Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Historians in a bubble

Originally posted here

As defined by its constitution its primary object is the “promotion and encouragement of the scientific study of Indian history”.
That is the main objective of the Indian History Congress, a body with 9,000 members as claimed by its website. What does “scientific study” mean? Here’s what Wikipedia says –
…refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning
The same Wiki link also contains this definition by The Oxford English dictionary –
“a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”
 Yes, the Oxford dictionary says scientific study examines, scrutinizes hypotheses and modifies them accordingly. But should history have its basis in hypotheses? Or should it be based on empirical study of available evidence as seen in the Wiki definition? History, as everyone knows, is a study of past events. And how does one study past events? You may say by examining trails left behind by the bygone eras. Now if we were to do that would the outcome of such an exercise be congruent with the approved and established record taught in schools? We all know the answer to that.
Now when our historians, or at least those historians with a vice like grip over the establishment, claim to employ “scientific study” of history they are implying something. That the study of history needs special skills gained by special training. This automatically disqualifies a large number of people from having the privilege of examining history. It may be safe to assume that only those 9,000 members of the Indian History Congress are qualified and approved to do this.
But why must it be so? Why is the aam aadmi or the enthusiast kept out of this? If there is historical record available from past, why not put it up for examination by all? Is that because certain forcefully established hypotheses will crumble under the slightest scrutiny? This religious guarding of domain by our historians is highly irregular. Especially when science welcomes scrutiny and questions.
And the “scientific temperament” of our historians goes all missing when faced with dissent. Questioning their hypotheses invites curious label pasting and you are branded a heretic for doing so. This is an exercise in convenience and there is hardly anything scientific about it.
And then there is the question of sources. Some of our historians do not understand ancient languages such as Sanskrit. They rely on translations by such people as Max Muller who did not know Sanskrit himself. And such translations were carried out by early Jesuits in attempt to map Indian knowledge and culture. So our historian’s sources are secondary and tertiary reproductions of poor translations of ancient Indian history and knowledge.
In India we have a tradition of oral record keeping and narration of history. The Vedas and Puranas were maintained and handed down using oral traditions. Another example of this oral tradition is folk songs of Maharashtra in the form of Powada that recount the life and times of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. These oral traditions have strict and rigid rules to adhere to when learning and performing. But there is general skepticism towards such traditions among historians.
History is more than study of records kept by Jesuits in India. Much of our history is among the people, in traditions and languages that the Jesuits did not understand. Much of our history lives and breathes among the native people. It is but natural that a large amount of history of our land can be found among our own people. Such an important source of input is shunted out of the “scientific study”. Our historians have been diligently guarding their sanitized bubble from which convenient hypotheses are postulated and propagated for consumption..

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Warped Minority Debate

Originally posted here.

“All of us sitting here on stage have been outspoken advocates of secularism & the rights of Muslims” said a prime time TV news debate anchor on a panel debate at Jaipur Literary Festival. It is quite an interesting quote. Read it again. Much of the debate on minorities and the state they are in is held in a vacuum. One would understand if juveniles did that. But one hardly expects this of career journalists, scholars, intellectuals and column writers. One cannot help but wonder if this is an innocent phenomenon or something else is at play here.
“Minorities are persecuted”
Is that true? Is this assertion based on facts or is it made for drama, for effect? Is the entire minority community persecuted? The prime time talking heads certainly seem to insinuate as much. Almost any debate on the subject is constructed more on a set of assumptions than incontrovertible facts. One is led to believe that minorities suffer untold misery simply because they belong to minority communities. The actors carrying out such a debate have a myopic focus on convenient cases that help make their point. That large parts of the same minority communities enjoy success in almost every field is ignored. Dig a little deep and you will find that minority community members that rejected the victimhood trap and made efforts to better themselves have enjoyed as much success as anyone else. Those falling for the victimhood trap have stayed behind and this is the lot that helps make the case for minority persecution. Interestingly religious zealots among minorities are considered fringe elements. However those forced into backwardness by these zealots make for a compelling case study for minority persecution. Who has prevented parts of minority communities from bettering themselves is a question that is never asked.
“Justice demands affirmative action”
Having established an assumption for a fact the next logical step follows. Demand for justice. Minority community leaders can be heard in TV studios arguing “justice demands that reservations be made for Muslims”. Lacking a strong case for persecution, apologists resort to rhetoric to further their case. Religious minorities are hardly denied opportunities owing only to their religion. Minority groups remaining backward is largely due to the opposition by community leaders to assimilate, to seek modern benefits. The minority leaders have a vested interest in keeping their community members segregated in bubbles. This allows them to claim leadership of such groups and leverage the same for personal gains.
Reservations, quotas, packages have been handed out to religious minorities for decades now. However desired outcomes still elude us. Whose failure is this? Shouldn’t we stop and re-evaluate this? Could the reason for failure be something else? Is the answer more of the same? The state hasn’t failed minority communities but the community leaders have.
It is always the other’s fault
Those claiming victimhood can be found blaming everyone else but themselves. It is quite evident that they refuse to take any responsibility for their own destiny, for their own plight. Their own dogged refusal to move with the times is blamed on others. There is no cure for this mindset. All the reservations, all the packages in the world are doomed to fail when the minority communities refuse to take any responsibility for their own condition.
Those claiming to speak for the rights of minorities would do well to pause and reflect for moment. Are their arguments helping the minorities or are they pushing them further into darkness? And having witnessed such debates for long we too should stop and question if this is indeed innocent or by design. The same prime time TV news debate anchor quoted in the beginning said that media is guilty of focusing on the fringe and helping perpetuate a negative stereotype of religious minorities. But curiously the same TV news anchor never takes own advice. Religious zealots continue to be her guests representing minorities and she has a history of conducting debates in a convenient vacuum.

Book review: Lies with long legs

Originally posted here.

 came across this title last year while I was looking for a book on the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). There is plenty material exploring the scientific, geological, archaeological evidence debunking the theory. However I wanted something that examined those who proposed this theory, scrutinized their scholarship and saw how the theory held its own against such an examination. This book does exactly that and I am glad I came across this book.
Prof. Prodosh Aich embarked on a journey to find out who the “Aryans” were. Who the “Indo-Europeans” were who had given birth to the curious AIT theory and had launched a lucrative career industry, both in terms of money and awards, in Indology.
In his painstaking research spanning almost a decade Prof. Aich, along with those who assisted him, examine a breathtaking amount of material about (and by) almost every prominent Indologist, or anyone who claimed scholarship in Sanskrit and ancient Indian knowledge. The objective of this exercise was very simple. To put the alleged “scientific” scholarship to, well, scientific test. And much of the book is about how this scholarship holds up against such scientific scrutiny.
Among the people examined in the book include such luminaries as Max Muller, William Jones and Macaulay. What Prof. Aich finds is rather familiar to what we have seen happen in the scholarly circles of Marxist variety. The nature of their scholarship was anything but scientific. Prof. Aich encounters such techniques as disingenuity, progressive myth making, selective quoting, truth by repeated assertion, mutual admiration etc. And all of this went unchallenged in the “scientific” pursuit of scholarship in Indology.
There is one contrast that is impossible to miss as is evident in the book. The writings on India before the advent of Christianity were markedly different than the writings after Christianity was installed in Europe. Where earlier Greek writings about India come across as remarkably free from prejudice, the writings after Christianity took root are dramatically different in tone and attitude. (Covered in some detail here).
Almost every Indologist who studied or wrote about India exhibited one common trait. They were all Jesuits. This is not a conspiracy theory but is abundantly clear from the writings, letters etc. as produced in the book, by the scholars themselves.
Another thing in common among almost all Indologists was their spectacular lack of knowledge of the language they claimed expertise in. Sanskrit. (See this post on Max Muller). By the time these European Indologists started writing about or visited India, Sanskrit had vanished from daily life in India. It was confined to the Brahmins who preserved ancient Indic knowledge through the oral tradition of reciting Sanskrit hymns handed down through the generations.
The Indologists found it difficult to gain access to this critical knowledge owing to obvious cultural and language differences as well as obvious apprehensions the Brahmins had in allowing access to hymns. So the Indologists compiled a rudimentary Sanskrit dictionary from whoever they could talk to and this formed the basis of their scholarship in Sanskrit.
The quality of this dictionary was naturally far from acceptable. The Indologists transcribed whatever they could lay their hands on and sent it back to European institutes where the field of Indology had begun flourishing. In the absence of any authoritative scrutiny or validation, what the Indologists passed was held valid. Thus took birth a “scientific” branch of scholarship. Indology.
The circumstance under which these Indologists either came to India or took up studying India is worth noting. Almost every scholar examined in the book was driven not by a hunger for scholarship but something else. They all were desperate to better their own financial situations. Writing was popular during their time and almost every other field was taken. “Oriental studies” was nascent and emerging. The budding Indologists sensed their chance to strike big here knowing there would be hardly anyone to put their work to test.
The Jesuit influence on the scholars and visiting luminaries like Macaulay meant that their supremist tendencies held Indic beliefs, knowledge in contempt declaring them wrong and invalid. The Indians had to be introduced to the “correct” belief system and saved from catastrophe. Macaulay designed his program for what Prof. Aich calls manufacturing “cultural clones”. (Covered in more detail here). These “cultural clones” were Indians with European minds. Indians uprooted from their own culture and moulded to be more like the likes of Macaulay. Our first Prime Minister was a product of this “cultural cloning” program and the results are all too evident now.
Put to scientific test, popular scholarship in Indology fails miserably. Prof. Aich uses nothing else but material, the writings, memoirs, letters, speeches and other such trails left behind by the scholars themselves. The hollow edifice comes crumbling down as do myths like the “Aryans” built upon “lies with long legs“.

“Meaningful autonomy” and article 370

Originally posted here.

“Meaningful autonomy” is the considered recommendation of the three interlocutors appointed by the UPA government for Jammu and Kashmir. This is according to what we have gotten to hear from the media and other sources so far. The report has not yet been made public. Until that happens we will have to wait to know how exactly they arrived at this. Since autonomy is synonymous to independence it goes in the direction opposite to integration. Our constitution has a provision to eventually integrate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the union of India. While the interlocutor’s report is made public, let us revisit the Lok Sabha debates when Jawaharlal Nehru was our Prime Minister and see what his position on the matter was –
“Our view is that article 370, as is written in the Constitution, is a transitional, in other words a temporary provision. And it is so. You can see how much change has come about in so many things since it was enacted. And that is continuing to happen. The Home Minister has just mentioned two or three things in which changes have recently been made. I do not regard it as permanent.
As a matter of fact, as the Home Minister has pointed out, it has been eroded, if I may use the word, and many things have been done in the last few years which have made the relationship of Kashmir with the Union of India very close. There is no doubt that Kashmiris fully integrated…” [Reproduced from “A Secular Agenda” by Arun Shourie. Part of Lok Sabha debate on 27-11-1963.]
The longevity of article 370 may give one the impression that it is permanent provision. And with the debate on “autonomy” to Jammu and Kashmir being carried out based on “human stories” the important issue of integration of the state gets completely divorced from what the Constitution says. Discussions on our sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be held in such a vacuum. The very article begins with the words “Temporary provisions with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir” [link]. Where is the question of autonomy here? Like Jawaharlal Nehru said the article ought to have eroded into oblivion by now. However the latest report by the interlocutors seems to suggest the exact opposite. It is time the debate on the state of Jammu and Kashmir was rescued from the trap of “azadi” and “autonomy” it seems to have fallen into and reconciled with what the Constitution of India provides for the state. Indeed Jawaharlal Nehru himself promised that article 370 was temporary, the Congress party should honour it.

AFSPA and the debate in vacuum

Originally posted here.

A new storm is brewing over the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). We can credit this development to the young Chief Minister ofJammu and Kashmir Mr. Omar Abdullah who could not help but “think out aloud” wondering if he could lift the AFSPA from certain areas. The purported rationale behind this is the claim that relative calm has returned to some parts of the state. The numbers certainly do add up. But do they tell the complete story? That, however, is a different question.
Many parts of Jammu and Kashmir have not seen extended periods of peace for at least two decades, courtesy non state actors from our western neighbor who wander into the state with a regularity matched only by the day night cycle. And because non state actors are not burdened by the laws regulating state actors they feel free to act their mind. We have seen what they have in mind over these two decades. The magnitude of this problem is such that our army has to be deployed to reign in these non state actors from the neighboring nation state. The state of Jammu and Kashmir alone is unable to gain control over the situation. Under trying conditions our army has done a brilliant job each time we sought help. This leads to the relative peace we hear being spoken about again.
However, sustaining this relative peace has proved difficult. Why? Because a familiar sequence plays out each time we manage to gain control over terrorism in the state. The terrorists go about carrying out their sworn duties disrupting lives and causing mayhem. The problem gets out of hand. The army gets called in to gain control. The army begins to gain control of the situation. Signs of relative peace become apparent. We hear demands for scaling back army presence citing this relative peace. When that happens we go back to square one and the sequence repeats. Where is the problem? It is in the premature demands for lifting army presence in the terrorism infected state. The army is asked to go back leaving the job half done each time. Following a brief hiatus terrorism begins to bloom again as spring arrives. This sequence is set to repeat again, it seems, if recent events are any indication.
We have seen a glut of debates over the issue of army presence and the AFSPA act. In fact we have seen these debates so many times, for so long that they have started to become repetitive. Out of the many features of these debates one shines through. Rhetoric. No debate on Kashmir, the army and AFSPA is complete without generous helpings of hysteria filled rhetoric. We hear stories of human rights violations by the army. When facts decimating these allegations are cited we see the goal posts promptly shift to “human stories” aimed at tugging on our heartstrings. “Human interest stories” are useful when facts such as these [1] [2] are not on your side. They help create distractions and hijack debates. Armed with these “human stories” our career activists can be seen queering the pitch for Kashmir. We can see these same “human stories” again feature prominently in prime time television news shows. The utility of these stories does not end there. They help revive sagging careers of activists looking to piggyback on the latest rage after their previous campaigns reach their expiry dates.
Opinion making too is not immune to these temptations. Reams of column space and hours of television time are devoted in trying to make a case against the AFSPA. Most of this takes place in a convenient vacuum. Relevant facts, inconvenient contexts must be shunned for they act as an impediment to a certain ideology. When talking of life in Kashmir a fleeting reference to the erstwhile residents of the state, the Kashmiri Pandits, is enough to maintain a fa├žade of objectivity. Stressing the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandit community, forced exile from their land, cold blooded murder of those who stayed back is deemed offensive for the current residents of the state. When it comes to comparing similar events in different states schizophrenic characterization is on full display. While a “pogrom”, “state sponsored mass murder”, “genocide” takes place in a certain state, a similar thing taking place on a massive scale over a number of years in a different place is due to “genuine differences”. Juxtapose this dogmatic refusal to term the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits as a “pogrom, “genocide” with the generously creative label making for riots in other states and you will no longer need conspiracy theories.
The army is not the local police to operate under laws governing the police. The army is also different from the police. Take away the AFSPA and you will neuter the army. It will lose the lethal edge and suffer the same handicaps like the police. The very fact that the army got called in indicates that the situation is not normal. Abnormal situations call for abnormal measures. The state of Jammu and Kashmir does not face an ordinary law and order problem. It faces a proxy war launched by a hostile neighbor. Wars cannot be fought with both hands tied in the back. Removal of AFSPA does exactly that. It ties the hands of our lethal army against a hostile enemy. An obviously asymmetrical situation. The AFSPA and the army must be repealed after we have neutralized the threat of terrorism, reinforced out hold, equipped and trained the administration to carryout duties efficiently and independently. Until then it is premature to talk about it.

Secularism - The definition

Originally posted here.

Secularism: a doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations
That is how the Princeton University dictionary defines it. That of course is a short description. But who coined the word? Why did he/she coin it? What did he/she mean by it? The various encyclopedias tell us that one British writer by the name George Jacob Holyoake coined the word secularism in the early 1850s. The entry for secularism in The Oxford Companion to British Historytells us that Christians in the 19th century believed that atheists lacked morals and therefore were incapable of exercising civil rights and thus were looked down upon. To circumvent this unfavourable connotation Holyoake came up with an alternative. And that alternative was to define secularism as a school of thought that was not concerned with religious beliefs but entirely with our own world. He argued that humans were capable of ethical life because they were inherently inspired to do good for our own sake. This is how Holyoake described secularism –
Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable. Its essential principles are three: (1) The improvement of this life by material means. (2) That science is the available Providence of man. (3) That it is good to do good. Whether there be other good or not, the good of the present life is good, and it is good to seek that good.
Thus came about a definition for a long held set of beliefs – stripped completely of religious considerations – which sought to argue that ethical life was possible outside of religion.
Secularism has been the basis for most modern political movements that sought to isolate public policy making from religion. During the course of this struggle, secularism has been interpreted and applied in various ways. Modern secular political movements in the west worked towards replacing laws based on religion with laws based on good for all people governed by them i.e. civil laws. Keeping religion private is a large part of secular movements. Thus the influence of “Church” over governments waned over time. A society is said to be secular when there is religious freedom and politics is not influenced by religious leaders.
We have witnessed perhaps the most amount of debate on secularism since our independence. Certainly it is one of the most debated topics. Thanks to the 42nd amendment, the preamble to the Constitution of India now reads as –
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a _1[SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC] and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the _2[unity and integrity of the Nation];
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION. [Words in bold are result of the 42nd amendment].
The Constitution does not define the word secular. This has led to varied interpretations and definitions by various individuals and groups. Add to that the qualifications of social order to freedom and rights provided by the constitution and we have a perfect recipe for heated debates. And we have seen more than one of such debates. This debate gathered steam in the 1980s and 1990s. To understand what was being debated, how it was debated, what was the outcome we need to follow them. There was plenty discussed in public, in political rallies, in the courts, during policy making etc. Let us look at some of them in the upcoming posts.
Follow rest of the debate at