Indo-Aryan migration vs Indigenous origin - scholarly debate

Robert J. Zydenbos zydenbos at BLR.VSNL.NET.IN
Tue Mar 17 08:24:26 UTC 1998

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.


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