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MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09

MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 09

Continued from Part 08

 The National and Colonial question

1280px-SegundoCongresoDelCominternLeninKárajanBujarinZinoviev19200719 (1)

As mentioned earlier, the First World Congress of the newly found Communist International held in Moscow during March 1919 had deliberated on the National and Colonial issue. On the question of Imperial oppression in the colonies and their emancipation from slavery, the First Congress had given the guidelines, which, it is said, should be discussed and followed up in the Second Congress.

The guidelines clearly stated:

“The Comintern considers its obligatory task to establish a permanent and a close bond between the struggle of the proletariat in the imperial countries and the national liberation movement of the oppressed peoples in the colonies and semi-colonies ; and,  to support the struggle of the oppressed peoples to facilitate the final break-down of the imperialist world systems”.

The subject was again slated for discussion at the Second World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) scheduled to be held during July-August 1920, because of the importance that Lenin attached to it, for advancing the revolution Eastward.

The Communist International intent on world communism assigned considerable importance to the National and Colonial question. M N Roy, coming from Asia and India, was nominated as the Chairman of the Commission on The National and Colonial Question, under the guidance of Lenin.

Lenin had circulated his own draft-thesis on the National and Colonial Question; and had also marked a copy of his draft-thesis given to Roy with the remark Com Roy . For criticism and suggestions – V I Lenin’.

On reading Lenin’s draft-thesis, Roy began to work on his own thesis on the national and colonial questions. In the sessions of the Commission on The National and Colonial Question the draft thesis submitted by Roy as also the draft thesis circulated by Lenin were thoroughly discussed.

In the process, Roy had several meetings with Lenin separately; and also had discussions with Lenin during the deliberations of the Commission on the subject of the communist line of approach in regard to India and other countries of the East.

Lenin also went through the draft thesis prepared by Roy; and made several corrections to it in his hand.

Lenin asked the Commission to accept Roy’s revised thesis as a supplement to his own thesis; and, to present both the thesis before the Second World Congress for its consideration and approval.


Each of the two – Lenin and Roy – approached the National question and the Colonial question through his own experiences, beliefs and perspective. The two came from totally different backgrounds. And, obviously, differences were bound to be there in the views of the two. But , what was more significant , indeed extraordinary , was that V I Lenin the Supreme leader of the USSR , the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Soviet Union , who was at the zenith of his political career , was prepared to listen to and appreciate  the views of  a young novice from Asia who was just gingerly stepping into the Communist Party . Lenin was far more superior to Roy in experience, political and Party stature; and was an internationally acknowledged leader of a Great nation. Had Lenin, at his preliminary meetings with Roy, chosen to brush aside the views of a rookie who hitherto was unknown , the political career of M N Roy would have ended then and there.

It was Lenin’s open-minded attitude; his patience to keenly listen to a presentation; tolerance towards an opposing view; and, the intellectual honesty to objectively assess a given position and accept it even though it differed from his own, that secured Roy a position in the Communist Party.

Roy, in his Memoirs, remarked that his discussions with Lenin were the most significant and most valuable moments of his life. He had the honour and privilege of being treated as an equal by the greatest person of his time.  ‘Had Lenin not listened to me ‘Roy said ‘I would never have been able to present my views before the International Congress’.



Lenin’s views on nationalism, colonialism etc were rooted in his beliefs and in the understanding he gained from the study of the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Georgi Plekhanov and other theoreticians , as also from his own experiences during the Bolshevik Revolution.

(a)  Even before the Revolution, Lenin had insisted that Socialists must support the movement for autonomy for the national minorities oppressed by the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Lenin had included the ‘principle of self determination ‘in the program of the Bolshevik Party.

But, some Socialist and Communist members, belonging to those national minorities, had opposed Lenin with the argument that the separatist movement in their country was led by the nationalist bourgeois; and therefore it would not have the sympathy and support of the working class. That led to controversies within the Bolshevik Party. Leading members from Poland and Baltic regions continued to disagree with Lenin even after the Revolution. They argued that his principle of ‘self determination’ had deprived the Communists and the working class in those countries the benefit of the Revolution. That was because; the bourgeois had managed to seize the political and economic power.

Although the misgivings of those states proved right, Lenin insisted on following the doctrine of Marx and Engels which supported nationalist rebellion in Hungary and Poland. It would have been difficult even otherwise (from the ground realities) not to recognize their right of separation.

An after-effect of treating nationalism as revolutionary force was the acceptance of the principle of self determination for the subject nations. Soon after the success of the revolution; and after capturing power, Lenin put that principle into practice by recognizing the right of the minorities suppressed by Tsarist Imperialism to secede from the Soviet Republic. Following that, the Bolshevik Government recognized the right of Poland and Baltic states to secede from Russia after the revolution.

In his work The Right of Nations to Self-Determination Lenin wrote:

“The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation has a general democratic content that is directed against oppression, and it is this content we unconditionally support. At the same time we strictly distinguish it from the tendency towards national exclusiveness; we fight against the tendency of the Polish bourgeois to oppress Jews, etc, etc.”

A corollary of the policy in Europe was applied to his thesis on   the question of extending support to the liberation of the peoples subjugated by the colonial powers in Asia, Africa and the New World.

Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question, among other things, was meant to justify the old doctrinal ground.

(b) Lenin drew upon his experience of Russian revolution. Lenin pointed out that the Bolsheviks had supported the liberal liberation movements against Tsarist rule. The bourgeois nationalism of any oppressed nation, he said, has a general content that is directed against oppression; and, it is this content that we support. The ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘opposed to Imperialism, could, therefore, initially, be regarded as ‘revolutionary’. Therefore, the Communists will now have to base themselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening; and must be awakened . At this stage we are interested in building an anti-imperialist united front. The question when and what stage such ‘nationalist bourgeoisie ‘should be discarded would be decided, in each case, at a later time depending upon the situation.

(c) Lenin had developed a broader perceptive of revolutionary processes having lived and worked through its various stages.  The broader picture that he envisioned was the social revolution in the West as also in the East.  Lenin, in general, was in favour of a creative search for effective ways, forms and means of struggle for socialism taking along with it the national conditions. He thought that the principles of socialism , in particular situations, “ could be correctly modified, correctly adopted and applied to national and national-state distinctions”. In that wider process, he was not averse to utilizing nationalism in creating a broad based anti-imperialistic movement; and, later to take over the movement.

(d) Lenin advanced the idea of supporting the really revolutionary bourgeois – democratic (the term was later altered to: national-revolutionary) liberation forces in colonies, provided the organizational and ideological independence of Communist elements was safeguarded.

Lenin considered the rousing of the activity and initiative of the masses and the toilers , and leading them in their struggle to  realize their most urgent demands as the vital task of the Communist elements in the colonial countries.

Lenin wanted the Communists of the oppressed countries to be in the vanguard of the struggle for national liberation.

He told them:

‘you will have to base yourselves on the bourgeois nationalism which is awakening and must awaken, among those peoples in and which has historical justification “.

Lenin thus formulated, for the first time, the idea of a united front of anti-imperialism.

(e) Lenin observed that the emphasis on the basic unity of struggle of the working class in different countries, however, does not mean disregarding their nation-specific characteristics. Lenin wrote :

‘All nations will arrive at socialism – this is inevitable; but, will do so in not exactly the same way , each will contribute something of its own to some form of democracy , to some variety of dictatorship of the proletariat , to the varying rate of social transformations in the different aspects of social life’.

(f) As regards the Indian situation in 1920, Lenin took into account its nation-specific characteristics.  Lenin pointed out that the Indian National struggle was yet in its initial stage. He  contented that non-communist nationalist organizations like the Indian National Congress could , at this the early stages of the movement , for the present, be considered as progressive revolutionary force, since no viable Communist party existed in India.

Lenin believed that development of real class-consciousness depends upon party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India. Lenin, therefore, pointed out that it would take some time before Indian workers and peasants could be mobilized and organized effectively. Until then, the organizations such as Congress, Lenin said, deserved support. He said, the Indian Communists were duty bound to support such’ bourgeois liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them. As he said, there could be ‘temporary relations’ or ‘unions’ with such ‘bourgeois –liberation movements’ without any intent of merging with them.

[“According to Alfred Rosmer who attended the Second Congress: ‘patiently Lenin replied to him (Roy) explaining that for a longer or shorter period the Indian Communist Party would be a small party with but few members. Initially, it would have limited resources and would not be capable of reaching out to a substantial number of peasants and workers. But, in the course of its development, it would become possible for it to mobilize large masses. The Indian Communist Party would then be able to forge and develop its organisation to the point where it would be in a position to attack the Indian bourgeoisie.”  Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller.  p. 32]


Lenin did not share Marx’s faith in the ‘spontaneous’ development of class-consciousness. He saw an essential difference between the proletariat and the socialist, meaning a class-conscious proletariat. (Spontaneity for Lenin, perhaps, meant merely a non-rational opposition to society, which might temporarily coincide with the interests of a class, but would, in the long run, oppose it.)

Lenin considered that the development of genuine class –consciousness depends upon the party organization, discipline and indoctrination. At the time of the Second World Congress (1920) there was no Communist Party in India; but there only a few scattered revolutionary groups. He opined that it would take some time before the Indian proletariat and peasantry could be mobilized.

(e)  As regards Gandhi, Lenin believed that Gandhi as the inspirer and leader of a mass movement, could be regarded a revolutionary. It is said, Lenin, at one stage, remarked: a good nationalist is better than a bad communist.

MN Roy Moscow

Roy’s approach to the National and Colonial Question was based upon his understanding of the Marx’s point of view; and his own perspective of the Indian situation mainly centered on his impressions of the Indian National Congress.

But the problem was that Roy, at the age of 28, had left India in 1915, just at the time when Gandhi returned to India after twenty-one years in South Africa. During his early years, Roy was busily engaged in insurgency; and, for most of his active years in India, he was a fugitive. He was not in any manner associated or involved with political process. His views on Indian National Congress, in 1921-22, were tinted with the impressions he had gained, while in India, as a rebellious youth.  It was also clouded by the indoctrination he received from Borodin during 1919. Borodin during his brief stay in Mexico had worked hard to liberate Roy from notions of Nationalism.

Borodin 1920

(a) In order to overthrow foreign capitalism, according to Roy, it might perhaps be profitable to make use of the co-operations of the bourgeois national revolutionary elements – but that should only be in the initial stages and with circumspection. The foremost task, according to Roy, was to form Communist Parties which would organize peasants and workers and lead them to the revolution ‘from below’ and to establish Soviets.

 [Lenin allowed ‘temporary relations’ and even unions with nationalist movements. Roy spoke of only co-operation with such movements.]

(b) In regard to supporting the colonial national liberation movement, Roy said, ‘Communist Parties should be organized, on a priority basis, with the purpose of revolutionizing the social character of the national anti-colonial movement and bring it under the control of organized workers and peasants’.

Roy also pointed out to the danger of the bourgeois compromising with the Imperialists. He feared that the bourgeois democratic might sway towards Imperialist master for reasons of safety, money or other benefits or political concessions.  He insisted that the working class should be prepared to take over the leadership at such crisis, guiding and determining the struggle for national liberation and transforming it into a revolutionary mass movement.

 (c) Roy therefore argued, the Communists should avoid any alliance with the nationalist leaders who were bound to desert the party  to join the imperialist camps in a revolutionary situation. He pleaded that Comintern should instead support only the ‘the institutions and development of the Communist movement’ and the ‘organization of the broad based popular masses for the class interest of the latter’.

 (d)  Roy was less trustful of the national bourgeois than Lenin was. He laid more stress on developing Communist Parties in less-developed areas than on supporting the existing nationalist movements

(e)  Roy extended his theory, conviction and fears to the Indian national movement. As regards the Indian situation, in his analysis of the class forces in India, Roy greatly exaggerated both numerical and ideological strength of the Indian proletariat. Estimating that India possessed five million workers and an additional thirty-five million land-less labourers and peasants , he reported to the Comintern ( although  the  Indian nationalist movement rested mainly on the middle class) the drown trodden Indian masses would shortly blaze their own revolutionary trail.

Roy claimed that ‘the real strength of the liberation movement is no longer confined to the narrow circle of bourgeois –democratic nationalists.

Obviously , at that stage , Roy  had neither  grasped nor understood the necessity of the ‘proletariat’ to unite with the ‘national bourgeoisie’ in their common  revolutionary struggle  against Imperialism for  achieving the Indian Independence.   And, while millions were marching along Gandhi in a national upsurge, Roy wrote ‘the nationalist movement in India has failed to appeal to the masses’. He again misread the situation asserting that ‘the masses are pushed on to the revolutionary ranks not so much by national enthusiasm, as by the  … struggle for economic emancipation’.

Those misinformed statements were compounded with Roy’s exuberant estimate of the Indian proletariat’s revolutionary capacity to fight, singly, for Indian independence.

 [The Nationalism, in the West, had a different connotation, than that in India.

After fighting two World Wars, Europe became weary of the sentiments and notions of nationalism.  The intellectuals as also the common people came to view nationalism as the scourge of international relations; and, took up cudgels against the real and imagined excesses of nationalism. And, therefore, the very concept of nationalism came in for much criticism. Lenin’s view of Nationalism has to be viewed in the European context.

And, yet, Lenin supported nationalist rebellion in Hungary and Poland. Similarly, he did recognize India’s nationalism as a form of revolutionary force that deserved support. That was the genius of Lenin.


The Indian nationalism, as compared to the European, was motivated by the anxiety to retain the identity of its homeland; and, to unite its people into one entity. That spirit of Nationalism was indeed essential to fight against the oppressive Imperialism, which would not allow India, willingly, its right for self-determination; and, nor be allowed to follow an independent path of development.

Thus, in the Indian context, it was the imperialism; and, its desire to dominate foreign creeds, nations or communities, and to occupy territories well beyond the “ancestral homeland”, that was the foremost threat, not only to the oppressed nations, but also to the world at large. Because of that menace of Imperialism, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century’s, most nations were subsumed into a few empires.

In the colonial India, nationalism was an expression aspiring for national unity; and, the motivating force in India’s struggle for freedom. Thus, the naïve criticism of Indian nationalism is misplaced.

But, at that stage of his career, MN Roy was entirely consumed by Marxist theories , rather mechanically;  and, by his anxiety to build communist party in India.  He deprecated the Indian national movement. It is surprising that Roy, who in his youth believed that there was nothing inherently violent about the desire of the people of the oppressed nations to fight for freedom and self-determination, did not quite  grasp and appreciate the notion of Indian nationalism.]


[By about this time, Gandhi’s first large civil disobedience campaign had been attracting masses in India, erupting in violence. That led Gandhi to call off the massive protests. It was  just at that point when the mass movement could have grown into a full scale revolution.

Interestingly, that led to discussions and controversies , at Moscow and in India, over the merits of non-violence over revolutionary uprising. It was also a period when Marxism was discussed in India along with the tactics of Gandhi and Lenin.

When Roy, Evelyn  and other Indians such as Veerendranath Chattopadyaya met in Moscow in 1921, their main political differences began to sprout from their conflicting assessments of the Indian political scene .Chattopadyaya was in favor of a united front of all anti-imperial forces, whether Communist or not, to overthrow the British Rule. Roy vehemently insisted on discarding the nationalist forces.]

(f) Roy argued that the Nationalist bourgeois in India were not economically and culturally different from the feudal social order. And therefore the nationalists were ideologically reactionary; and their victory would not necessarily mean a bourgeois democratic revolution.

Roy argued that in countries such as India , which are characterized as  the ‘rebel  ‘ nationalist movements,  the Comintern rather than supporting such movements should ‘ assist exclusively the institution and the development  of the Communist movement’ and the indigenous Communist parties or groups , avoiding entanglement with  such potentially reactionary  boogies-nationalist leaders. He also counseled that Comintern should devote themselves exclusively   to the organization of the broad popular masses into Communist Party , which should take over the class struggle.

Roy was making a distinction between two different types of boogies-democratic nationalist movements, with only one of which were alliance for the Communist practical.

Roy was not talking merely about the contradictions between nationalist and bourgeois –democratic movements but between different types of boogies-democratic movements.

Roy harped on the dichotomy of national and class movements, while Lenin took an integrated approach.

(g) Roy maintained that Gandhi was a cultural and religious revivalist; and he was bound to be a reactionary, however revolutionary he might appear politically.

In Roy’s view, the religious ideology preached by Gandhi appealed to the medieval mentality of masses. But, the same ideology discouraged the revolutionary urge of the masses. The quintessence of the situation, as he analyzed and understood it, was a potentially revolutionary movement restrained by reactionary ideology”.

He quoted back to Lenin, his own dictum: without revolutionary ideology there could be no revolution.

(h) Roy, during 1921-22, believed that organizations like Indian National Congress would eventually betray the revolution; and, Gandhism would collapse. Instead, he argued, the Indian peasantry and working class must be mobilized and brought under Communism.   And, the liberation of India would be realized through the political movement of workers and peasants, ‘consciously organized on grounds of class-struggle’. He predicted that liberation from Imperialism would only come under Communist leadership. [This was despite the fact that the International Communist movement, by then, had not forged any credible link either with the Indian nationalists or with the Indian masses.]

[Thereafter, between 1920 and 1927, Roy wavered from time to time in his assessments of bourgeois-national’s relationships with the British and with the Indian masses.

As regards the Congress his views too were later revised. After his arrival in India in 1930-31, Roy had the opportunity to witness things directly; and that led him to a new understanding. He saw that all the big trade unions were under the leadership of Left-oriented reformist Congressmen. The political consciousness of the peasantry was nothing but adoration of Gandhi, the Mahatma; and, no mass movement could be organized in opposition to Congress. At the same time, the Congress provided a platform for the oppressed and exploited classes , as also to the radically inclined  petty bourgeois . But, the absence of an organized Left-wing provided an opportunity to the Right-ring to take over the leadership; although all classes and sub-classes were represented in the Congress. That again proved Lenin’s dictum right: ‘the revolutionary Party is where the masses are’. The Congress in 1930s was the rallying ground for the masses in India.  The Indian National Congress , according to him  in 1930s,  was ‘ a coalition of the classes’ which meant that it was bound to be dominated by one class or the other]

(i) As regards the impact of the Asian and Indian revolutionary movements, Roy went back to his revolutionary mode; and, declared that the mass revolt movement in Asia, India in particular, was  very crucial to the success of the revolutionary forces in the West.

He said:

“What I learned during several months of stay in Germany about the conditions in Europe and their immediate perspective fostered in me the feeling that the proletariat in the metropolitan countries would not succeed in their heroic endeavour to capture power unless imperialism was weakened by the revolt of their colonial peoples, particularly India”.

Roy asserted that the revolutionary movement in Europe depended on the course of revolution in Asia. He explained, the super-profit that the Imperialists earned from the colonies was the main stay of their capitalistic regime. Here , Roy was  applying the lessons he learnt from Rosa Luxemburg’s book Accumulation of Capital, which said ‘the imperialist capitalist system survived and thrived on external markets of colonial countries’.

Accordingly , Roy argued : “Without control of vast markets and vast areas for exploitation in the colonies” .. “ the capitalist powers of Europe could not maintain their existence even for a short time”.

[In a way Roy also differed from Marx. The traditional Marxist thought held that the proletarian revolution would first in the industrialized metropolis of industrialized countries and then spread to the agrarian masses in the colonies. Roy’s program was that Communist organization should be built by mobilizing masses in the rural areas of the colonies from which the industrialized capitalism drew its strength.]



When we glance through the views of Roy and Lenin as outlined above, some distinctions stand out.

Roy was close to Marx’s position before 1848 when Marx had looked forward with a great zeal towards the European Revolution which erupted in 1848. But, he had overestimated the strength of the working class and their class consciousness to rise up spontaneously.  Later, such exaggerated view was termed as the Maximum program.

Subsequently, Marx moderated his earlier position into what was called the Minimum program. It was meant to remove obstacles, in the way to eradicate capitalism, as a pre-requisite before launching full scale class warfare.  It sought to bring it into open the social grievances and solidify class divisions; undermine religious and patriotic sentiments, beliefs in reforms and such other ideological blinkers; and create social unrest and total chaos.

The Maximum program was to follow on its heels. In these programs the bourgeois is initially strengthened and then overthrown.

John Patrick Haithcox in his very well written book Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939, explains :

“In a sense, the conflict between Roy and Lenin over the question of supporting colonial nationalism can be viewed as the disagreement over the relative weight to be given to a maximum and minimum program in formation of colonial policy. At the time of the Second World Conference, Roy was young and impatient. Like Marx of 1848, he tended to underestimate the task of effectively mobilizing class unrest. Roy wanted to force the pace set by Lenin in order to liberate the masses at once and for all from the oppressive relationships , both foreign and domestic’’.

I think where Roy erred was in mechanically applying the Marxist idea of ‘ the hegemony of  the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution’  to the Indian situation without entering into the heart of it. Lenin, I think , had a better understanding of the democratic ( national) and social stages in the unfolding of the revolution.


It would not be correct to say that Lenin compromised his approach to the question of nationalism. Lenin’s thesis on the National and Colonial Question reiterated the principle of self determination.

The only change that Lenin agreed to make in his thesis was to substitute the words ‘national revolutionary’ in place of ‘bourgeois democratic ‘movement.

Lenin in his draft thesis (point 11) said: The Communist International, must enter into a temporary alliance ( soulz) with the bourgeois  democratic liberation  of the colonial and the backward countries. It must not , however , amalgamate with it . It must retain its independent character of proletarian movement even though it might be in the embryonic stage.

In the final draft, the first sentence of this point was altered to read:’ The Communist International must be ready to establish relationships (soglasheniia) and even alliance (soluzy) with the ‘national-revolutionary liberation’ movements of the colonies and backward countries.

The substitution of the term “national-revolutionary” for the term “bourgeois-democratic”, was done to emphasis the Marxist support only for genuinely revolutionary liberation movements. Lenin went on:

“In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.” (The Report of the Commission on The National and Colonial Questions, 26th July 1920)

Lenin did not agree with several of Roy’s views, such as:

Lenin did not agree with Roy’s overestimated numbers and strength of the peasants and working class of India during 1920’s.

Lenin also differed from Roy’s views on the Indian National Congress and the role of Gandhi in the National movement. Lenin asserted that since there was no Communist party in existence in India, at that early stages of the national liberation movement, for the present, the Indian National Congress be considered as progressive revolutionary force and supported.

He also felt that Roy had gone too far in linking the destiny of the revolutionary west to mass movements in Asia.


Lenin went through the draft thesis submitted by Roy; made numerous changes, with his hand, before approving it (not mere verbal alterations as claimed by Roy).

Lenin asked the Commission to accept Roy’s thesis (as revised by him) as a supplement to his own thesis.


The Commission on the National and Colonial Question, under the guidance of Lenin, also went into analysis of the class structure in the colonies.

The discussions in the Commission brought out the class structure in colonies  , broadly , as :  (a) Imperialists , feudal rich, militarists; (b)  national bourgeoisie;  (c)   petty bourgeoisie ; (d)  rich peasants; (e) middle peasants ; and (f) poor peasants , proletariat. 

The hopelessly ‘reactionary ‘within this classification were at (a) and their natural allies along with their followers such as the rich peasants and middle peasants. The national bourgeoisie as at (b) were perceived as opposed to imperialism, and therefore revolutionary at first – though for a short period. As regards the petty bourgeoisie as at (c) they remained essentially ‘wavering’. But in colonies like China the vast revolutionary masses would largely consist of poor peasantry; and , they could be  counted to support the revolution ; the leadership of the movement would ,however, be with the proletariat.

Against this class analysis, the fundamental question was to what extent and for how long should Communist Party, as the vanguard of the proletariat, alley itself ‘from above’- with the anti imperialist and non- communist national and petty bourgeois; and how much of its energies and resources should be devoted to enhancing the power of the proletariat and peasantry from ‘below’.

While collaborating with the middle- class nationalists in the colonies, Communist leaders were expected to make every effort to arouse and organize the working masses and peasantry and move towards taking control of the existing revolutionary movements. Thus, Revolution, in short, must embody a judicious balance of tactics ‘from above’ and ‘from below’.

The problem again was to strike a balance between  ‘ the revolution from above’ and ‘the revolution from below’.

On the question of at what point should the ‘revolution from above’ change to ‘revolution from below’ no specific guidelines were given.  But, it was said, the change would depend on the situation and it would generally take into account three factors: (1) the class structure; (2) the stage of development of the nationalist movement; and, (3) the relative strengths of the bourgeois and proletariat forces within the country in question.

According to the first two conditions : The support for the  bourgeois -nationalist  movement would be inadvisable in case the bourgeois sub groups , deemed reactionary, capture the leadership or should the national bourgeois sensing victory over the imperialists begin to panic at the prospect of unleash of  class struggle.

In either case the national movement would cease to be revolutionary and lapse into reformation.

As regards the third, it would be folly to be subordinate to the bourgeois should they take control of the movement and take leadership.


The report presented by the Commission on the National and Colonial question was discussed in detail in the Fourth session of the Second Congress of the Communist  International, on 25 July 1920.  And the discussion was carried forward to the Fifth session held on 28 July 1920.

Lenin made lengthy speeches in defence of his thesis as also that of Roy with certain amendments.

There were rather lively debates on this question  (National and Colonial question ) in the commission, not only in connection with the theses signed by me, but still more in connection with Comrade Roy’s theses, which he will defend here, and to which certain amendments were adopted unanimously.

The question was posed as follows:

Are we to accept as correct the assertion that the capitalist stage of development of the national economy is inevitable for those backward nations which are now winning liberation and in which a movement along the road of progress is to be observed since the war? We replied in the negative. If the victorious revolutionary proletariat conducts systematic propaganda among them, and the Soviet governments come to their assistance with all the means at their disposal – in that event, it would be wrong to assume that the capitalist stage of development is inevitable for the backward peoples. In all the colonies and backward countries, not only should we build independent contingents of fighters, party organizations, not only should we launch immediate propaganda for the organization of peasants’ Soviets and strive to adapt them to pre-capitalist conditions, but the Communist International should advance and theoretically substantiate the proposition that with the aid of the proletariat of the advanced countries, the backward countries can pass over to the Soviet system and, through definite stages of development, to communism, without going through the capitalist stage.

What means are necessary for this cannot be indicated beforehand. Practical experience will suggest this. But it has been definitely established that the idea of Soviets is close to the hearts of the mass of working people even of the most remote nations, that these organizations, the Soviets, should be adapted to the conditions of the pre-capitalist social system, and that the communist parties should immediately begin work in this direction in all parts of the world.”


Referring to the distinction between different types of bourgeois–democratic movements and after commenting on that all nationalistic movements can only be bourgeois – democratic in nature, Lenin observed:

 “  It was argued that if we speak about bourgeois–democratic movement all distinctions between reformist and revolutionary movements will be obliterated; whereas in the recent times, this distinction has been fully and clearly revealed in backward colonial countries’’

Lenin explained it further , by elaborating :

“Very often , even in the majority of cases perhaps, where the bourgeoisie of the oppressed countries does support the national movement, it simultaneously works in harmony with the imperialist bourgeoisie ; i.e, it joins the latter in fighting against all revolutionary movements and all revolutionary classes’.

In the National Colonial Commission this was proved irrefutably. And we came to the conclusion that the only correct thing was to take this distinction into consideration and nearly everywhere to substitute the term ‘national-revolutionary’ for the term ‘ bourgeois –democratic’ .

The meaning of this change is that we Communists should , and will, support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonial countries only when these movements are really revolutionary , when the representatives of these movements do not hinder us in training and organizing the peasants and the broad masses of the exploited in a revolutionary spirit”

Lenin reported the discussion in the Commission to a plenary Session of the Congress and recommended adoption of both the thesis. Regarding Roy’s thesis, Lenin said, it was   ‘framed chiefly from the standpoint of the situation in India and other big Asian countries oppressed by British imperialism. Herein lies its great importance for us.’

After considerable debate, the Second Congress sought to resolve the argument by approving both the thesis – the main thesis by Lenin and the supplementary thesis by Roy.



This was Lenin’s first systematic guideline for promoting communist revolution in Asia. And, Roy played an important role in formulating Comintern policy on the national and colonial question in 1920.

Roy’s views on the revolutionary potential of the Indian masses and proletariat was moderated in the later years,. Yet; the Roy –Lenin debate has some significance. It marked the first significant attempt within the Comintern to formulate a policy which would successfully merge the revolutionary aspirations of the nationalist-anti-colonialism and communist anti-capitalism.

But, the question just did not go away. It kept coming back again and again starting from the Chinese question in 1927. And thereafter too, it repeatedly appeared during the cold war era. 

Disagreements over the degree of support to be given to nationalistic leaders as opposed to indigenous communist parties continued to plague the Communist International.

The 1927 dispute between Stalin and Trotsky ; and between Roy and Borodin over the China policy brought out the harsh fact that the  opposing views aired at the Second World Congress of 1920  had not been fully reconciled,

Stalin’s campaign against Trotsky and the Left opposition was followed by a struggle against Bukharin and Right Opposition.

There was bitter power struggle within the Communist International. The dispute between Stalin and Bukharin factions within the Party on domestic issues reflected on the International level over the attitudes to be adopted towards western countries and nationalists in dependent countries.


[The Comintern was rather selective in applying its principle of supporting self-determination and of the revolutionary movements in the oppressed countries in the East. For instance; the Soviet government during 1921 found it advantageous to withdraw assistance for revolution among the Muslims of Asia in order to achieve a trade agreement with England. Because,  the Anglo-Soviet political conference and peace agreement— an agreement that would resettle the international relations of southwest Asia so as to account for Soviet interests there—would  win for the new Soviet state a place of legitimacy among the great powers of Europe; and it would also help industrial development in Russia.

Further, the Russians among the party leadership felt that to use Soviet Muslims to promote national self-determination in Islamic Asia, (even if it seriously dislocated the British Empire), would only encourage a Muslim desire for national self-determination within the re-conquered Russian Empire.

The Party leadership was also very hesitant about employing the considerable Muslim forces that had joined with the Red Army against the counter – revolution in Muslim countries.

Hostility toward all religion, including Islam, and a fear and distrust of independent and uncontrollable local revolutionary movements, were  said to be the major reasons for USSR’s  unwillingness to support revolution in Muslim countries.

Trotsky, a consistent ‘Westerner’, rejected the idea of military support for Asian revolution and urged the NKID to “continue in every way to emphasize through all available channels our readiness to come to an understanding with England with regard to the East.”

The Party theorists, mainly Trotsky, analyzed that, support for revolutionary activity in Central and Southwest Asia would become a strategic liability rather than an asset once the prospects for proletarian revolution in Europe faded and anti-Communist regimes were consolidated there.

For more, please check When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics by Jon Jacobson]


During the cold war period, the decisions reached by a Soviet or Chinese Communist leader depended, mainly, upon the relative strengths, potential strengths and popular support for nationalist movement in comparison with the local communist party. It also took into account at what point the nationalist leader will balk at Communist policies and pressures and move away to the other side.

Even in the case  of the Governments of  the revolutionary leaders like Nasser, Nkrumah and Sukarno , the problem that Soviets and the Chinese faced was not so much as  to decide whether  or whether not to support national revolutionary movements ; but , to agree upon priorities of initiatives and relative allocation of men , money, arms and other resources  between the local communist parties and between the Governments in question.

By then, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China were drifting apart, after the death of Stalin in 1953.The USSR was slowly shifting towards the policy of class collaboration instead of the policy of class war. The Chinese did not appreciate the shift.

The attitude of the Soviet and Chinese Communist parties towards the Indian Communist Party on the one hand and the Congress Government of India on the other was also within those parameters. . The divide between the Soviet and the Chinese position reflected in the fractions of the CPI.


The controversy over the question of the ‘role of the national bourgeois and national democratic revolution with in India, vis-à-vis the international communist movement’, cast its shadow over the Communist Party of India. The controversy had its roots in the debates that took place in the Second Comintern Congress (1920). It split the Communist party in India into two major groups; the right CPI (the so called ‘pro-Moscow’ party) and the left CPI (the so called ‘pro-Peking’ party) .

The division came into fore during the 1960’s when J L Nehru was India’s prime mister and particularly during the Sino-Indian war.

One fraction of the CPI party believed that as Congress under Nehru was trying to make partnership with Soviet, they might give temporary support to the Congress government.


But another  fraction of the CPI  didn’t believe that Congress was  trying to follow Communism ; and  it  also believed that members of the Congress  party were class-enemies, hence, it was of no use to support them.


The division between the two fractions of CPI widened during the Sino–Indian war. China also did not like Moscow’s attitude towards the conflict. A fraction of the CPI viewed the Sino-Indian war as a conflict between a capitalist state (India) and a communist state (China). And, ideologically, it had to support the Communist state keeping aside sentiments of nationalism. This section which supported Chinese got separated from the CPI and formed a new party called Communist Party of India  (CPIM).

The other section of the CPI continued to believe in a strategic tie with the Government of India.

But such controversies in the present day are irrelevant.  And, moreover the Left has rapidly lost ground; and with hardly any prospects of coming to power in any state, independently. Both the communist parties talk of coalition of the Left and democratic process.  But they do not seem to have a credible concrete program. Further, both the factions are bogged down with lack of new leadership and plenty of internal squabbling.

After disillusionment with CPI–M, the search for ideologies to bring about changes shifted to other areas. In 1975 it was Jayaprakash Narayan; in 1989 it was VP Singh; and in 2012 it was around Anna Hazare.  And now, it is BJP; and, it too, somehow, appears a distant prospect.





Next Part

Sources and References

  1. Communism and Nationalism in India: M.N. Roy and Comintern Policy, 1920-1939

 By John Patrick Haithcox

2 .Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International

Fourth Session – July 25

Fifth Session -July 28

3.Minutes of the Congress

  1. Communism and Nationalism in India: A Study in Inter-relationship, 1919-1947

By Shashi Bairathi

 5. Communism in India by Overstreet and Windmiller


Posted by on January 15, 2016 in M N Roy


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IPC 377 and Indian Society

[ Mr.  Humphreys  had raised questions about Supreme Court’s verdict; residue of Colonial rule; and cultural practices in ancient India.]


Dear  Humphreys , I think the verdict needs to be put in its perspective.

 1. The Supreme Court of India does not pass Laws, nor does it frame rules under it. That is the function of the Parliament, the Legislative body. And, whenever a specific issue is litigated upon, the Judiciary examines the matter that comes before it, with reference to the relevant Laws in operation and in the light of the provisions of the Constitution of India.  

In the present case; the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) framed in the year 1860, during the British Raj, is still in operation. It is a relic of the Colonial rule.  It comes under the Federal list. This Section has neither been repealed nor amended by the Parliament. Going, strictly, by the Book, Homosexuality is still a punishable criminal offence in India.

It is quite a different matter that no one has been booked under that Section, so far; and, that in the popular perception being gay is not a crime, after all.

The Supreme Court has merely pointed out that gay relation is bad in law, as it stands at today.

After the recent verdict of the Supreme Court, the ball is now in the court of the Government of India. The Government has to take a quick action to repeal/amend/replace the Section either by getting it approved by the Parliament or by passing an Ordinance, on its own.

2. You mentioned about Indian ethos on Homosexuality. Yes; the Indian Society even in the ancient times did recognize gay relations; and, it had been tolerant about it. That Society did not consider homosexuals as perverts or sinners. They were described by the term tritiiya-prakriti or those of the third nature. And, that nature was not regarded un-natural .And, they were not blamed for not following heterosexual norms ; for they were born with that nature.

The KAMASUTRA of Vatsyayana does explain ‘tritiiya prakriti’ or third nature. The persons of third nature are of two kinds; one of the female kind and the other of the male kind (“dvividhaa tritiityaaprkritih, striiruupinii purusharuupinii ca.” 2.9.1). Vatsyayana goes on to say that among the Females, the “she”, who behaves like a woman, is to be employed for oral sex (“tasyaa vadane jaganakarma tadauparisht.akamm aachakshate” 2.9.3).As regards the ‘male kind’ of Female who has the desire for males, ‘he’ could take to the profession of massage-giver and thus coming into contact with males to satisfy them through oral sex (2.9.6-10). In this context, the act of auparisht.aka is described in detail in the Kama sutra. Else, ‘he’ could have lesbian relation with a Female of ‘she’ nature.

The Arthashastra of Kautilya did provide a place for the ‘third kind’ in its society. It even imposed a fine on those who persecuted a homoerotic person (3.18.4). Though their position was disadvantaged, and regarded ‘not ‘respectable’, they had the freedom to move about in the Society.

But, at the same time, the Hindu society recognized marriage as a credible institution to bring forth and raise a new generation of able, educated and responsible individuals who would contribute to the welfare and integrity of the  society,  carry forward its  life and its traditions. The coming generation had duties not only to the living but also towards their departed ancestors. The householders’ life had three aspects : to fulfil his duties and obligations to the family and to the society (Dharma) ; to earn wealth to take care of his family and other dependents (Artha) ; and , to procreate children to take his place in the future society . The last mentioned was Kama (desire); it had in it both Dharma (duty) and Rati (sheer pleasure of sex act).

The homosexual relation, they said, provided only Rati – the sexual pleasure. And, it did not fulfil an obligation or a duty that could be of any benefit to the society. There, certainly, was also the perception that such relation was unhealthy for the institution of family. Therefore, the gay relation, though tolerated, was not accorded a high status; and, was placed below the legalized husband- wife relation in a marriage. The gay cohabiters did not enjoy the same rights as did the married heterosexual couples.

3. Coming to the present-day India, the solutions provided by their ancients have been jumbled up. The British who ruled India for nearly a century imposed upon the Indian people the then British taboos and prejudices.  In the process, The Rulers criminalized homosexual relations through a Section of the Indian Penal Code (1860).  As successive Indian Governments have been too slow to alter the Criminal Procedure Code, the section stating punishment for homoerotic contact has not been still eliminated from Indian Law.

There are loud voices arguing that Sex preferences are highly personal matters; and it is best left to the discretion of those involved. They should have the freedom to exercise their choice/s.  There is also the question of the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India. Yet; some are likely to fudge the question whether maintaining a Gay relation is a fundamental right?

This offending Section should soon be done away with; and, the traditional free outlook restored. Having said that; the mindset of the common people that is created over a century may not perhaps be so easily erased. There is a notion, largely unfounded, that gays are found a lot in fashion and film industry; and, not among the ordinary ones who slog.

The Rights of the Homosexual/Gay individuals seems to be one of the major agendas of social reforms in India today. The Supreme Court verdict has triggered uproar, putting the Government on the spot.

This tornado has caught the Indian Government at its worst time when:  it has just suffered a severe drumming in the Elections held across North India (Delhi in particular) ; its popularity is  at its Nadir; the inflation is at its Zenith (11.3 %); industrial production is down to 1.8%; the value of INR is going down the drain; and , its precious vote-banks are slipping away while  it is apprehensive of the impending Lok Sabha elections.

Yet; the Government of India has to act and provide the initiative, rather hurriedly.

Let’s await Government’s response.

In the mean time, pressure may also be brought on Supreme Court to take a re-look at its judgment-suo moto.


4.  The next question would be: while gay cohabitation may not be illegal, whether or not a gay marriage should be legalized; and, whether Gays should be legally allowed to adopt children. These contentious issues are bound to be debated hotly*. Many may argue that it is necessary to maintain some difference between gay partnership and heterosexual marriage, in the interest of society’s healthy growth. They might point out that children adopted by gays are very likely going to acquire a gay syndrome that would threaten the health of the family. There is  , of course , no paucity of examples from Europe and America where the institution of marriage is almost on the verge of extinction.

There would also be others who assert that there should be no discrimination; and, increasing the population was no longer a necessity or a priority in today’s India. Therefore, they would say that gay marriages are in no way detrimental to Indian society.

In any case, TV Channels and Blog Sites are sure to be set ablaze with furious debates in the coming weeks.  It will be the show-anchors’ delight.


 [**Please also see a Research Paper on:  The Effects of Same-Sex Marriage Lawson Public Health and Welfare by Handie Peng, Department of Economics, Emory University, Atlanta, GA. The paper is done with particular reference to USA. It hypothesizes that same-sex- marriage-ban may (i) foster intolerance for gays which may drive risky homosexual behaviours; and increased the syphilis rate (II) codify and signal traditional family values, which may raise the benefits of heterosexual marriage.]


[Male sand-sifting sea star in the coastal waters of Australia; butterflies , beetles and  many animals exhibit same-sex sexual behaviors despite their offering zero chance of reproductive success. Given the energy expense and risk of being eaten that mating attempts can involve, why do these behaviors persist?

One hypothesis, hotly debated among biologists, suggests this represents an ancient evolutionary strategy that could ultimately enhance an organism’s chances to reproduce. In results published recently in Nature Ecology & Evolution, Brian Lerch and M… Maria R Servedio, from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, offer theoretical support for this proposed explanation.

They created a mathematical model that calculated scenarios in which mating attempts, regardless of partner sex, might be might be worth it.

The results predicted that, depending on life span and mating chances, indiscriminate mating with any available candidates could in fact yield a better reproductive payoff than spending precious time and energy sorting out one sex from the other.

Although this study does not address sexual orientation or attraction, both of which are common among vertebrate species, it does get at some persistent evolutionary questions: when did animals start distinguishing mates by sex, based on specific cue; and why do some animals apparently remain indiscriminate in their choices?

Evolutionary biologists have proposed several explanations for indiscriminate mating attempts that include both same-sex and different-sex sexual behaviours, and Lerch and Servedio’s work adds a new theoretical underpinning to the literature. To predict how time, life span, and sex-specific cues might affect reproductive success, they established a model that had two sexes, one dubbed the “searcher” and one the “target.” They also set some adjustable factors: sex signals from the target could range from “nonexistent” to “always present,” and could be detectable by searchers in a range from “never” to “always.” If the signal were always present and the searcher always detected it, then indiscriminate mating would be nonexistent. But with no signals or weak ones, and with high risks involved in searching, mating with any available partner might tilt the scale scale toward evolutionary benefit

The model also suggested an effect involving death and time: for species with short lives, the indiscriminate approach might be the best use of time, maximizing odds of at least one success. Species with the longest lives would likely have more mating opportunities. But indiscriminate mating might benefit them as well—with the luxury of time to take a gamble, these animals might boost reproductive success by taking every mating opportunities.

But indiscriminate mating might benefit them as well—with the luxury of time to take a gamble, these animals might boost reproductive success by taking every mating opportunity that comes along and still be able to compensate for misfires.]


Posted by on December 12, 2013 in General Interest


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Halfway to Freedom

Margaret Bourke-White (June 14, 1904 – August 27, 1971) was an American photographer and photo journalist. She was  a correspondent and the first female photographer for LIFE magazine during the WWII years. “My insatiable desire to be on the scene when history was being made was never more nearly fulfilled,” she later wrote, “I witnessed that extremely rare event in the history of nations, the birth of twins”.  For the next two years, starting in 1946, the saga of the independence and subsequent partition of India consumed her attention. She lived in India during those traumatic years, met and talked to the leaders and to the common people; she took some astounding photographs of the agony and horrors of partition.  She was “one of the most effective chroniclers” of the violence that erupted at the independence and partition of India and Pakistan.  She produced her most famous work Halfway to Freedom. It was a chronicle of the fight for India’s independence and the resulting formation of Pakistan. 


In September 1947, White went to Pakistan. She met Jinnah and wrote about her visit. The following  are  the excerpts from her book  Halfway to Freedom  A Report on the New India, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1949.

You will find how prophetic she was : milking the American cow was not a new idea that flashed  in  the blitz of Afghan war of the 80’s , it was there right from the moment of Pakistan’s birth. She foresaw the hegemony of the feudal lords; and, their anxiety to ensure that its people are ever held in the deadening grip of religious superstition.


Pakistan was one month old. Karachi was its mushrooming capital. On the sandy fringes of the city an enormous tent colony had grown up to house the influx of minor government officials. There was only one major government official, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, and there was no need for Jinnah to take to a tent. The huge marble and sandstone Government House, vacated by British officialdom, was waiting. The Quaid-i-Azam moved in, with his sister, Fatima, as hostess. Mr. Jinnah had put on what his critics called his “triple crown”: he had made himself Governor-General; he was retaining the presidency of the Muslim League — now Pakistan’s only political party; and he was president of the country’s lawmaking body, the Constituent Assembly.

“We never expected to get it so soon,” Miss Fatima said when I called. “We never expected to get it in our lifetimes.”

If Fatima’s reaction was a glow of family pride, her brother’s was a fever of ecstasy. Jinnah’s deep-sunk eyes were pinpoints of excitement. His whole manner indicated that an almost overwhelming exaltation was racing through his veins. I had murmured some words of congratulation on his achievement in creating the world’s largest Islamic nation.

“Oh, it’s not just the largest Islamic nation. Pakistan is the fifth-largest nation in the world!”

The note of personal triumph was so unmistakable that I wondered how much thought he gave to the human cost: more Muslim lives had been sacrificed to create the new Muslim homeland than America, for example, had lost during the entire Second World War I hoped he had a constructive plan for the seventy million citizens of Pakistan. What kind of constitution did he intend to draw up?


 What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?

“America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” was Jinnah’s reply. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.” He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. “Russia,” confided Mr. Jinnah “is not so very far away.”

I wondered whether the Quaid-i-Azam considered his new state only as an armoured buffer between opposing major powers. He was stressing America’s military interest in other parts of the world. “America is now awakened,” he said with a satisfied smile. Since the United States was now bolstering up Greece and Turkey, she should be much more interested in pouring money and arms into Pakistan. “If Russia walks in here,” he concluded, “the whole world is menaced.”

In the weeks to come I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam’s thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan. “Surely America will build up our army,” they would say to me. “Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in.” But when I asked whether there were any signs of Russian infiltration, they would reply almost sadly, as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument. “No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan.”

This hope of tapping the U. S. Treasury was voiced so persistently that one wondered whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan’s own uncertain position as a new political entity. Actually, I think, it was more nearly related to the even more significant bankruptcy of ideas in the new Muslim state — a nation drawing its spurious warmth from the embers of an antique religious fanaticism, fanned into a new blaze.

Jinnah’s most frequently used technique in the struggle for his new nation had been the playing of opponent against opponent. Evidently this technique was now to be extended into foreign policy. ….


 Jinnah revived the moribund Muslim League in 1936 after it had dragged through an anemic thirty years’ existence, and took to the religious soapbox. He began dinning into the ears of millions of Muslims the claim that they were downtrodden solely because of Hindu domination.

During the years directly preceding this move on his part, an unprecedented degree of unity had developed between Muslims and Hindus in their struggle for independence from the British Raj. The British feared this unity, and used their divide-and-rule tactics to disrupt it. Certain highly placed Indians also feared unity, dreading a popular movement which would threaten their special position. Then another decisive factor arose. Although Hindus had always been ahead of Muslims in the industrial sphere, the great Muslim feudal landlords now had aspirations toward industry. From these wealthy Muslims, who resented the well-established Hindu competition, Jinnah drew his powerful supporters.

One wonders whether Jinnah was fighting to free downtrodden Muslims from domination or merely to gain an earmarked area, free from competition, for this small and wealthy clan.

The trend of events in Pakistan would support the theory that Jinnah carried the banner of the Muslim landed aristocracy, rather than that of the Muslim masses he claimed to champion. There was no hint of personal material gain in this. Jinnah was known to be personally incorruptible. The drive for personal wealth played no part in his politics. It was a drive for power. ..


 With his burning devotion to his separate Islamic nation, Jinnah had taken all these formidable obstacles in his stride. But the blow that finally broke his spirit struck at the very name of Pakistan. While the literal meaning of the name is “Land of the Pure,” the word is a compound of initial letters of the Muslim majority provinces which Jinnah had expected to incorporate: P for the Punjab, A for the Afghans’ area on the Northwest Frontier, S for Sind, -tan for Baluchistan. But the K was missing.

Kashmir, India’s largest princely state, despite its 77 per cent Muslim population, had not fallen into the arms of Pakistan by the sheer weight of religious majority. Kashmir had acceded to India, and although it was now the scene of an undeclared war between the two nations, the fitting of the K into Pakistan was left in doubt. With the beginning of this torturing anxiety over Kashmir, the Quaid-i-Azam’s siege of bad colds began, and then his dismaying withdrawal into himself. ….

Later, reflecting on what I had seen, I decided that this desperation was due to causes far deeper than anxiety over Pakistan’s territorial and economic difficulties. I think that the tortured appearance of Mr. Jinnah was an indication that, in these final months of his life, he was adding up his own balance sheet. Analytical, brilliant, and no bigot, he knew what he had done.

Like Doctor Faustus, he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle he had been willing to call on all the devilish forces of superstition, and now that his new nation had been achieved the bigots were in the position of authority. The leaders of orthodoxy and a few “old families” had the final word and, to perpetuate their power, were seeing to it that the people were held in the deadening grip of religious superstition.


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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Books


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Where do we go from here?

 My post Oh History! My History! ( )

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’.

  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…>
Date: Jul 12, 2:58 am
Subject: Where do we go from here?
To: discuss-invadingthesacred

Dear Srinivasarao

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.


 Sreenivasarao s


This was the reply received from the Editors

  TS Team <>   hide details 2:54 am (4 hours ago) reply-to to discuss-invadingthesacred <> dateJul 13, 2007 2:54 AM subject[discuss-invadingthesacred:34] Re: Where do we go from here?

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
are important


There have been discussions in Group. You can read the detailed discussions at(

 The following are excerpts from the comments made by some members of the Group

Krishen Kak <> 

 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.         


Krishen Kak

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.  


Gautam sen

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.


Lalitha vaidyanathan

 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.


Tavleen Singh   

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?


Sanjeev Nayyar

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

Smita Deshmukh

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.


 V. Balachandran

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

 Possible impacts

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.

 Concluding thoughts

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


Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Books, History


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Bharatha Varsha and Bharathas


Traditionally the Indians, while in India, in their daily prayers, identify themselves as those residing in Bharatha_Varsha (the land of Bharatha), located to the South of MountMeru in the Jambu_Dvipa. Then, they go on to specify their location within the subcontinent.

What does this mean?


1. Cosmology

According to the cosmology projected in the books of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, the planet Earth consists seven islands (Saptha Dweepa vasundhara). One of those islands is Jambu_Dvipa (RoseAppleIsland) also known as Sudarshanadvipa.

Markandeya Purana says, Jambu_Dvipa is depressed on its south and north; elevated and broad in the middle. The elevated region forms the Ila-vrta or Meruvarsa. At the center of Ila-vrta lies the MountMeru.


The noted scholar Dr. Vasudeva S Agarawala, mentions in his work– Indian Art (A History of Indian Art from the earliest times up to the third century A.D) :


2. Location

Some attempts have been made , though not satisfactorily , to identify the zones(varshas) and the extent of the Jambu_Dvipa, by taking a clue from the details of mountain ranges, valleys and river systems and other geographical features of Jambu_Dvipa provided in Bhishmaparva of the Mahabharata and in other Puranas.

According to one of those interpretations , Jambu_ Dvipa is a huge land mass of South Asia comprising the present day Indian Subcontinent, Tibet , Egypt , Mesopotamia , Syria and Corinth( near main land Greece).

Sanjaya said:  ‘Stretching from east to west, are these six mountains that are equal and that extend from the eastern to the western ocean.

 They are Himavat, Hemakuta, the best of mountains called Nishadha, Nila abounding with stones of lapis lazuli, Sweta white as the moon, and the mountains called Sringavat composed of all kinds of metals.  These are the six mountains, O king, which are always the resorts of Siddhas and Charanas. The space lying between each of these measures a thousand Yojanas, and thereon are many delightful kingdoms. And these divisions are called Varshas, O Bharata.

This (the land where we are) is in the Varsha that is called after Bharata.. Next to it (northwards) is the Varsha called after Himavat. The land that is beyond Hemakuta is called Harivarsha, South of the Nila range and on the north of the Nishadha is a mountain, O king, called Malyavat that stretches from east to west.

Beyond Malyavat northwards is the mountain called Gandhamadana.  Between these two (viz., Malyavat and Gandhamadana) is a globular mountain called Meru made of gold. Effulgent as the morning sun, it is like fire without smoke.   It is eighty-four thousand Yojanas high, and, O king, its depth also is eighty-four Yojanas. It standeth bearing the worlds above, below and transversely.

Besides Meru are situated, O lord, these four islands, viz., Bhadraswa, and Ketumala, and Jamvudwipa otherwise called Bharata, and Uttar-Kuru which is the abode of persons who have achieved the merit of righteousness. Bhishma Parva – Section vi

11 tasya pārśve tv ime dvīpāś catvāraḥ saṃsthitāḥ prabho/    bhadrāśvaḥ ketumālaś ca / jambūdvīpaś ca bhārata /  uttarāś caiva kuravaḥ kṛtapuṇyapratiśrayāḥ – The Mahabharata in Sanskrit-Book  6-Chapter 7

It is surmised that Ila varsha and Meruvarsha, refer to the mountainous regions around the Pamirs and parts of north-east Afghanistan. MountMeru (or Sumeru) is identified with the vast Nagard Sarovar in the center of the modern Pamirs in Central Asia.

indian cosmology2

The concept of Jambu_Dvipa is present not merely in Hindu Puranas but also in Indian literature, history and in edicts.

3.Buddhist tradition

The Buddhist tradition also accepts the geographical concept of Jambu_Dvipa and places it south of Sumeru. It believes Jambu_Dvīpa is shaped like a triangle with a blunted point facing south.

The Buddha once remarked that the people of Jambu_Dvípa excel those of both Uttarakuru and Tavatimsain in three respects – courage, mindfulness and religious life. The Uttarakuru referred to by the Buddha might be the Kuru region mentioned in the Rig-Veda, It might even be the region to the north of Pamirs. There are a number of views on the probable location of Uttarakuru. As regards Tavatimsain, very little is known about it and there are not many guesses either.

In the later Buddhist texts, the connotation of the term Jambu_ Dvipa became more restricted. It came to mean only the Indian subcontinent and did not include even Sri Lanka. The Síhaladípa or Tambapannidípa (alternate names for Sri Lanka in Pali) were mentioned separately from Jambu_dípa.

Further, the Emperor Ashoka introduced himself to the people of Sri Lanka as Devanam Priya (Beloved of Gods) hailing from Jambu_Dvipa, referring to main land India. Incidentally, the modern Sinhalese word for India is Dhambadiva, perhaps related to the Pali name for India, Jambudiipa. One of the other names for India in Buddhist literature is Indravardhana.

The Buddhists divided Jambu_Dvípa into three circuits or mandalas, for the guidance of their itinerant monks. The first circuit Mahámandala (greater circuit) extended over nine hundred leagues and the Majjhima (middle circuit) extended over six hundred leagues. The perambulation of both circuits was expected to be completed, each , in nine months time; while that of the Antima (final circuit) of over three hundred leagues was to be completed in seven months time.


B. Bharatha _Varsha

1.Location and Extent

According to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain texts, the Bharata Varsha, the land of Bharatha, located in Jambu_Dvipa, lies to the South of Sumeru. However, the extent of Bharatha Varsha varies from text to text and from tradition to tradition.

Markandeya Purana describes Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Kailasa to kanyakumari; while Vishnu Purana mentions Bharatha Varsha as The country (var ṣam) that lies north of the ocean and south of the snowy mountains, where the descendants of Bharata dwell.

uttaraṃ yat samudrasya himādreścaiva dakṣiṇam  varṣaṃ tadbhārataṃ nāma bhāratī yatra santatiḥ

Further, it extols the virtues of Bharatha Varsha and says, “Bharata is the most excellent division of Jambudvipa, for this is the land of action, while the others are places of enjoyment.” Bharata Varsha is designated karmabhumi.


Manu gives a beautiful and a lyrical description of Bharaha Varsha and mentions its various divisions. This is how Manu describes, “The land between the rivers Sarasvati and the Drishadvati, is called Brahmavarta. Beyond it, the land of the five rivers up to the Mathura region is called Brahmarshi Desha. The land between Vinashana (the place of disappearance of the Sarasvati River in the desert) and Prayaga and Vindhya, is Madhya Desha (Central Land). Finally, the land bounded by the mountain of Reva (Narmada), the Eastern Sea ( Bay of Bengal ) and the Western Sea is Arya Desha. This is the land where the black-skinned deer roam freely.”

sarasvatī-dṛśadvatyor devanadyor yad antaram /
taṃ devanirmitaṃ deśaṃ brahmāvartaṃ pracakṣate // Mn_2.17 //
tasmin deśe ya ācāraḥ pāramparyakramāgataḥ /
varṇānāṃ sāntarālānāṃ sa sadācāra ucyate // Mn_2.18 //
kurukṣetraṃ ca matsyāś ca pañcālāḥ śūrasenakāḥ /
eṣa brahmarṣideśo vai brahmāvartād anantaraḥ // Mn_2.19 //
etad deśaprasūtasya sakāśād agrajanmanaḥ /
svaṃ svaṃ caritraṃ śikṣeran pṛthivyāṃ sarvamānavāḥ // Mn_2.20 //
himavadvindhyayor madhyaṃ yat prāg vinaśanād api /
pratyag eva prayāgāc ca madhyadeśaḥ prakīrtitaḥ // Mn_2.21 //
ā samudrāt tu vai pūrvād ā samudrāc ca paścimāt /
tayor evāntaraṃ giryor āryāvartaṃ vidur budhāḥ // Mn_2.22 //
kṛṣṇasāras tu carati mṛgo yatra svabhāvataḥ /
sa jñeyo yajñiyo deśo mlecchadeśas tv ataḥ paraḥ // Mn_2.23 //

Kautilya, the author of Artha Shastra, mentions Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretches from Himalayas to Kanyakumari; and, he also called it Chakravarthi Khsetra, the land of the Emperor.

An epigraph of Kharavela (209 – 179 B. C?) who ruled over the region of the present day Orissa, found in Hathigumpha (near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa) uses the nomenclature of Bharatha Varsha.

The Hindu and Buddhist texts (vinaya) of later ages, described Bharatha Varsha as composed of five zones, namely the Madhya Desha ( the Middle Country), Purva Desha (the Eastern region), Dakshinapatha (the South), Aparanta or Praticya (the Western region) and Uttarapatha or Udicya (the Northern region). This zonal system was in vogue even in the Maurya period (322 BC to 125 BC).The maurya Empire was the largest and most powerful Empire of ancient India. It stretched from Assam to Khandahar; and from Himalayas to Tamil Nadu.

A similar Zonal system is now in India today too. (For more on Zonal systems consult a national cricket selector!.)


ancient bharatha

The different stages of Bharatha _Varsha as given in ancient literature represent various stages in the process of extension of the occupied or known areas of the country, during its history. Its shape is described variously at various stages. The changes represent the dynamics of the times.

A famous passage in Bhisma Parva of Mahabharata describes the shape of Bharatha Varsha. It views Bharatha as an equilateral triangle, divided into four smaller equal triangles, the apex of which is Kanya_ kumari and the base formed by the line of the Himalaya Mountains.

The famous historian Radha Kumud Mookerji remarked,” the shape corresponds very well with the general form of the country, if we extend the limits of India to Ghazni on the north-west and fix the other two points of the triangle at Cape Comorin and Sadiya in Assam.”

The Markandeya Purana is quite specific about the shape of the country. Its configuration is that of a bow in which the Himalaya is like the stretched string of the bow with the quill of the arrow at the peninsular area of the south. It is said to extend into a triangle with its transverse base in the north.

According to Buddhist tradition, Jambudvīpa (subcontinent) is shaped like a triangle with a blunted point facing south.

[ It is said; the subcontinent may be imagined to be in the shape of a Diamond; with its top (Northern end) being slightly broad and blunt; and, tapering to a point at its Southern end, jutting into the Indian Ocean.

The Northern borders of India dominated by Himalayan Mountain Ranges and the Hindu Kush, adjoin the rest of Asian continent.

From these magnificent Mountain Ranges down flow an array of streams feeding the mighty Indus and Gangetic Rivers. These River Systems, as also the range of mountains at the middle of the sub-continent, mark the separation of the Indo-Gangetic plain from the large Deccan (Southern) plateau of the Peninsular India.]

India Map

3.The name

The Sanskrit word Bhāratha is a derivation of bharata. The root of the term is bhr-, “to bear / to carry”, with a literal meaning of “to be maintained”. The root bhr is cognate with the English verb to bear and Latin ferō.

Interestingly, the term Dharma, which is the core concept of Indian values, is derived from the root dhr, meaning – to uphold or to nourish. Both the terms Bharatha and Dharma, eventually signify that which supports universal order or the orderly existence of the individual in life.

The first Article of the Constitution of the Republic of India states, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states.” Thus, India and Bharat are equally official short names for the Republic of India. The name Hindustan was used in historical contexts, especially in British times.

Bharatha Varsha was not always called by that name. Its earlier name was Aja_nabha_Varsha. Before that, it was Himavath Pradesha. Why did it become Bharatha Varsha? Who was this Bharatha?

To know that, we have to go back to Swayambhu Manu, the progenitor. His son was Priyavarta, a great monarch. His son was Agni_dhara. His son was Ajanabha also called Nabhi. Ajanabha was a very virtuous and a noble king. During his reign, the land came to be known as Ajanabha_Varsha. Ajanabha’s son was the great Rsabhadeva. . He was a saintly king. Rsabha renounced the kingdom in favor of his son Bharata and became an ascetic. Bharatha was one of the most pious and noblest of Monarchs of his line. He nourished and nurtured his subjects righteously. During his time, the land that was until then called Aja_nabha_Varsha came to be known, as Bharatha Varsha – ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयते. It has been so since then. Ajanabha (Nabhi), Rsabha and Bharatha figure prominently in the Jain tradition.

What we call Bhatatha Varsha or Bharatha is named after a very virtuous and noble king Bharatha. The best we (who are born and who reside in his land) can do is to be worthy of his name.

Obviously, in the olden days being born in Bharath was a matter of pride. In the Gita, Krishna often refers to Arjuna as Bharatha, the noble one.(For more on the name of India please visit

Over the centuries the name of Bharatha Varsha, its shape and its extent have changed many times. Whatever is its present name, either borrowed or assigned; whatever the extent of its boundaries is; the concept of India that is Bharath has survived as a many dimensional splendor; even amidst the encircling chaos. It has always been a nation. India has held on to its pluralism, its democratic way of life and its basic values; despite strife, contradictions and endless diversities. This is no mean achievement. It is for these reasons we call it, the Miracle that is India.




Rig Veda mentions the tribe of Bharathas several times.

The Rig Veda has a certain geographical horizon. It projects a land of seven great rivers bounded by several oceans and many mountains. It mainly shows the geographical sphere of the Bharatas and their neighbors. Accordingly, Rig Veda mentions that Bharathas ruled the land that spread over the banks of the rivers Parushni ( Ravi ) and Vipasa ( Beas ).

The Purus and in particular the Bharatas among them, are the main Vedic Aryans of the Rig Veda.

2. Battle of Ten Kings (dāśarājñá)

The seventh Mandala of Rig-Veda treats “The Battle of Ten Kings”, fought between the Puru clan and the Turvasha/Drihyu/Anu clans, rather elaborately. There is a view that it was a battle between Aryans and non-Aryans. I however, do not, subscribe to that view. All of those kings involved in the battle –Puru, Turvasha, Druhyu and Anu were the sons of Yayathi who in turn was the son of Nahusha. It was a intra clan fighting.

3.Bharatha son of Dushyanta

Bharathas were a clan among the Purus. The Purus prospered in the North and strengthened the Chandra vamsha (Moon Dynasty). Many generations later into this, clan was born Bharatha son of Dushyanta. The great poet Kalidasa in his epic Abhignana Shakuntalam immortalized the love of Dushyanta and Shakuntala.

Bharatha son of Dushyanta is NOT the Emperor Bharatha whom we discussed earlier and after whom Bharatha _Varsha is named. As per the chronology listed in Vishnu Purana, Bharatha son of Dushyanta appears thousands of years after Emperor Bharatha son of Rshabha. Pandavas and Kauravas are decedents of Dushyanta/Bharatha but are several generations removed from them.

Thus, the Bharatha Tribe of dāśarājñá is far removed from Emperor Bharatha son of Rshabha.


Please read On Arya , Aryan , Sarasvathi and other issues that complement the above post.

Jambu-dweep of Love



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History, Rigveda


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Sindhu- Hindu- India


In paragraph, two of my post “Greece and India before Alexander” I mentioned about the origin of the word India. Please click here.

2. Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor. In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia .

With reference to the above, I received a message, from someone who read the post, saying that the word is a corruption of a corruption and India owes much to outsiders.

I have thought about the remark and this is what I have to say.

It is a fact that the word ” India ” is of foreign origin but this does not mean ,the very idea of an Indian nation is a contribution by outsiders.

There are many countries, as I know, bearing names of foreign origin. This is because of historical reasons. This does not in any way take away the identity of those nations or the nationalities of their people. These nations continue to bear the names given to them, with pride, and function as the honoured members of the International community. Let me cite a few examples.

  • France: The French are descendants of the ancient Gaulish people, who spoke languages that belonged to the Celtic family. The Gauls were conquered by Rome; and when Rome itself was taken over by Germanic people, the Gaul came under the influence of the Germanic Franks. The Franks gave their name to the country and called it France. Now, France has a language that had its origin in Latin and the people of France, largely, are of Celtic race. However, no one can sanely argue that French nation   owes its existence to Germany.
  • Germany: The word Germany   is of Latin origin and the Germans call their nation “Deutschland”. Hardly any non-Germans use this name. Germany is also known as Allemagne (after the name of a Germanic tribe). The Arabs and Iranians use this word.
  • Great Britain: Bulk of the British population speaks English, a Germanic language. However, the name “Britannia” celebrated in songs and legend by English poets is a Celtic name.
  • Basques: The French popularized the term ‘Basque’, but the Basques call themselves Euskera.
  • Similarly, America is named after an Italian. Spain takes its name from a Carthaginian word for “rabbit”.
  • I think Finland and a few East European countries like Armenia , Georgia also have their names derived from languages foreign to them. (I am not very certain about the exact details in these cases).

There may be number of other countries, that I may not be aware of, bearing names that either were derived from a foreign language or were given to them by outsiders.

The substance of my argument is, a nation’s identity does not depend merely on the name by which it is called. What matters is whether that single term can adequately capture its  ‘identity’. The term itself can be native or foreign.

Similarly, in the case of India too the terms ‘India/Hindu/Indus’ may not be of Indian origin. That alone does not mean, India has no culture of its own or the notion of India does not exist or that India owes its existence to outsiders etc.

No matter how the name India originated, India is a well-defined nation having a history, culture and identity of its own, like any other nation in the International community.


After posting the blog I came across a wonderful web site that says most countries of the world have different names in different languages and that some countries have also undergone name changes for political or other reasons.

This web page gives all known alternative names for all nations, countries and sovereign states. Try this link .It is really good.


Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian termHindu became the Greek Indos/ (plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia.

This view is supported by the observations made by the Supreme Court of India .

The Supreme Court of India while dealing with the case  “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal” in the matter of the Ramakrishna Mission’s petition to be declared a non-Hindu, minority religion under the Indian constitution, discussed the term Hindu and also identified Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism. The petition was denied. The court determined that the RK Mission is Hindu and there is no religion of “Ramakrishnaism” as claimed by them.

(For full text of the ruling please see )


Generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu.


There is also a judicial definition of Hinduism.

The following are the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the term Hindu:


(27). Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our inquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of `the word `Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indo-logists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived form the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. `That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia , through the mountain passes into India , settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called theIndus ). The Persian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brother Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus `Indoi’.

 (28). The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described `Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p.686). As Dr. Radhakrishan has observed: `The Hindu civilization is so called, since it original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus ) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab . This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of the Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p.12]. That is the genesis of the word `Hindu’.


The Supreme Court of India discussed in detail the nature of Hinduism, citing several references and authorities. While laying down the characteristics of Hinduism, This is what the Hon. Court observed:

Features of Hindu religion recognized by this Court in Shastri Yaganapurushdasji (supra) as coming within its broad sweep are these:

(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.

(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

(vi) Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.

(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.



 Hinduism is a way of life.Some consider Sanatana Dharma (The Eternal Way) to be a better nomenclature as it represents those spiritual principles that are eternally true; in this sense it represents the science of consciouness. Hinduism is unique among religions in neither being polytheistic or monotheistic, but one with a universal vision.Dr. Radhakrishnan calls Hinduism a movement not a position; a process not a result; a growing tradition not a fixed relevation . There is therefore always a possibility of further development.The indian way is a process of balanced growth.It is a balance between tradition and change.

This does not mean that Hinduism has neither form nor certainty. Far from that; it is a vibrent, dynamic , living faith which has an ethos of its own.

Hinduism is neither fanatical nor undefined , as J commented.

I agree with V V Raman that those who “contrive spurious history to add even greater glory to their past” be they Western or Indian deserve to be condemned.


As regards ITS, the book has served a purpose. It has given a wake up call.

It is an important step but only the first step.

They have left it to the enterprise of individuals, families and social groups to devise appropriate methods to preserve and propagate true versions of our history, culture and religion. We therefore have a task on our hands. The least we can do is to have wider public debate in all the forms of media, social groups and academia. If there is no wider debate on the major concerns of the book then its aspiration remains largely unfulfilled.

There is a mistaken belief that anyone who speaks of Hinduism is a fundamentalist. The apathy of the “secular minded” to join the debate is on the belief that it relates to religion. But the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem. Discussions and arguments are critically important to carry forward the agenda of the ITS.

I find no mention, reference let alone debate about the book in the print or electronic media in India .The reach of its appeal is presently limited to a few blog sites; and within those sites confined to a couple of small groups. Even here, I cannot help feeling that the discussions have been rather patchy.  They are highly repetitive, highlighting often repeated quotes from the book. Hardly any thought was expressed about what we need to do next? How do we carry forward the agenda? In addition, we have the points made out by Mr. Raman. The discussions did not also take into account the “Purva Paksha”.

The writings by some westerns cited in ITS is a symptom. The malady goes much deeper and has its roots in India ; in its schools, textbooks, Research organizations, Universities and in the “safe” set of historians patronized by the Govt.

It therefore  takes  a 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?”. A well thought out long term strategy involving various segments of the academia, the Research Organizations, the Government and intellectuals looks inevitable. There are no quick fixes here. We have to have a road map or a vision.

The efforts at home to preserve the culture need to be supplemented supported and nurtured by organized exercises at schools, Universities, Research organizations and social groups. It would be a blessing if the best of our young minds take up and pursue studies in our History and culture. Because it is here our perceptions of History, culture and religion get defined, acquire a broader appeal and get propagated. It is here that myth and “nonsense” as Raman said, gets weeded out .The important break through, if any, should logically appear in the organized sector. The families can protect and nurture the values. But they need a space to grow in the outer world. Else, our young ones will live in a zone of confusing and conflicting identities.

While on the subject of Hinduism in Universities, I wish to reproduce a passage from Mark Tully’s book India’s unending journey, which makes a significant observation on  teaching of Hinduism in western universities :”( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational- or in the departments concerned with studying India as an area , which gives the impression it is peculiarly Indian and so irrelevant to western thinking…. Indian philosophers haven’t helped to improve matters, as many of them spend their time trying to identify the points at which their philosophy meets western philosophy rather than promoting an understanding on its own terms.”


Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in History and culture?

Addressing these questions, sanely, is not an easy task. The debate is likely to generate more heat than light. We have the “secular “experts who equate everything Indian with Hindu and shoot it down. We have also the exhilarated ones who over adulate everything Hindu and ancient. While the Establishment will predictably be cautious and timid. Can we strike a Golden Mean? How do we project our History in the best light in a balanced manner?

Any further debate on ITS would be purposeful only in case it addresses issues concerning : carrying forward the agenda; re structuring the way Indian History, culture and religion is written , taught and studied at the advanced levels; and how the cultural values are preserved and nurtured in our homes.

In any case, the least we can do is to initiate spread of awareness, broaden the debate and carry it forward in  forums like these , in social/informal groups and toenlarge the debate over a broader community.

Please also see the Comments received from Mr. Raman and Mr. de Nicolas

Message received from VV

Dear Dr. Rao:

Thank you for your insightful comments.

Here are some thoughts on some of them.

1. Hindu’s wouldn’t really care to just “follow” some “vision” laid out by the Book team.

Well said. However, having recognized and exposed in detail a problem, it does not hurt to suggest some positive solutions.

Fair enough, that was not the intent of the book. So, now perhaps it is time to discuss these.

Then again, it is important to discuss two quite different, though in some ways interrelated questions:

(a) How do we change the negative perceptions and portrayals (intended or not) of Hinduism in the Western world?

(b) How do we enrich, enhance, and create more positive understandings and more enlightened practices of Hinduism within the Hindu world, both in India and beyond?

2. Absolutely. You may recall what I said in my reflections on the book: “Unfortunately, those who speak for the tradition are sometimes caricatured as mindless fundamentalists wearing trousers instead of saffron robes, and skeptical non-traditionalists are sometimes looked upon as unwitting agents of the colonizers, pathetic victims of Thomas Babington Macaulay, by their respective ideological adversaries. Mutual name-calling only hurts the larger cause.”

3This is an extremely important point, and needs to be fully analyzed. It is a fact, for the good or for the bad, that Hindu culture – like the Islamic – is still intricately intertwined with religion, as used to be the case in the West also. The decoupling of culture and religion began in the West only in the 18th century, with some very positive and some very negative consequences.

4. But, the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem.>

Very good point. But it is important to realize that the whole book is  in the context of Hinduism as written about by a handful of Western scholars, which is very relevant and important no doubt. But the book can also serve to provoke greater self-examination among thoughtful Hindus, ignoring Western perceptions of what we may or may not be.

5Excellent point. Just what I said above.

6. As to Mark Tully’s observation, “( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational-…”

Hinduism IS a religion, so there is nothing wrong in this. But it need not give the impression of being Any religion CAN be taught without making it seem irrational.

7. < Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in Indian philosophy, History and culture?>

 It seems to me that in the modern world (i.e. if the young are subjected to courses on science and mathematics, history and literature), this can only be done if and when culture, history, and philosophy are secularized, i.e. decoupled from religion. This is not to say that we should neglect or abandon our religion. But religion (as most Hindu sages knew) is an experiential aspect of being fully human. It is not for analytical inquiry and rational dissection. Meditation is different from metaphysics. Reciting the Gita is different from analyzing it. Engrossed in divine music (bhajans) is different from taking the puranas literally.

Unless we study the Vedas as poetry, the Upanishads as philosophy, and grand epics as literature, we cannot make them relevant, meaningful, and enriching to modern minds.

This is the challenge.

V. V. Raman

July 21, 2007


Great the end of your comment. It is a  shame philosophy
departments do not hold Hindu texts…I was one of the few able and
willing to teach in the Philosophy Department at Stony Brook and my
many books are philosophical. Very different from what is offered in
Religious studies. Prof, Raman, bring the discourse through
philosophical search.
Antonio de Nicolas

July 20, 2007

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your response .As you mentioned, tagging or assigning a name to this religion or the way of life is an elusive exercise. The name Hinduism coined as an operative term points at a much larger entity but does not exactly stand for it. The earlier names “Brahmanism” or “Vedic religion” might have served a similar purpose. Megastenese though mentions Brahmins and Sramanas does not mention the name of any religion.

I sometimes wonder whether even in the distant past it ever had a specific name or  did it needed one, perhaps because of the absence of a rival .It is also plausible that “Vedic religion” was a branch of a “ mother religion” , if there was one.

Buddha does not name, refer to or attack the religion of the day though he criticizes the Brahmanic attitude, the rituals and discourages ungainly speculations.

He sometimes refers to his disciples by their sect as Brahmins or Kshatrias. He addresses some of them by their Gotra like Vaccha (Vatsa), Kaashyapa, and Maudgalya etc. Some of the disciples address the Buddha by his Gotra-Gautama.

Buddhism did not start as a religion. The Buddha intended to offer true interpretations of the Dharma. (That perhaps was how the religion of the day was named.) It started as a free-thinkers- moment that attracted the seekers and the lay intellectuals, in much the same way as the Ramakrishna moment did at a much later time. During the Buddha’s time it was not a religion yet; the rituals related to births, deaths and weddings were presided over by the Brahmin priests. The Buddhist rituals and practices (vinaya) were collated from the teachings and the incidents in the Buddha’s life at a much later time, after his death.

What set apart the Buddhism and other school of thought (like Charukavas et al) from the main stream of the day was their stand on the relevance and on the authority of the Vedas.

It was this factor, again, that largely guided the Supreme Court of India in listing some criteria for Hinduism while handing down the ruling in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case, which I reffered to in my earlier mail.While drawing up the criteria for indetifyong Hinduism the Court relied heavily on the views of Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan that stressed tolerance, universality and a search for a fundamental unity as the virtues of Hinduism. It also reliedon B.G. Tilak’s view: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.”Even in the earlier case (Yagnapurushdasji)the “acceptance of the Vedas” was a key element in the court’s decision.

Incidentally the Seventh in the list pf criteria leaves me a little perplexed. It reads ”Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such”. This in a way sums up the position but at the same time appears to knock down the earlier six criteria.

Perhaps it is because of this view ( of not being tied down to any definite set of concepts)  that many say “The term ‘ism’ refers to an ideology that is to be propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such ‘ism’. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any ‘ism’”


In any case Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of Indiaand the suffix is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting “Hinduism”.

The criteria drawn up in the Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengalcase is a working rule evolved for a limited purpose. It cannot be construed as thedefinetion of Hinduism . Because Hinduism is described on variious occations depending on the context.Each time a “ context- sensitive” interpretation  has been put forth. For instance:

In the Indian Constitution, Explanation II appended to Article 25 says that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”

The Hindu Code Bill (which comprises four different Acts), too, takes an undifferentiated view of Hinduism: it includes anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew under ‘Hindu’ as a legal category.

Any reform movements, including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, were seen as merely different sects within Hinduism.


There are legal pronouncements that Hindus are Indian citizens belonging to a religion born in India. This means Buddhists, Sikhs or Parsis, even those who did not recognize themselves as Hindus, are to be considered Hindus.

 The Supreme Court of Indiadealt with the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ when used in election propaganda. The court came to the conclusion that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith. This clearly means that, by itself, the word ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ indicates the culture of the people of Indiaas a whole, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews etc.”

Here, the term somehow traveled a full circle and came back to Radhakrishnan’s view” ‘Hindu’ had originally a territorial and not creedal significance. It implies residence in a well-defined geographical area.”

All definitions so far have been “context -sensitive” (Ramanujan).

Coming back to the Buddha and Sri Ramakrishna, before I end, there is a remarkable similarity between the two greatest of men. Both spoke from experience. Both placed ones experience above scriptural authority and other modes of cognition. Both had a remarkably sane and expansive view of the religious experience. Both interpreted the existing Dharma in its true light and both did not intend to start a new religion or an Order. In both cases the disciples came to them in search of enlightenment and it was at their initiative the Sangha or the Missioncame into being. The life and teachings of both were recorded and propagated by their disciples in a remarkably similar manner. Neither master authored a book or a treatise.

 The reason Buddhism gained a wider reach and appeal was because of the Royal patronage it received in its formative years and the manner it spread among the populace. The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna largely came from the urban educated middle class. Their Missions were located in cities and the Master’s message was conveyed mainly through books addressed to the educated. The Ramakrishna Mission somehow came to be associated with the elite, at least out side of Bengal, though Sri Ramakrishna was a simple, lovable person accessible to all and came from a rural background. It took a while for the Sri Ramakrishna to become known in the rural parts out side Bengal.


 Buddha directed his disciples to teach “for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world,” and this his disciples did. Early Buddhist evangelism usually consisted of a pair of monks entering a village, going from house to house with their begging bowls until they had enough for the one meal they ate for the day. The monks would then return to the outskirts of the town, where they would often be followed by those who had been impressed by their demeanor and wished to talk with them. The monks would share what they knew, then move on to the next village. Most of the monks hailed from far flung rural areas. The rapid growth of Buddhism probably had much to do with the way the monks closely lived with the people and tended to their spiritual needs.

It is a privilege conversing with you.

Thank you for the response



Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, Hindu-Hindutva, History


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Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Indian oldirs in Paris WW2

Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Whenever the subject of World War –Two (WW2) comes up for discussion it invariably veers to and ends in the role played by the major powers like Germany, usa, uk, ussr etc. A number of other nations – big and small- that had no heart in the war were dragged into the cauldron by major powers, for a variety of reasons. The contribution made towards the war efforts by these reluctant warring nations was enormous. They suffered countless losses and untold misery in pursuit of someone else’s cause. Yet, their efforts, their contribution and their suffering have largely gone unnoticed and unacknowledged.

It would be far more interesting to talk of the role played by such reluctant warriors than to chew over the role of the inevitable major powers of WW2.Let us start with theIndia story. I invite the other members on the Forum to share their views on the reluctant involvement of sates like the states, the African states, and others.

1.India roped in

The undivided India was one of the nations that were sucked into the WW2 to serve the cause of the British Empire and the Allies, though it was not distressed by the causes that ignited the war.

British India was a key allied nation during the World War 2.The then India included the present day India , Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apart from the provinces directly ruled by the British there were a large number of Princely States within the British Raj that provided large donations to the Allies to combat the threat of Nazism and Fascism .India sent millions of troops to fight the Axis powers in South East Asia , North Africa and southern Europe.

2. Indian contribution not given due credit

The role of the Indian armed forces in World War II — including campaigns in the East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Iraq, Iran, the Vichy-controlled Levant, British Somaliland, Abyssinia, the Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Italy as well as duty in places like Greece, Cyprus, Aden, and Socotra Island — is often obscured because it is wrapped under the general description of “British” operations. The roles played by the European forces are well recorded and are accessible. However, the official history of Indian armed forces remains unfamiliar and is difficult to find.

3. The number of Indian men

When the Second World War broke out, not a single unit of the Indian Army was mechanized to respectable standards. Motorization was selective, and scales of weaponry extremely sparse. Nevertheless, the number of men that gave to the Allied Cause was 205,000 in1939; this number rose to 2,644,323 by 1945. The Indian soldiers were largely drawn from agricultural communities. Though the Indian heart was not in the war, the Indian war record is nevertheless impressive.

 4. Theaters of war

During World War II, the Army of under British command fought many battles on several fronts.

In the Western desert , in Eritrea ,and Italy ,the Indian forces engaged German and Italians .

-The Indian Divisions took part in the North Africa theatre against Rommel’s Afrika Korps. In the of Bir Hacheim, the Indian gunners played an important role by destroying the tanks of Rommel’s panzer divisions.

– the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions distinguished themselves in a series of hard-fought campaigns in the East African Campaign against the Italians in Somali-land,, Eritrea and Abyssinia, and then in Libya against the Germans. From North Africa the 5th  division was moved toIraq to protect its oil fields.

– The third (Indian) Motor Brigade badgered the Corps using trucks and machine guns

– Indian forces- consisting the fourth, 8th and 1oth Infantry Divisions and 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade   played a major role in liberating Italy from fascism. They fought the famous of Monte Casino and the torrid battle on the Gothic lane in late 1944 and 1945. The British Army of was the third largest Allied contingent in the Italian Campaign after the Us and British forces.

-The British eighth Army depended on the fourth Division of Indian Army to break the Axis formations

-In Malaya , Singapore and Burma, the Indian Army engaged the unstoppable Imperial Japanese in its drive through South-East Asia. The Chinese, the American, and the British formations could not repulse the Japanese. Then the 14th Division of the Indian Army- consisting one million men of which 700,000 were Indians- went on the counter offensive, swept the Japanese out of South-East Asia.
– The Indian Air Force fielded ten squadrons during World War 2. Flying in the China-Burma-India theatre, these squadrons carried out assault mission against Japanese troops stationed in Burma . It was because of the efforts of Indian Army the advance of Imperial Japan came to a halt.
– The Royal Indian navy ships were active in all theatres. HMIS sunk a Japanese raider

5. War causalities

As per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, total deaths in the Indian Army were 87,040 which included Army (79,326), Air Force (897), Navy (501),Merchant navy (6,114) and civilian deaths (193) .The wounded numbered 64,354; while the POWs were 79,489. Apart from these, the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA) suffered 2,615 dead and missing.

On top of these deaths came the deaths in the Bengal Famine of 1943 .It is estimated that the wartime pressures and failure to implement the ‘famine code’ resulted in the death of over five million  people due to starvation , malnutrition and related illnesses .

6. Exploitation by the British

The through widespread acquisition and use of raw materials, foodstuffs and resources produced by the Indians. The vital agricultural supplies of sisal, maize, wheat, tea, sugar, rubber, jute and cotton came from the Indian sub continent. In addition, although the British largely discouraged the development of industry in India , it nevertheless took advantage of India’s rich mineral wealth in bauxite, iron, steel, manganese, tin, coal, timber, and gold.

The British officials showed little or no concern for local interests as they instigated ruthless price controls, coerced colonial labor, and unapologetically dictated colonial economic policy.

Overall, the war exacted a heavy economic price on India, which diverted more than 80% of its annual budget to the war effort, and extensively shared the huge and intolerable economic cost of war.

7. The British Empire and Commonwealth in World War II:

Selection and Omission in English History Textbooks

( )

Mr. Stuart Foster, Institute of Education, University of London; in his remarkably candid paper has discussed how the text books in England are Anglo-centric centric and how they fail to give credit to the rich and diverse contributions of all races of the British colonies and their sacrifices in the struggle against the Axis powers during the WW Two.

He also goes on to document the exploitation, the racial discrimination and says how by disguising the true history of colonialism and by writing the black people out of British history, the official historians have marginalized and further oppressed the under privileged.

Mr. Foster’s paper is highly educative and interesting.

Indian oldirs in WW2


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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The cultural diversity of the Indian subcontinent

The diversity in the Indian cultural scene is not merely in its ethnic or racial composition. It is spread to every walk of life. Starting with geographical features and climatic conditions there are vast regional and intra regional differences. It is often said our strength lies in harnessing these diversities. Let us dwell on that.

1. Prof. Arnold Toynbee defines civilization as a pattern of interactions between challenges and responses. The challenges may come from different directions; say from environment or from social and cultural stresses. To these, the people living in a land mass over a great period of time develop their responses to ensure individual and collective survival. What is important in such situations is, the responses should always be individually satisfying and socially relevant. The web and warp of these responses and corrections, over a period, weave the cultural pattern of a society. The story of the Indian subcontinent is no different.

2. Bharatha Varsha

2.1. Indians in their daily prayers still refer to themselves as those belonging to the land -mass of Jambu-Dwipa (Sanskrit) a geographical area comprising the present day India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and Corinth. Within this vast stretch of land, Indians identify themselves as those residing in Bharatha Varsha. They call it a country situated to the north of the ocean and to the south of the Himadri, the snowy mountains, and where the descendants of Bharata (a distant ancestor of Rama) dwell.

2.2..Rig Veda mentions Bharathas ruled the land that spread over the banks of the rivers Parushni (Ravi) and Vipasa (Beas) .Kautilya (c. 350-283 BC), the renowned author of the Artha shastra, names Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretched from Himalaya to Kanyakumari ; he also called it Chakravarthi –Kshetra ( the land of the Emperor). An epigraph of Kharavela (209 – 179 B. C?) who ruled over the region of the present day Orissa, found in Hathigumpha (near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa) uses the nomenclature of Bharatha Varsha. There are, of course, innumerable references to Bharatha Varsha in various Puranas.

3. Composite Culture

3.1. Rig Veda often regarded as the source, if not the beginning, of Indian culture repeatedly refers to the composite character of its society and to its pluralistic population. The other ancient records also state that even from the early years of its history Bharatha Varsha, the Indian land mass, has been multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual. For instance , its society included , among others , Bhalikas ( the Balks) ,Kiratas( hill tribes), Bhotas ( Tibetans), Hunas (from Jungara),Sakas(Scythians),Parasikas ( from Persia), Airakas( from Iraq),Yavanas (from Iona), Maidas ( from Media) and Kambhojas ( from North western region ).

This composite culture was the result of continuous influx of people from other regions and a dynamic interaction with them.

4. The influx

4.1. The influx of foreigners continued down the ages. About 500 years B.C.E the Greeks, the Sakas (Scythians) came to India. The Persians have of course been a part of the Indo-Aryan heritage even from the times of the Rig Veda. In the early centuries before the present era, the Kushans from Central Asia entered through the North-West. In the first Century A.D., the Spanish Jews as also St.Thomas, the Apostle, reached the Malabar Coast in South of India. This process continued with the arrival of Huns in the fifth century, Arabs in the eighth century, and with the Mughals who invaded and settled in 15th century. Around the same period, Portuguese landed on the coast of their home. On the other side of the sub continent, the Mongoloid Shans entered Assam while Mongolians inhabited the upper tracts of the North. Thereafter the western traders such as the Dutch, the French and the British vied with each other to get a foothold in India. Eventually the British prevailed not only over its rivals but also over the native Indian rulers. The British Empire lasted in India for nearly a century thereafter. The continuous influx of foreigners over a long period rendered Indian scene complex and colorful.

5. Assimilation and Amalgamation

5.1. The much-hailed composite culture did not come easily. It demanded its price. The several foreign invasions and aggressions caused large-scale cultural stress. Indigenous populations were exposed to cultural and social influences that were altogether alien to them. They had to under go untold hardship and misery. There were long periods of political subjugation, economic exploitation and religious suppression and there was general degeneration in the quality of man and his life. The ordinary man in India was no longer at peace with himself, his age-old style of life was shaken rudely and his view of his fellow beings and life was confused .The process of assimilation and amalgamation spread over a long period is still going on. It is an on –going dynamic process.

5.2. A number of Scholars and various Commissions have studied the racial and social amalgamation in India.

Meghasthenes (350 B.C.E to 290 B.C.E) a Greek traveler and Geographer, in his book Indika wrote “It is said that ,India being of enormous size when taken as a whole, is peopled by races both numerous and diverse, of which not even one was originally of foreign descent, but all were evidently indigenous”. He gives a detailed classification of the ethnic groups in of his time. The racial groups described are too numerous to be mentioned here. Please check the following link

5.3. Among the other studies on the subject, in the recent past, the report of the British anthropologist Sir Herbert Hope Risley, the Census Commissioner for India in 1901, is fairly well known.

Let me add a word of caution here; Risley’s theories and classifications are now only of historical interest. The Government of India and the National Census of independent India do not recognize any racial groups in India. The erstwhile group names are generally considered as linguistic terms, rather than ethnic terms.

[The leading exponent of “race science” in India was H. H. Risley (1851–1911), a British ethnologist who served in India in the Indian Civil Service from 1873 to 1910. Risley was the census commissioner in 1901, and after his retirement in 1910, he was elected president o f the (British) Royal Anthropological Institute.

Following the anthropo-metric techniques of the French anthropologist Paul Topinard, Risley used a “nasal index” (a ratio of the width of a nose to its height) to divide Indians into two races—a dark-skinned Dravidian race and a fair-skinned Indo-Aryan race.

Using this nose science, he proved (to his own satisfaction and that of con-temporaries) the existence of a seven-caste racial hierarchy in India, with Dravidians at the “primitive” bottom and Indo-Aryans at the “civilized ” top.

 “The social position of a caste,” he once said, “varies inversely as its nasal-index” (Trautmann). Race, not occupation, he concluded, was the true basis of the Indian caste system. For late 19th-century “race-scientists” such as Risley, this type of physiological measurements served to confirm the distinct racial essences they believed existed within the Indian population (and more generally in the larger world)


H. Risley drew his ideas on nose measurements from the work of a contemporary, 19th-century French scholar Paul Topinard. Writing in his 1885 Elements of General Anthropology (Élémentsd’anthropologie générale),  Topinard developed a “nasal index” (a ratio of the breadth of the nose to its height) that enabled him to classify noses (and their owners) into a series of nose types.

Risely nose Index

Narrow noses, said Topinard, characterized the Europeans (types 1 through 5); medium noses characterized the “yellow races” (type 6); and broad noses belonged either to Africans (type 7) or to Melanesians and native Australians (type 8).

(Paul Topinard,Éléments d’anthropologie générale, 1885)]


Risley’s account of racial characteristics of Indian population provides an interesting aspect of the composite nature of the Indian populace.

Turko-Iranian (the frontier provinces)

Indo-Aryan (punjab, Kashmir, Rajasthan)

Scytho-Dravidian (Madhya Pradesh, Saurastra)

Aryo-Dravidian (U.P, Rajasthan,Bihar)

Mangolo_Dravidian (Bengal,Orissa)

Mongoloid (Nepal,Assam,Himachal Region)

Dravidian (South India, M.P, Chota Nagpur)

Negrita (Kadars and Mala-pantarans of Kerala)
Proto-Austalaid (tribes)


6. Cultural Diversity

6.1. The reasons for cultural diversity may lie in the combination and interdependence of geographical, economic and ethnic factors. Toynbee’s thesis of the “challenge of environment” mentioned earlier, might explain to some extent why and how unique cultures developed in certain regions. This may even pertain to a region such as the Indian subcontinent.

6.2. The diversity in the Indian cultural is not merely in its ethnic or racial composition. It is in every walk of its life. Starting with the geographical features, climatic conditions, and the vast regional and intra regional differences one can go on to religion , customs ,attitudes, practices, language , food habits, dress , art , music , theatre and notice that no two regions are alike in these matters. Each group, each sub group has its own set of identities. Then, what is it that holds India together ?.

When the Indian nation was formed not many Western observers and academicians thought it would survive long because the land mass encompassed too many variables. The newborn nation tried to rope in a variety of people who spoke different languages, .who followed many faiths, who were culturally and racially divergent; and to bind them into a nation looked unnatural.

For instance Aldous Huxley, the famous thinker, wrote in 1961, “When Nehru goes, the government will become a military dictatorship—as in so many of the newly independent states, for the army seems to be the only highly organized centre of power”.

In the year 1967, The London Times wrote, “The great experiment of developing within a democratic framework has failed. (Indians will soon vote) in the fourth—and surely last—general election”.

These fears have, of course, been belied.

6.3 Mr. Ramachandra Guha, a scholar of modern day India, in his brilliant essay “The miracle that is India ” discusses the complexity of the Indian situation and comes up with his views on why India as a nation survives amidst apparent contradictions. I try to sum up his views briefly.

-The pluralism of religion was one cornerstone of the foundation of the Indian republic. A second was the pluralism of language. Linguistic pluralism has worked. Instead of dividing, as elsewhere in the world, it tamed and domesticated secessionist tendencies.

– It has sustained a diversity of religions and languages. It has resisted the pressures to go in the other direction, to follow by favoring citizens who follow a certain faith or speak a particular language.

– That unity and pluralism are inseparable in is graphically expressed in the country’s currency notes.Denominations on the Indian currency note are given not just in Hindi and in English but in all Indian languages

– The economic integration of is a consequence of its political integration. They act in a mutually reinforcing loop. The greater the movement of goods and capital and people across India, the greater the sense that this is, after all, one country

– As a modern nation, India is simply sui generis. It stands on its own, different and distinct from the alternative political models on offer—be these Anglo-Saxon liberalism, French republicanism, atheistic Communism, or Islamic theocracy

– One might think of independent India as being Europe’s past as well as its future. It is ‘Europe’s past, in that it has reproduced, albeit more fiercely and intensely, the conflicts of a modernizing, industrializing and urbanizing society. But it is also its future, in that it anticipated, by some 50 years, the European attempt to create a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, political and economic community

– The future of as a nation-state lies not in the hands of God but in the mundane works of its men women. So long as the Constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens can speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and—lest I forget—so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive

6.4. M. C. Chagla, a legal luminary and a statesman, said there is an Indian- ness and an Indian ethos, brought about by the communion and intercourse between the many races and many communities that have lived in this land for centuries. He said, there is an Indian tradition, which overrides all the minor differences that may superficially seem to contradict the unity. This, according to him, is what holds India together.

7. Unity in Diversity

Heinz Werner Wessler says India ’s traditional multi-cultural society that came into being in the pre-modern context, is probably the most important resource for a political and cultural vision of “Unity and Diversity”. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India’s first Prime Minister, often said India’s strength is “the unity in diversity”. While a majority accepts this motto, some lay stress on its inevitability. Because, they remark, the motto may imply to mean that while we recognizes the actually existing diversity we also appreciate the need for unity. Hence, they say, unity and diversity are not contradictory but complementary. At the same time, the modern state in principle always approves of diversity and looks for ways to enable minorities to identify themselves with the state as much as possible. This is a complex situation.

8. Concept of a Nation

8.1. Nations are, in the words of Ernest Renan, ultimately a consensus among people who wish to be included in a nation. Over the centuries, the notion of an nation has exerted a powerful influence on the peoples who make up India. However, it was not easy to turn it in to a reality because of several constraints. India was not a homogeneous country, by any classification. In addition, the boundaries of India changed very often. It was difficult to sustain the image of a nation since the four famous criteria of the State viz. land; people, government, and sovereignty were not always present. An amorphous feeling of belonging may bring together people of different culture, language, and even religion. However, that alone will not transform them into a nation. There has to be a political awareness of belonging to a single entity. That solidarity and commitment to the concept and reality of nation is essential. In India, the essentials for a nation did not materialize until recently.

8.2. Whatever may be the debate about political unity and cultural diversity in India, the fact is the diverse peoples of India have developed a peculiar type of culture far different from any other type in the world and have learned to live together as one people. This unity transcends the countless diversity of blood, color, language, dress, manners, sect et al.

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in General Interest, History


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