposedly for all men, the only way to maintain black disenfranchisement was to equate adult “objectivity” with all white men and “child-like” “irrationality” with men of color and women. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, racism in the U.S. was bolstered by political imperialism in the Philippines and economic and cultural imperialism elsewhere. White men, so the ideology went, were fit to be self-governing, while darker-skinned peoples needed help to be governed – the so-called “white man’s burden.”

    Rajiv: Robert Jensen goes even further and blames liberals for helping perpetuate invisible whiteness. In his essay, White Privilege Shapes the US, he writes: “I don’t think liberalism offers real solutions because it doesn’t attack the systems of power and structures of illegitimate authority that are the root cause of oppression, be it based on race, gender, sexuality, or class. These systems of oppression, which are enmeshed and interlocking, require radical solutions.”

    Let us move on to an even more controversial topic – the role of institutionalized Christianity in all this. (I differentiate between the teachings of Jesus and institutionalized Christianity, and focus only on the latter.) Please give me your views on the following quote from the Center for Democratic Renewal’s summary of their analysis:

    Presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan at the 1992 Republican National Convention said: “Our culture is superior to other cultures, superior because our religion is Christianity.”While the Klan is seen as being against all who are not white, radical conservatives like Pat Buchanan or religious leaders like Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition prefer to advocate for Western civilization and Christianity. [They] see themselves as threatened by a non-white, non-European-dominated future America.White supremacist beliefs, though largely invisible to the majority of the American public, regardless of race, are at the heart of the American experience. The persistence of these beliefs suggests that the racial myths and stereotypes common to white supremacy are integral to the maintenance of the U.S. social order.Sometimes the tenets of white supremacist groups can be helpful when they reflect, epitomize, crystallize or even clarify the perceptions of a predominantly white Christian society. Each of these beliefs is a reassertion of European nationalism and its successor, American nationalism. White supremacy, assuming its own universal value and superiority, justifies the aggressive imposition of its own assumptions on other peoples and cultures.

    The invisibility of white supremacy masks how violence and the threat of violence guarantee its durability. White people assert their moral right to use violent force whenever their group interests are threatened. People of color have no equivalent moral right to defend themselves against European aggression, especially when such aggression is done in the name of “law and order” [and nowadays, in the name of “human rights.”]

    This paradoxical belief has been a powerful weapon with which to steal and exploit land and other natural resources, to defend slavery and racism, to condemn lesbians and gays, and to deride all who are not Christian. Those who are not white or Christian are expected, at best to merge into the dominant culture and political system, or worst, to remain invisible and not to challenge white Christian hegemony. Outsiders seeking acceptance are constantly pressured to prove themselves, to suppress their indigenous culture, and to assimilate into the “mainstream” to achieve upward mobility.

    White supremacist beliefs are perpetuated through a series of social conventions irrespective of political boundaries. Organized white supremacy makes prevailing attitudes of prejudice appear moderate and reasonable: it normalizes everyday injustice. For example, a 1993 study commissioned by the National Science Foundation found that racist attitudes and stereotypes are rampant among whites, regardless of political affiliation.

    Most white supremacists in America believe that the United States is a “Christian” nation, with a special relationship between religion and the rule of law. Because racists give themselves divine permission from God to hate, they often don’t see that their actions are driven by hate; they claim to “just love God and the white race.” If they are religious, they distort Biblical passages to justify their bigotry. A popular religion called Christian Identity provides a theological bond across organizational lines. Identity churches are ministered by charismatic leaders who promote racial intolerance and religious division. Even for those who are not religious, “racist” to them means being racially conscious and seeing the world through a prism of inescapable biological determinism with different races having different pre-ordained destinies.

    Jeff: Mel Gibson took extraordinary pains to assure the historical accuracy of his recent film, The Passion of the Christ, even to the point of using Aramaic as the language in the film. So it’s ironic, though in many ways not surprising, that he chose a white actor to portray Jesus. “White,” of course, was not a term in use two thousand years ago, but clearly Jesus would have been of similar appearance to people of the region in which he was born and spent his life. In today’s world, people who are described as “white” do not fit that description.

    Christianity is a broad and diverse faith community founded on the teachings of a man of color. The message of universal love brought forth by Jesus, and later institutionalized by Paul, makes the race of people irrelevant. Love of God and acceptance of Jesus as Savior transcend worldly distinctions. In the worldwide Christian community, which includes a vast number of people of color, Christianity has done much to bring spiritual uplift.

    Yet there is a discomforting history of association between Christianity and whiteness. Why would Gibson use a white actor? If race did not matter, but historical accuracy was paramount, why not use an actor who reflected Jesus’ time and place and local culture? Gibson set the terms of his work. The burden is on him to explain this contradiction. Still, we can speculate. In the United States (I have far less knowledge of circumstances in Europe) Jesus has commonly been portrayed as a white man, often with long, gently curling, blond hair. The message is clear. Jesus is like “us.” In the 1990s this played out another way here in New Jersey, one of the most diverse states in the United States. A black actor was chosen to play the role of Jesus in a well known annual public performance of a passion play. A public outcry resulted. Many were outraged, though also many condemned the bigotry the public outcry revealed. Still, in one of the most liberal states of the United States, in one of the most ethnically mixed regions of that state, a substantial number of white people fervently believe there is a clear and necessary connection between Jesus and whiteness.

    Our history tells us that the English identified first as “Christians” in early colonial Virginia, and that “white” emerged as a common identity among these same people only after three or four generations of settlement.Christian identity, then, is the historical precursor of white identity in the culture that is now the dominant one in the United States.

    The “Jesus is like us” equation is used by white Christians to justify dominance of people of color. Put another way, if you are not like us (i.e. a person of color), then you are outside of Jesus’ protection, and either we are entitled to bring God’s will to bear upon your circumstances, or you are unworthy of humanistic concern. The worldly translation of this sense of entitlement often entails appropriation of resources from people of color, and the assertion of power and control of their cultures.

    Rajiv: Mel Gibson merely continues an established practice. How did Jesus “become white” in the mainstream? The painters of the Italian Renaissance found that the market was larger when Jesus was depicted as a European, and later he was also made blue-eyed. Elaine Pagels and other scholars explain how various pagan rituals, images and myths were appropriated into Christianity and the original cultural sources erased and the cultures often genocided. Today, we see yoga becoming subsumed into white culture and Christianity.

    So a key success factor of white supremacy has been the skillful management of its symbol portfolio. This is a multi-faceted management system:

    1. Others’ symbols of value are appropriated in the same manner as land, gold and natural resources have been appropriated. This symbol appropriation continues today even by liberal white scholars: my U-Turn Theory explains this.
    2. White symbols are continually upgraded by association with “goodness.” So whiteness and Jesus get conflated. As part of image damage control, Abu Ghraib atrocities were not interpreted as a “Christian crime,” whereas similar episodes from other religions are invariably named with “Islamic” or “Hindu” hyphens. Timothy McVeigh and hundreds of other heinous criminals who are white Christians are not explicitly branded as “Christian terrorists,” but merely as generic individuals who broke the law.
    3. New white Christian symbols are constantly being added to the portfolio, recent examples being Lady Diana and Mother Teresa. These symbols of goodness become marketing campaign brands targeting people of color. They are promised a boost in identity by association with the “superior” brand.
    4. Downgrading others’ cultural and symbolic capital is as intense as ever. Christian as well as liberal white scholars (along with their Indian cronies) obsessively denigrate Hindu deities, practices and culture under the guise of using “theories.” It is shocking how prevalent this has become in the mainstream liberal academy. The personal risks of pointing this out run high, because the establishment intellectuals hunt in packs.

    You seem to locate the start of whiteness only from 17th century America. I agree that that was when “white persons” entered the vocabulary. But Marimba Ani and other African scholars trace the origins to the 4th century, when Roman Emperor Constantine appropriated Christianity for Empire building.

    I have synthesized various scholars’ versions of Whiteness History into a series of four “releases” of whiteness as cultural operating systems. Release 1 is where Marimba Ani locates it: Roman Imperialism incorporates the religious zeal of monotheism, a unique combination. She explains this as follows:

    “Politically, the Roman ideology was the perfect counterpart [of Christianity]…These formulations posited a perpetual opposition between those who did not share the ideologies expressed and those who did. Both statements contained justifications and directives for the “conversion” of and “recruitment” of those outside the cultural group with which they were identified. Perhaps, the single most important ingredient shared by these “brother” ideologies (actually two arms of the same ideological weapon) is their vision of the world as the “turf” of a single culture. Any and everyone presently under the ideological and political control of the Christians and Romans was fair game…The synthesis [between Roman Imperialism and Christianity] made political sense…The two ideologies, put to the service of one cultural group and espousing compatible values and objectives worked hand in hand, to command the same allegiances, to conquer the same world.” (Ani, pp. 129-130)

    Release 2 is simply the external expansion of Release 1, i.e. the spread of militaristic Christianity as the first pan-European common ideology. Here is what Marimba Ani writes:

    The Roman Cooptation: Two Imperialistic Ideologies:“Christianity was a more refined tool [than paganism] for the selling of European imperialism…As the imperialistic goals of these fledgling Europeans expanded, the various modalities of the cultural structure grew out of sync with one another. If they had not been reshaped, readjusted to form a cohesive unit, Europe would have failed…The European institutionalization of Christianity was something akin to a technological advance. It added the element of proselytizing that much more suited the objective of imperialistic expansionism within which those objectives could be hidden or camouflaged. Xenophobic, aggressive, and violent tendencies were molded into a more subtle statement that packaged them in a universalistic, peaceful, and moralistic rhetoric…Christianity helped to define who the “others” were in a way that fitted the European progress ideology. Making a Roman, a Briton, a Frank, and so forth into a “European” would not be easy, but it was the order of the day in terms of European development…Christianity achieved the unification of the new European self…It helped to redefine European imperialism as universal imperialism…European civilization has been so successful in part because of its ability to outward direct hostility…The destructive tendencies within are so intense and so endemic to the culture that it must continually be redirected. The cooptation of Christianity represented such a redirection of aggressive energy…Pagan religions were aggressive but not expansionist [and hence unsuitable for Roman imperialism].” [Ani, Marimba, “YURUGU,” pp. 169-170]

    Corey Gilkes explains the same process as follows:

    “The history of Christianity is the political history of Europe. With regard to the influence that Christianity has had upon ancient and medieval Europe [and ultimately the Americas] it is quite fair to say that the Church has left a legacy, a worldview that permeates every aspect of Western European-centered societies. Today, even though most Western societies can boast of a separation between Church and state, their very laws and cultural traits have been shaped in no small way by early ecclesiastical authorities. Actually, what the Church has done was to harmonize these cultural traits that have characterized European societies since primordial times… There is no doubt…that Christianity unified Western Europe in ways that transcended the narrow confines of tribalism. That it sought to include everyone through its message of a universal brotherhood…However, there is another side to this story; one that is by no means as romanticized as it is often made out to be. Exactly how the Christian Church went about unifying and transforming Europe, if one looks at it honestly, is shameful to say the least. Christianity, as defined by Rome, Greece and to some extent Asia Minor, brought religious intolerance to a level never before seen. It provided justification for the taking of other people’s lands by cleverly disguising ethnocentrism and an expansionist ideology in a message of universal brotherhood. Ironically it used this universal brotherhood message to maintain a hierarchical structure that saw Europe and European-centered societies at the pinnacle while the conquered lands and peoples occupied the lower rungs…”
    [“Orthodox” Christianity and the birth of European Nationalism, by Corey Gilkes]

    Release 3 is where you locate whiteness: At this point, I change the term from Proto-Whiteness to Whiteness at this point. (Ani divides Release 3 into two releases, one starting in 17th century America and the other being the Protestant Reformation.)

    I agree with Ani that though whiteness was unnamed before America, its groundwork had been laid in proto form by Emperor Constantine. What do you think of the following flowchart of the history of whiteness? Release 4 is the latest version that started with Barry Goldwater and has become the dominant mainstream culture[5].

    Jeff: Yes, it looks like a very clear presentation of the cultural evolution of whiteness. To some extent the question of when and where whiteness arose cannot be answered with certainty. As your chart demonstrates, there has been an evolution, with several key moments, any of which can be seen as an “origin.” I tend to place emphasis on 17th century Virginia because that is where the term and accepted self-identity of “white” has been shown to come into use, and the social forces that led to its appearance have been carefully described. Most white Americans today see white identity as being natural, as if people have always understood themselves as white. When they learn that this was not the case, it leads them to examine the whole concept of race.

    But whiteness is clearly part of a longer story of a European progression to world dominance. Just as the blend of Christianity and Roman identity solidified the imperialistic project of the 4th century onward, so also the blend of European Christianity and white identity has solidified the march of European imperialism since the 17th century.

    Some scholars mark the rise of whiteness in the US even later, at the beginning of the 19th century, when capitalism required a new identity of the working class. In terms of the 4th release, I would probably place that somewhere between 1898, with the Spanish-American War, and the end of the Second World War. The Spanish-American War was the first major commitment of the US as a colonizer. Then following the Second World War, the US became the dominant military power in the world. Because of that, we have been able to enforce our economic policy worldwide, and thereby export our culture as well.

    Rajiv: Lets address your notion of exporting white culture. What do you think of the following diagrammatic explanation of the three kinds of carrots offered by whiteness, to encourage mimicry or conversion by people of color?

    Jeff: Prosperity is certainly a carrot. In the United States, being white means you have more access to power and resources. Furthermore, being able to consider oneself entitled to universalized human rights, and more importantly, to live in circumstances that confirm that entitlement on a daily basis, is a major benefit of whiteness. I am not sure that mimicry and Christianity are “carrots.” White culture has appealing aspects, just like any culture. In the United States, the heightened sense of individualism and the notion that you can remake yourself can be very appealing, for instance. The consumerism and materialism that drives our economy can also be enticing. But to become fully white, mimicry and Christianity are not so much carrots as they are requirements. You need to perform these things, even if they do not speak to your condition.

    Rajiv: The project to whiten the world is now in Release 4, where it is an open offer of membership into strata of privilege – a sort of Las Vegas game – with gate-keeping and ownership controlled via invisible strings by a few whites. Various grades of membership target different market segments. There are many faces to this, like multiple brands of cigarettes by Phillips Morris, or multiple brands of cars by GM, or multiple brands of breakfast cereals by Proctor Gamble.

    Whiteness itself hides behind Western Civilization. It encourages “the West” to be examined critically, thereby appearing very self critical and exempting whiteness from becoming the direct object of inquiry. From this middle ground of Western Civilization, its right-wing version is Christianity and its left-wing version is Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment. I am convinced that the entire complex must be deconstructed by examining each face: West, Christianity, Whiteness, Enlightenment, and so forth.

    In urban India, many Hindus like to associate with (i.e. mimic) Christian symbolism (such as Christmas tree, Easter eggs, Valentine’s Day cards…) as markers of being “progressive,” and show distance from symbols of their native traditions that are downgraded as signifiers of primitiveness, superstition, or even outright demonology. (For instance, it is easier to exchange “namaste” – the Indian greeting of folding hands – with my white American friends than with “progressive” Indians.) Eurocentrism is marketed to this segment as Reason: Eurocentric (whitened) self-flagellating Indians compete over which one is the whitest! These middle class Indians are hyperactive symbol consumerists.

    In India, proselytizers often want to hide explicit whiteness because that would cause a backlash. So Christianity as “human rights” substitutes for whiteness in certain market segments. Furthermore, Christianity is clothed in native dresses to be user-friendly. This device is officially called “inculturation” by theologians, and was developed by the Church in Latin America and Africa. It admitted native deities into membership as Christian saints or angels, and thereby assimilated entire tribes initially into “soft-Christianity.” But then the kids of gullible soft-Christian parents were raised into “hard-Christianity,” in which they were taught that these ancestral deities were evil or, at best, worthless.

    Whiteness’ and Christianity’s relationship to Western civilization may be compared to the “Pentium inside” chip’s relationship to PCs: White Christianity drives the West. But there is also a big difference. Unlike the Pentium chip which is publicly advertised, whiteness is deeply disguised behind “Enlightenment” or “Christianity” or “West.” Its existence is only now beginning to get excavated systematically.

    This invisibility – because white scholars gazed at others but rarely did the reverse happen – has enabled it to assume the status of universal or global culture. Gazing at whiteness in the same manner as all other cultures are routinely studied is going to be the most effective method to bring it to the status of being just one culture relative to many others.

    Do you agree with scholars who say that terms like “Western civilization,” “Christianity” and “being American” are implicit codes for whiteness, in a sophisticated system that makes white people’s philosophies and epistemologies look like some abstract truths independent of white people, and, hence, their gifts to the world? This would appear to be yet another strategy of invisibility, i.e. to substitute metaphors in order to appear universal. It hides white privilege and protects it safely behind “civilization.”

    Jeff: Richard Dixon supports this view by explaining how various institutions that comprise the backbone of our Western society are deeply driven by whites and for their best interests. He writes:

    “The white race is a club. Certain people are enrolled in its birth, without their consent, and brought up according to its rules. For the most part they go through life accepting the privileges of membership, without reflecting on the costs. Others, usually new arrivals in this country pass through a probationary period before “earning” membership; they are necessarily more conscious of their racial standing. The white club does not require that all members be strong advocates of white supremacy, merely that they defer to the prejudices of others…If white privilege is a club then institutional racism is utilized as a tool to keep it exclusive and to maintain its supremacy…[R]acial oppression is not the work of racists. It is maintained by the principal institutions of society, including the schools (which define “excellence”), the labor market (which defines “employment”), the legal system (which defines “crime”), the welfare system (which defines “poverty”), the medical industry (which defines “health”), and the family (which defines “kinship”). Many of these institutions are administered by people who would be offended if accused of complicity with racial oppression.”

    I agree that other terms such as “Western” and “American” are often code words for whiteness. Today they are used in place of “white” and consequently whiteness remains unexamined. This is a relatively new circumstance, historically speaking. Once whiteness arose as an explicit identity that defined the boundaries of the dominant culture, it was openly avowed as superior for nearly three centuries. White supremacy was a publicly espoused value in the US, and to some degree Europe. White people saw it as only natural that they should rule people of color, and had no reservations about saying so.

    It’s only recently, since the end of the Second World War and the collapse of European colonialism that whiteness has dropped out of public discourse – at least the type of colonialism that depended on the military occupation and direct political control of colonized nations and people. It’s gone underground.

    We think of those times, before the modern Civil Rights Movement among black people in the US, as a time when white supremacy was at the height of its power, and maybe it was. But people of color were beginning to stir, and the writing, if not on the wall, was literally set down on paper when, in 1953, James Baldwin wrote, “This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again. (“Stranger in the Village.” Harper’s Magazine. October 1953.) What was a white man to do?

    With the rise of third-world people, whiteness came under examination. Power examined is power lost. Whiteness had to transform itself, and it went underground. Hence, instead of white supremacy as a publicly avowed philosophy, we have colorblindness. But the underlying cultural gestalt has not changed much.

    Rajiv: Russell Means, a Native American intellectual, gave a tough critique of Enlightenment, characterizing it as disguised Eurocentrism. This shows that whiteness had other philosophies to bring forward that served the same purpose. At various times and places the explicit articulation of white supremacy has not always had the legitimacy that it achieved in the US in the 19th and 20th centuries. Keeping whiteness out of the spotlight and its privileges invisible has been a strategic accomplishment for many centuries.

    Neither the left nor the right is doing a good enough job to decenter whiteness. Whiteness is like a twin-engine plane, the right-wing being propelled by Christianity and the left-wing being propelled by the mask of Enlightenment that repositions whiteness as universal thought and culture. It is a form of capital, a meme-plex that has been very efficient at survival, mutation and expansion for centuries.

    Jeff: Yes, that’s an accurate assessment. In contemporary terms in United States politics, the political spectrum runs from the extreme right to the radical left. But through the entire spectrum there is an underlying Eurocentrism. The right is often characterized as antagonistic to people of color. Given the right’s opposition to civil rights interventions, and their proclivity for co-opting resources for the service of the privileged, there is much truth to this. The left is commonly characterized as supportive of people of color. But, in either case, the political discourse, the planning, and the operational machinery are mainly managed by white people. People of color are on the margins of power.

    Even the contemporary anarchists – the radial left-wing movement responsible for much of the mass opposition to the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Seattle in 1999, along with many subsequent direct action mobilizations “in the street” – have been severely criticized by people of color for failing to join in planning with existing community-based groups led by people of color.

    There is racism on the left as well as on the right, and there is denial of whiteness in both cases. Regardless of political orientation, there is a strong tendency for white people to run the show, and to claim they are speaking for everyone.

    Rajiv: This is very interesting. Blacks had to fight so hard to take control over black studies, for instance. White culture wants to control the representation of others. Richard Crasta (an Indian Christian) writes (in “Impressing the Whites,” by Richard Crasta, Invisible Man Books, Bangalore, India. 2000) that despite all other kinds of intellectual freedom today, an Indian may not assert beyond a point if that would threaten white control. Crasta states his First Commandment for Indians wishing to impress whites as: “Thou shalt not have any other-colored gods before us.” His Fourth Commandment is: “Thou shalt be unthreateningly short.” His Seventh Commandment is: “Thou shalt be exotic.” The Ninth Commandment says: “As Austin Powers might have said, ‘Behave!’”

    Whites appoint Indian proxies to let them pull strings from behind the scenes, but through such intermediaries, they impose their epistemologies, institutional controls, awards and rewards, all in the name of universal thought. Making fun of such Indians, Crasta lists his Tenth Commandment as: “Thou shalt kiss white ass.” His Eleventh and final Commandment is: “Thou shalt monkey around for our [i.e. whites’] amusement and pleasure.” It is amazing how many Indians are lined up to oblige and try to become members of the whiteness narrative in whatever capacity available.

    One white Prof. Jack Hawley in the academic study of Hinduism appears to thrive on being “the white man in charge.” It is important for many whites to make sure they run the show, especially when it is about other cultures, perhaps because it is a sort of voyeurism or subliminal conquest of the other. Those Hindus who accept white authority in Hinduism Studies are rewarded generously. Whites work diligently to be worthy and popular leaders, and want to protect their position of authority no matter what it takes. The British colonialists very worked hard to make sure that Indians liked their governance.

    As a powerfully placed scholar in control of Hinduism Studies, Prof. Hawley wrote the following statement to introduce Hinduism as an illegitimate child of white people:

    “Hinduism – the word and perhaps the reality too – was born in the 19thcentury, a notorious illegitimate child. The father was middle-class British, and the mother, of course, was India. The circumstances of conception are not altogether clear.”[Jack Hawley, “Naming Hinduism,” in The Wilson Quarterly, summer 1991. p. 21.]

    One must wonder if this could be psychoanalyzed as a form of voyeurism, similar to the way white men liked to “conquer” black women and Native American women. Many black scholars have explained how whites portrayed their own culture as being masculine and the others as feminine waiting to be conquered as trophies, with the “illegitimate” children raised under white dominance. This could explain the obsession of certain whites to control the intellectual discourse on Hinduism in the academy. Especially anthropologists sometimes live their Indiana Jones fantasies using India as their “jungle.”

    Such white academic gazes are disguised behind two masks of abstraction:

    1. Intellectual frameworks based on universal sounding categories of Biblical Studies (known as “hermeneutics”) and of Enlightenment and Post-Enlightenment; and
    2. Institutional mechanisms that are made to appear to be “objective” processes of control over the forums, journals, conferences, academic appointments, dissertations, etc.

    Imagine what would happen in mainstream Religious Studies if this imagery was reversed, and someone used Marimba Ani’s thesis to make the following definition: White people are the notorious illegitimate children fathered by Roman Imperialism and mothered by Christianity. The circumstances of conception remain mysterious.

    Does this hunger for power also relate to whites’ homophobia, as a sort of fear of loss of power? This would help to explain why it is trendy for white scholars to project homophobic frameworks to interpret Hindu saints and deities. Indians did not have mutually exclusive hetero/homo sexual categories, and hence homosexuality was never banned. Indian men who are not Westernized in urban settings go about holding hands, hugging, and a boy can sit on a man’s lap, etc. These are not considered homosexuality. And nor is sharing a bed with another man by itself a “peculiar” or “suspicious” thing. The Western influence has led to such natural practices becoming suppressed under the whitened gaze.

    Jeff: White American culture is clearly homophobic. There is a patriarchal ideal that men should be “masculine,” virile, and each the head of his realm, whether it be his household, or some larger entity. Note the saying, “Every man is king in his own castle.” There’s no room in the castle for two men to share duties as headman, and each man must have access to all the women. By that I mean that lesbian relationships become a problem as well. A woman who is not potentially receptive to a man threatens to become an independent source of authority.

    It’s been said that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” White culture may have a greater propensity to seek power than other cultures. Ani argues that white culture contains a “germ” or essential need to dominate. It’s also been argued that circumstances of geography led to the ascendancy of Europe (see Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond). Either way, white culture has achieved unparalleled power over the past centuries. It’s gotten so the culture simply assumes an entitlement to power. This is transmitted to its members during their socialization, along with attending concerns of control and dominance. Individual white people vary in the extent to which they are carried away by their ethnocentrism. If they are in an environment where they are exposed to other cultures on an equal footing, they may have the means to overcome some of this socialization. As for the statement by Prof. Hawley, I have only encountered it here in this discussion, but it appears incredibly condescending – a very poor choice of imagery. It begs for the reading you are giving it.

    Rajiv: The three Abrahamic religions lack a positive role for women in their core myths, unlike most other faiths. For instance, Indian women have had many diverse ways to express empowerment, at many levels and in many nuances, without having to become masculine. Unfortunately, Western women have often had to become masculine to become empowered. I see this stemming from the lack of Goddess in the Abrahamic religions.

    Many white women started to study the Hindu Goddess very seriously in the 1970s, and introduced numerous ideas into Western discourse on religion. But later they erased the Indian sources of these empowerments, and in fact started to denigrate Indian culture as being inferior with respect to women. This is an example of my U-Turn theory at work. Marimba Ani calls the first stage of appropriation “eros” when one wants to bring something in and unify with it, and the second stage “anal” when one wants to excrete something as waste product and not be associated with it any longer.

    Gloria Steinem’s recent book goes into great details on how it was her two-year stay in India that first awakened her about women’s empowerment. While she remains very respectful of Indian culture, many other feminists who followed do not. Madhu Kishwar is a well-known Indian woman activist who promotes empowerment within the positive context of her native culture, and for this she receives considerable flak from some Indian feminists who close ranks with their white colleagues.

    White women have been criticized for dominating the discourse on women’s issues at various international movements. So they have appropriated women of color to buy into the system and now you find many Indian women carrying what may be called the White Woman’s Burden. Does this mean that white women have adopted many white male qualities, such as wanting to dominate, lead, have power, etc?

    While complaining about male-dominance, many white moms raise their sons to grow up “like a man” – which is visible when one sees hyper-aggressive moms taking their young sons to start learning baseball and other contact sports, making sure to imbibe male aggression as a marker of leadership and as a success factor for later life. Could you explain this white trait that many scholars refer to, i.e. the imperative of being in control over others, which white women also seem to adopt in many instances?

    Jeff: No, I can’t, other than what I already said. I certainly agree it’s there. Along with the examples you’ve offered, it manifests as an attitude of control over nature. Rather than seeing ourselves as an integral part of the natural world, we see ourselves as separate, with the natural world given to us for our exploitation and manipulation.

    In the US, white middleclass women were critiqued by women of color in the late 1970s and early 1980s on just this point. It caused great pain and division, but of course it needed to be done. Many white feminists responded, and began to develop an anti-racist framework to inform feminism. Today this remains in place. White women are significantly involved in anti-racist activities. While not true in all cases, in my personal experience I have found white women outnumber white men as anti-racist activists on a 2 to 1 basis.

    At the same time, however, the critique by women of color was only partially absorbed. Privilege has a way of making itself appear natural to those who possess it. Unless a person with privilege makes an intentional and concerted effort to understand the position of others who do not share the same privilege, then the person who is privileged will, often unknowingly, act in his or her interests only, regardless of how well-intentioned he or she might be. One of the hardest things for a privileged person to learn is how to listen to those who do not share privilege, and more important, how to accept responsibility in creating a system in which privilege is undone. It does not surprise me if a great number, maybe a majority, of white women have not been successful in overcoming their privilege as white. But I am heartened that many have.

    Rajiv: Let’s discuss immigrants to the US who are non-white and face both pressures and temptations to fake whiteness to the extent they are able to. But whiteness is a spectrum of colors controlled from the top where it is “pure”: Just as Coca Cola controls the supply of the essence without which the drink cannot be bona fide, so also there is a pyramid structure of power to control whiteness, and white-controlled institutions play a key role in franchising this. Amway distributorships are another example of a pyramid scheme in which the apparent decentralized power, autonomy and prosperity are invisibly in the hands of a central nexus.

    Non-whites are invited to use mimicry to join the hierarchy and climb up this ladder of whiteness. But while they can and do easily get dislocated from their native cultures, the quest for becoming white remains elusive to some extent, because some whites are whiter than others. (Even though the Jews became white in America over 50 years ago, they are considered less white than Anglo-Saxon Protestants.)

    The case of Cuban-Americans is an interesting example right before our eyes. The identities and lifestyles of ordinary citizens in Cuba have never been white. But the elite landlords and businessmen ran to the USA when Castro took over, and over the past 40 years they have become white Americans.

    There was an interesting statistic in the Los Angeles Times showing that most Asian and Hispanic immigrants to the US filled out forms classifying themselves as whites. In 1990, 51% of the immigrants defined themselves as being white. In 2000, this grew further to 68% of immigrants classifying themselves as white[6].

    Using whiteness as the universal scale of cultural valuation also results in violence among non-whites. The Dotbusters were a group in the late 1980s in Jersey City who specialized in committing acts of violence (including murder) against Indians specifically. The bindi (dot on the forehead) became the reason for calling themselves Dotbusters. The Infinity Foundation has a research project underway to document and publish the history of this tragic movement. We found one TV documentary in which a local anchorwoman interviews some of the Dotbusters, who express anger because the Indian immigrants pray, eat, dress and appear different than “us.” The irony is that these Dotbusters were Hispanic youth who had become whitened as “us” and saw Indians as being lower on the whiteness scale as “them.” The second irony is that when Indians retaliated, they took out their anger against local blacks who had never caused them any harm: The Indians had assumed whiteness to get rid of their “problem” and gazing down at blacks was the result.

    What do you feel is going on with new immigrant groups vying to become white?

    Jeff: Part of the dynamic of whiteness in the United States is that is has been defined in a bi-polar way in contrast to blackness. New immigrants often have to choose between “white” and “black.” It is often a shock, for instance, for Hispanic immigrants to find that in the US you are either black or white. There are no intermediate categories.

    As a result of many non-whites claiming whiteness, “What white traditionally meant—the WASP, the blond hair, the California drawl, the Hells Angels motorcycle riders is being expanded to include Iranians, North Africans and Latinos,” states USC demographer Dowell Myers quoted by the L.A Times. The Times goes on to say, “Recent newcomers are expanding the meaning of “white” much as Southern and Eastern European immigrants did a century ago, when many Americans still viewed the word as signifying Anglo-Saxon heritage.”

    An interesting case of identity disparities within a community is that of Hispanics, defined as people who trace their origins to a Spanish-speaking nation. Hispanic Americans define their race depending on their level of affluence: Those living in white neighborhoods call themselves “white,” while those living in Latino neighborhoods check the box that says “other.” (L.A. Times) Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said: “To the extent that being white means being American, we are white. But at the same time, we don’t have to deny being Latino as much as before because we’ve had a significant civil rights movement, and politically we’re still one bloc.”

    Because whiteness has been a signifier of privilege, non-whites have played the whiteness game, thereby making whiteness a universal scale to climb the social ladder. Here are some brief examples:

    “Go back far enough in U.S. history and many Americans who see themselves as white could have been considered minorities at one time. To Benjamin Franklin, for example, “white” referred only to those of Anglo-Saxon descent.””Between the Civil War and World War II, Japanese, Arab, Afghan, Armenian, Indian and other immigrants sued in U.S. courts, trying to prove themselves white and therefore eligible to enter the country, hold jobs or become citizens…A 1911 congressional commission sought to quiet the controversy by cataloging the identities of the immigrant flood. It issued a “Dictionary of Races or People” that put Slavs, Poles, Italians, Russians and others in 45 nonwhite racial subgroups. This prompted intense opposition from immigrants, especially Jews, who were placed in a “Hebrew” category…Many immigrants feared ostracism if the dictionary’s distinctions became policy or law. Ultimately, the government discarded the categories. People with diverse origins came to be seen, and to see themselves, as white.””Mexican Americans became part of a similar debate as the United States expanded west in the 19th century, absorbing sizable Latino populations. After the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, census enumerators counted people with Spanish surnames as white. That practice continued until 1930, when a separate “Mexican” racial category was created. Mexican Americans successfully lobbied to have the designation dropped in 1940. Once again, enumerators classified virtually everyone with Spanish surnames as white.”– L.A. Times

    “When whites try to define whiteness, they often find the experience uncomfortable, even disturbing…” reports the Times. While for many there is shame buried deep down, for others it is a lack of definition. Many whites prefer to hyphenate their identities with ancestral markers like Irish, Jewish, Polish, and use “American” as a positive grounding symbol. This lack of positive identity among whites is a major reason for the popularity of white cultural studies on many colleges.

    But this field must continue to bring to the surface that slavery and genocide coexisted with democracy and freedom throughout our nation’s history. President Andrew Jackson presided during the mass murder of Native Americans. If most Americans knew the details, we would have to change the national narrative.

    Rajiv: The Post article quotes a student of whiteness as saying that the whiteness studies class helped him realize that “other classes, like economics, politics and history, are about whiteness. They are written by and are about white people.” This is an important issue, namely, the fact that the humanities in the liberal academy have been constructed by and for whites, using very specifically white epistemologies. Yet, most Indians who call themselves progressive intellectuals pride in their mastery of such European thought, and get angry when their investment in Eurocentrism is pointed out. Can you give us your views on such mimicry by non-whites as a way to become white intellectuals?

    Jeff: It’s often the case that people whose claim to an identity is not secure are the ones who are most vigorous in its defense. There is more at stake, and it is more readily lost. So the new citizen becomes the ultra-patriot, the new gang member becomes the most belligerent to rival gangs, the teenager just turned adult the most insistent on his or her adult prerogatives.

    Whiteness, just as any identity, demands mimicry at a minimum. If you do not express the expected values, role performances, and boundary maintenance activities, then you do not share in the identity. In the United States, white culture has proven flexible, in a “bend but do not break” sort of way. Being accepted as white brings resources and access to power. Those who have been denied this access have placed a steady pressure on white culture to change. The culture has slowly admitted groups previously not defined as white, while continuing to exclude others.

    If a person is in one of the groups poised for admission to white culture, that person can effect substantial change in his or her circumstances by taking on an identity as white. Doing so requires a great investment of psychological and material resources. One cannot completely let go of a prior identity. Rather, constant reinforcement of the new identity is needed, on both public and private levels, in order to appear natural. White culture encourages this since it affirms the belief of white Americans that “anyone” can assimilate and we have an “open” society. At the same time, to be white is not to be “black.” New entrants to whiteness are often the most disdainful of association with people of color.

    Rajiv: Not only do many Indians try to become whiter than the whites, they also defend the whites as sepoys. (Sepoys were Indians who worked for the British Empire as armed soldiers, and it was these sepoys and not white soldiers who fired most of the bullets against Indians.) For instance, let us look at two reactions to attempts to anthropologize whites. First, African-American feminist scholar, Bell Hooks, explains how whites are upset at being anthropologized:

    “In [my] classrooms there have been heated debates among students when white students respond with disbelief, shock, and rage as they listen to black students talk about whiteness, when they are compelled to hear observations, stereotypes, etc., that are offered as “data” gleaned from close scrutiny and study. Usually white students respond with naïve amazement that black people critically assess white people from a standpoint where whiteness is the privileged signifier.” (Hooks, 1992, p. 339)

    Now here is a big surprise: When I have reversed the gaze and deconstructed white intellectuals who routinely trash Indian culture, a predictable set of Indian intellectuals comes out of the woods to defend their white masters. They are often ill-informed about key details and seem to be out to prove their worthiness as sepoys.

    For instance, Washington Post had a front-page article by an Indian staff writer, in which he goes out of his way to give the white scholars the benefit of doubt, while excluding aspects of our side of the story on the basis that it was “disputed” by the whites. (My analysis) Furthermore, he frames the whole story not in terms of the legitimate intellectual issues being raised by Indians but as Indians’ irrational and violent reactions against whites. This is a deep-rooted racist bias against people of color, as explained below:

    “Such peoples – who were being colonized, exploited, enslaved, and eliminated by Europeans during that continent’s Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment eras – were viewed as irrational and, thus, inferior in their status as human beings. As inferior beings, they had no claim to the same rights as Europeans – hence, white racism and colonialism were morally justified around the conflation of whiteness and reason. In order for whiteness to maintain itself in the privileged seat of rationality and superiority, it would have to construct pervasive portraits of non-whites as irrational, disorderly, and prone to uncivilized behavior.” (Kincheloe, etc, p.6, in “White Reign”)

    It seems that the Indian writer in the Post was assuming the white gaze to deconstruct Indians and their culture, and hence subliminally “becoming white.” Are there comparable examples of other people of color going being so heavily invested in white supremacy that they feel compelled to come to its defense? My sense is that the history of India over the past thousand years made Indians especially loyal and adept at accomplishing this “coolie” work.

    Jeff: It’s an incredibly common phenomenon that people become complicit in their own oppression. Writers of color and people writing from other positions of oppression have repeatedly noted how the values of the privileged class are internalized by those who do not share in the privilege. There are degrees of complicity. Joining a military force to suppress one’s own people is going to an extreme. But again, there have always been people who have done that. The world is a messy place.

    Even in the midst of dominance and subjugation, people have formed personal relationships, and sometimes these transcend class loyalties. In the slaveholding south of the US, many rebellions by enslaved people were quashed because an informant, despite being enslaved, revealed the plans. This may have been done out of personal concerns, opportunism, or a fear for harm coming to a member of the slaveholding class. Possibly all these motives might be mixed together. But in the grand view, allowing oppression to continue, and being complicit in its continuance, whether as one of the privileged or as one of the subordinated is morally unsound. Whether one oppressed group has been more likely than another to produce people who are complicit in their oppression, I don’t know.

    It seems that being co-opted into a system of privilege is all too common. This is true even of white men in the US. W.E.B. DuBois pointed out that working class white men suffered economic loss due to their inability to advocate for their class interests. Instead, they accepted the label of “white” and identified with the elite. Because of this, working class whites opened themselves to economic exploitation, and the elite took advantage of circumstances. Today this theme is still playing out.

    Rajiv: But mimicry can also be used strategically to revive non-white cultures. Here are two examples:

    IIT Kharagpur, one of India’s most prestigious scientific institutions, applied to my foundation some years ago for a grant to celebrate its 50th anniversary. They wanted to hold various conferences, including one on Sciences of Mind. I noticed that they had listed only Western theories of mind in their plans. So I suggested that they should also add Indian theories, such as those which inform yoga, meditation, Tantra and other sophisticated philosophies across the spectrum.

    The Indians’ reaction was something like this: “We are scientific and not some primitive or chauvinistic people.”

    So I got hold of five white academic scholars of Yoga, Buddhism, Tantra and related systems from India that have made major impacts on Western thought and practice in the cognitive sciences. Naturally, when they saw the resumes of these eminent scholars from Western institutions, they got very interested to invite them. I requested these white scholars not hide the Indian sources of their work, and to openly state the Sanskrit origins and Indian schools concerned.

    What happened was amazing: each of them got a standing ovation in India! After all, if the whites were saying positive things about how Mayo Clinic, MIT Labs, US National Institute of Mental Health, and other famous places had been scientifically validating these traditions, then it must be okay to respect them! These white scholars got many invitations from across India and spoke at psychology, cognitive sciences and neuroscience conferences.

    Today there is a movement in India to introduce a new subject in psychology departments, called “Indian Systems of Psychology.” The Infinity Foundation has started a project to develop three volumes for use in the curriculum. There are a dozen scholars involved from India and North America, and they hold annual meetings. Additionally, there are now many other related academic events on Indian Psychology each year. So we thank the whites for helping reverse the inferiority complexes among elitist Indians.

    There are a few other similar stories as well, such as bringing back to prominence the fact that considerable American thought was developed based on Indian thought. In this regard, we have sponsored a major academic book on Emerson’s debt to India, another reprint of a Cambridge dissertation on TS Eliot and Indic Traditions, and so forth.

    Also, it was a white producer-director who made the powerful “Gandhi” movie, which shaped a whole generation’s ideas about the British in India.

    Finally, this column is the result of a white man helping educate Indians about whiteness in a frank manner. Earlier, I tried to establish dialogs with some Indian intellectuals about whiteness, but they felt very uncomfortable and came up with various excuses and even outrage.

    Jeff: I think it’s wonderful that is happening. It’s ironic that white scholars were needed to begin the process in India, but I note, too, that the man behind the curtain was Indian. The vision of an all-white world is not something I welcome. I think we are all improved when we can share our various cultures, systems of knowledge, and spiritual ways of being rather than forcing one above the other. I’m not in favor of a strict relativism, but I’m not convinced Western or white ways have been elevated solely on merit. There has been too much assertion of power, a limited value of itself, to make that claim. The world can use a few centuries in which we learn more about one another, and value what we each have to offer. Maybe after several generations people will have to wisdom to sort it all out. I don’t think we have it now. We’ve barely had the exposure to begin the dialogue.

    Whiteness needs to step aside as the sole path to knowledge. And this is becoming more urgent since we are facing the possibility that other paths might be lost. Studying whiteness as a particular phenomenon is a way to doing that. The study of whiteness in the US can actually trace its history to people of color, who viewed whiteness through their own ways of knowing, and often understood it better than whites. In its recent incarnation, white people have come to the forefront in white studies. Sometimes I wonder if some of the practitioners of white studies understand their own privilege, even as the purport to study it.

    White Studies is still not well-established in the academy, and there is a vast power structure that would like nothing more than to see it disappear. It takes a certain amount of privilege, and without privilege a clear measure of professional bravery, to undertake white studies today. It may be the same courage is called for on the part of Indians who wish to study Indian culture.

    In the long run, I believe that any culture can only be understood when both insiders and outsiders to the culture have studied it. Whether this be white culture, or Indian culture, I hope the study of each of itself, and its study of the other, are projects that move ahead. I believe we will all benefit.

    Rajiv: Many whites don’t want to be white, such as those in the whole Beastie Boys phenomena and others like it, and those who go reject their culture to go to an Indian guru, for instance. When are these genuine callings and when are they escapes or even gimmicks?

    Jeff: This question brings up many issues. White culture continuously appropriates styles from cultures and communities of color. Long before the Beastie Boys there was Elvis Presley, a white singer who performed the then black-style of rock and roll. Elvis made millions when the black artists he mimicked made very little.

    White people also appropriate the ways of Native American cultures, particularly religion. But when this is done, it removes the spiritual heart of the religion even while white people believe it heightens their own spirituality. Native American religions are based upon a shared community. When the religious concepts of the community are taken on by isolated individuals, what you have is a parody. Worse, you perpetuate the notion that the Native American faiths can survive without a community, and so the community, the heart of the religious experience, is not valued or preserved. This has led to decisions under the US legal system that have adversely impacted Native Americans in the practice of their faith.

    The appropriation of customs from people of color by white people has lead to pain, distress, and injustice. Most often the white people who do this are ignorant of the pain they cause. They are simply carrying out a sense of entitlement and universality, as if each and every person is entitled to partake on anyone’s culture however they please, even if that person has not been an organic part of the culture. If a white person truly takes the time to listen and learn about another culture, and get to know more than the superficial edge of contact, then he or she will begin to understand this pain. But most white people do not go that far.

    Many whites do not want to claim the identity of “white.” This is an exceedingly common point of view, and one of the sources of resistance to White Studies. My African American colleague, Dr. Charley Flint, points out that if she were to publicly claim she is not black, she would be viewed as mentally disturbed, and yet white people commonly claim not to be white. It’s a matter of white privilege, she points out, that white people can do this. It goes back to the silence and invisibility where we began our discussion. White culture is based on exclusion from and exploitation of people of color, and this is some heavy baggage to accept. No one wants to appear unfair. White supremacy provided a past justification for exclusion and exploitation, but with white supremacy now discredited, white people do not want to feel bad about past acts of genocide, and present control of the world’s resources. So we simply say we’re not white.

    And who is there to dispute this? If the entire culture is accepting of this denial of identity, then it works. But at the same time there is no requirement that we surrender our privilege, or even admit that we have it. There is no requirement that we acknowledge the past that has given us wealth and direct material benefit. There is no requirement that we work for multiracial justice. Rather we can keep our big houses, our good schools, and our low-cost goods, and say we’re not white. It’s a wonder of whiteness that we can have our cake and eat it too. If every white person in the United States were to claim not to be white, would it lead to real material change? Would it mean the end of whiteness? I doubt it.

    For whiteness to change, white people need to begin to see it, acknowledge it, and then begin the work needed to change it. This is very hard to do. White people experience self-hatred and shame, because of our past and how our present is built upon that. White shame is the most taboo topic in white culture, yet it drives this urge to deny a white identity and see spiritual salvation and redemption from cultures of color.

    Fewer than one white person out of a hundred can admit to these feelings, and share some insight into what it means to be white, much less develop some sense of shared brotherhood and sisterhood, a sense of shared love and community with other white people as white people in a way that does not recapitulate our supremacist past. James Baldwin knew more about the psychology of white Americans than any other intellectual I know. Again I turn to him, “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” (The Fire Next Time)

    There are many good white people as individuals, and many people of color who exist in relationship with these white people. This has always been true, and maybe more so today. Dr. Kathleen Korgen published an interesting study, however, that in 40 black-white pairs of adults, where each claimed the other as a close friend, they never discussed race. The topic was too threatening. In the two pairs that did discuss race, the relationship itself was falling apart.

    There is a difference between personal intimacy across racial lines and insight into social processes such as racialization, dominance and privilege. Interracial intimacy is not that uncommon today. Insight into social processes such as racialization, dominance and privilege is also gaining ground among white intellectuals. But it’s rare to find a white person who partakes of both, and is able to do so as white, as a white person who is truly working to change his or her culture from within so that it better fits within a multiracial world.

    Rajiv: I wanted to illustrate that I have had the pleasure of knowing many white persons as close friends and colleagues, and who I consider to be genuinely transcending these boundaries in their personal lives. I wish this were more common in the academy where liberalism is said to be based, but I am saddened that this dream seems so far away.

    Furthermore, I wish to clarify, that similar deconstructions need to be made about Arabism, in which one must relate Arabism and Islam in the same manner as we related whiteness and Christianity. Converts to Islam gradually start to assume greater amounts of Arab cultural identity, in names, dress, language, etc. Over time, there is a shift in identity and eventually there comes a generation which calls itself Arab. This is the very cause of the civil war in Sudan where blacks who remain African in identity fight blacks who call themselves Arabs. So Arabism may be viewed as the equivalent of whiteness for the Muslim world, i.e. a scale on which to advance up towards greater states of perfection. Pointing at Mecca five times daily has a subliminal effect in this direction. Religious tensions are often correlated with loss of native language and identity. So its not Islam that necessarily has a clash with others but Arabism that is latent in Islam and wants to express itself at greater intensities of extroverted ness.

    While all identities should be problematized in similar fashion, only Arabism and whiteness have global expansion agendas and histories using God’s directives to them, each side claiming unique but conflicting instructions from God. Between these, whiteness became successful in spreading itself as universal thought, and hence permeates invisibly, whereas Arabism is very explicitly Arabism and has not mutated into the invisible background form.

    In conclusion, here is my stance on whiteness as it pertains to American identity. We need to go beyond the white/black duopoly of choices that are now available to someone who wishes to be properly American. Hispanics are closest to forming a third identity alternative, given their advantage of Spanish language as a common foundation. Prior to 9/11 there was also a movement to form a distinct Arab/Muslim American identity, but this took a massive setback. Minority identities succeed in the American cultural marketplace only if they are positive. Baggage from the land of origin must be left behind.

    In order to have an Indian identity in America it must also be properly American, and this has to be positive and without apologies. It cannot be “pending whiteness,” in a sort of state of limbo, but positively Indian American. This requires two simultaneous projects: (i) Decentering whiteness into a relative position, which Whiteness Studies is already doing and which Indians need to get involved in. (ii) A positive construction of the Indian American identity. The latter is the bigger challenge because many intellectuals have problematized Indian culture so intensely that claiming Indianness after leaving the parents’ home and going to college is a challenge to our youth. There are too many liabilities which have been strapped on to Indianness, thanks to white-controlled India Studies into which many Indians have sold out. This is where Indian intellectuals have a lot to learn from black intellectuals: Self-flagellation does not work in America where identities are very positively projected. The deep inferiority complexes that were imbibed in India’s school systems are being further exploited in the American academy.

    Thanks for this conversation. This background paves the way for me to work on the following additional themes:

    • Whiteness and the American Empire: this will be about Release 4, and some ideas on reinventing America such that the world becomes better.
    • White Indians: this will explain my Pets, Patients and Children Theory about elitist Indians who mimic whites.
    • White Anthropology and Mythology: this is where I hope we can work together to do some original field work on white folks.

    [1]“The Great ‘White’ Influx: Regardless of color, two-thirds of immigrants choose that designation on census replies. For some, it’s synonymous with America,” By SOLOMON MOORE and ROBIN FIELDS. Los Angeles Times, July 31 200


    [3] Dr. Charley Flint, his spouse, is also co-founder and the President.

    [4] References on White Culture Studies:

    • “Hue and Cry on ‘Whiteness Studies’: An Academic Field’s Take on Race Stirs Interest and Anger,” By Darryl Fears. Washington Post Staff Writer. June 20, 2003; Page A01.
    • Brander, Rasmussen, etc. editors, “The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness,” Duke. 2001.
    • Kincheloe, Steinberg, etc. editors, “White Reign,” St. Martin’s Griffin. 1998.
    • Matthew F. Jacobson, “Whiteness of a Different Color,” Harvard. Sixth reprint 2002.

    • Marimba Ani, “YURUGU: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior,” Africa World Press. Sixth reprint 1996.
    • Theodore W. Allen, “The Invention of the white race” vol. 2,” Verso. 1997.
    • Jeff Hitchcock, “Lifting the white veil,” Crandall Dostie & Douglas. 2002.
    • Noel Ignatiev, “How the Irish became white,” Routledge. 1995.
    • Karen Brodkin. “How Jews became white folks,” Rutgers. 1994.
    • “White by Law,” Ian F. Haney Lopez, NYU Press. 1996
    • Hooks, Bell. “Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination.” In Cultural Studies, eds. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler. Routledge, 1992.
    • Peggy McIntosh – “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
    • Robert Jensen – “White Privilege Shapes the U.S.
    • Native American view:
    • Eugene Rivers (a black pastor): url (article)
    • Paul Gorski: The Language of Closet Racism

    [5] One may also postulate a possible future Release 5, which is the subject of the book, “The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity,” Oxford University Press, 2002. Its thesis is that many African and Latin Christian churches have radically altered Christianity and brought it into their native contexts, in effect making it no longer white. White controlled churches are very upset and there is a power struggle going on. Assuming the third world Christians win and do not get appropriated, what might this do to the future of whiteness-Christianity relationship.


    Is There An American Caste System?

    Recently, I read an excellent book by Professor Uma Narayan called Dislocating Cultures, in which she compares how dowry-deaths in India are of high interest in the West whereas spousal-killings in America are not given the same emphasis, despite that fact that statistically the percentage of American women victims of spousal killings are at least as high as the percentage of Indian women victimized by dowry-deaths. She explains that this dichotomy and disconnect of understanding involves various factors: The language of ‘dowry-deaths’ is so India-specific, to begin with, that it precludes the equivalent American phenomenon to be within range of the radar.

    Once thus framed, the issue of dowry-deaths then gets measured, studied at various levels of scholarship, and gets a life of its own. America’s equivalent problems get exempted from examination, especially as the scholars place themselves on a platform above the glass ceiling. This made me wonder whether caste is a somewhat similar phenomenon. After all, every society has strata and ethnic groups. In modern America, we call these ‘demographic segments’ — there are demographic segments such as ‘inner city African Americans’, ‘rural Hispanics’, ‘suburban whites’, ‘Asian immigrants’, etc. and these are common terms in consumer marketing. I wonder how different these are from India’s much studied castes. Yet, people give funny looks when the term ‘caste’ is suggested pertaining to America.

    The book The Invention of the White Race by Theodore W. Allen gives an interesting insight into how the demographic group we now call’white’ emerged. He writes: “[Until the 17th century, the] white skin privilege was recognized neither in the law nor in the social practices of the labor classes. But by the early decades of the eighteenth century, racial oppression would be the norm in the plantation colonies, and African Americans would continue to suffer under its yoke for more than two centuries…African bond-laborers were turned into chattel slaves and were differentiated from their fellow proletarians of European origin. Rocked by the solidarity across racial lines exhibited by the rebellious laboring classes in the wake of the famous Bacon’s Rebellion, the plantation bourgeoisie sought a solution to its labor problems in the creation of a buffer control stratum of poor whites, who enjoyed little enough privilege in colonial society beyond that of their skin color, which protected them from enslavement…Such was the invention of the white race.”

    America’s color-coding was based on the category of labor that one was placed into. This is further elaborated in the book How the Irish Became White, written by Noel Ignatiev, a lecturer at Harvard. He describes how the Irish, who were branded for centuries as the underclass in Europe, came to America and used the labor color-coding system of the American society to get reclassified as the white class. Especially in places where the slaves had been freed, it became important for European immigrant groups to make sure that they were distinguished and protected through labor unions that were racially exclusivist. Blacks often became factory workers in large centralized environments, whereas construction jobs such as plumbing, electrical, masonry, and carpentry became the turf of specific European ethnic labor unions.

    Another useful book is How the Jews Became White Folks, authored by Professor Karen Brodkin at the University of California, Los Angeles. A Jewish woman herself, she tells the story of how the Jews started this climb up the caste ladder of America just fifty years ago to reach their present position, mainly by taking control of specific professions.

    Caste systems in India evolved, just as they have done in the US, as a labor group by the kind of work. This is why each of India’s castes corresponds to a category of labor, much like the modern guild of American workers of a given profession, with its own procedures for membership and strategies to compete with outsiders. In India, this segmentation got perpetuated because training was done through work apprenticeship under one’s parents, thereby turning family lineages into specialized labor.

    Perhaps, ancient rulers found it easier to negotiate with a given category of labor collectively, much like the British created the landowner class (zamindars) in India as a more efficient way to maximize the collection of taxes. Most law firms in the US are owned by Jewish families; most motels are owned by Gujaratis from India; and this kind of list goes on. Communities evolve towards centers of skill, excellence, and specialized assets. Bush and Gore are both political dynasties.

    Language is just another quality passed on this way to the next generation, especially as it entails learning at home from a young age. Pronunciation, accent, idiom, sophistication in usage, and reference to prior literature with authority, all require great mastery of language. Over time, certain language styles become prized as belonging to’high’ society. The way one speaks becomes a marker of social status. In modern times, where one’s works get published depends largely upon one’s language skill, and determines one’s standing. The currency of language was Sanskrit in ancient India and it is English in the modern world. Just as Sanskrit usage was caste-related in India, English is turning into a device for caste hierarchy around the world today.

    A key difference is that in India, caste became explicitly codified, whereas in America social structure by ethnicity or family lineage remains uncodified and subliminal. But what is commonly not pointed out today is that India’s smritis (codified rules) pertaining to many topics including caste, were meant to be specific to a given time, place and cultural context and not intended as universal ‘commandments’ for all people at all times. They were more akin to a specific European king’s laws in a given kingdom. Naturally, there were hundreds of smritis made by different people at different times, covering various aspects of social life. Manysmritis contradicted others and/or superceded others, just as one would find among the myriad of codified laws across medieval Europe.

    The advantage of the uncodified, invisible and often denied phenomenon of the American caste system is that it does not become cast (excuse the pun) in concrete. Rather, the lack of rules make it porous and not impermeable, and open to change over time rather than static. On the other hand, something subliminal rather than explicit is more dangerous as it gets applied arbitrarily. Also, since most people who use it, deny its very existence, it becomes difficult to have an honest debate on it so as to modify it. This is the situation in America today. I wish American academicians teaching about India would examine their own students to see how India’s social structures resemble modern America’s.

    My experience has been that India’s caste discussions are locked into a ‘South Asian’ contained context, and that most well educated Americans have a blind spot about their own caste system. Using the same terminology forces the comparison.

    Note that ‘caste’ is not a term indigenous to India, because the term jati is more akin to community. ‘Caste’ is a term introduced by the colonialists and deserves to be re-examined. Would India’s affirmative action be better off defined in terms of underprivileged labor classes and demographic communities, permitting and even encouraging migration across them, as opposed to remaining in terms of static caste boundaries that are assumed to be genetic?

    Understanding this American caste system has important implications for Asian Americans. Indians have traditionally been too introverted and due to that, have not studied the rest of the world. But the dynamics of the West are important to understand, even to deepen one’s understanding of oneself. The field of academic scholarship and teaching of Hinduism is dominated by Jews and Christians. Indians have been content to be portrayed by others, and yet complain later when the portrayal begins to play out in society — be it in the form of peer pressure facing their own kids growing up in the West, or as public opinion shaped by Marxists of Indian origin, or in the form of aggressive proselytizing back in India.

    East Asia has managed its branding in America much more actively. Thanks to over thirty endowed Japan Studies chairs in USA, to The Asia Society, and to millions of dollars spent annually for teacher training in America on how to teach about Japan, the Japanese Americans are ahead of other Asians in their climb up this caste ladder. Notice how the Japan bashing that was characteristic of the early 1980s has mysteriously disappeared from the media. China is second among Asian countries in this climb, having started only 15 years ago to negotiate their way in America.

    Indian Americans are doing well in the high tech/professional caste as individuals. There is also the caste of Indian’intellectuals’ who write popular and serious books with great command of the English language, small in number but large in visibility. Often, this latter category has its training in the use of Western and/or Marxist metaphor, as India’s own English medium education system subverted the teaching of India’s classics – the Ramayana and Mahabharata – and of Sanskrit. These young Indians often shy away from too much linkage with their own heritage, preferring to classify themselves as ‘South Asian’ after leaving their parents’ home.

    The Hindu identity is still largely outcast in America or subverted in many instances. Media, education and public images of Hinduism are often dominated by negative stereotypes. Hence, most Indians have multiple identities, bringing out the one that works best in a given situation. A Hindu who worships at home in front of a Hindu deity and socializes with other Indian friends in very ethnic settings, often erases every sign of such linkage when he goes to work each day. Post-colonialists have written about a phenomenon called ‘brown shame’ that was encouraged amongst Indians by the British as a way to dominate Indians. But nobody has brought out the more recent phenomenon that I call ‘Hindu shame’. To be openly Hindu is often seen as a matter of shame, as was the case with Jews in Europe in the early 20th century. This demonizing has worsened in the past five years and Hindus are now concerned about being branded ‘fascist’, ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’, or as some other negative ‘ism’ or ‘ist’ depending upon the particular writer’s toolbox.

    Either Hindus are described as world negating, based on narrow interpretations of select textual passages, i.e. shown as having little or no interest in the affairs of the world, as a sort of mystical escapism. Or, if they are acknowledged as socially engaged, and hence not world negating, they are often depicted as abusing women and poor, and generally backward in social practices. So Hinduism is not seen as having the resources within itself to be progressive in a socially responsible manner, the way the ‘rational’ West is seen to have.

    This new Hindu American caste needs to learn from the successes of other American castes noted above. This is especially important as the population of Indians in America is projected to increase to ten million by 2050, and there shall also be many non-Indians who continue to adopt Hinduism.


    — Rajiv Malhotra

    3 Indias At War: Sensex India, Maoist India, And Bharat

    In order to understand India’s present dynamics, it is helpful to think of three competing forces at work internally, each with its distinct support bases and strategic ambitions. Of these forces, Sensex India and Bharat are pro-nation forces even though they fight each other, while Breaking India opposes the unity of India. This article summarises some key kurukshetras within India where these forces are at war with one another. I want to make it politically correct to discuss this in the mainstream.

    I have coined the term Sensex India to refer to the western-style institutionally organised economy and lifestyle. This includes all those Indians who relate to the corporate sector as investors, producers or consumers. The major metros and second-tier towns are now largely taken over by this segment, and belonging to it is considered synonymous with being “modern”. The proportion of Indians who belonged to this category during colonial rule was tiny, but has mushroomed after independence, and especially in the past decade of India’s “globalisation”. Sensex India uses Western models that are based on centralised governance, extreme materialism, greed and short-term thinking in matters of environment and sustainability. It continues the legacy of cultural disruption that was started by European colonialists, even though now it is brown-skinned Indians performing the white man’s roles.

    The Indians leading this tend to be directly or indirectly integrated with their fellow western elitists, not only in business transactions but also in media, lifestyle, literature, fashions, brands, etc. What is being touted as globalisation is largely the westernisation of the globe. All too often, cricket, Bollywood and a few traditional symbols (carried forward from Bharat, discussed below) comprise the shallow sense of Indian identity among this class. They crave mimicry of the west. A person’s westernisation has become the measure of superiority over his fellow Indians.

    While Sensex India seeks to unify India using top-down development, there are opposing centrifugal forces tearing it apart. I have discussed these in numerous talks and in my book, Breaking India. These fissiparous forces include regional ethnic identities, foreign religious nexuses, and so forth. Because I have discussed many of them elsewhere, in this brief article I shall focus on one such divisive force that I refer to as Maoist India, the rebellious insurrections that confront approximately one-third of India’s districts, according to government sources.

    There are many disparate revolts against Sensex India, being provoked on the grounds of feeling exploited and marginalised. Maoist Indians allege that they are victims of cultural genocide which is being carried out behind the smokescreen of “progress”. While Sensex India is run top-down with elitist centralised structures and mostly English-speaking governance, Maoist India is grassroots and bottom-up. Here the local languages predominate and the support base is very grounded and bonded with the native soil of a given geographical locality. This means that Maoist India is not one unified movement, but several disparate movements spread across the country, each fighting a local war against local authorities. Often the local police or even symbolic presence of “India” is used as a target to unleash their frustrations.

    There are growing alliances emerging across the different geographies, including cells of revolt in neighboring countries. Some of the leaders of these movements include well-educated modern Indians who have turned into revolutionaries, drawing inspiration from similar leftist movements in other parts of the world. China’s Chairman Mao is commonly used as the mascot and political ideologue; hence the term Maoists is used to refer to all such movements.

    Their prime enemy is Sensex India and the Indian government seen as its guardian. Many local battles have erupted over the appropriation of lands and natural resources by Sensex India and its foreign collaborators. The Hollywood movie, Avatar, depicts a fictional account of the capitalist exploitation of natives, which resembles many of the issues at stake here. When I saw that movie, I was also imagining the story of the genocide of Native Americans by Europeans after the so-called “discovery” by Columbus (which was really a conquest of the cruellest kind).

    The origin of this clash between western-style “civilisation” and the natives of the soil had its origins long ago. It crystallised in legal terms when the British classified many local jatis (traditional communities) that resisted colonial presence as “criminal tribes”. The notorious Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 was later extended and further consolidated in 1876, 1911 and 1924. Even though India repealed it after independence, many structures that it produced have endured, such as the category “tribe” which is a derogatory western term. In the terminology of Bharat, all these so-called tribes are jatis. The only difference is that these jatis were too different from western norms and resisted (often with violence) the attempts to encroach into their territories and sacred spaces.

    The thugs were one such jati that became infamous. They were especially dangerous for the British rulers of India, because they organised attacks against colonial presence wherever they found such a foreign presence to be vulnerable. For instance, the thugs were opposed to the very large scale deforestation of their lands which the British carried out in order to supply wood to Britain and to their own projects in India. The criminalisation of this jati was so successful that their name has entered the global lexicon as synonymous with crookedness and criminality in general. It is analogous to a pejorative racist term like “nigger” except that there is virtually no resistance against its use because the thugs got exterminated by British edict.

    This pejorative mindset is prevalent in the attitude of Sensex Indians towards “tribals”; it is a view through their colonised lenses. It sees the native jatis as “occupiers” of valuable lands that need to be exploited in the name of progress and civilisation. This is the exact same story as the whites who called themselves “settlers” of the American landscape, after making it “empty” of the natives by various means of genocide.

    Bharat is the term that refers to traditional India. Whether one thinks of pre-colonial Indian native society as good or bad, there is no doubt that such a society has survived for a very long time, and that many pockets of India still live in traditional lifestyles deeper than mere symbolism and ornamentalism. Today, Bharat has been invaded by both Sensex India and Maoist India, albeit using different reasons and different methods. The Sensex Indians are following imported right-wing capitalist models that are said to have emerged from the Protestant Ethic in the West, and they are frantically “developing” the civilisation of Bharat by westernising it. The Maoist Indians are following imported left-wing models to redress their grievances. Each attacks Bharat with its own imported theories, and each offers its own kind of promise for a better society. The important thing is that both are foreign nexuses based ideologies, and both are tearing Bharat apart. I predict that neither Sensex India nor Maoist India will score an absolute victory, but that this war will break up India sooner than most Indians are willing to admit.Sensex India and Maoist India are like competing predators that each prey on Bharat, while at the same time determined to fight each other to the end.

    I am not at all writing a defense of Bharat. I am certainly not claiming that it is some sort of perfect past. There is no such thing as a perfect past according to Bharat’s traditions; smritis are meant to be rewritten for each era and context, rather than being parroted as fossilized dogma. The old Bharat would not be viable today even if one could return to it. For one thing, the population today is over 50 times what it might have been during the classical era of Bharat, and I have never seen a convincing analysis that the old ways are sufficiently elastic to be viable on a 50-fold increase of scale today. Add to this that modern technology and globalization make isolation impossible, and any isolationist approach would merely weaken India and invite re-colonization by forces in India’s neighborhood and beyond.

    However, I do suggest that civilisation models from classical India must be put on the discussion table alongside all other models, and considered on a case by case basis as the building blocks for a Navya Bharat (New Bharat). Good ideas from all sources, including from Sensex India and Maoist India, ought to be assimilated as part of this exercise, which should be seen as the development of new smritis and adaptation of old ones. This would not be the first time that Indians have modernised their own traditions. It surprises me that such approaches to nation building have not been started on a large scale, at least not persistently with enough competence. (I am excluding proclamations that are political manoeuvres to grab power under such pretexts, and I am referring here to thought leaders who ought to not have political ambitions or others selfish motives.)

    Seen in this framework of three Indias, today’s blatant and massive corruption is a result of the breakdown of the ethos of Bharat, replaced by materialistic greed that cannot be satisfied within the Sensex India model. The media has propagated western-style desires among the masses which the system cannot deliver on such a large scale. This leads to all out selfish frenzy to get ahead at any cost, using any means. I do not think that Sensex India could deliver the American middle class lifestyle on which it is premised. Given that India’s population density is 10 times as large as USA’s, India simply lacks the natural resources (e.g. water) to sustain the same level of per capita consumption as the USA. It would have to be based on huge importation of resources (like energy). This would bankrupt the country, while the Sensex billionaires would be cheered as heroes flying in their private jets to enjoy greater foreign assets and fame.

    If the US social security system cannot afford to pay for its old people’s retirement, why should India dismantle the traditional family and jati structure of looking after the aged, in the wild hope of “becoming like Americans”? Even if the dream based on Sensex India’s development model were viable, where would so much capital come from and who would pay the debt? Where are the foreign lands India would have to conquer and colonise in order to develop itself, in the same way as the West plundered others to develop itself? My point is that the Sensex India model needs to be augmented with a good dose of ideas from Bharat.

    I found that few of my Sensex India friends were willing to discuss the Maoist threats to their wealth, because it shakes up their comfort zones. Lately, I am encouraged that a tiny number of them are becoming open to examine such ideas, at least privately. This topic of conversation does deflate their hot air balloons, for it forces them to step back in the backdrop of recent Sensex crashes, the constant lowering of India’s GDP growth prospects, India’s rising debt, and loss of India’s positioning in the global economy both to China at the top and to other low wage countries squeezing from below. They usually admit the devastation looming ahead due to the population bomb.

    Not one of them likes my prediction that very soon the risk analysis of investments in India will start to include Maoist disruptions into the models. They shudder when the following questions are raised: What would happen if the Maoists redirected their anger from attacking petty government officials to attacking the core infrastructure of major Sensex India players? What would get triggered if the news headlines suddenly mentioned attacks on IT, oil pipelines, telecom networks, etc.? As infrastructures expand, which they must, they become increasingly vulnerable as well. My point is that besides being good for the society at large, the kind of strategic rethinking I am calling for would also benefit Sensex India in the long run.

    I often wonder: What might have Gandhi’s India been like? I feel it would have been closer to Bharat than the other two models, Sensex and Maoist, respectively. Indeed, it was the Nehruvian turn after independence that went away from Gandhi and Bharat, which could be seen as the watershed event leading up to the present crisis. Nehru saw himself as the last white man to rule India. At the same time, I cannot accept the old Gandhian model for today, for each model has a lifecycle and needs to be updated. It would not be viable now, and Gandhi himself as a great creative re-thinker would probably have revised it for today’s circumstances.

    What I propose is a healthy integration of Bharat and Sensex India to take us forward, with lessons learned from the Maoists brought in as well. The exact nature of this confluence would require innovative thinking. Frankly, the political leaders who claim to speak for Bharat have just not had adequate vision; they are too obsessed with immediate politics that is inherently reactive and short sighted. Some persons I speak to anticipate that Narendra Modi will come to power and fix everything. It is true that he has shown interest and support for both Bharat and Sensex India, and might be a good leader to integrate these. But the task at hand is far more challenging than any one man could be expected to achieve, regardless of which among the potential candidates comes to power. It demands an intellectual climate that needs to be created in India.

    — Rajiv Malhotra