SV: SV: Rajaram's bull

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sun Aug 6 12:08:25 UTC 2000

Vidyasankar Sundaresan [SMTP:vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM] skrev 6. august 2000

Thank you for an interesting answer to my remarks.

> I hardly think Indology can be made palatable to a wide and an
> international audience. We don't have impressive pyramids, or
> a great wall visible from outer space, or a Rosetta stone, to
> capture the imagination. Nor does modern India have the oil or
> the amount of firepower that some other Asian countries have,
> to create an interest.

I beg to disagree. 1) You have a number of highly impressive buildings and
monuments that in themselves should be enough to bring people to India. It
is true that you don't have a lot of oil, but 2) you do have a very big
army (the fourth largest in the world, I believe). Reasons for lack of
interest must be sought elsewhere. In the case of your army, it has so far
been unable to project power credibly beyond South Asia. But if India
reaches a point where it - like the former Soviet Union - can design and
 productionalise advanced and reliable long-range military equipment, the
interest in India should logically increase.

> Professional Indologists seem to be very concerned over the
> influence that OIT-ists have over the contemporary Indian
> population, at home and abroad.

The problem is not so much that they propagate the OIT. The problem is
rather that the OIT is part of a larger ideological package, parts of which
are not innocent.

If popularizing Indology among
> is something worth doing, this is the target audience.

That is certainly a relevant point.

>And the
> professionals have to take care not to be overly pedantic, and
> also to be sensitive to the politcal and cultural sentiments of
> an ex-colony of the old British empire. Is it all that surprising
> that a country that is just half a century into its life as an
> independent democracy has a little romance with nationalism?

Not at all! Warning a people against national romaticism is about as futile
as warning young people against unhappy love affairs. However,
intellectuals and professionals do have a responsibility to react and not
to condone the exploitation of such sentiments to the degree that it is
done in the Hindutva movement. As already said: we have made our

> seems like the hypocrisy of the nuclear powers when they preach
> to other states against going nuclear, without making any sincere
> efforts towards the disarmament of their own weapons. The West
> is thought of as having already milked all that can be got out of
> its own versions of nationalism and kin ideologies.

This is certainly an important point. Western hypocrasy is a
well-established fact, clear for everybody to see. But: The West has due to
various nationalisms and totalitarian ideologies in the course of the 20th
century lost some 50 million lives - in Europe alone. In addition, there
are the proxy wars in Asia and Africa which have brought about a death and
destruction to millions of peoples. You could say that Westerners speaks
from bitter experience, but without moral authority. Please remember,
however, that noone on this list is a spokesman for a government. And lack
of moral authority does not necessarily mean that arguments are wrong.

> Case in point - to say that something is Vedic, not Hindu,
> presupposes a definition of what is Hindu. Now, what is the
> Indological definition of "Hindu"? Is there even one commonly
> accepted definition?

I wouldn't venture to give a definition of a Hindu, but Vedic does have a
definition. It refers to a literature where the subjunctive is still a
living grammatical category. In other words: the four Vedas, the Brahmanas
and the oldest (13) upanishads, plus the concomitant sutras.

> Another example - all the professionals on this list know much
> about the alliance of brAhmaNa and kshatriya in classical India.
> However, to be very blunt about it, if you think this is obvious
> to the modern Indian, or that it should be obvious, you are living
> in an ivory tower.

I am not claiming that this is obvious to the modern Indian. However, there
are figures to support the suggestion that Hindu nationalism is spearheaded
and dominated by the upper castes, particularly Brahmins. Christophe
Jaffrelot presents the following composition of the Jana Sangh and BJP
National Executive between 1980 - 91:

                        Jana Sangh      BJP             BJP
                        (1954-67/72-7)  (1980-91)       (1993-5)

Brahmin         76 (74.2)       57 (58.2)       57 (56.4)
Rajput                  7 (7)           7 (7.1)         4 (3.9)
Bania/Jain              11 (10.5)       11 (11.2)       13 (12.8)
Khattri                 14 (13.5)       8 (8.1)         8 (7.9)
etc. (The table goes on for about a page).

The trend shows that the composition of the BJP National Executive 1980-91
seems to have become more balanced: the over-representation of the upper
castes has been eroded, while the number of low-caste members marginally
increased. Brahmins and Banias continued to make up about one-third of the
total members. The decrease in Brahmins is obviously due to the wish to
project a more amenable face to the OBC voters. At the local level the BJP
hierarchy was overwhelmingly dominated by upper-caste members, even in the
"Tribal districts". (See Christophe Jaffrelot: the Sangh Parivar in "The
BJP and the Compulsions of Politics in India". Ed. by Thomas Blom Hansen
and Christophe Jaffrelot, Oxford University Press 1998. )

I don't have a quarrel with Reimann's remarks about discontinuities, but
when I see Hindutva politics, I am always reminded of the slogan of the
Norwegian Conservative party: "Change to preserve". There is solid evidence
that the Brahmins and other upper castes have the edge in the shaping of
Hindutva policies. Therefore, instead of listening to rhetoric we should
have a look at substance. I fear, that as the French say, "plus ca change,
plus c'est la meme chose" (the more it changes, the more it's the same
thing). The fact that Indians are not aware of this, should perhaps be a
reason for worry.

>To say that Indologists are by and large
> interested only in the Rg Veda and the IVC, and not in British
> colonial India, is to ignore how inseparably linked the two are
> historically.

This needs some elaboration. In principle, there is a difference between
"Indology" which is the traditional word for the study of ancient India,
and "South Asian" studies that cover both the modern and ancient period.

To simply assert that contemporary Indologists do
> not subscribe to the assumptions of those who lived a hundred
> years ago is not going to be believed, unless supported by proof.

The proof lies in the Indological production which has been forthcoming
since the second world war. This is precisely the production that is
unknown to most Indians. The Indology of the 19th century is still
available and reprinted in India, whereas Western Indology after partition
is not well known. (I also wonder how much Indians know of Indology printed
in German and French).

> Indians come with a complex attitude towards the west - on the
> one hand, the west enamours us, with its industrial and economic
> successes; on the other hand, it breeds suspicion, with its known
> history of imperialism and violent racism. We are a people with
> a very long cultural memory, and we are very reluctant to believe
> that attitudes change all that greatly, over fifty to seventy
> years. In the US, there is sufficient racism visible, to remind
> us that change does not happen overnight.

Imperialism and racism are historical facts, but as for racism, please
remember that there has been a consistent struggle in the West against
racism ever since the end of the second world war. A number of views and
attitudes that were prevalent even among educated people before 1945 are
today practically non-existent in the educated part of the population.
Racism still exists, quite evidently, but the responsible attitude
propagated by academics almost universally in the West (with a few
exceptions) is persistently anti-racist.

> Regarding a perceived Indophobia - too often, the average Indian
> comes off with a feeling that Indologists are in love with an
> India that no longer exists, but hate the India that does exist
> today.

This objection is more difficult to answer, because I don't know the heart
and minds of my colleagues to that extent :-). But claiming that we "hate"
India as it is today is a bit over the top, I believe. If you use the word
"critical", that is probably closer to the truth. But please not that we
are critical of India in much the same way that many Indians are critical
of India: we worry about corruption, unhealthy caste politics, social
discrimination etc., and we also worry about similar phenomena in our own

>And to say that studying India is fascinating because
> its society is so very complex also evokes unpleasant images of
> being nothing more than a specimen like some sort of lab rat, to
> be disposed off, after the study is done. The obvious response
> is to turn against the person(s) doing the study.

I have yet to meet a scholar/scientist who did not at least to some extent
regard his object of study as a "laboratory rat" at some level. I once
overheard a surgeon say at a conference that "what I like most are really
heavy traffic injuries". That does not mean that he was happy to see people
getting their lifes wrecked in traffic accidents. He just showed the
professional distance that is necessary for a thinking person to get a grip
on difficult problems. Like any society, India is a "laboratory rat" to the
sociologist or historian, but unlike rats, we don't want to dispose of that
society after it has been studied :-).

> If countering any or all this seems like a pointless exercise,
> then I should think the academic community should just ignore the
> maverick and right-wing free-lancers. If these people are a serious
> concern, then the Indologist of Western birth needs to figure out
> how to win the hearts of the modern, English-speaking, urban-
> dwelling, Indian, who is most probably Hindu, often in a technical
> or scientific profession.

I believe that much of the resistance to Hindutva scholarship in academic
circles is due to the following factors:
1) it is simply perceived as wrong
2) it attacks Western scholars in a venomous manner, which inevitably
stimulates a response
3) it is part of an ideological/political package that many Western
Indologists and South Asianists see as detrimental to Indian society based
on the arguments about nationalism etc. that I have already mentioned. And
as you know, not all Indians are equally happy about Hindutva. Western
scholars are not aligned against "the Indians". We are to the contrary
aligned with some Indians against other Indians, and as Koenrad Elst has
shown, there are even some Westerners aligned with the Hindutva crowd
against our crowd. It is not a clear-cut case of the West against India.

I do appreciate that Indians are wary of Western critique and tend to get
defensive. This is a normal reaction to critique from outsiders everywhere.
But as professionals working on South Asian matters, you cannot expect us
to be entirely silent. It is our job to hold an opinion, and to express it.

Best regards,

Lars Martin

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax 1:  +47 22 32 12 19
Fax 2:  +47 85 02 12 50 (InFax)
Email: lmfosse at

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