Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Guha, Foa, Verghese, and Danino

(Is was first published in Expressions of Christianity, With a Focus on India, Vivekananda Kendra Prakashan, Chennai, 2007, pp. 83-97)

Christian evangelistic literature abounds in condemnations of Hindu society; so do, occasionally, “secular” Indological studies. The favourite bête noire is of course the caste system; the Hindu woman — depressed, oppressed, suppressed, if we are to believe the suave messengers of the Good News — comes a close second. I will not go here into the correctness of the charge, as it has already been abundantly answered. But it helps to look at the way the Christian West treated its women, not only in its scripture but in actual practice.

Let us not be told that this treatment, whatever it was, belongs to the past and is of no relevance to current situations. True, from the nineteenth century onward, the status of woman in the West has considerably improved (although not always as much as is projected). But that in no way prevents us from asking the evangelist how he views the Bible’s degrading pronouncements on woman, and Christianity’s appalling record in the matter. For if he justifies them, he automatically falls from his moral high ground; if he condemns them, he condemns the very creed he is asking others to embrace; and if he attempts to conceal or to overlook them — his usual and safest line of defence, for its strength derives from people’s profound ignorance of history — then he is open to the charge of intellectual dishonesty.

Confronting the past is always a healthy exercise. Let us brace ourselves and have a glimpse of just a few cases studies; they are enough to edify us on what many have revealed, what many more have concealed, and what most remain unaware of. [...]

Despite the age of Enlightenment, prejudices against women have persisted well into our rational age. Matilda Joslyn Gage, a courageous pioneer of the feminist movement in the U.S.A., authored in 1893 a monumental study of the status of woman through the Christian ages.21 Her scrupulously documented book is a call to women as well as a challenge to both Church and State: “As I look backward through history I see the church everywhere stepping upon advancing civilization, hurling woman from the plane of “natural right” where the fact of her humanity had placed her,” 22

Woman, Church and State makes for painful reading, detailing numerous forms of abuse perpetrated right up to the nineteenth century, including the most revolting sexual exploitations ordered by Church authorities and Christian nations. A few years ago, the case of the “Magdalene laundries” was brought to light, a case that matches point by point some of those narrated by Matilda J. Gage.23

Michel Danino Michel Danino is a writer, researcher and a founder member of International Forum for India’s Heritage. He’s also the author of the much acclaimed “The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati.” - The Abrahamic God By Michel Danino

Viswa Ghosh Public 4d
Viswa Ghosh commented on a post on Blogger.
Sadly, the debates and discussions around AIT and OIT have been plagued with name-calling and personal insinuations. Ad hominem arguments have replaced substantive and evidence-based ones.

Personally, I would love to have the OIT established, a very strong case against the OIT thought is the very absence of (or yet to be identified and deciphere) proper scriptures in the IVC. If the Vedas originated there, it seems implausible that archeology has not yet dug up artifacts that reveal the language with proper scriptures. Further, so far we have not seen any relationship between any of the Indian languages with what has been uncovered in the IVC.

Having said that, it is also improbable that a 2000-year IVC would simply disappear without passing over anything to, say, the subsequent Ganges Valley Civilization that emerged. In which case, why haven't we identified the links from IVC to the civilizations that emerged in modern-day Iran, Afghanistan, and the Gangetic Plains? Is it our mindset that is preventing? OR, is it our technology?

This is when I start wishing for time travel so that I can actually observe "What Happened in History"!

The ancient Indian history has been a source of cantankerous debates and of vilification campaigns especially since the 1990s. According to one school, we have Aryans *invading* India, coming in waves over several centuries from their origins somewhere in central Asia. Aryans did not invade just India, but spread to Anatolia plateau, eventually finding their way into Europe. The branch that turned to India further sub-branched into Iran. We have consequently “Indo-European language family”, then its subset, “Indo-Iranian”, and finally it culminates into Indo-Aryan Sanskrit, the language of the gods, in which sacred Vedic texts and scriptures were composed and eventually reduced to writing in Dev Nagari script. The Vedic Aryan culture left an outstanding legacy of literature. [...]
I personally find this whole enterprise of speaking authoritatively about ancient or even medieval history simply preposterous. One may only discuss possibilities and probabilities when evidence is bound to be thin and only suggestive rather than conclusive, and at most point out why a particular alternative looks more attractive to fit the available evidence. For example, usage of language changes, the meanings derived from the words in the past may get fossilized though words themselves may survive albeit imbued with totally different meanings. [...]

There are many obvious pitfalls in interpreting ancient texts with modern sensibilities. When it is difficult to establish truth about current events in modern times, why some people firmly believe they hold the truth in matters belonging to antiquity defies reasons. It is therefore a foolhardy enterprise that seeks to draw firm conclusions about the past. However, this OIT-AIT debate acquired urgency for political reasons. There has been a doctrinal current that has flowed since the latter part of 19th century to date, which seeks to found the modern notion of Nation and Nationalism on One people, One Language, One culture, One ethnos, and if possible One religion that have continued uninterrupted right from the hoary antiquity of the Indus-Vedas civilization. It is this unwieldy endeavour, which has proved to be so fractious and divisive. What passes to us as history or historical narratives are frankly no more than current agreements between majority of the academic historians over what transpired in the past. Such agreements must, if one is aware of their shaky foundations, remain temporary and tentative, until something better comes on the scene.

Those who are firm adherents for ideological reasons of Out of India Theory or of Aryan Invasion Theory would always find ways to bitterly squabble, foul mouth and get at each other’s throats. However, for those who are interested to know what the scholars and academicians think on both sides of the divide there is a very interesting volume to peruse: The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History, edited by Edwin F Bryant and Laurie L Patton. Posted 4th July 2013 by Sadanand Patwardhan
Apr 4, 2016 - ... Kuppuswami Sastri, M Hiriyanna, Michel Danino, iNagendra, Navaratna S ... Goel, Sri Aurobindo, Sushil Kumar Dey, Swami Vivekananda, V S Sukhthanker, ...
Any system that is to be improved needs periodic assessments and shake ups. The worst thing for traditionalists to do is to promote vyakti-puja (idolatry) of any scholar by making him too big to be criticized. Ganesh is great, no doubt, but his limitations concerning Western Indology must be discussed in a constructive manner. [...] 
The problem of tunnel vision is brought out in Satyajit Ray’s movie, ‘Shatranj ke khilaadi’, based on the story by Premchand. It shows two elite Indian men playing chess and constantly engaged in petty and pedantic arguments.

A thoughtful essay on studying medieval history beyond Hindutva and secular whitewashing:

Observers of Indian history have generally had to choose between one of two perspectives. The first is the view of Hindu nationalists, who have repeatedly exaggerated acts of violence and bigotry under Muslim rule, and called for retribution in the present. The second is from secular historians, who have largely treated the temple demolitions, forced conversions, and massacres of the medieval and early modern eras as anomalies or fabrications, and dismissed demands for restorative measures. We argue for a middle way between these two extremes – one that rejects both excessive focus on precolonial Islamic violence, as well as a secular whitewashing that is insensitive to local memories and histories.

We believe that religious violence occurred quite often in India’s past; that it should be considered in the context of the times; and that this violence should be acknowledged, analysed, and discussed. The failure to come to terms with precolonial religious violence, though intended as a means to communal harmony, has had the opposite effect. By not acknowledging the traumas left by past events, secularists have allowed grievances to fester, to a point where the debate can no longer be avoided. [...]

One final critique is that to focus on Muslim bigotry during the medieval period is to risk fanning the flames of anti-Muslim violence today. By contrast, we would argue that it is precisely by recognising the sectarian atrocities of the past, that we are best placed to avoid repeating such calamities in the present. Meanwhile there are still many practical measures that could help Indian Muslims, and other minorities, live in peace and security. Brown University political scientist Ashutosh Varshney points to the power of intercommunal associations. Steven Wilkinson at Yale University has suggested that constituencies be drawn so as to provide politicians with an electoral incentive to protect minority swing voters. One thing that is highly unlikely to help Indian Muslims, however, is to construct a version of the past that can easily be assailed as illegitimate.

Roberto Foa is author of a doctoral thesis at Harvard University on the legacies of Indian precolonial regimes, and has been advisor to the Shared Societies project of the Club of Madrid. He tweets at @robertofoa

Ajay Verghese is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. His research focuses on South Asian politics, ethnicity, violence, and historical legacies. His book, The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Violence in India, came out in March 2016 from Stanford University Press. He tweets at @ajayverghese

"Neither Hindu nationalist,nor secular historian..we argue for the middle way"says Ramguha & truth becomes casualty! 
@rahulkanwal @Ram_Guha Fertile imagination of RamGuha. A Historian shud record history with all its warts & moles .His integrity is in doubt
@BihariTweeter : RamGuha is a Historian who is painfully subjective. History tailored to order.
Must read: 'Guhatva' of rabid hindu hater aka pseudo historian RamGuha, exposed by @SandeepWeb Via @IndiaFactsOrg 
@vanichandra2010 RamGuha at best is a palace historian,sir, A commie and a "Distortionist", the pseudo calls himself a historian! @Ram_Guha

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