Academic researchers versus Hindu civilization
(Wendy Doniger, Indologist and Professor of
History of Religions at the
This discussion seeks to
understand why Indian studies in the West (especially the
The growing numbers in contemporary society engaged in intellectual endeavour and the resulting institutionalisation of their work underlines the role of the modern intellectual entrepreneur. This class of entrepreneurs operates in an intellectual marketplace that ultimately serves the needs of the prevailing order, i.e. groups and/or powerful societies and states. They are profoundly dependent for material rewards and status on established institutions. The lone intellectual entrepreneur engaged in the counterpart of isolated ‘cottage production, at some remove from formal institutions and therefore somewhat alienated from the prevailing order, owing to intermittent direct interaction with society, is now exceptional. In this context, the production of contemporary intellectual output is much like any other modern economic activity.
entrepreneurs in the contemporary world may display a superficial restlessness
and rootlessness that suggests cosmopolitan allegiances, but they are in fact
firmly anchored to the prevailing structures of political, economic and social
power. Of course that has of course always been true to some degree in all
societies. The comprehensive institutionalisation of paid modern intellectual
labour and the system of regulation, vetting by the peer review system of
journal editorial boards and the editors of major publishing houses (and
increasingly television) have seen off and/or constrained the upstart
autodidact. These channels are the unavoidable conduits through which ‘quality
control’ is exercised (as the famous intellectual Theodor
scale of the complicity of intellectual entrepreneurs in the sordid purposes of
the State is a little hard to believe because intellectual life is wrongly
associated with probity and openness. There is also a tendency to accept the
conventional account of past events offered in standard textbooks and journals.
The best test for evaluating the extent of deception and lies is to judge the
veracity of accounts about contemporary issues, since one is more likely to be
aware of the truth. Such an exercise makes clear that dishonesty is the name of
the game and the scale of the lies, by acts of commission and omission, are
simply huge. How many people, for example, realise that the British and French
governments were assiduous supporters of the Milosevic regime in
The specific forces that govern the individual intellectual entrepreneur’s output of analyses and ideas is a combination of the subjective (i.e. personal psychology, as Rajeev Malhotra has been arguing) and the dominant objective forces in society, beyond his control. The subjective motive intermixes with a curious amalgam of socialisation, transparently evident in the conformist similarities of common genres, and shared ideas, underpinned by an inter-subjective ‘language’. But any subjective freedom that endures is unceremoniously impaled on the logic of society’s power political structures and its purposes, by the mundane imperatives of access to funding and rules for achieving status. It scripts creativity and imposes conformity. Such objective stimuli create compelling wider competitive pressures on the individual to succeed and therefore intensify conformity.
The hallmark of such a social class is necessarily opportunism and ‘virtuous’ dissidents that undoubtedly exist among them have a circumscribed impact (the Noam Chomsky’s of the world are extraordinarily unique). One should not therefore be unduly awe-struck by the views and postures adopted by this intellectual social class or impute excessively durable significance to their cogitation. Private, sentimental attachments have but a precarious place in such endeavours. It often entails the sacrifice of family life and friendships, which highlight some advantages for the unencumbered single entrepreneur, with a tenuous stake in the future. He may therefore turn out to be the most reliable archetype for achieving institutional political objectives. As a result, such intellectual endeavours exhibit, in sublimated form, the profile of successful criminality: keen awareness of and responsiveness to external stimuli and the capacity for instrumental ruthlessness because the type of work involved nurtures foresight and manipulative skills.
may be innocently imagined that an intellectual entrepreneur engaged in
sustained study of a particular society or country must have empathy for it. On
the contrary, such enquiry can take the shape of reconnoitring an enemy and
indeed compound the distaste for the culture in question, which I imagine is
the case with a majority of Western scholars of
‘Scorched earth’ techniques of ‘academic’ investigation are typified by the disgraceful and (as it also happens) dubious scholarly methods employed by one American academic, who engaged in gross abuse of the Indian saint Ramakrishna. This arrogance originates in the mindset of a slave-owning culture, which devoted its ingenuity to digging holes in the ground to bury an unborn child in her pregnant black mother’s swelling stomach, before whipping her bare buttocks. Some morally bankrupt Hindu psychoanalyst (the closest modern social science gets to witchcraft) supported this author deviously, without the courage to do so explicitly. He took out political insurance for himself by confessing that he had portrayed a fictional character inspired by Ramakrishna sympathetically, in a novel. Such scholarly discourse is equivalent to stripping someone’s mother naked in public because it causes no actual bodily injury and merely violates the taboo of shame (Rajiv Malhotra).
long-standing Anglo-Saxon critique of Hindu society and independent
late nineteenth century British critique of Indians and their struggle for
emancipation was to become fatefully embroiled in the anti-Communist politics
of the Cold War, led by the
was a catastrophe for the survival of the British Empire and forced Britain’s
leaders to recognise that Indian independence could not be avoided, because the
natives had become capable of expelling them physically, if need be. But they
were anxious to ensure that independent
the sustained and multifarious assault on independent India, Hinduism and all
its works by the Anglo-Saxon Indian studies academic establishment, must be
viewed in the context of the profound US-led Western antagonism against Soviet
communism and wider power political issues. As a corollary, the end of this
struggle may also presage a change in the largely unsympathetic representation
urgent power political calculus and the attendant purposes of the US State
imbued Indian studies in the
‘expose’ of Indian Hindu ‘mumbo jumbo’, the irrationality of its licentious and
sensual religion also serves to defuse
It is a useful counterpoint to the idea of scholarly ‘objectivity’ to note that such professional scholarship in the humanities is like a chameleon that can change colours radically (i.e. depiction, interpretations and associated political implications) and still remain legitimate in the view of peers. The same Ramakrishna portrayed by suspect scholarship and sleight-of-hand as a pederast could be recast, if the scholar chooses, as a ‘sensual’ individual sublimating desire in the way recommended by the Vedanta.
The linguist and interpreter of myths has wide latitude and may display immense skill in imaginative reconstruction, but reconstructed myths do not become historical facts or provide a basis for reliable scientific inferences about contemporary societal mores and processes. Myths, ultimately, remain myths. But they can be made to appear distasteful and the civilisation that produced them odd at best. Serious comment on the subject matter of comparative mythology requires scholarship and is outside the scope of the present analysis, but it may be argued that the faithful themselves are unduly sensitive to the suggestion that religious mythology is not equivalent to historical fact. The fusing of truth with fantasy or myth is an entirely legitimate universal basis of socio-cultural identity and self-perception that should not distress the faithful.
However, Wendy Doniger, who espouses the parochial and historically contingent category of Western feminism for intellectual inspiration, also wielded unashamedly to justify imperialist wars by her own native Christian country, let the cat out of the bag by confessing to disquiet over alleged Hindu fanaticism. Is this the deeper political motivation that lurks underneath allegedly lofty scholarly purposes? When a supreme interpreter (Wendy Doniger) of myth, with vast evident knowledge of Hinduism and Hindu society, casually espouses the oxymoron of Hindu fundamentalism as a conceptual category, one’s confidence in her wider scholarly competence begins to waver. Some/many Hindus may be bad people, their politics may be reprehensible, they may be extremists, violent, but the notion of religious fundamentalism, which has a very specific meaning about the relationship between literal textual interpretation and behavioural norms, does not advance the understanding of Indian society and politics.
to the designs of US Cold War politics and its academics, an overwhelming
uncharitable view might be that
A more charitable interpretation is that, if you believe in the class struggle and seek revolutionary change to liberate the masses, horizontal societal, as opposed to vertical class, divisions among toiling Indians of different religious communities have to be opposed, by whatever means necessary. The Chinese Communists have been undermining this already improbable reverie of late by unleashing the full force of the coercive apparatus of their State on unpaid workers who dare to strike and even commit suicide, in public displays of despair. That apparently embarrasses the workers’ government, which begins to look increasingly familiar as a classic example of fascism, ruthlessly directing a corporate society and the all apparatuses of State power through a political party, without any public accountability or hint of apology.
that as it may, a few lies, subterfuges and resort to the help of international
sympathisers for such a noble cause, which is permitted by revolutionary theory
anyway, is hardly criminal. The idea that some of these international academic
sympathisers might enjoy cordial ties with their own governmental agencies,
which are hostile to Indian national interests, as many clearly do, is deemed
an invention of the despicable
Once these certainties are established, the burden of accepting financial rewards and prestigious appointments from abroad is a cross that has to be borne courageously, for the sake of the eventual liberation of the masses from fascist oppression. The struggle stretches way back, beyond the Sangh Parivar to Indira Gandhi, nay her father. Indeed, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru faced a more hostile international press than his daughter or the redoubtable Atal Behari Vajpayee. However, India’s English speaking ‘leftist’ elites had a more ambiguous relationship vis-à-vis the Indian State under Jawaharlal Nehru, since the more elitist Indian social order of the period was consonant with their conception of their own place within it. Dissent was accordingly choreographed.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s really serious infraction in the
eyes of supposed ‘international opinion’, the highest court of appeal for the
reverential Indian left, was the nuclear tests of May 1998 that ensure India a
position of virtual impregnability in a potential conventional military
engagement on two-fronts. One leftist Indian author, Sunil Khilnani, quoted in
the London FT, evidently espoused some form of bankrupt intellectual confetti,
decrying Indian military adventurism and belligerence towards
social and political churning that has been unfolding in contemporary
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