VOI message

vidya at cco.caltech.edu vidya at cco.caltech.edu
Thu Apr 13 00:30:45 UTC 1995

n.rao at rz.uni-sb.de (Narahari Rao) wrote: 

> At least the historians from JNU at that time wanted to be 

> 'political' and not 'apolitical'. Their understanding of their text  
> books was that it would contribute to overcome the 'revivalist' 

> mentality (at that time the word 'fundamentalist' had not yet made  
> its appearance as an epithet for JanSangh politics).  This was in 

> line with the slogans of the 60s and 70s that all activities, 

> especially academic research, are necessarily 'political'.

A dangerous notion, one that cuts both ways, as the JNU historians  
should now be realizing. At least some part of the revisionism of the  
right-wing Hindutva people is a reaction to JNU's Romila Thapar and  
her tribe. Romila Thapar does arrange historical facts to her  
convenience, and her books come across as having a definite political  
agenda behind them. The pendulum now seems to be swinging the other  
way. As I see it, such historians have lost the moral high ground by  
having succumbed to the highly politicized atmosphere around them.  
Much as members of the Indology list may not want to discuss the  
political angle at all, the damage has been done in the past, and  
most likely, more damage will be done in the future. 

> Practices prevailing in India, according to the Islam of that time,   
> were not something flowing from the 'Religion of the Book' ( and I  
> think it was a correct perception too: The present day 

> Neo-Hinduism, which sees Bhagavadgita and Upanishads, and even Veda 

> as 'sacred texts' is of a recent origin), and Islam had an 

> obligation to eradicate the practices that were not flowing from 

> the 'Religion of the Book'. 

I am afraid this is not really true. Regarding the Vedic corpus as  
'sacred texts' is at least some two millenia old, if not older. It is  
not for nothing that the Vedas were termed "apaurusheya". One of the  
major accusations levelled against Buddhists and Jains, from the  
earliest times, was that they were nAstikas - i.e they refused to  
acknowledge the authority of Sruti. The Samkhya, Nyaya and Yoga  
systems escaped that "censure" because they accepted the Vedas as  
apaurusheya, even if such acceptance was nothing more than token  

None of this says anything about "idolatry", by the way. For an  
Aurangazeb, it should have been of little concern whether the Hindus  
even had any sacred texts or not. Quite obviously, they were on par  
with heathens and pagans, not having an Abrahamic legacy. And this  
remains true of the Islam of today also. Practices prevailing in  
India still do not flow out of "the religion of the Book", even if  
neo-Hindus claim to have their own sacred texts. The actual  
possession of sacred "book(s)" is completely irrelevant to what is  
seen by Islamic theology as belonging to "the book". 

S. Vidyasankar

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