SV: Book Review: An Update on AIT (Part 1)

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Mon Aug 30 21:17:57 UTC 1999

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan [SMTP:Palaniappa at AOL.COM] skrev 30. august 1999 22:39:
> Anti-JNU Rajaram and JNU-trained Sumathi Ramaswamy make strange bedfellows.
> However, with her academic position at Penn, Ramaswami's work is far more
> harmful to the pursuit of knowledge than Rajaram's.

I see nothing wrong in Ramaswamy's words. I have not read all of her book, but
what I have read is both fair-minded and inspiring. I am quite unable to see
that her book is harmful to the pursuit of knowledge. I am afraid that the
difference between Ramaswamy and Rajaram is the difference between a
professional, even brilliant scholar and a hack political propagandist. British
knowledge-seeking in India was not uninfluenced by political concerns, as we
all know, and Ramaswamy quite rightly points this out. But the linguistics that
were developed where not as a result of the underlying political motives
automatically unscientific and without academic merit. The same methods were
used in India as elsewhere, and the description of India's languages was as
scientific as the description of other languages in the world during the same
period. Evidently, some things would have been done differently today, but it
would be unfair to judge the pioneers of the nineteenth century by the
standards and theories that apply today. If we remember this, there is no
reason why we shouldn't throw a critical glance at the less palatable aspects
of colonial scholarship. This scholarship cannot be reduced to a mere political
matter, as some of its critics are trying to do, but we cannot do as if the
politics and cultural bias weren't there either.

British knowledge-seeking in India was not necessarily and always driven by
political or missionary motives. Many scholars simply took an interest in the
study of Indian language and culture for purely academic and personal reasons.
This would also apply to non-British scholars. The Germans had their own
nationalist agenda, but still managed to produce a great deal of high-quality
scholarship. Much of the criticism directed at nineteenth century philology by
Rajaram and fellows is in fact misdirected: it really applies to the fledgling
science of physical anthropology, at the middle of the century in the throes of
primitive Darwinism, and early ethnology. One of Rajaram's little tricks is to
set up strawmen to strike them down, usually by dressing up philologists to
look like indophobic anthropologists/ethnologists. He also has other tricks,
but I'll let them rest for now.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Fosse

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone/Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

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