Saturday, August 13, 2022

Talageri’s RigVeda

(9 July 2022) This article is a very brief comment on the main position of Shrikant Talageri in his review of Jijith Nadumuri Ravi’s digestion of Talageri’s over-all Out-of-India thesis, and on Talageri’s sharpened position on the chronological layeredness of the RigVeda. Both can be found on Talageri’s blogspot: talageri.blogspot. com, on 19 Aug 2020: “The chronological gulf between the old RigVeda and the new RigVeda”; and on 10 March 2022: “A review of Rivers of the RigVeda by Jijith Nadumuri Ravi”. For all the details and references, see there. Talageri emphasizes throughout his work that the RigVeda (let alone the other Vedas and the ancillary literature) contains successive layers, as already pointed out by the late-19-century US and German Orientalists Edward Hopkins c.q. Hermann Oldenburg. This then allows for a chronological classification: with Family Books (2-7) at the ancientmost top, the books 1, 8, 9, 10 at the end, and further subdivisions like books 3, 6, 7 at the older extreme and book 10 at the youngest end, centuries later than the others. So far this seems uncontroversial enough, right? For whomever sees the Vedas as a key to history, a repository of factual data, this type of chronological division is a matter of course. We may still differ on which part precedes which other part, but it is only logical that in such a diverse corpus, age is only one of the factors of diversity. Yet it turns out that two very different groups object to it. One group is very large and its objections already old and deep-seated. The other group is small and its objections opportunistic. Millions of Hindu traditionalists feel very uneasy about this tinkering with their Vedas. Better to leave them in one piece. Even when they learn that for Talageri, this analysis of the Vedas happens to contribute to the demonstration of an east-to-west gradient, with the older parts proving more easterly and the later more westerly, thus disproving the Veda-belittling Aryan Immigration scenario, they still feel uncomfortable with it. In the traditional view, India was central; in the newer Immigrationist view, it was only an expansion zone of a culture centred outside of it; but in Talageri’s view it regains that centrality, or is at any rate freed from the stigma of being a foreign dependency. All true, yet they would rather be free from that modernist Immigrationism, in which they had never seriously believed anyway, without this self-abnegating exercise of cutting up their own scriptures. So, Talageri receives occasional hate mail from traditionalists, not seriously threatening but still unpleasant. Discovering temporal layers in the text means that it was not created at one go. Instead, it implies that the Old Books were already in existence while the final Book 10 was still totally unheard of. For ordinary creations this is but normal but is this also true for the Vedas? Well, the Vedic Sages themselves would not have been uptight about it. They formulated their poems as their own creation, of very human and temporal origin, directed to rather than received from the gods. They were neither believers in nor preachers of the entirely post-Vedic doctrine of a supernatural or Apaurusheya origin. But sclerotic adherents to the post-Vedic and quasi-Quranic doctrine of a divine origin, find it more logical that the Vedas were created all at the same time in heaven, waiting for an eternity until a Mantradrashta, a “seer of Vedic verses’, would captivate them. Just as the Quran has been waiting since creation until God cared to send it down through the Prophet. This belief seems to be a common weakness of the religious mind, which in Islam has made it into the core of the theology and in Hinduism at least in the customary assumptions of many. One can imagine that as the RigVeda got completed, enjoying the prestige of public declamations, institutions guaranteeing transmission, and a surrounding culture of auxiliary sciences (linguistics, astronomy, mathematics), people lifted it ever higher into the sky and started divinizing it. That is why many Hindus insist that there are no historical data in the RigVeda: no personal names, no rivers or mountains, certainly no names of battles. Then again, it is not a history book, but any book will off-hand give some details about its circumstances. This way, the RigVeda is, through its landscape names and technological level, fauna and flora, unambiguously an Indian Bronze Age text. This realization has percolated rather widely, and many traditionalists hold an unstable half-way position. Another consequence is that many Hindus like to trace their own Hindu Dharma back to the RigVeda. They think everything Hindu proceeds from the Veda. One example is yoga, which Western scholars deduce from other, older sources, rightly or wrongly. Here, Talageri strongly disagrees: the Vedic tradition is a creation of the Bharata clan, itself part of the Paurava tribe, itself part of the “five tribes” (two of whom he leads out of India where they become the ancestors of many nations), itself part of the people of the great patriarch Manu, a fundamental Hindu by any account. That is why he objects to Ravi’s attempts to derive all Hindu communities through migration from a Vedic Northwest. This goes down well with Veda-centric Hindus, but there is no indication of it. Not only is there no reason to assume that India was ever empty and in need of migrations, but there was no Vedic conspiracy behind all the Hindu sects either, regardless of where they are. Alright, so much for one very large demographic reluctant to accept the RigVeda as a historical product, resulting from intense human activity in Bronze-Age Northwest India. Another group tries to profit from the common belief in oneness of the entire RigVeda. Consider the chronological implications of the statement that “the RigVeda contains evidence of the spoked wheel”, with spoked wheels not predating, say 2300 BCE. Many still use this as an argument against a high chronology: the book can’t be older that this terminus postquem. So, Talageri makes a distinction: those references are in the tenth Mandala, which as the RigVeda’s youngest book may indeed be limited to that time bracket; but it can’t constrain the earlier books, which may well be a thousand years older. That is incompatible with the Aryan Immigration paradigm, hence the desire among some Immigrationists, otherwise modern and rational, to pretend that the Rigveda is a unit and that conclusions about its last book also count for its first book. Well, that sums it up. Scholars reluctant to face the revisionist consequences, will not keep the acceptance of history within and behind the RigVeda off for very long. The objections of the traditionalists may be a tougher nut to crack. But that has never prevented Shikant Talageri from being candid about where the evidence is leading us.
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Saturday, July 23, 2022

The Eminent Historians' guilt

(This is a never-published reaction to an article about archaeologist KK Muhammed correctly allotting the blame for the Ayodhya affair to the Eminent Historians; presumably KA Antony's "Left historians prevented resolution of Babri Masjid dispute, says KK Muhammed, former ASI regional head", First Post, 21 January 2016.) Last week a few marginal media reported that archaeologist KK Muhammad had a startling revelation on the responsability for the Ayodhya controversy and all its concomitent bloodshed. Young people may not know what the affair, in the years around 1990, was all about. So, briefly, Hindus had wanted to build proper temple architecture on one of their sacred sites, the Rama Janmabhumi or "Rama's birthplace". So far, the most natural thing in the world. However, a mosque had been built in forcible replacement of the temple that had anciently adorned the site: the Babri Masjid. Not that this should have been a problem, because the structure was already in use as a temple, and the site was of no importance to the Muslims. Unlike millions of Hindus, Muslims never go on pilgrimage there. So, Rajiv Gandhi's Congress government was manoeuvring towards a compromise allotting the site definitively to the Hindus all while giving some goodies to the Muslim leadership. This was not too principled, just pragmatic ("horse-trading"), but it had the merit of letting nature take its unimpeded course and allowing a Hindu shrine on a Hindu place of pilgrimage. And especially: it was bloodless. Unfortunately, this non-violent formula was thwarted. An unexpected factor came in between. It stimulated and hardened Muslim resistance and especially, it made politicians hesitant to move forward on Ayodhya. Though the contentious site had no special value for the Muslims, it suddenly became the Mecca of another influential community: the secularists. Not that they would go on pilgrimage there, they never move too far from their posh cocktail parties. But they made it the touchstone of secularism's resistance against "aggressive Hindu fundamentalism". As a weapon against Hinduism, and as a way to whip up Muslim emotion, they proposed the allegation that the Hindu claimants of the site had been using false history. They insisted that there had never been a temple at the site, and that what the Hindus targeted for replacement with a proper temple was an innocent mosque, now symbol of India's "composite culture". Then already, it was known from written testimonies (Muslim and European) and from BB Lal's partial excavations at the site that a major temple had existed at the site. Moreover, until the 1980s, the forcible replacement of the temple by the mosque had been a matter of consensus, as when a 19th-century judge ruled that of course a temple had been destroyed, but that after centuries it was too late to remedy this condition. The British rulers favoured an uneventful status-quo, but agreed that there had been a temple, as did the local Muslims during the trial. It is allowed for historians to question a consensus provided they have new evidence, which here they failed to produce. In a statement of 1989, JNU's "eminent historians", turned an unchallenged consensus among all parties into a mere "Hindutva claim". After that, the Indian mainstream politicians did not dare to go against the judgment of these authorities. The international media and India-watchers were also taken in and shared the hatred of these ugly Hindu history-falsifiers. Only, the Court-ordered excavations of 2003 have fully vindicated the old consensus: of course the temple remains were found underneath the mosque. Moreover, the eminences asked to witness in Court had to confess their incompetence one after another (as documented by Meenakshi Jain: Rama and Ayodhya, 2013): they had never been to the site, they had never studied any archaeology, etc. Abroad this news has hardly been reported, and experts who know it make sure that no conclusions are drawn from it. But for twenty years, the false and disproven narrative of the eminent historians has reigned supreme. No one has bothered to set the record straight. It is symptomatic for the power equation in India and in Indology that this is a repeating pattern. Thus, the identification of the Vedic Saraswati with the Ghaggar in Haryana had first been proposed in 1855, had been a consensus among scholars since then, but has recently been ridiculed by secularist academics and their foreign dupes as a "Hindutva concoction". For close observers, this news was not surprising. I had spoken on it in passing in my paper "The three Ayodya debates" (St-Petersburg 2011, available online), and in an interview with India First (8 Jan. 2016: "... the secular intelligentsia felt so self-confident that they could blow this issue out of all proportion. They could reasonably have taken the position that a temple was indeed demolished to make way for a mosque but that we should let bygones be bygones. Instead, they went out of their way to deny facts of history. Rajiv Gandhi thought he could settle this dispute with some Congressite horse-trading: give the Hindus their toy in Ayodhya and the Muslims some other goodies, that will keep everyone happy. But this solution became unfeasible when many academics construed this contention as a holy war for a front line symbol of secularism." But easy dismissals that are sure to be tried against me. They will be harder when the allegation comes from an on-site archaeologist, moreover a Muslim. The media had allotted an enormous weight to the Ayodhya affair: "Secularism in danger", "India on the brink" and similar headlines were daily fare. When the Babri Masjid was demolished by impatient Hindu youngsters on 6 December 1992, the Times of India titled its editorial: "A requiem for norms", no less. Given all the drama and moralistic bombast with which they used to surround this controversy, one would have expected their eagerness to report KK Muhammad's eyewitness account. But no, they were extremely sparing in their coverage, reluctant to face an unpleasant fact: the guilt of their heroes, the "eminent historians".
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Monday, June 6, 2022

Long-term fall-out of the Mahatma murder

(FirstPost, 27 May 2022) + The +topic of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948 still comes up regularly for discussion. Mostly this is +to embarrass the RSS and the party associated with it, the BJP, which was actually founded in 1980, that too as reincarnation of the Jan Sangh, wh+ich had equally been founded after the murder, in 1951. This then is the best-known long-term effect: the unrelenting allegation that anything s+melling of Hindu nationalism, and certainly the RSS, necessarily leads to such crimes. But are we missing something? + Chitpavan massacre The first conseque+nce of the murder was immediate: Godse’s own community, the Chitpavan Brahmins, was targeted for mass murder. The comparison with the mass kil+ling of Sikhs by Congress secularists after Indira Gandhi’s murder in 1984 is fairly exact, except that that massacre is well-known (even ecli+psing the memory of the larger number of Panjabi Hindus murdered by Sikh separatists in the preceding years) whereas this one has been hushed up.+ The New York Times first drew attention to it, reporting 15 killings for the first day and only for the city of Mumbai. In fact the killing we+nt on for a week and all over Maharashtra, with VD Savarkar’s younger brother as best-known victim. Arti Agarwal,+ who leads the research in “Hindu genocide”, estimates the death toll at ca. 8,000. On mass murders, estimates are often overdramatiz+ed, but here we must count with a countervailing factor: the Government’s active suppression of these data, as they would throw a negative li+ght on Gandhism. But research on this painful episode has now started in earnest, and those presently trying to get at the real figures include Sa+varkar biographer Vikram Sampath. Crackdown+ The secon+d consequence came right after: the Government’s crackdown on the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Their offices were closed down, their office-b+earers imprisoned for a year or so, their stocks of literature impounded. It clipped their wings for years to come. The Hindu Mahasabha lost it+s president Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, who went on to found the Jana Sangh. The HMS would never recover from this blow. Its last MP was to be Mahant+ Avaidyanath, best known as a leader of the Rama Janmabhumi movement and as Guru of present UP CM Yogi Adityanath, defected to the BJP in 1991.+ By cont+rast, the RSS did survive quite well, and even generated a whole “family” of like-minded organizations, including a new political party. In a nume+rical sense, it was to thrive; but in two other senses, it paid a high price. The t+hird consequence was a drastic change in the political landscape. After Partition, the Hindutva movement had the wind in the sails. All Cong+ressite assurances that warnings against Islamic separatism were mere British-engineered paranoia, had been refuted by reality. Gandhi’s pro+mise that Partition would only come over his dead body, had proven false. The new-fangled ideology of secularism stood discredited at its bi+rth. And yet, overnight, the Hindutva current was marginalized and Nehruvian secularism started its triumphant march. By his murder, Godse had s+mashed the window of opportunity of his own political movement. + Amputated backbone Finally, the fo+urth consequence would only materialize over the long term: the Hindu movement began to lose its defining convictions. Rather than continuing to +see India as an essentially Hindu nation, it bought into the secularist notion of a mere “Hindu community” juxtaposed to “minority communities” +that were endowed with equal rights and increasingly with privileges vis-à-vis the Hindus. When Jawahar+lal Nehru was widely criticized for having facilitated the Chinese invasion, the RSS halted the publication of a Nehru-critical serial by Sita Ram+ Goel in Organiser: Rather than clamouring that its guest author’s judgment of Nehru stood vindicated, it feared that if anything were to happen +to Nehru, the RSS would again get the blame. As the Gandhi murder had shown, it wasn’t necessary to be actually guilty to still incur the punis+hment, viz. by “having created the atmosphere” for the crime. The RSS bought into the secularist narrative that the Hindu ideology had caused t+he murder and started amputating its own ideological backbone. When in+ 1980 the BJP was founded, the party flag it adopted was significantly divided in orange and green, in the communal sense (no, not green for gr+eenery). Not only the nation was to be partly Islamic, but even the Hindu party itself. This prefigured Mohan Bhagwat’s 2018 statement that a Hindu Rasthra is not complete without Islam. The RSS founded within its ranks a Muslim Morcha, abandoning its founding belief in national unity for c+ommunal appeasement. It became the RSS family’s most successful member, not by spreading the national idea in the Muslim community but by serv+ing the latter’s sectional interests. Ind+eed, under Narendra Modi, minorityism, once the BJP’s bogeyman, became the party’s principle of governance. All kinds of schemes of state la+rgesse favour the minorities; no, not real minorities like Parsis and Jews, but the India chapters of the Christian and Muslim multinationals. I+n its publicity campaigns, the party boasts that it has done more for the minorities than Congress ever has. The 1990s’ eminently secular BJP slogan “Justice for all, appeasement of none” has been given up in favour of: “I am better at appeasement than you!” If Nathuram Godse had foreseen these consequences of the act he contemplated, he might have thought twice about going through with it. +
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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ayodhya, Mecca: same struggle! (What if Rama and Mohammed were born elsewhere?.)

(First offered to First Post on 19 May 2022, but deemed too controversial in view of the erupting Nupur Sharma affair; then published by Pragyata magazine, Delhi, on 7 July 2022) This week we’re not going to write about the Kashi Vishvanath, except for remarking that its claim to historicity is weaker than that of its counterparts in Ayodhya and Mathura. It is obvious that historical characters including Rama and Krishna, later deified but originally just human beings born from a womb like everyone else, had a birthplace. We can still argue about its location, but that some actual birthplace lurks somewhere is unavoidable. That Shiva sent down a Jyotirlinga to Kashi, however, will be dismissed by rationalists as just a story, a mere manner of speaking without any factual historical dimension. Just as they make fun of the belief that Yahweh sent down the Biblical Ten Commandments or that Allah sent down the Quran. For secular legislation regarding sacred sites, this possible absence of a solid foundation to these beliefs is totally immaterial. Places of pilgrimage are protected regardless of whether the reason for their sacredness can be proven. The Israeli government facilitates pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus supposedly lay buried, and to the Al-Aqsa mosque. Yet it is not impressed with the revelation of the Sepulchre’s location to Constantine’s mother Helena in a dream. Nor with the Islamic tradition that the Prophet flew to Al-Aqsa on a winged horse. The French governments, often militantly secularist, have had a good laugh at Catholic beliefs about the Virgin Mary’s apparitions in Lourdes, yet they facilitate a pilgrimage there. So, the fact that worshippers of Shiva, Rama and Krishna venerate specific sites in Kashi, Ayodhya and Mathura is enough for officially recognizing and protecting them. When? Nevertheless, historians still have the liberty to be curious about the factual basis of these beliefs. Regarding Kashi, they tend to consider the Jyotirlinga belief as outside history. Regarding Mathura, they see no reason to doubt the belief about Krishna’s birth. But regarding Ayodhya… In her recent book about the Ramayana, Sanskritist Neena Rai compares the measurements of the relevant sites and distances in Valmiki’s Ayodhya with those actually found in today’s Ayodhya. She opines that this may not be the same town. In my judgment, too hastily, for even Valmiki may have been mistaken. Apart from the trivial demythologizing option that he may have been wrong, or that as a forest-dweller he could only describe the city from hearsay, he may not have foreseen geographical changes. Indeed, a river-bed can gradually or dramatically shift location, so even if he was truthful and accurate in locating a building "by the riverside", it may be far from that riverside today. The present town is already more than three thousand years old according to archaeologists, and houses a Hindu religious site deemed Rama’s birthplace. But was this the palace of the Solar Dynasty to which Rama's father Dasharatha belonged? According to Valmiki, Rama was born in the very palace built by his distant pre-Vedic ancestor Manu. Here, a possible problem with Rama’s own chronology becomes really acute. Whether Rama’s epic adventure was historical or not, he himself was at any rate a historical figure, appearing in the Puranic king lists. (For those faux skeptics who think these are just myth: there would be no history of Mesopotamia or Egypt extant but for their king lists.) But when did he live? This much we know for certain, that it was earlier than the Bharata dynasty’s war of succession, which refers to Rama's story as a fact from the past. The report about this war, much embellished, became Vyasa’s Mahabharata epic (just like Homer’s Iliad from ca. -700 was dimly based on a historical war from ca. -1200). Bypassing the traditionalists who insist that this war took place ca. -3139, which is a chronology invented only ca. +500, we stick by the modern sciences and their convergence on a much less spectacular date, roughly -1500. It so happens that -1500 is about the farthest we can stretch the known archaeology of the Rama Janmabhumi site. During the Ayodhya agitation ca. 1991, India’s legendary archaeologist BB Lal, still active today at age 101, gave a lecture to an audience of Sadhus. He explained that his team had found temple pillars on the contentious site, and the Hindu claim on it was thereby assured. This much, they liked; but they were disappointed when he continued. Digging deeper, Lal's team had found human leftovers as early as the -2nd millennium. To the Sadhus, even Krishna lived in the -32nd century, and Rama still earlier; so archaeology had not confirmed this? When they protested, Lal famously replied: “I am not saying this, but my spade tells me so.” You might yet save the day by observing that Lal had excavated only a small part of Ayodhya; or by accepting the Aryan Immigration chronology (which BB Lal rejects). This holds that after entering in -1500, the Aryans in Haryana wrote the Rg-Veda, and among their nephews in Ayodhya, Rama was born in -1200 or so, and Krishna in Mathura still later. This would narrowly put Rama within the period identified by archaeology. Yet even then it would not be satisfactory. Human habitation at the site should spread thousands of years farther back, as it was no less than the palace of the already-ancient Solar dynasty. Maybe the Solar Dynasty was not that static? This is suggested by the detail that Rama’s father Dasharatha organized a population transfer within his domains. That the townfolk vacated the city after Rama’s passing also indicates a more mobile view of Ayodhya. And when centuries later, the city was rediscovered and revived, presumably by Vikramaditya, he may simply have been mistaken in his choice, or he may have had a reason for deliberately locating his favourite city elsewhere. So it is possible that the real capital of the Solar Dynasty is still waiting somewhere underground for excavation. On the other hand, Rama’s background may be less glorious, but his modest birth location may be exact. When the Ayodhya debate raged thirty years ago, I sometimes thought to myself: there is, in spite of the ongoing peak in research, much on Ayodhya that we don’t really know yet. Common people including the many Twitter polemicists are quick to pronounce their proposals “proven”, but historians should be more hesitant in passing judgment. This doubt regarding Ayodhya brings to mind another sacred city with a far more controversial location: Mecca. In the Ayodhya controversy, the lead in disputing Rama's birth location was given by the secularists, not the Muslims, but just to spite the Hindus, many Muslims followed suit. They wouldn't have done so if they had been more aware of the problems surrounding Mohammed's birthplace. The Saudi government has initiated big construction projects in Mecca with considerable demolitions. When this happens in old cities, say Kashi, the archaeologists come flocking, for the diggings by the construction company throw up many old artefacts that will interest them. Well, in Mecca they find nothing. On pre-Islamic maps, Mecca finds no mention. The Quran’s description of the city layout and the landscape, with a river and olive trees and a Kaaba surrounded by idol temples, do not correspond to the Mecca we know. It is unfit to be a crossroads of caravan routes. That's way exactly during the years of the Ayodhya conflict, Danish historian Patricia Crone concluded that in Mohammed's lifetime, Mecca did not exist. Even in the first century of Islamic history, the mosques were not directed towards Mecca. Islam itself admits that the original Qibla (direction of prayer) was more to the north, which it identifies as Jerusalem, but another city nearby could also do. Indeed, another city fits the bill, as mapped out in great detail by the Canadian historian Dan Gibson: Petra, in modern-day Jordan. This place also had a Kaaba housing a Black Stone, a meteoric rock fallen from heaven and therefore held sacred (essentially like Kashi's Jyotirlingam). A half century after the Prophet's death, one Abdullah ibn-al-Zubayr rebelled against the Ummayad Caliphate of which he had been an official. He spirited the Black Stone away from Petra and installed it in a backwater in the Arabian desert (where no existing townfolk could lay claim to it), where a new sacred site then sprang up. Then he made his own rebellion part of the power play of a Mesopotamian clan that would later become the Abbasid Caliphate. Summing up: in this emerging scenario, the Prophet was not born in Mecca at all, but was relocated there long after his death as part of the upcoming Abbasid clan's rewriting of history. To be sure, Muslims argue against these discoveries. They resist modern insights in the same way that the Ayodhya Sadhus resisted archaeology as an independent source of chronology. In the real world, this debate will go on, just like the search for the early Solar capital will resume. But in a secular state this won’t matter: the sacredness of all sites with a religious meaning is guaranteed. Also reassuring for the Hajjis (pilgrims to the Black Stone) is that the object of their pilgrimage is not something contingent like Mohammed's birthplace. Even if this is accepted to be near Petra, many miles away from Mecca, the actual object of the Hajj is still verifiably present in Mecca: the Black Stone. This way the beliefs underpinning the Muslim pilgrimage may be saved by Islam's only idol.
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Friday, May 13, 2022

Does India really need a Uniform Civil Code?

(First Post, 13 May 2022, under the title: UCC can wait! First fight anti-Hindu discriminations in education and temple management) For decades already, you occasionally hear voices clamouring for a Uniform Civil Code in India. It is mentioned in the Constitution’s wish list, the Directive Principles. In 1995, the Supreme Court asked the Government about the progress towards this goal; in vain. This January, they summoned the Government again on this; let’s see. Today, 75 years after Independence, all matters pertaining to marriage, family and inheritance are still governed by separate law codes for Hindus, Muslims, Christian and Parsis. Are there good reasons to abolish this arrangement? India's ruling politicians clearly think not, for they have never challenged it. They wouldn't mind meddling in the Christian law system: ever since starting as a nervous minority in the mighty Roman empire, Christians have conformed to secular laws not of their own making. In Britain, France or the US, Christians and non-Christians obey the same laws, and nowhere have Christians reacted with an indignant movement of legal separatism. It is not the Christians who keep the politicians from enacting a UCC. Come the modern Republic, the Christian community would have been absorbed into a UCC regime along with everybody else, were it not for the Muslim community. What the politicians fear in case they were to enact a UCC is the reaction of the Muslim community. Unlike Christianity, Islam has a defining law system, the Shari'a. It prevails in most Muslim-majority countries, and in many others there are demands for introducing it. Mohammed was not a preacher whose reign was not of this world, like the Buddha or Jesus, he was the founder of a state with a law system. Abolishing it might provoke a reaction from every mosque and madrassa in the country. The theological reason is moreover strengthened by a personal reason: every individual Muslim cleric stands to lose a lot of power within his community if his area of expertise is made irrelevant. The BJP has already developed cold feet about implementing its hard-won Citizenship Amendment Act, which only very tangentially impacts the Muslims, so it won't have the stomach for implementing a UCC. It is too Islamophobic for that: "afraid of Islam". Most countries have a UCC as a matter of course. But would they support India if it introduces the same thing? Compare with the normalization of Kashmir's status in 2019. Save for Pakistan, all countries accepted this without any ado. Not only was it an internal matter, but it abolished something that they themselves would never accept either: a separate status for one of their provinces, excluding their citizens from owning property there. Yet, the international media still portrayed it as an anti-Muslim act of oppression, adding to their usual narrative of poor hapless Muslims being constantly persecuted by the ugly vicious Hindus. The issue was not important enough for swaying Governments against India, but regarding UCC this may be different. It is likely that both Indian and foreign media will raise a storm if the separate Islamic law is threatened; and that the ruling party is not ready to take this heat. Apart from the real reason, better-sounding reasons are brought up. It is often assumed that Hindus only demand a UCC because they fear that under Shari'a Muslims take four wives and outbreed them. On social media you do indeed encounter that argument, and secularists always seek out the weakest formulation of a Hindu position, some Twitter troll's outburst, to save themselves the trouble of answering the real Hindu case. So they make fun of this clumsy Hindu argument, distracting from more serious ones. It is true that the Muslim birthrate is always higher than the Hindu one, but in that, the right to polygamy is only a minimal factor. Monogamous Muslim households are still more procreation-oriented: because Islamic culture provides more immunity against Governmental birth-control propaganda and Westernized lifestyles, because the Islamic status of women is more resistant against women opting for a career instead of family, because the Islamic divorce arrangement (with the children entrusted to the father) encourages repudiated women to start a new family, and because of the Prophet's own exhortation to be more numerous. In countries with a UCC, the Muslim birthrate is higher too. Those who see that as a problem, will need to find other solutions. More problematic with this inequality is inequality. And this in two senses: Hindu and Muslim laws differ contentswise, but also differ in their relation to the state. Hindu law does not result from a decision by a clerical Hindu body, but from state intervention: the Hindu Code Acts 1955-56. A UCC was part of the modernization process of most countries: ancient feudal privileges for nobles or clerics were abolished. All citizens became equal before the law. This is a defining trait of secular states: equality before the law regardless of one’s religion. It is claimed ad nauseam that “India is a secular state”, but it isn’t. A UCC is not a matter of Hindu Rashtra or so, it is a requirement of secularism. Next time you meet a secularist, ask him what he has done for instituting a UCC. It is his job, not that of the Hindus. No premodern Hindu state had a UCC, and Hindus were fine with that. But Hindus have adapted to the modern age: it is discriminatory to treat Muslims as unfit for this modernization. So, long live the UCC. Is this a call to the Government to take up Civil Code reform forthwith? Not really. There are issues far more urgent, far more consequential for the life chances of Hindu civilization, and far easier to achieve. These issues are the complete abolition of the existing anti-Hindu discriminations in education and temple management. Any sensible leader will take up these issues first, rather than banging his head against the wall by implementing a UCC and provoking the foreseeable reactions. They are desirable in their own right for all who value equality. Moreover, they may give Hindu society more self-confidence and thus prepare the ground for, one day, a UCC.
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Monday, April 18, 2022

Sita Ram Goel: The man who exposed Nehruvian fallacies and won our hearts with his mind

. A 100 years ago, Sita Ram Goel was born in a poor family, and through his sheer hard work and intellect, exposed the hollowness of the Left at a time when it seemed invincible Koenraad Elst October 16, 2021 10:58:16 IST Sita Ram Goel: The man who exposed Nehruvian fallacies and won our hearts with his mind Sita Ram Goel was born on 16 October in the Haryana village of Chhara. Image Courtesy: http://indiafacts.org/ On 16 October 1921, at 8:34 pm, in the Haryana village of Chhara, Sita Ram Goel was born. Though belonging to the merchant Agarwal caste, his family was quite poor but found sustenance in Vaishnavism and especially the devotional poetry of the local 18th-century Sant Garib Das. Possibly this is what made him such a friendly and generous man, always attentive to the needs of others. When growing up, he came under the influence of Arya Samaj reformism and of Mahatma Gandhi. During his student days he was a Gandhian activist. He obtained an MA in History from Hindu College, Delhi University. In the last years of the freedom struggle, he became friends with a group of young intellectuals with a great future, from Times of India editor Girilal Jain and philosophy author Daya Krishna to Planning Commission member Raj Krishna and arts tsarina Kapila Vatsyayana. But the most important and lasting influence was economics graduate Ram Swarup (whose centenary we celebrated last year), who in 1944-47 led the debating forum Changers’ Club. Though they were “progressives” at the time, we find in their pamphlets already some themes that would become prominent in Goelji’s writing career. In 1948, Goel had almost become a Communist Party member, but under the influence of Ram Swarup and of reading the communist classics, he swiftly evolved into an articulate anti-communist. In Kolkata he set up the Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia, which during the 1950s was the leading anti-communist think tank in the Third World. It published a series of factual studies about the atrocities and the dismal socio-economic performance of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic, much appreciated (but, to lay a nasty rumour to rest, never financed) by prominent foreign anti-communists and by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Chiang Kai-shek. Meanwhile, he rediscovered Hindu-Buddhist spirituality and also found the time to write several historical novels in Hindi, as well as preparing Hindi translations of classic works of philosophy and history. In 1957, he stood as an independent candidate on the Jana Sangh (later BJP) ticket for the Lok Sabha elections in the Khajuraho constituency. This was an arrangement with Chakravarti Rajagopalachari’s budding anti-Communist Swatantra Party, India's main opposition party in the 1960s. It had wanted Goel in Parliament because he had the mettle to stand up to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but the election gods were not favourable. In 1961, Goel published a series of articles critical of Nehru in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh weekly Organiser. It was discontinued on orders of the RSS high command, which feared a backlash against the RSS if anything were to happen to Nehru, as had been the case after Mahatma Gandhi’s murder. It was not the last time he got disappointed in the Sangh Parivar. In the 1960s and ’70s he left the political struggle behind to build up his own publishing business. But after retiring, in 1981 he started writing several series of articles in Organiser and its Hindi counterpart Panchjanya. These were then published as booklets by a new publishing outfit he created, first of all as a conduit for Ram Swarup’s books, but also for his own ideological writings: Voice of India. He opened the very first one, Hindu Society under Siege, with an analysis that said it all: “Hindu society is the only significant society in the world today which presents a continuity of cultural existence since time immemorial. Most other societies have undergone a traumatic transformation due to the invasion and victory of latter-day ideologies — Christianity, Islam, Communism. Hindu culture can meet the same frightful fate if there were no Hindu society to sustain it. This great society is now besieged by the same dark and deadly forces. And its beneficiaries no more seem interested in its survival because they have fallen victims to hostile propaganda. They have developed towards it an attitude of utter indifference, if not downright contempt. Hindu society is in mortal danger as never before.” Or in his Defence of Hindu Society (1983): “Hindus have become devoid of self-confidence because they have ceased to take legitimate, well-informed and conscious pride in their spiritual, cultural and social heritage. The sworn enemies of Hindu society have taken advantage of this enervation of the Hindus.” This outlines a task that would determine the remainder of Ram Swarup’s and Sita Ram Goel’s writings: Detailing the history and ideological motivation of Hinduism’s enemies, and showing the contrast with what Hinduism has to offer. This work is fascinating through its combination of fearless analysis of unpleasant questions with a passion for the benefits of ancient dharma and of the contemporary real-life Hindus. It takes up the ideological struggle so as to avoid the physical struggle, and is thus humane par excellence. As Goel’s son Pradeep said after Goel’s passing in 2003: “They won our hearts with their minds.” Goel himself would soon become a victim of this Hindu loss of nerve. In 1985, the RSS leadership again intervened to have his article series in their papers banned. This time it was Islam that they wanted to spare. Not because they feared a terrorist attack in revenge (they already had an anti-Muslim reputation), but because any Islam-critical writing might “keep Muslims from coming to us”. At the time, the Sangh Parivar still clamoured against “minority appeasement” in public, but in private the rot had already set in. Goel’s best-known work will remain his two-volume Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them? (1990-91). In it, he gives a very incomplete but already impressive list of nearly 2,000 forcible displacements of temples by mosques, of which not one has been challenged since. But its most important part is the summary and analysis of the theological justification of this centuries-spanning (and continents-spanning, think of Istanbul’s Aya Sophia or even Mecca’s Kaaba) record of iconoclasm. This was the key to understanding the Ayodhya controversy, but remark that in the Ayodhya campaign and its judicial proceedings before the UP High Court, it was kept out of view: The RSS-BJP campaigners preferred superficial emotions about the temple to a serious understanding of the theological background. Today, Sita Ram Goel’s work is without influence on government policy. Thus, his critique of the many falsehoods in the Nehruvian history textbooks have not made Narendra Modi’s Cabinet take up the need of correcting them. But his influence on the new crop of online Hindu media is profound. This outreach to the Hindu mind and to a new generation is an important step, but a civilisation under siege can ill afford to leave it at that.
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“I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting distorted history”

Koenraad Elst: “I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting distorted history” (interview by Surajit Dasgupta- 5 June, 2016, Swarajya) 5 In this exclusive e-mail interview with Swarajya’s National Affairs Editor Surajit Dasgupta, the Belgian Indologist and writer calls the bluff of leftist historians while urging Indian students of history to pursue the subject with more rigour and scientific temper. Excerpts: While Swarajya has published articles exposing how Marxist historians hound peers who disagree with them out of academic institutions, we have got news from different sources that you are finding it difficult to get employed even in Belgium. What precisely is the objection of your detractors? I do not wish to offer much detail here. Firstly, I am not privileged to know the details of decision-making instances that lead to my own exclusion. Even when sending an official “regret letter”, they would not give in writing the real reason behind their decision (as anyone experienced with job applications knows). Secondly, even though no law was broken, going into this still has the character of an allegation, and that requires proof. Some cases of deliberate exclusion or disinvitation were simply obvious, but my standards of proof are higher than that. So, I just want to close this chapter. Let’s not bother, everybody has his problems, and these career hurdles are mine. In fact, I have had quite a bit of luck in my life, including help from individual Hindus whenever the need arose (air tickets paid, hospitality etc), so any fussing about this boycott against me would be disproportionate. Let’s just assume I missed those opportunities because I was not good enough. Or karma, whatever. The topic in general is important, though. The Leftist dominance of the Humanities departments in India, often amounting to total control, results from the wilful and systematic “ethnic cleansing” (to borrow Madhu Kishwar’s term) of any young scholar suspected of pro-Hindu sympathies. Exceptions are the people who entered on the strength of ideologically neutral work, or of initially toeing the line, but coming out with pro-Hindu convictions only after getting tenure. This cleansing of enemies stems from the old Marxist mentality: a war psychology, treating everyone with a different opinion as an enemy inviting merciless destruction; and a boundless self-righteousness rooted in the belief of being on the forward side of history. Marxism is waning even in India, but that attitude is still rife among the anti-Hindu forces, both in India and among Western India-watchers. You refer to Indian Marxist historians sarcastically as “eminent historians”. Why that particular term? “Eminent historians” is what they call one another, and what their fans call them. When they don’t have an answer to an opponent’s arguments, they pompously dismiss him as not having enough “eminence”. So when Arun Shourie wrote about some abuses in this sector, he called his book Eminent Historians. It is also a pun on an old book about prominent colonial age personalities, Eminent Victorians. “Eminence” in this case refers to their position and relative glory. The Communists always made sure to confer position and prestige, as opposed to the Sangh Parivar, which fawns over people with position but doesn’t realize that those people have only acquired their position by toeing the anti-Hindu line. In a way, you have to concede that the Left has honestly fought for its power position. But half their battle was already won by the Hindu side’s complete absence from the battlefield. One example of the Sangh’s ineptness at playing this game. In 2002, the supposedly Hindu government of A.B. Vajpayee founded the Chair for Indic Studies in Oxford. The media cried ‘saffronization’. However, the clueless time servers at the head of the BJP nominated a known and proven opponent of Hindu nationalism, Sanjay Subrahmaniam, who thus became the poster boy for ‘saffronization’. This way, they hoped to achieve their highest ambition in life: a pat on the shoulder from the secularists. That pat on the shoulder, already begged for so many times, remained elusive, but the tangible result was that they had conferred even more prestige on an “eminent historian”, all while denying it to their own scholars. What would you tell your peers who say that the “Out of India” Theory (OIT) is a fringe theory? Of course it is a fringe theory, at least internationally, where the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is still the official paradigm. In India, though, it has the support of most archaeologists, who fail to find a trace of this Aryan influx and instead find cultural continuity. As for the situation abroad: most scholars assume the invasionist paradigm, but only very few also argue in an informed manner for the invasionist theory, not many more than those who argue against it. But anyway, this ‘fringe’ aspect doesn’t impress me at all. When Copernicus put the sun rather than the earth at the centre of the solar system, he was in a minority of one, very ‘fringe’ indeed; but he won the day. What is the evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory? First of all: there is no evidence in its favour. Archaeologists have spent a century of well-funded excavations looking for a trace, any trace, of the Aryans moving into India. Even the invasionists concede that “as yet” no such thing has been found. The new genetic evidence, while still immature, generally goes in favour of emigrations from India and, while leaving room for immigrations too, is emphatically failing to pinpoint an invasion coinciding in time with the hypothetical Aryan invasion. Meanwhile, the written record clearly points to an emigration scenario. That the Iranians lived in India and had to leave westwards is reported in the Rig Veda, a text thoroughly analysed and shown to support an “Aryan emigration” by Shrikant Talageri. It can equally be deduced from the Avesta. Even earlier migrations are mentioned in the Puranas. These are of course very mixed and unreliable as a source of history, but it is a bad historian who discards them altogether. Their core, later fancifully embellished, consists in dynastic lists. Keeping that ancestral information was the proper job of court poets, and they devised mnemotechnical tricks to transmit it for many generations. In this case, it too does convey a basic scenario of indigenousness and emigration. Finally, there is the linguistic evidence. Many Indians believe the hearsay that it has somehow proven the invasion. It hasn’t. But permit me to forego discussing those data: too technical for an interview. Of late, the Marxist historians have revised ‘invasion’ to ‘migration’. They say that there might not have been a war when the so-called Aryans arrived here, but they have no doubt that the ancestors of today’s North Indians, especially the upper castes, by and large migrated from Central Asia into India. In other words, the Marxists say that we Indians were originally not Indians—invasion or no invasion. Does this ‘revision’ satisfy you? Exasperated at not finding a visible trace of this invasion, conformist scholars have theorized an alternative that doesn’t require such visible remains: a migration under the radar. Often, when they try to give details, they still mean a military invasion rather than a gradual migration, since they bring in the military advantage of horses and chariots to explain how such a large and civilized Harappan population could be overrun by a handful of outsiders. But even if they genuinely mean a migration, it still amounts to the same scenario as an invasion, that the Vedic Aryans came from abroad and the natives took over the language and religion of the intruders. So, anyone who thinks that the migration theory is a breakthrough away from the invasion theory really shows he doesn’t understand the issue. ‘Migration’ effectively means ‘invasion’ but avoids the burden of proof that the more dramatic term ‘invasion’ implies. To be sure, it doesn’t much matter who came from where. The so-called Adivasis (a British term coined circa 1930) or ‘natives’ of Nagalim in the North East have settled in their present habitat only a thousand years ago; which is fairly recent by Indian standards. So, ironically, they are genuine ‘immigrants’ or ‘invaders’, yet no Indian begrudges them their place inside India. Many countries have an immigration or conquest of their present territory as a proud part of their national myth: Madagascar, Romania, the Siberian part of Russia, Hungary, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, etc. If the Indo-Aryans, or indeed the Dravidians (theorized to have come from Iran or even Central Asia), had really immigrated, that would then have been a pre-Vedic event, at least 3,500 years ago, and that time span ought to have been enough for integration into the national mainstream. So this ‘homeland’ debate ought to have been a non-issue, only of interest to ivory tower scholars. But different non- or anti-Hindu forces decided to politicize it. Abroad, these were the British colonialists, white supremacists in the US and Europe, and among them the Nazis, who considered the AIT as a cornerstone and eloquent illustration of their worldview. Inside India, first of all the Christian missionaries, followed by the non-Brahmin movement, the Dravidianists, Nehruvians and Ambedkarites, followed in turn by their western supporters. The AIT was used to break up Indian unity and pit upper castes against lower castes, non-tribals against tribals, and North Indians against South Indians. After this massive politicization, the partisans of Indian unity finally decided to give some feeble support to the fledgling Out of India (OIT) theory. Yet, scholars rejecting the OIT because of its alleged political use have no qualms about espousing the AIT, politicized since far longer, in many more countries, and not as a pastime of a few historians but as the basis for government policies. On the one hand, the unaffiliated or apolitical Indian student loves your theories; your passages are quoted widely in debates on ancient Indian history. On the other, you do not seem to get along well with the so-called right wing historians of this country either. You have written a blog against them. Well, I have nothing but good to say about some Indian researchers, both naturalized ones like Michel Danino and natives like Meenakshi Jain or Shrikant Talageri. But then, there are others too. Certainly the name P.N. Oak rings a bell? In the second half of last century, he spread all these theories that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple; that the Kaaba was built by Vikramaditya as a Shiva temple; that the Vatican (originally the Roman “Poets’ Hill”) is really “Veda-Vatika”; that my mother tongue, Dutch, is the language of the Daityas (demons), etc. The bad thing is that numerous Hindus have run away with these stories, and even some NRI surgeons and engineers of my acquaintance believe in diluted versions of the same. In a less extreme manner, this disdain for historical method is widespread among traditionalist Hindu “history rewriters”. They frequently put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder. Many of these rewriters thought that with Narendra Modi’s accession to power, their time had come. I know, for instance, that many of them sent in proposals to the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). None of these was accepted because they ignored the elementary rules of scholarship. Any student writing a thesis knows that before you can develop your own hypothesis, you first have to survey the field and assess what previous scholars have found or theorized. But these traditionalist history rewriters just don’t bother about the rest of the world, they are satisfied to have convinced themselves. Their horizon is not larger than an internet list of like-minded people. In itself, it is not a problem. People can learn. Unfortunately, they are too smug to do that. They actively misinform Hindus by claiming that the Aryan Invasion Theory has long been discarded. They also do a lot of harm to the bona fide historians with whom they get juxtaposed. So it is true that I have lost patience with them. Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, has there been an effort to revise the depiction of Indian history in academic curricula, which, many in India believe, is politically motivated? Has the Indian government approached you with the request of being a part of any such initiative? No, there has been no request at all. However, I myself have sent in an application to the ICHR, but that has run into technical difficulties, mainly to do with my foreign passport. So, the situation is and remains that institutionally, I have nothing to do with the Indian history scene. The version of history taught by the Nehruvians was politically motivated. The feeble Hindu attempt to counterbalance this (‘saffronization’) circa 2002 was confused and largely incompetent. Humbled by that experience, the BJP today is not even trying to impose its own version. Contrary to the Nehruvians’ hue and cry, allegations about the BJP’s interference in history teaching or more generally in academe are simply not true. We are only talking of changing some lines in the textbooks, and even that seems a Himalayan effort to the BJP. Yet, what is really needed is a far more thorough overhaul. Except for some scholars without any power, nobody is even thinking about this very-needed long-term job. “Many Hindu ‘history rewriters’ put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder. Like the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.” “Many Hindu ‘history rewriters’ put out claims that would make legitimate historians shudder. Like the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple.” Could the reason be that RSS-affiliated historians and you are not particularly fond of each other and this government is influenced by the Sangh? Sangh-affiliated historians would not need me to arrive at their positions or to devise a policy if called upon to do so by the present government. But again, I am not aware of any governmental interest in correcting the distorted history propagated by the Nehruvians. I would welcome it if it happened, but so far the BJP, still begging to be recognized as ‘secular’, only has its eye on ‘development’. I am happy to report that there are some as-yet-insignificant private initiatives, though. Once they achieve results, there will be more to say on them. Would you say or agree that the Indian government, regardless of the political party that runs it, would be uncomfortable appointing or commissioning an academic who is perceived as being anti-Muslim? Certainly. Though it never had any problem with anti-Hindu candidates to even the highest post. Does the genesis of your problem with anti-left historians in India lie in the fact that on the issue of Babri Masjid, if you do not agree with the left, you do not agree with the right wing either? On Ayodhya, there has never been a conflict with any non-Left historian. To be sure, I have my disagreements on some minor points, but they have never been the object of a controversy. So, no, on Ayodhya, I may have minor and friendly differences of opinion with ‘right-wing’ historians, but no serious quarrel. In that debate, the longstanding quarrel has been with the “eminent historians”, their supporters in media and politics, and their foreign dupes. They were on the wrong side of the history debate all along, and it is time they concede it. In the case of the “eminent historians”, it is also time for the surviving ones to own up to their responsibility for the whole conflict. The then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was on course towards a peaceful settlement, allotting the site to the Hindus and buying the militant Muslim leadership off with some typically Congressite horse trading. Not too principled, but at least with the virtue of avoiding bloodshed. It is the shrill and mendacious declaration of the “eminent historians” in 1989, amplified by all the vocal secularists, that made the politicians back off. Not only have they falsely alleged that no Rama temple ever stood on the contentious site, their more fundamental lie was to bring in history at all. Ayodhya belongs to the Hindus not because it was their pilgrimage site a thousand years ago, nor because of ‘revenge’ for a temple destruction effected 800 or 500 years ago, but because it is a Hindu sacred site today. No Muslim ever cares to go to Ayodhya, and in spite of being egged on by the “eminent historians”, enough Muslim leaders have expressed their willingness to leave the site to the Hindus. This whole controversy was unnecessary, but for the Nehruvians’ pathetic nomination of the Babri Masjid as the last bulwark of secularism. If all the archaeological findings from Ayodhya are arranged chronologically, what story of the disputed plot of land does one find? Did a temple of Lord Rama stand there, which Babar’s general Mir Baqi demolished to build the mosque? Or, did Mir Baqi find ruins on the spot? That a Hindu temple was demolished by Muslim invaders is certain, on that we all agree. But there is less consensus around, or even awareness of, the fact that this happened several times: by Salar Masud Ghaznavi in 1030 (the rebuilt Rajput temple after this must be one of the excavated pillar bases), by Qutbuddin Aibak’s troops in 1193, and by Mir Baqi on Babar’s behalf in 1526. “The Ayodhya site should belong to the community that holds it sacred. Muslims do not, and the Rama worshippers do. Case closed.” “The Ayodhya site should belong to the community that holds it sacred. Muslims do not, and the Rama worshippers do. Case closed.” What it was that was replaced by Babar’s mosque is not fully clear. I speculate that in the rough and tumble of the collapsing Delhi Sultanate, Hindus had managed to take over the site and started worship there, even though the building they used was a mosque imposed on the site. That was exactly the situation in 1949-92, and I think it also applied towards 1526. Babar destroyed a Hindu pilgrimage centre, a Hindu presence at the site, but not the Rajput temple from the 11th century of which the foundations were excavated in 2003. Was the temple’s demolition just an odd event, or was it the necessary materialization of an ideology, repeated many times and in many places? When Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghori and his lieutenants conquered the entire Ganga basin in 1192-94, they destroyed every Hindu temple they could find. Only a few survived, and that is because they lay out of the way of the Muslim armies, in the (then) forest, notably in Khajuraho and in Bodh Gaya. But all the Buddhist universities, all the temples in Varanasi etc were destroyed. Ayodhya became a provincial capital of the Delhi Sultanate, and it is inconceivable that the Sultanate regime would have allowed a major temple to remain standing there. So, the narrative propagated by the Sangh Parivar, that Babar destroyed the 11th century temple, cannot be true, for that temple was no longer there. When Babar arrived on the scene, Hindus may have worshipped Rama in a makeshift temple, or in a mosque building provisionally used as a temple, but the main temple that used to be there had already been destroyed in 1193. See, Ayodhya’s history becomes more interesting once you discard the lies of the “eminent historians” as well as the naïve version of the Sangh Parivar. The controversial part lies herein, that the persistence of the temple all through the Sultanate period would have implied a certain tolerance even during the fiercest part of Muslim rule. In reality, the demolition of Rama’s birthplace temple was not an odd and single event, but a repeated event in application of a general theology of iconoclasm imposed by the Prophet. Was it a temple of Lord Vishnu rather? Or, were they quite a few temples of one or more deities built in different periods by different kings? In her 2013 book Rama and Ayodhya Prof Meenakshi Jain has detailed all the scholarly evidence and the debate around it, including the embarrassing collapse of the “eminent historian” case once they took the witness stand in Court. She shows that the Rama cult had already left traces more than 2,000 years ago. Attempts to make Rama worship a recent phenomenon were just part of the sabotage attempts by these historians. Also, the site of Ayodhya, though probably older, is at least beyond doubt since Vikramaditya in the first century BC. All indications are that the disputed site was already visited by pilgrims as Rama’s birthplace well before the Muslim conquest. So, this was a longstanding pilgrimage site for Rama. Against the utter simplicity of this scenario, anti-Hindu polemicists of various stripes have tried all kinds of diversionary tactics: saying that Rama was born elsewhere, or that the temple belonged to other cults. This Vishnu-but-not-his-incarnation-Rama theory, or the claim of a Shaiva or Buddhist origin, were some of those diversionary tactics; they are totally inauthentic and artificial. Alright, among historians we can discuss every possible hypothesis. But from the very relevant viewpoint of Islamic iconoclasm, all these distinctions don’t matter: all those sects were false, leading men astray, away from the one true religion, Islam, and therefore they all, and certainly their idols and idol houses, were to be destroyed. Whatever be the true story, which community do you believe has a greater right of ownership over that disputed site? The community that holds the site sacred. Muslims go through all this trouble to travel to faraway Mecca, why don’t they go on a cheap and easy pilgrimage to Ayodhya instead? It seems they have made their choice. So let us respect their choice, and also the choice of the Rama worshippers who do care for Ayodhya, by leaving the site to the latter. Case closed. Do you hate Muslims or Islam? No, I do not hate Muslims. They are people like ourselves. Having travelled in Pakistan and the Gulf states, I even dare say I feel good in Muslim environments. And if I desire the liberation of Muslims from Islam, that is precisely because I like them. Suppose you discover that a friend of yours still believes in fairy tales: wouldn’t you consider it your duty to set him straight and confront him with the true story, precisely because he is your friend? And I do not ‘hate’ Islam either. If a teacher uses his red pencil to cross out a grammatical mistake in a pupil’s homework, we do not say that he ‘hates’ the mistake. He simply notices very dispassionately that it is wrong. The use of the word ‘hate’ in this case stems from an attempt to distort the debate and misrepresent the argument by means of emotive language. The belief that someone heard the word of God, dictating the Quranic verses, is just one of the many irrational and mistaken beliefs that have plagued mankind since the beginning. I have been part of a massive walk-out from the Church. For intellectuals, the decisive reason was the dawning insight that Christian belief was irrational. But for the masses, it was mainly that it was no longer cool to be a believer. People started feeling embarrassed for still being associated with this untenable doctrine, and are none the worse for having left the beliefs they were brought up in. I wish Muslims a similar evolution, a similar liberation. I do not wish on them anything that I have not been through myself. How do you view the recent terrorist attack on Belgium? To what extent do you think is migration from Islamic countries responsible for terrorism on European soil? As Ché Guevara said, a guerrilla fighter is among the masses like a fish in the water. In this case, the jihad fighters had found safety and comfort in the Muslim community. So the demographic Islamization of some neighbourhoods i000n Brussels (due to our own silly policies) has indeed played a role. But I expect you to retort that there were also other factors, and that is true. How do you react to the Muslim refrain that the terrorists in their community are a creation of America and NATO’s flawed foreign policy and interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc? It is simply not true that Ghaznavi or Aurangzeb took to jihad and iconoclasm in reaction to British colonialism or American bombings. They were inspired by an older source—the Prophet’s precedent, Islam. However, it is true that many contemporary jihad fighters have indeed been fired up by a specific circumstance—western aggression against Muslim countries. Assenting to Quranic lessons about jihad is one thing, but actually volunteering for jihad it quite another. In most people, it needs a trigger. The illegal invasions of Iraq or Libya, or footage of an Afghan wedding bombed by American jets, provided such a trigger. I am very aware that being bombed is just as unpleasant for wedding guests in Kandahar as for commuters in Brussels or Mumbai. Right now, even little Belgium has five bomber planes in Iraq as part of the US-led war effort against IS. These bombers must already have killed, along with some jihad fighters, more civilians than were killed in the terrorist attacks in Brussels. In Belgium, I have drawn some attention with my defence of the Syria volunteers: young Muslims grown up in Brussels or Antwerp and going to fight for the Islamic State. Our politicians call them ‘monsters’, ‘crazy’ and other derogatory names, but in fact they are pious idealists. They may be misguided in their beliefs, and I daresay they are, but they do have the courage of their conviction. Without any pressure on them, they volunteer for putting their lives on the line in the Syrian desert. You cannot deny them bravery and self-sacrifice. The western invasions and bombings in Muslim countries have brought nothing but misery, and I have opposed them all along. What the Muslim world needs is not more civil wars, sectarian wars, foreign military interventions, which all serve to polarize the minds, to freeze them in existing antagonisms. What it needs is a thaw. Here again, I speak from my own experience: the post-war climate of peace and prosperity in Europe has allowed a genuine cultural revolution, an emancipation from the stranglehold of Christianity. The Muslim world will only evolve if it attains a modicum of peace and stability. Note that the military interventions have nothing to do with Islam criticism, nowadays slandered as ‘Islamophobia’. On the contrary. Without exception, all the politicians ordering interventions in Muslim countries have praised Islam, calling it “the religion of peace” that is being ‘misused’ by the terrorists. Not a single word of Islam criticism has ever crossed their lips. A legitimate Islam critic like the late historian Sita Ram Goel has never harmed a hair on the head of a Muslim. Islamophiles such as these politicians, by contrast, have killed many thousands of innocent Muslims. How would you advise Indians to fight terrorism? Security measures and repression are neither my field nor my favourite solution, but I understand that sometimes they are necessary. So I want to spare a moment to praise the men in uniform who risk their lives to provide safety. However, this approach won’t provide a lasting solution if it is not accompanied by a more fundamental ideological struggle. That is what I am working on.
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