My post Oh History! My History! (http://ssubbanna.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/06/oh-history-my-history.htm )
was about writing and understanding History in general. It also highlighted the problems in interpreting Indian history, the way in which it is taught in schools. The comments that followed discussed the problems involved in teaching Indian History and culture to Indian children in USA .
The debate is still on. In the mean while a book titled “Invading the Sacred” edited by Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas, a professor, and Aditi Banerjee appeared on the scene. , the book brings together essays by well-known scholars and seeks to facilitate a debate to challenge the systematic misrepresentation of Indian culture and philosophy by certain American academicians. The book is product of an intensive multi-year research project that uncovers shoddy and biased scholarship driven by certain power cartels.. The book narrates the Indian Diaspora’s challenges to such scholarship, and documents how those who dare to speak up have been branded as `dangerous’. http://invadingthesacred.com/
Further, an article written by Aditi Banerjee one of the authors of the book appeared in the Outlook magazine
Following the debate thereon I wrote to the Discussion Forum of the book saying that we were having a lively and a very concerned debate in progress about the Indian History in general, and the way in which India and Hindu religion is taught at the schools in USA , in particular. Further I said
“Our anxiety is that the abuse of India does not merely start with the books you mentioned .They are just symptoms. This issue has a deeper root and a sinister history of its own. It has its roots in the content of Indian History in our school books; patronage of a certain brand of Historians by the Government; the anxiety of “Historians” to please those that matter, neglect of research and higher studies in Indian History in our Universities and Research Organizations and disillusionment of our bright young minds who are scared (with reason) to take up study of History as an academic career.
The question is, where do we go from here? How do we tackle the menace that confuse and disillusion our younger generation about our History, our Culture and our Religion? The question is not merely about books written by some westerns without an iota of understanding; it concerns the identity of our communities and valuing conservation of our culture
You have a wider canvass and larger area of work and influence than many of us have. Could you please let us have your views on the issues we are grappling with? Where do we go from here? “
There are other discussions in progress on similar issues . Please follow those interesting debates too.
Invading The Sacred-The Foreword .
Invading The Sacred-A Review
Challenging Western Scholarship on Hinduism
Invading The Sacred : An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America
Riverine suggests that measures to project our history, our culture and our religion in the right perspective and to present it to our younger ones should start from our homes and our schools. Re asserts the truth that mothers are the protectors and nourishes of our identity and Dharma. She also suggests involvement in this task of women disposed to social service/activities.
Melody Queen says,”would be a good way to start with ( to st right all the distortions). Requires rallying of all the like minded people;success shouldn’t t be be elusive if we display the tremendous amount of unity ,patience, and perseverance that is required for a cause of this kind.”
On that optimistic note please read on.
Kindly post your comments
Message received from the Editors of Invading the sacred
From: ITS Team <invadingthesac…@gmail.com>
Date: Jul 12, 2:58 am
Subject: Where do we go from here?
Thanks for your presence & adding to the discussion. Also, thank you
for keeping the discussion alive on outlets like Sulekha.
My response to the Editors’ reply
Dear Sir, Madam
Thank you for the reply and the appreciation.
We were aware of the problem and were trying to spread the awareness about that with our very limited resources and a restricted reach. Your book has accomplished the task of awakening, on a larger scale, in a more scholarly, professional manner acceptable to academia and in a much more effective way. None of us had the capability to do what you have just done. It has made a great difference. We all thank you for the task you just finished.
The question we were wondering at: “Where do we go from here?” remains largely un answered in all the discussions that followed. Most of the comments posted are the reactions to the contents of book with hardly any thought expressed on what we need to do now or in future. Where do we go from here?
We have just identified a problem and reacted to it. However, it takes much greater effort and dedication to effectively deal with the issue in a holistic fashion and to find credible answers to questions gnawing at the root of our cultural identity,” What do we tell and how we tell our children, who we are?” .We feel that a long term and a well thought out strategy involving various segments of the academia, the govts and intellectuals is essential. There are no quick fixes here. Have you envisioned a strategy or a road map in that direction? Can you kindly share it with us now or later?
Thank you again for a difficult just accomplished.
Looking forward to your response.
This was the reply received from the Editors
TS Team <email@example.com> hide details 2:54 am (4 hours ago) reply-to firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss-invadingthesacred <email@example.com> dateJul 13, 2007 2:54 AM subject[discuss-invadingthesacred:34] Re: Where do we go from here? mailed-bygooglegroups.com
Dear sreenivasarao s
Thanks for your perceptive comments, & your obvious concerns about the
big picture. What you have, in the form of this book, is a tool for
firstly absorbing a deeper understanding of the problem, and then
fashioning an intellectual & intelligent response to it.
At the bare minimum, the book calls for an awakening of the people
concerned to the problem, & and an acknowledgement that it exists.
After that, it is up to the person(s) to think how to go ahead in
contributing to a remedy. It could be as simple as alerting oneself &
friends & family about the issues faced when one’s cultural heritage
is unfairly targeted, or bigger things like getting together to form
organizations that actively participate in academic forums to have the
“insider” voices of the traditions heard.
It all starts with healthy discussions like this one.
Thanks for the comments, & please continue sharing your thoughts. They
There have been discussions in Group. You can read the detailed discussions at( http://groups.google.com/group/discussinvadingthesacred/topics?start=0&hl=en&sa=N)
The following are excerpts from the comments made by some members of the Group
Krishen Kak <firstname.lastname@example.org>
15 July , 2007
This is being sent at RM’s request.
It is about a personal experience of “reversing the gaze” that resonates strongly with the theme of the book. It also resonates with subsequent personal experience in Delhi where, as guest faculty, I teach occasionally at a well-known b-school (and elsewhere). There are all these bright young MBA aspirants, supposedly of our country’s intellectual “creamy layer”, who uncritically accept “the Western knowledge of India … as God’s own truth”. But it’s not their fault. We have a macaulayan educational system firmly in place producing macaulayan parents who go on to produce macaulayan children who go into the macaulayan education system. Of course, this is a generalization but, I think, a valid one – witness, for one, your book itself!
As a small but another characteristic example, some Punjabi families were celebrating “lori” and I asked this teenager (private school, mission college, but of pukka Punjabi parentage – language, food, head-covered women, etc., etc.) what “lori” is about. She said she didn’t know, and added brightly, “But I can tell you about Christmas”.
At the b-school and elsewhere, more and more I find that our English-medium educated youngsters are ignorant of even the Mahabharata – but unthinkingly subscribe to a tangle of confused beliefs that all religions are equal and about love, and that “Hinduism” is mythology and not truthful and therefore inferior to the religions that are the Truth and so if I have any Hindu beliefs I should keep these superstitions to myself and not talk about them in “secular” society because that will make me a Hindu fundamentalist and I will be looked down upon by Westerners and the West-educated.
June 25, 2004
This one starts on a personal experience, but I hope it has a larger lesson that is topical. Not so very long ago, I negotiated a Ph.D. from Princeton University . Shri Ashok Chowgule has for some time been pressing me to share that experience with the larger world, and “prevailing ideology” in David Brooks, “Lonely Campus Voices”, The New York Times, Sept 27, 2003 that Shri Chowgule circulated, plus certain behaviour, essentially unchanged since it was televised to the world on May 18, 2004, prompts me now to do so.
I won a Parvin Fellowship for 1983-84 to Princeton University and during that one year fulfilled nearly all the requirements of a major in anthropology (i.e., the honours course requirements for a BA in cultural anthropology). Sat for the GRE and, armed with my course grades and my GRE, and with strong encouragement from Prof James Fernandez (who later shifted to Chicago ), applied for regular graduate admission.
Joined as a graduate student in 1985 and had 5 years in which to complete (an MA and) the Ph.D. before being obligated to return to sarkari naukri back home (the average time taken by an indigenous student exceeded 7 years).
I must say those 5 years were a most educative experience – the pluses of the American educational system are well-known and I won’t repeat them here. Mainly, these are the opportunities and facilities the system makes available to any one who wants seriously to study.
This is about what I didn’t know then – and I have no reason to believe it has changed in its basics.
First, my teachers as a Delhi Univ undergraduate in the early 60s were as good or better than the ones I had at Princeton in the 80s. Whatever the drawbacks of the Indian system, ours has a discipline and a rigour that enables those trained in it to do very well there.
Secondly, for all the academic freedom proclaimed, there are high walls you cross at your risk. The playing field is a large one, but its boundary is then sharply demarcated.
Thirdly, racism is subtle but sharp. I was encouraged by Prof Fernandez and, after he left, by my advisor Prof Hildred Geertz, to reverse the well-entrenched hierarchy of enquiry (in which Western/White/West-based anthropology studies others, preferably dark-skinned, non-Englishspeaking, Third World natives) and bring to bear my non-western eyes and non-western perspective to any aspect of American culture that interested me. As I told an indigenous student (of Tamil-Irish parentage!) who asked, “But aren’t you supposed to study someone exotic?”, “What makes you think that to me you Americans aren’t exotic?” “Oh!”
But life in America is expensive, and while my Department had always been understanding and generous, no funding agency was prepared to give me a grant to do my fieldwork on mainstream Americans. I read some of the feedback. Essentially, it was a question of authority: who is he to study us? Politely and carefully-worded, but the subtext was clear – student, Indian, Brown, Third World, inferior, the ruled, the periphery, etc. to study the No.1, White, First World, superior, the rulers, the centre, etc.? Nah!
This “who is he to study us?” played like a signature tune to the very end. Up to the qualifiers (the MA), I played by their rules, did their coursework, met all their academic requirements to their pronounced satisfaction. I was apparently successfully co-opted and could be a fine example of their system (senior administrator from world’s largest democracy, fluent in English, Westernized, much older than the average indigenous student, and dutifully kneeling at their altar to Athena, not mine to Saraswati).
Then came the fieldwork, of studying Americans as “them”. My area of ethnographic enquiry was the Western social paradigm in its American expression, but in its “bhayanaka”, not “adbhuta”, side; and to express it I introduced “rasasvadana” (from Indian aesthetics) as an ethnographic method.
Suffice it to say that, as I began to share my experiences and critical understanding in the Department, I was soon disabused of the notion that, as a Brown foreigner, I had interpretative authority. For example, some interpretation I shared with Prof Laurence Rosen was “wrong”. So I began to use the words of the indigenes instead of my own; I used American quotations to say to White Americans what obviously they were not prepared to hear – let alone accept – from a Dark Brown Indian who was forgetting his place in their larger scheme of life!
The procedure required the submission and clearance of the draft dissertation by the main advisor, its approval by a second reader, then it was to be seen by two more readers who’d have it for a fortnight each, and then, all going well, the date for the student’s final public oral exam (FPO) would be notified – and the whole world and their nears and dears could attend!
Right on schedule, I handed in my final draft to Prof Geertz. Her initial response – “marvellous”. Three days later she said she couldn’t accept it – it wasn’t “science”. I pointed out I was critiquing “Western science”. She wanted this change and that, and changes that I felt I could make without compromising my integrity and that of my thesis, I made. At one change, I drew the line. I said that if I made it, it would no longer be my dissertation; it would become hers. She was asking me to convert from my faith (as an academic credo) to hers, and I wasn’t prepared to convert. She said that then she couldn’t accept my dissertation. I said, fine, I’d go back without the Ph.D.
Impasse. Sensation. After all, here I was. A brown sahib there, and not just any chhota-mota brown sahib. I had been a Parvin Fellow at the same university. I had a certain official status in my own country. My academic results had been to their entire satisfaction. How would they explain not awarding me a Ph.D?
Friendly American students advised me to write as my guide wanted; when subsequently I published I could rewrite as I wanted. I was horrified to discover this well-meant advice was a very common one. The important point was to get the degree, not how you got it? And I then realized the American doctorate is not awarded, it is negotiated.
The negotiations began. No, no, I sat tight – in my dharma, that piece of paper would not go up (or down!) with me when my time finally came. As my wife will certify, I was quite prepared to return home without that degree. I was certainly not going to “sell” myself for White / Western recognition. What to me was important was what I’d studied and learned and understood, and that they couldn’t take away from me.
My second reader was Prof Gananath Obeyesekere (of Sri Lankan origin) and to him Prof Geertz referred me and my draft. Prof O, apart from being a fascinating teacher, is one smart cookie, and he brought to bear his Asian chutzpah in dealing with the American system (and, believe me, first-generation clued-up Asians who smartly want to play the American system to their own advantage – as I did – can certainly do so). So we negotiated certain portions of my draft without compromising on its integrity and he sent me back to Prof G. She declined to look at the draft, saying that if O had okayed it, it was okay by her.
It then went to big-name professors Jorge Klor de Alva and James Boon, with a covering note that I would be happy to explain any point they wished. Complete silence from them both for their fortnights, and the date of the FPO was announced.
Now, I’d sat through the FPOs of a number of my seniors – small friendly affairs, just other students of the Department (and perhaps some friends) and a supportive faculty that’d known the student for six years or more. Professional, yes, but very friendly, and I’d seen how once they gently led a sweating student out of his sudden and total mental block. Nothing to worry about, except that in my case I was warned “they” were out to get me! So, strategy became necessary, and some close, concerned American friends and I went into a huddle. The student has about half-an-hour to “present” the dissertation and then the questioning starts. We decided that I would raise no substantive issue in my presentation (let the questioners do that) and I wasn’t, absolutely was not, no matter how much the provocation, to lose my temper!
The entire faculty were seated around a long table, I was at one end, and the hall was overflowing with students from my and related departments. Word had certainly got around – martyr to the lions!! And, oh yes, instead of my usual jeans, I wore a kurta and a churidar pajama.
For 25 minutes I spoke, and carefully said nothing at all. Then, questions from the faculty. Appropriate ones, including one from Prof Laurence Rosen about the application generally of my anthropological method, except for Profs Klor de Alva and Boon who were clearly seething with anger (Boon was literally red in the face) and who took over and dominated the table.
Prof K de A: “Who are you to write this about us? Can this be written about your country too?”
Prof B: “Your behaviour is uncharacteristic of Hindu behavior”
Across the table it went, around those two statements of theirs I’ve never forgotten. Cutting, insulting, snubbing. K de A saying that all that was needed was to replace the title page with one saying ” India “, and what’s the difference. Boon’s statement suggesting that Hindu (not Indian, mind you, but Hindu) behaviour is characteristically one of humility, of abject and grateful servility (yes, the kind leading “Hindu” members of our country’s Parliament happily displayed in the CPP meeting on May 18 – V’mala 59).
And not a word from Prof Geertz or anyone else to restrain or divert them (as not a word at that CPP meeting from La Duce Suprema while her Hindus behaved in the way she obviously considers characteristic of us).
No, I did not lose my temper. But Prof G didn’t allow any questioning from the audience; she ended the FPO immediately after the faculty had done with me. There was a moment’s silence, then the students gave me a standing ovation, and student feedback later was that faculty behaviour had been “obnoxious”.
I had successfully negotiated my degree. But I declined the invitation to dinner with the faculty that the new Ph.D has, as having become their peer. A few days later, the five years soon to be getting over, I left.
(And please do not compare my negotiating my Ph.D. to caro Raul’s obvious negotiation of his M.Phil. – V’mala 62. I had sat for and passed the proper prerequisite examinations!)
Poor Prof Geertz was clearly very embarrassed that her potential White swan had metamorphosed into this ugly Brown duck! No, no, the Department and she – and this I make emphatically clear – had been very supportive, and my qualms about “namak-harami” were brushed away by her and by Prof Rena Lederman. I value indeed the opportunity I had to study the Western system from within it. But my concern is with the hegemonic paradigm so well-illustrated in the uninhibited typecasting of Hindus by Profs Klor de Alva and Boon (see Part 1 of Krishen Kak, “Enucleated Universes: An Ethnography of the Other America and of Americans as the Other”, Princeton University, Ph.D. dissertation, June 1990, available in America on an inter-library loan through your academic or friendly neighbourhood public library. On “namak-harami”, see its fn 5, Part 1.III).
Now, it is easy to point out worse attitudes in the Brown system but we, by our own general consensus (by “the people’s mandate”, if you prefer!), are a people inferior to the White.
Call it the “fair and lovely” syndrome. If you’re fair, you’re by definition lovely. And the White is by definition fair and, therefore, lovely.
The White West universities by general consensus (that includes themselves and elite English-speaking Indians) are the best in the world, and the White Western educational system is the best, and the White West is the best……..
Sure it is, if you’re willing to be co-opted by their system, to gratify them by praising theirs and running down our own, to becoming faux White. Okay, okay, the full reasoning is in that dissertation which first q.v., so “flames” will be promptly extinguished if you’re responding angrily only to its findings as repeated here. Don’t forget I defended in extended, publicly and successfully these findings there!
Apart from my experience as a grad and, this offering illustrates two points: how mainstream America / the Western social paradigm / mainstream White culture really perceive us “Hindus” and, much more significantly for us, how we continue to reinforce that perception.
And the larger point of that research that, in analysing the Western social paradigm, implicitly warns against blindly seeking a White solution to Brown social problems. The remedy is worse than the disease, and we seek it at our peril.
Jul 7, 1:29
The main issue is how to stop their ‘normal’ prevalence being used to attack the entire fabric of the Hindu order, its society and the Indian State , or what remains of it.
Without political power and control over the Indian State all endeavours to defend Hinduism will remain painfully difficult. India will soon be ruled directly from Brussels, headquarters of NATO .mark my words.
July 02, 2007
Indian academics should rise to the occasion and do a better job of critiquing and debating Western scholarship on India , the authors said.
“Enough funds should be made available for scholars so that such detailed work can be carried out in India to counter such misrepresentations,” says Rajiv Malhotra, a US-based Diasporas intellectual who first exposed many of these biases.
July 01, 2007
Indian students who want to learn about their religion and civilization have to go to foreign universities where they are taught that Hinduism has no philosophy or higher idea, only a pantheon of badly behaved gods and priests. Until Indian scholars work actively to rectify this scandalous distortion, it will prevail. But where are the scholars going to come from if our own universities do not produce them?
June 28, 2007
India has not actively funded and managed the American academic representation of her cultural identity. Therefore, on one hand American Business Schools view India as a place of opportunity and problem-solving creativity, on the other, the large civilizational achievements of India in science and technology or its contributions to American lifestyles through yoga, vegetarianism, non-violent political protest are made invisible.
Today, Sanatan Dharma in U.S. universities is taught more by Christians, than Hindus themselves. There is a very powerful trend in the American establishment that views Indian culture and Sanatan Dharam in particular, as being oppressive, psychologically destructive and the cause of India ’s problems like poverty. This view is very strongly held in many top American schools like the University of Chicago , among influential “secular” professors of the humanities. From these colleges, where America ’s elite are trained, a very biased view of India emanates, and can undermine the ‘ India brand’ built by I.T. and automotive component cos.
Why does this book concern Resident Indians? Given the neglect of rigorous academic documentation of our history and culture, there is an almost blanket use of foreign textbooks, academic material and research in teaching, learning and authentically defining Indian history and culture. The views of European Indologists or American Sanskrit scholars loom massively as “truth” in the psyche of the student, teacher and intelligentsia.
While this book is in the first instance about reclaiming the space for unbiased and non-defamatory academic research and study of Indian culture in the U.S. academia, its import goes well beyond that. No nation can surrender sovereignty over the authentic documentation of its culture -or of its problems and solutions- to others. It is not only a matter of academic debate, or of traumatized Indian-American children and adults; it is also a strategic imperative in the projection of soft power as the Indian nation rises to its rightful place at the world’s high table
June 30, 2007
The scholars also express the need for India to have a home team to debate about its religion and culture, the way China and Islamic nations have many scholars in the West writing from a sympathetic Islamic centric view point . The idea is to hear all voices- not to silence the western voices, but ensure that bias is exposed . The standard portrayal of Hinduism, often a caricature, is far from the truth.
Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat
7 July 2007
“Indians themselves have contributed to the problem in significant ways.”While American universities have major programmes for studying world religions, their Indian counterparts do not offer any comparable courses resulting in scholarship being confined to “Ashrams, Mattas, Jain Apasaras and Gurudwaras.” Those who want to seriously study Indian religions have to go to American, British or Australian universities.
Indian Americans who are merely content with building temples “while their cultural portrayal in the educational system and in the media has been abandoned to the tender mercies ofthe dominant western traditions.”
Is there a way to tackle this imbroglio? A recent California experience has shown that it is possible to reverse the trend with hard work. In 2005, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim groups complained to the California State Board of Education (SBE) that their
religions were negatively portrayed in some textbooks. The board was in the mood to make the changes proposed by the Hindu groups, but reversed the stand on the motivated intervention of Prof. Witzel, a Harvard Sanskrit professor. As a result, the changes made by the SBE did not satisfy the Hindu groups who chose court action. Their suit that the textbooks tended to demean and stereotype Hindu beliefs and practices, opening itself to ridicule was decided partly in their favour in 2006. The court held that fair and open process was not followed in adopting textbooks to Standard VI students and ordered SBE to pay part of the costs to the litigants. However, their demand to scrap the textbooks was not allowed, although during this year advance consultations on the textbooks had begun from March onwards.
Financially strong Indian associations should emulate this example. It will not be irrelevant to mention here that the American Jewish groups have been able to wrest fair treatment for their community only by aggressive ground action through their Anti-Defamation League.
Dr. V. V. Raman
Emeritus Professor of Physics and Humanities
Rochester Institute of Technology
July 7, 2007
This book could have three kinds of impact: From now on, many scholars, Hindu and non-Hindu, may become extremely cautious about what they publish on traditional Hindu themes. This could be viewed as a damper on freedom of expression, but also as an antidote to irresponsible commentaries. Another effect of the book could be that in the future there may be a decreasing number of non-Hindus who choose to pursue Hindu studies as a life-long commitment, because they may see this to be a rather risky profession. This may or may not be a loss for Hindu scholarship. Or thirdly, the whole field may be influenced in positive ways if outsiders take seriously the insights and perspectives that insiders provide.
Given that throughout the book there is little of anything positive in Western scholarship and attitudes, I am somewhat concerned that those unfamiliar with the openness of Western societies and the positive contributions of Western science and enlightenment, and are legitimately ill-disposed towards America at the present time for various other reasons might get the impression that every American harbors Hinduphobia, and that all American scholars are working in cahoots to denigrate Hinduism and Hindu culture. I am not persuaded that this is the case.
As a Hindu American I am as much concerned about the demonization of all Americans as of all Hindus. There is potential for such an impression despite the fact that the book explicitly limits itself to criticize one hermeneutics only, namely, Freudian psychoanalysis. However, while the book rightly exposes many intolerable aspects of Hindu studies in the U.S. , it does not explicitly mention that there are also scholars in the United States who have genuine regard and respect for Hindu culture, religion, and civilization. In fact, some of them have contributed to this book. Others have embraced Hinduism themselves. Yet others are secular scholars who speak and write just as harshly about Christ and the Virgin Mary. It is also true that a Hindu woman was recently elected as President of the American Academy of Religion, Hindu scholars teach Hindu philosophy in American universities, one of them is Head of the Department of Religion in a Christian College in America, American universities host conferences on Hindu philosophy and Vedanta. The Metanexus Institute on Science and Religion elected a Hindu as their Senior Scholar prior to giving that honor in succeeding years to a Catholic theologian and a Jewish scholar. Many schools in America invite local Hindus to come and speak to their students about Hinduism, its worldviews, festivals, etc. There is a growing number of Interfaith Forums in the country where Hindus play important roles. Recently Hindu prayers were introduced in the American Senate.
There is no question but that courses on Hinduism taught in the United States could and should be vastly improved. This book is certain to contribute to that need. But it is also a fact that there are not many good textbooks for such courses written by competent Hindu scholars.
It would be good if Indian scholars who may disagree with the contents or perspectives of the book also engage in healthy discussions on its basic thesis. This publication may be taken as an opportunity to enter into mutually respectful and productive dialogues and debates, which can only serve the greater cause of Hindu culture at this important juncture in our history.
All parties will be losers if the current state of inimical tension is allowed to fester and persist for long, and the diverging perspectives between insiders and outsiders are looked upon by both groups as classic conflicts between devas and asuras. The book diagnoses a serious problem, but now we must take the next step, which would be to explore effective ways to enhance the understanding of Hinduism, and elevate the quality of Hindu scholarship and the West and in India