Smear Campaign vs. M. Witzel (I) (fwd)

Walter Slaje slaje at T-ONLINE.DE
Tue Dec 27 16:53:00 UTC 2005

I thought the following message of Steve Farmer
(Indo-Eurasia List) absolutely deserves the
attention of members of the Indology List, too.
The full text is in three parts.  

Christmas Day 

Dear List, 

Weekends and holidays are our usual times to
discuss questions on the 
List of a lighter sort. This post is not light in
tone, and writing it 
is not the sort of thing anyone wants to
undertake, or others to read, 
on a holiday. 

I apologize in advance for its length, but it has
to be kept in one 
piece due to the critical subjects that it

It is important for List members to recognize
a highly coordinated 
smear campaign -- uglier and on a bigger scale
than any we've 
experienced before -- was launched this Christmas
in India and the 
United States against Michael Witzel, Wales
Professor of Sanskrit at 
Harvard University and co-founder of this List. 

Examples of things being said about Michael, both
in the rightwing 
press and in petitions aimed at Harvard, are
later in this post. 
First I'll present a substantial update of the
California textbook 
issue to put the ugliness of that campaign in
context. (Readers who 
want to skip the update can move immediately to
Part II, far down in 
this post.) In a nutshell, Hindutva forces in
India and the US are 
furious due to recent setbacks in their plans to
alter US textbooks to 
reflect their religious-political ideology, and
they are retaliating 
against Michael as the most visible and most
effective impediment to 
their plans. 

Members are encouraged to repost this message on
other Lists or to 
republish it (but check with me before editing
in the US or India. 
It is critical that as many academics and S.
Asians as possible who 
oppose the Hindutva agenda take a public stand on
what the rightwing is 
trying to do to Michael Witzel. The Hindutva 
groups behind this attack 
are well-funded and highly organized, and we need
a lot of help to 
counteract the defamatory remarks currently being
spread in print and 
via the Web about him around the world. 

For those of you who have recently joined this
List, and only know of 
Michael Witzel through this smear campaign, at
end (in Part III of 
this post) I've attached a short sketch of
Michael's writings in 
Indology, Vedic studies, historical linguistics,
and related fields. 
Many of his writings can be accessed through the
links I provide in 
that section. 

Just above that, at the start of Part III, I've
also given a few links 
for those who wish to familiarize themselves with
the Hindutva groups 
involved in the California textbook affair, which
has led directly to 
the smear campaign being aimed at Michael Witzel.

It isn't a pretty story, but in its twisted way
does have some odd 
intellectual interest. On that sometime, at
length, and in another 


Part I: The California Textbook Issue 

Let me start with some good news. This week,
Harvard University's 
lawyers reviewed all the materials that Michael
has submitted, along 
with endorsements from a long list of
international researchers, to the 
California Board of Education. After their
Harvard has 
reassured Michael that they stand behind him and
support his academic 
freedom of speech. This is critical, since the
rightwing has undertaken 
a massive petition and letter-writing campaign
aimed at Harvard under 
the assumption that pressure of this sort could
affect events in 
California by undermining Michael at Harvard.
very likely, since 
Michael holds one of the most prestigious Chairs
anywhere in Sanskrit 

Much of the campaign against Michael is
transparerently defamatory, in 
the narrow legal sense. Preliminary discussions
with attorneys suggest 
that it should be possible to win large punitive
damages from the 
individuals and groups  behind this campaign
simply on the grounds of 
what has already been published in print or on

More on that as events unfold: we currently have
volunteers downloading 
and/or scanning every defamatory statement
Michael we can find, 
as well as the veiled threats of violence that
have been discussed in 
previous posts. We are making sure that every bit
of evidence is 
carefully filed away before that evidence
disappears (as it has before) 
down the Hindutva equivalent of Orwell's 'memory

For the moment let us just point out that the
materials we already have 
on file are quite massive and very incriminating.


The smear campaign aimed against Michael is meant
in retaliation for 
the critical role he has played since early
November -- in 
collaboration now with hundreds of Indian and
Western researchers and 
S. Asian minority groups -- in helping block
massive changes in 
California 6th-grade textbooks demanded by
Hindutva political-religious 
groups. Some of these groups, as noted below,
connections with rightwing groups in India, whose
attempts to project 
Hindutva political-religious ideology into Indian
textbooks have been 
turned back since 2004 (after the rightwing BJP
party lost national 
power) by India's National Council of Educational
Research & Training 
(NCERT). (NCERT is the closest thing in India to
national 'Board of 

The upshot is that the current US Hindutva moves
in California, begun 
not long after the BJP fell from power, can be
tied (along with related 
moves in Great Britain, involving the BBC) to a
much broader 
international plan to rebuild the declining
Hindutva movement in India. 

Before November 9th, the Hindutva groups involved
in the US had managed 
to convince the California State Board of of
Education and the 
Department of Education staff -- few if any of
whom had even heard 
before of Hindutva (and they say that ignorance
bliss) -- that they 
spoke for what they represented as a homogenous
community. In the early months, the Board did not
hear from Dalit 
groups, mainstream Hindu organizations, Tamil
Hindus, or any of the 
many non-religious Hindu groups that have obvious
reasons for opposing 
the Hindutva agenda. 

The fictional notion presented to the California
Board of Education 
that the highly fragmented Hindu-American
community is homogenous has 
certainly come as a surprise to the Tamil, Dalit,
and other Indian 
minority groups in the United States with whom we
have contacts. 

No matter how the final act of the California
drama plays out (in 
January), by now the California Board of
is acutely aware 
that the three main groups involved in the
California affair -- the 
Vedic Foundation (VF), the Hindu Education
Foundation (HEF), and the 
Hindu American Foundation (HAF) (on these groups,
see Part III) -- do 
not, by the wildest stretch of the imagination,
speak for all 

While the research community, mainstream Hindus,
and Indian minorities 
were initially caught sleeping by events in
California -- none of us 
knew about events there until November 5th, four
days before what was 
to be the final Board of Education meeting on
textbook issue -- in 
the last seven weeks hundreds of non-Hindutva
Indian-Americans, a solid 
base of Hindu-American University Professors (one
recent letter from 
such a group has over 130 signatures), and an
expanding list of S. 
Asian minority groups, including those
representing Dalit and tribal 
groups, have informed the State of California in
very clear terms that 
the three organizations noted above do _not_
represent their interests 
or opinions. 

The role that Michael helped play in awakening
Indian-Americans to events in Sacramento helps
explain the vehemence of 
the attack currently aimed almost exclusively at
his person. The 
rightwing's strategy consists in attempting to
divert attention from 
resistance to the Hindutva agenda within the
Hindu-American community 
by representing the setbacks to their California
plans as being due to 
the efforts of one fictional "Aryan Supremicist"
Harvard Professor with 
Nazi roots, etc. -- rather than to the efforts of
many non-sectarian S. 
Asians and Westerners who have long opposed the
Hindutva program. 


What has happened in California has become
increasingly complex, and 
can't be summarized in one holiday post, no
how long; but it is 
possible to quickly review a few key lines of
development. Once the 
affair is over, Michael and I have plans to
reflect upon all these 
events in a conspicuous place in print. 

In summary: The first and still most critical
battle in California took 
place on November 8-9th, when a letter endorsed
Michael and 
approximately four dozen other researchers from
India, Pakistan, the 
United States, Europe, Australia, Taiwan, and
Japan (many of them on 
this List) first alerted the California State
Board of Education to the 
religious-political motivations behind Hindutva
attempts to alter 
history textbooks. The letter was sent out within
48 hours of the time 
that we first learned of the involvement of
Hindutva groups in the 
textbook affair. 

The letter informed the Board about the
recent NCERT battle 
over Hindutva alterations of Indian textbooks,
which were made when the 
BJP was in power. It also provided the California
Board of Education 
with links to U.S. State Department papers issued
in 2003 and 2004 
explicitly warning against the influence of
Hindutva groups in 
education. The importance of the letter and what
was going on in 
California was underlined at the Board of
Education meeting in 
Sacramento on November 9th by James Heitzman, of
the University of 
California at Davis. Heitzman came to the Board
meeting armed with an 
analysis of the full list of proposed edits by
Hindutva groups. 

Far from just being the 'Witzel letter' (Dr.
Heitzman didn't even know 
about the letter until after it was submitted) --
as the Hindutva 
organizations like to characterize it -- this
original letter from the 
scholarly community to the Board of Education
(there have been others 
since) was endorsed by a long list of mainstream
linguists, and historians, including specialists
on ancient India from 
every part of the world. 

A few of the international signers whose work is
well-known in the 
field include Patrick Olivelle (who is a native
Asian), of the 
University of of Texas; Harry Falk, of Free
University, Berlin; Madhav 
Deshpande of the University of Michigan; Muneo
Tokunaga of Kyoto 
University in Japan; Maurizio Tosi, of the
University of Bologna in 
Italy; Richard Meadow of Harvard University and
Mark Kenoyer of the 
University of Wisconsin (Co-Directors of the
long-running Harappa 
Archaeological Research Project); well-known
Indian researchers 
including Romila Thapar, Shereen Ratnagar, D.N.
Jha, and others; 
Hartmut Scharfe and Stanley Wolpert, both
professors of UCLA; 
Asko Parpola, of Helsinki University; and so on. 

If you don't know how prominent these people are
in ancient Indian 
studies, look them up. 

The endorsers are a highly diverse international
group that represents 
many opposing research perspectives: but despite
these differences, all 
are uniformly opposed to Hindutva fabrications of
history, with which 
they are all familiar. As a group they don't have
even a faint 
resemblance to the imaginary group of "Harvard
leftists" fantasized in 
the Hindutva slander campaign directed at Michael
Witzel (see Part II, 

As a result of this first letter, the _massive_
rewrites of the 
chapters on india submitted to the Board of
Education by the Vedic 
Foundation for the submitted textbooks were
rejected _in toto_ by the 
Board -- and have remained off the table ever

That was our first victory, and it's a lasting

If it hadn't been for the November 8th letter
out by international 
scholars, things could have turned out very badly
at the November 9th 
meeting. If the Vedic Foundation rewrites had
actually made it into the 
textbooks, the absurdity of their positions would
have eventually 
forced those textbooks to be withdrawn -- as was
recently the case in 
India -- at an estimated cost in the case of
California of several 
hundred million dollars. (Those figures are not
given lightly, and are 
drawn directly from publishing industry


The textbook-issue waters became murkier at a
meeting in Sacramento on 
December 1-2 -- held _not_ by the State Board of
Education, as 
misreported in the India press, but by a
subsidiary (and totally 
advisory) body known as the Curriculum Commission
(CC). Events at the 
December 1-2 CC meeting were far more chaotic
at the November 9th 
State Board of Education meeting, due largely to
the fact that the 
audience was packed to the walls with Hindutva

That fact that no S. Asian opponents of Hindutva
were at the meetings 
involved some miscalculation on our part: no one
expected much to 
happen at the CC meeting, since the Board of
Education had explicitly 
directed the CC (with legal force) on November
to judge all 
proposed edits _solely_ on the basis of
accuracy, and not on 
religious grounds. To this end, the Department of
Education staff had 
drawn up a report based on a full review of
previously proposed edits 
(from the VF and HEF) made by Stanley Wolpert,
James Heitzman, and 
Michael Witzel, who were officially appointed as
Content Review Panel 
(CRP) specifically to fulfill this task. The
original expectation was 
that the CC meeting would end quickly with
acceptance of the Department 
of Education staff report. 

Against those expectations, the meeting was
chaotic -- we'll publish 
some funny eye witness accounts at some point --
with the result that 
after much wrangling with the Department of
Education staff several 
conservative members of the CC took control of
meeting and largely 
ignored the Department of Education staff report.
The result, after 
hours of arguing and confusion, was that a number
of blatantly 
religious edits were left in the history books
several new edits 
(breaking all historical precedents and the
explicit directive of the 
Board of Education) were stuck into them 'on the
fly'. The result, as 
everyone on all sides recognized at the end, was
an inconsistent mess 
that has left everyone involved in a quandary
about what to do next. 

As one publishing insider puts it: "California is
a mess." 

For now, let it be noted that it is clear to
everyone (1) that the 
advisory CC, whose role in the vetting process is
finished, violated 
the Board of Education's legal directive from
November 9th that stated 
that issues of historical accuracy alone must
determine what makes it 
into the ancient India edits; and (2) that the
publishers, the 
Department of Education, and everyone else
involved knows that the 
current gross mess of inconsistent edits has to
cleaned up before 
anything goes to press. 

But all that said, one key point by now is
clear. Recently 
Hindutva forces have begun to claim publicly (as
in the _Pioneer_ 
article; see below), apparently to rally their
sagging troops, that 
what happened on December 1-2 in the CC meeting
was some kind of 
victory for their side. This is a radical
about-face from their 
reactions at the end of the CC meeting on
2, when (as on 
November 9th) they again went away furious that
the massive Vedic 
Foundation rewrites of the publishers' texts --
which are as comical as 
they are absurd (e.g., placing the Buddha and
Asoka in the early 2nd 
millennium BCE) -- didn't make it into California

Those rewrites weren't accepted by the California
Board of Education on 
November 9th; those rewrites weren't supported by
even the most 
conservative of the CC members on December 2; and
now that academic and 
anti-Hindutva forces have been awakened by what
almost happened in 
California, no rewrites of like this will make it
into US textbooks the 
next time this little drama plays out in some new
state with adoption 
processes. (The next really big battle will not
until Texas, and 
that won't occur until the end of the decade.) 

More on all this when the final act plays out in
California, sometime 
next month. 

(Steve Farmer)

Prof Dr Walter Slaje
Hermann-Loens-Str. 1
D-99425 Weimar (Germany)
Tel/Fax: +49-(0)3643 501391

Ego ex animi mei sententia spondeo ac polliceor
me studia humanitatis impigro labore culturum et
non sordidi lucri causa nec ad vanam captandam
sed quo magis veritas propagetur et lux eius, qua
humani generis continetur, clarius effulgeat.
Vindobonae, die XXI. mensis Novembris MCMLXXXIII.

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