Indo-Aryan migration vs Indigenous origin - scholarly debate

Bijoy Misra bmisra at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Mar 17 11:27:57 UTC 1998

It's useful in a debate to comment on a person's work rather
than the person himself/herself.  By using strong language against
individuals we would simply sidetrack and get into emotional
exchanges.  I thought strong language against Swami Vivekananda
is not necessary to make a point in this forum.  For many people
in the world (including me!) he was a genius ..

During the debate, personalities (past and present) would show up.
It would be healthy not to use the "attack" mode, but a "critic" mode.


Bijoy Misra

On Tue, 17 Mar 1998, Robert J. Zydenbos wrote:

> S. Krishna's critique of that book by Frawley and Feuerstein more
> or less seem to summarise the general atmosphere in which the
> 'repudiation' of the Aryan Invasion Theory is being propounded.
> Krishna's remarks are so damaging that I wonder why any scholar
> should spend time reading a book that already on the surface reveals
> itself as superficial and ill-informed.
> Please forgive me, dear list members, but the urge to write something is
> too great.
> There has been a lot of speculation and innuendo in various parts (the
> popular Indian press, the Indology List, and elsewhere) on why
> researchers should have come up with an AIT/AMT in the first place. The
> proposed reasons usually are racism / ethnic biases and colonialism, or
> something that looks like a variation on these themes. The AIT/AMT is
> depicted as a sort of conspiracy; but no variation on the anti-AIT/AMT
> conspiracy theory which I have come across till now convinces (for
> reasons like those which Krishna gave). At their best, the revisionists
> give examples of how real politicians picked up and abused scholarly
> work, and of occasional unscrupulous scholars with selfish motives, and
> this is taken as a basis for a sweeping condemnation, a pogrom against
> everything that supports the External-Aryan view. The baby is thrown out
> together with the bath-water.
> The historical revisionists, in their attacks on the established
> theory, habitually take to arguments in which 'white people',
> 'colonial prejudices and interests', 'ethnic superiority complex',
> etc. etc. figure prominently. A few years back I attended a seminar
> in Mysore (not at the university, but at a private college: this
> should be noted) where an internationally known Indian archaeologist
> spoke on Harappan things, and when afterwards a student asked why the
> archaeologist rejected the idea that the Aryans came from outside India,
> this scholar had the audacity to declare in public that "All that is the
> talk of white people. We don't have to believe that." This is the level
> on which most of the 'debate' takes place.
> What the revisionists apparently do not realise is that such arguments
> can with the greatest ease be reversed and used against them (Halbfass
> has remarked on the durability of the 'mleccha ideology' and Indian
> xenophobia in his _India and Europe_, as did Al-Biruni many centuries
> ago). One list member here has casually remarked some two weeks back
> that the views of Indigenous-Aryanists go down well politically
> nowadays, but this has hardly been picked up in our further discussions.
> If the members of this list want to read a bit of nauseating
> indigenous-Aryanist political junk which nicely presents the ideology
> with its racialist, casteist, political and quasi-religious
> ramifications, I can recommend a booklet that originally appeared in
> Hindi as _Aaryo.m kaa Aadide;sa_ by Swami Vidyananda Saraswati. I have
> read the Kannada translation (_Bhaarata aaryara muulanivaasa_),
> published by the Arya Samaj, Bangalore, 1989; vii+43 pp., Rs. 5.
> While the 'deconstruction' of established views is progressing
> energetically, with some non-mainstream Westerners supporting it (and,
> fortunately, mainstream Indian scholarship too is not revisionist), a
> similar 'deconstruction' of this revisionism has not been undertaken.
> Why is the younger generation of scholars in the West so gullible? Is it
> 'political correctness'? a new fashion? Or perhaps it is simply
> ignorance and sloth -- the nature of right-wing ideology and its
> workings in India is not sufficiently known, because too few Westerners
> have access to what is really happening on the ground, and they think
> they can be informed through English-language interpreters during a
> two-week Indian vacation or by reading an issue of _India Today_.
> And I am afraid, Charles Poncet, that I understand what that
> professor of Indology and Sanskrit at the Sorbonne meant when he
> spoke about Vivekananda as "this local commentator". If you learn
> an Indian language, walk around here and speak with a cross-section
> of society for a while, you will see that Vivekananda really lives
> only among a certain kind of people. He wrote in English and was an
> inconsistent, ill-informed, third-rate thinker and demagogue with
> racist ideas of the type that is again becoming popular among the
> urbanised semi-educated Indian new right. -- Not that I blame you for
> your miscomprehension: how many Westerners (also those who are
> considered scholars!) know this, or even care to find out? They have
> other things to do. And there are sloth and gullibility again, perhaps.
> Vivekananda too was a fashion once in certain circles in the West (which
> is still dominated by a quite Christian polar thinking: mea culpa, we
> are all sinners, what is originally Western must therefore be sinful,
> and we must be saved by someone from the East), and he played on that,
> as did many others after him. On the other hand, paradoxically, hardly
> anyone takes him really seriously (who will really study those eight
> volumes of all his writings, the friendly as well as the sordid?).
> Things should remain pre-packaged, lightly entertaining and
> undisturbing, without effort... like the Spice Girls at Khajuraho,
> Madonna's om shunty shunty, etc. etc.
> (In a similar way: the AIT/AMT came from the West, so it must be sinful
> and condemned. We'll receive enlightenment / entertainment from some
> Indian savants and take care not to criticise them too much, just as we
> don't criticise Vivekananda.)
> By the way, the Indian press is catching up on Madonna, whom one paper
> describes as "the mistress of musical metamorphosis and media
> manipulation," I found out today. Poor material memsahib. Suppose there
> is something genuine in this new turn of hers? We'll never know. Maybe
> she will never know either. Deepak Chopra and the soft circuit must be
> cashing in on this.
> RZ

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