Thursday, December 1, 2011

Against Hindu identity

Among Indologists, it is now advised to avoid or at least problematize the word “Hindu”. Among the reasons for this wariness: Hindus themselves have only been using it for a few centuries, it is not mentioned in scripture but was tagged onto them by outsiders, it blurs important inter-Hindu distinctions and conflicts, and most objectionably, it is now the badge claimed by Hindu nationalists. Retired Delhi University historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha has continued the process of “Deconstructing Hindu identity” in an essay for the general public with that title, and it has now been published in a booklet, Rethinking Hindu Identity, along with essays on the “myth” of Hindu tolerance and on the sacred cow.




Regarding the latter point, his case is convincing enough. A good handful of passages in ancient texts are shown to confirm that the Vedic cattle-herders considered beef a normal part of their diet. In the pre-Buddhist age, the cow’s (like the horse’s) very aura of sacredness sometimes caused it to be ritually eaten. Her inviolability is among the sclerotic-eccentric traits typical only of the Puranic-Shastric phase of Hinduism crystallized from the Shunga era (2nd BCE) onwards.

On Hindu identity too, he doesn’t find it difficult to show that the term “Hindu” is fairly recent and introduced by Muslims in the catch-all sense of “any Indian non-Muslim”. Even in modern legislation, “Hindu” is only a “negative appellation” comprising “all non-Abrahamic religions” of India (p.65). The term Sanâtana Dharma, by contrast, is already “mentioned frequently in the Brahmanical texts”, though in varied meanings, but it too only acquired its value of indigenous synonym for the exonym “Hinduism” in the 19th century (p.20-21). Likewise, the notion of Bhâratvarsha, far from being eternal in its classical sense of “the Subcontinent”, is documented to have originally referred to smaller territories, not including Magadha and the Deccan. Alas, this paper is marred by an unsubstantiated accusation against colleague Prof. B.B. Lal, dean of Indian archaeology, for “systematic abuse of archaeology” (p.14), viz. for seeing continuities between Harappan and Hindu material culture.

Prof. Jha’s bias is showing badly in his paper on tolerance, which attacks the received wisdom that Hinduism is comparatively tolerant of other religions and of dissent in its own ranks. Here, he casts his net for instances of “Hindu intolerance” very wide. Mere doctrinal disputes, the very life-blood of intellectual culture, are cited as proving “inherent intolerance”, e.g. the denunciation of the Buddha as a false prophet incarnated merely to “brainwash” the demons (p.45). So is the principle that non-Hindus were welcome to convert, and ex-Hindus to reconvert, to Hinduism (p.47); or that the Virashaivas “engaged in conversion activities in a systematic manner” (p.44). Perhaps he doesn’t realize the implication of his own position, viz. that by these standards, proselytising religions like Christianity and Islam, even without counting crusades and jihad, are ipso facto intrinsically “intolerant”. That point has indeed been made often enough by apostate Christians and Muslims, but in India it is usually vetoed as “Hindu communalist propaganda”.

His eagerness to accumulate incriminating testimony makes him include allegations made by modern and arguably partisan sources as if they were actual evidence, e.g. a colleague is cited as claiming a Tibetan chronicle Pag-sam-jon-zang for “the burning of the library of Nalanda by some ‘Hindu fanatics’, not by Bakhtiyar Khilji as is commonly believed” (p.35). This Tibetan chronicle can be consulted online, and we haven’t found anything about “Hindu fanatics” there. This allegation is a 20th-century “interpretation” at best, far from the primary testimony a historian should prefer. It is also highly implausible.

It says, after all, that mostly Hindu kings of the Ganga plain had patronized Buddhist institutions for 16 centuries (-5th to +12th), letting them flourish mightily according to Chinese and Tibetan visitors, then suddenly destroyed them in the nick of time before the arrival of the Muslim conquerors, who boast in their records of having destroyed the Buddhist institutions of which they had only found the smoking ruins. Khilji’s starring role in the destruction of Indian Buddhism is well-documented in contemporaneous Muslim sources and cannot be shifted to unnamed Hindu bogeys so cavalierly.

During the Government-sponsored scholars’ debate on the evidence for the demolished Ayodhya temple in 1990-91, Jha was a member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee’s delegation against the Vishva Hindu Parishad. Like then, his intervention now in the debate on the purported tolerance and the very existence of “Hinduism” is not an impartisan source from which debaters could borrow authoritative arguments; it is itself one side of the polemic. Which is permitted, but should be kept in mind by the reader.

Review of D.N. Jha: Rethinking Hindu Identity, London/Oakville: Equinox, 2009. 100 pp., $85 HB, $28,95 PB. Published in Journal of Asian Studies, Cambridge University Press, August 2011, p.872-874.

21 comments:

Ram kaho said...

Elst has done an honour to Soviet style propagandist D N Jha just by writing on his book.

Jha is no better than thousands of 'Academician' and 'Doctor of Science' writing history and politics in the Soviet Union during 1930-1990. Perhaps not a single book survived the Soviet collapse; such were the pathetic party propaganda in the name of scholarly work. Billions of pages and rubles, for decades, went direct into drain despite the self-proclaimed tag of 'scientific' analyses.

What Eslt has shown in the later part of his article is known to Jha himself. He cannot be so stupid as not understand that quoting a fellow propagandist is NO evidence of anything, let alone for such an stupendous claim as Nalanda-burned-by-Hindus. In fact, making such a claim by Jha, now in his 70s or 80s, without any ground or context gives the game away. That he is out to serve a politico-ideological Cause, a la Soviet academics, albeit taken upon by himself without any forced party dictate.

But then, the luxurious chairs bestowed by Nehruvian power holders in New Delhi had the barely concealed permanent assignment: besmirch the 'Hindu communalists'. In which phrase the latter word was a ruse, actual and only target was the first one. Hence never any effort to expose ‘Muslim communalists’. In fact this group was an active collaborator in the project Destroy Hinduism. That many Western agencies having powerful Oxbridge facilities also joined in lauding and helping (for pushing heir own Semitic supremacy) the Jha kind in its rubbish-Hindu efforts was another welcome force/attraction for the propagandists. For these two unfortunate reasons Jha kind could not be taken by the scholarly world as the trash they actually are.

Nevertheless, those who know history and scholarship would agree that Jha does not deserve a scholarly treatment, even less than the hundreds of Soviet Academicians of the yore.

Sandeep said...

Why have you titled it "Against Hindu identity" - did you mean you were against that identity?

Krish said...

India and Hindus have had many Jai Chand's among our society and survived all of them.We shall survive the traitorous Mr DN Jha and others who for some hidden motive (perhaps regular underhand payments from anti-Hindu foreign organizations).
Thanks Dr Elst.Pls keep exposing these traitors.

tattvaanveShaNam said...

Many thanks Dr. Elst for posting this review and further for submitting it successfully to a journal. The Marxist History engineer Jha made a huge slip by pushing the concoction of Nalanda being burnt by Hindus in his eagerness to whitewash the Jihadi Khilji. No serious historian or scholar can or will ever accept such outright mendacity under the cover of scholarship.

Karthik rajan said...

Sir,
It is difficult to believe that the very aura of sacredness made vedhic Aryans to ritually consume beef , because sacredness leads to protection not destruction. Could be that beef was the most relished non-veg. dish in those times and hence the strict taboo on it from the shunga era as you have mentioned. Sacredness is only a cloak, the real reason could be a more practical one. One can find lot of practical ideas and spiritual thoughts being cloaked in harry potter style mumbo-jumbo stories in Hinduism. So what could be the reason behind ritualistic beef consumption? To this, I can only recollect a story I read in reader’s digest which was also made into a Hollywood file named ‘alive’. The story is about an airplane crash in the 70’s on the high peaks of the andes mountain. The wreck could not be located in the snow by rescue parties and all passengers were presumed dead. A month later few survivors had trekked downhill and established contact with the rescue team and lead them to the wreckage. In all about a dozen people had survived. What intrigued the medical fraternity is not the survival in freezing weather, but how did they manage to survive for so long without food. Twenty years later one of the survivor broke the secret, they had eaten the flesh of their dead co-passengers !! The vedhic Aryans may have had this precisely in their mind. Hence they allowed beef on ‘special occasions’ just to keep in touch with non-vegetarianism lest everyone develop an aversion for non-veg. by following strict vegetarianism. People like me who have an aversion for meat would definitely die on the andes , but should everyone perish so ?
It is pathetic to see scholars like jha and his ilk trying to dig out intolerance in hinduism while refusing to see intolerance in chritianity and islam so glaringly visible in the bible and quran right from the first few pages. Good luck to them !!

Rahul M said...

this is not related to the particular blog post but regarding the horse problem in AIT.

we know that horse has an important place in the vedas but as of now is more or less absent in the IVC raising questions about linkage and relationship between the two.

the important presence of the horse in the vedas is used to link it to central asian nomadic cultures.

there is however an important difference. there is now evidence that central asian cultures which are credited with first domesticating the horse, used to ride on their back and not on horse drawn chariots as the conventional wisdom goes. including in warfare.
cfe philip sidnell : Warhorse: Cavalry in Ancient Warfare

it is cultures that already used vehicles on wheels that adopted the horse for chariots, f.e the sumerians. not being used to a riding culture presumably they found it easier to ride chariots during battle.
it is interesting to note that chariots are central to the vedas and horse riding, when mentioned in it is used only for transporting troops to battle. IOW, vedic people did not ride to battle, unlike nomadic central asian tribes and like the more settled civilizations to the west.

what this points out is that the horse was introduced to the vedic people after they had knowledge of the wheel, possibly from the trade routes from west rather than the inaccessible north.

regarding IVC and vedic culture, it occurred to me that the two might have been parallel and vedic religion might have subsumed the other. sacred bull, 'pasupati' or mother goddess, none of these are present in vedic religion and yet are very important in subsequent hinduism. perhaps earlier the absorption of a trait, more important and geographically widespread it became. we can see the other end of this process right now, hinduism has hundreds of local variations of gods and practices that are unknown outside the locality.

Rahul M said...

would be grateful to know your thoughts on this.

अश्वमित्रः said...

"because sacredness leads to protection not destruction"

This is not at all invariably true. The ritual destruction of consecrated people and objects is a common feature of religions.

अश्वमित्रः said...

"That many Western agencies having powerful Oxbridge facilities also joined in lauding and helping (for pushing heir own Semitic supremacy)"

I have my PhD in sanskrit from Cambridge, and I'd be interested to know precisely what you're talking about. Incidentally, I have devoted my life to studying hindu texts in sanskrit, am married to a believing hindu wife, accept hinduism as a superior vehicle of truth (and am actually a legal convert to the religion, for what that may be worth), and have chosen to live in India, despite all the difficulties that entails for a foreigner. So, yeah, I'm curious: what's this "semitic supremacy" you're talking about?

Shankar Sharan said...

अश्वमित्र: The view "many Western agencies having powerful Oxbridge facilities also joined in lauding and helping (for pushing heir own Semitic supremacy)" means, e.g., that Oxford University Press, New Delhi patronises mostly, perhaps only, those authors who denigrade, laugh at, insult or mock Hindu books, traditions, faith, etc. One can see numerous such titles from the OUP, India written by even greenhorns of leftist cabal. The agency, on the other hand, deliberately spurn even great scholars giving a profound but favaourable presentation of Hindu thought and situation.

That, sir, is to push their Semitic supremacy, loosely called. As if to say, 'look what your are: vulgar, superstitious, lowly Hindus (in comparison to us, the white Christian lot)'. Perhaps for the same feeling they also never, but never deride Islamic books, traditions, etc. Because they are Abrahamic brothers, after all. Hence the happy eagerness by Western agencies like OUP to publish die-hard anti-Hindus like Jha, Thapar, et al. to the point of n-th repeatition.

Shankar Sharan said...

अश्वमित्र: The view "many Western agencies having powerful Oxbridge facilities also joined in lauding and helping (for pushing heir own Semitic supremacy)" means, e.g., that Oxford University Press, New Delhi patronises mostly, perhaps only, those authors who denigrade, laugh at, insult or mock Hindu books, traditions, faith, etc.

One can see numerous such titles from the OUP, India written by even greenhorns of leftist cabal. The agency, on the other hand, deliberately spurn even great scholars giving a profound but favaourable presentation of Hindu thought and situation.

That, sir, is to push their Semitic supremacy, loosely called. As if to say, 'look what your are: vulgar, superstitious, lowly Hindus (in comparison to us, the white Christian lot)'. Perhaps for the same feeling they also never, but never deride Islamic books, traditions, etc. Because they are Abrahamic brothers, after all.

Hence the happy eagerness by Western agencies like OUP to publish die-hard anti-Hindus like Jha, Thapar, et al. to the point of n-th repeatition.

Karthik rajan said...

@ अश्वमित्रः :[This is not at all invariably true. The ritual destruction of consecrated people and objects is a common feature of religions] Sir, in which religion is this feature found ? Can u give some examples, because, i have not come across such instances before. The only practice of similar nature ,to my knowledge, happens during the Lord Ganesh chathurthi festival in mumbai where the idols are dragged all along the roads of mumbai and dumped into the sea. In places where there is no sea, the idols are kept in a secluded area to degenerate naturally. But this is done after the completion of worship when the idols lose their 'sacredness' and hence this can't be considered a ritualistic destruction.
--karthikrajan

अश्वमित्रः said...

"Sir, in which religion is this feature found ? Can u give some examples, because, i have not come across such instances before."

Well, for starters, christians ritually eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and this is actually just the youngest incarnation of a very ancient sacrificial tradition that preceded.

अश्वमित्रः said...

"That, sir, is to push their Semitic supremacy, loosely called."

Yes, very loosely. I come to you with concrete examples of why I find this view meaningless, and all you can do is spit back the same utterly uninformed rant. I spent years at Cambridge. Not one of the indologists I knew there was a christian, not one of them knew or cared anything for their supposed "abrahamic brothers" the jews and muslims. Oxford, Cambridge, and other western university presses publish all kinds of material that is outrageous to narrow-minded traditionalists of all persuasions. So far as indology goes, I also find a lot of it offensive, for various reasons, but this endless ranting about how indologists are pious christian missionaries who have masochistically devoted their lives to studying a tradition they loathe and want to destroy is the kind of paranoid nonsense that can only be believed by people who have never met the people they are ranting about.

Shankar Sharan said...

@ अश्वमित्र:
Sir, sir, you amaze me! Three times 'rant' and one 'spit' you accused me of, and that too with wrong example!! Where did I say that all western authors or Indologists are "pious christian missionaries who have masochistically devoted their lives to studying a tradition they loathe and want to destroy" etc.?

Please consider what I actually wrote: that OUP kind in India publish and patronize only anti-Hindu authors and books, written by mostly Hindu-born (remember who is the author by which we are having this discussion - a D N Jha, not a Christian missionary!) What I said is that Western publishing houses and scholars generally have a feeling of Semitic supremacy (e.g. see how S Huntington has defined 'the American idea', and 'democracy'; or how Wendy Doniger has written about Vedas and an ‘alternative history of Hindus’). But that is entirely different what you needlessly accused me of.

And you never answered my charge on OUP, Macmillan, Penguin types that they deliberately spurn and despise even great scholars of India with Hindu spirit and inclination. On any relevant subject: politics, history, society, philosophy. On the other hand, the same publishers are extra kind and sympathetic to Islamic issues in all subjects. Do they publish an ‘alternative history of Muslims’ or such venomous analyses on Quran as Wendy did on Vedas? What is it if not an Abrahamic kinship? May be here one can disagree. But a Hindu can rightfully say so, if he observes that among the Western publishing houses in India there is a systematic, longtime antipathy to Hindu sensibilities and great empathy to Islamic ones.

Sir, differ by all means! but to the point. And without abuses.

As for ‘pious Christian missionaries’, they are a different subject. Please do not forget the Vatican has a world-wide active hierarchy, including in India having special emphases, with the sole aim of ‘harvesting the souls’ and ‘plant the cross in Asia’, with cash rich countless projects. Well, are not the Western governments and societies see nothing wrong in that, and many of them even support it? Has any Western government representative ever said that such projects are instance of intolerance, against the spirit of multi-culturism, or against Hindus’ human rights? This silence, and support to Vatican’s imperialist agenda by the Western forces, political and academic, are exactly what you scorn as needless ‘rant’ by some Hindus. Mind, only Cambridge scholars do not make ‘the West’. The West comprises various and larger forces, and many of them are indeed having anti-Hindu active programmes. What you are denying then?

अश्वमित्रः said...

Well, I am certainly not denying most of the facts that you mention in your reply. I do not deny the disgusting reality of western funded christian missionary predation in India and elsewhere in the third world, and I do not deny the pro-islamic bias of the dominant stream of the western intellectual class. In fact, what you have just written sounds a lot like what I write elsewhere and at other times. I'm sorry if I have misunderstood you and projected my own "rant" onto the wrong conversation. I do feel that the motives of indologists, such as I have known them, are very harmfully and insultingly misunderstood by many hindus. The indologists I have known have been animated by a sincere love for the literature and thought to which they have devoted their lives. Most of them are atheists in the western sense of the term: modern-minded people who are attracted to indian philosophy as making more sense from a modern, rational point of view, but who are essentially western in culture; a couple of them, close friends of mine, are much more deeply and personally drawn to hinduism, and, like me, would declare themselves converts if they believed that that would mean much in a hindu context. But these indologists, focussed on literature and philosophy, are not, I think, the indologists you are talking about: those would be the historians, with whom I have very little personal experience, and whose work I stopped reading ages ago. Hence, perhaps, our misunderstanding. क्षम्यताम्।

Karthik rajan said...

@ अश्वमित्र: [Well, for starters, christians ritually eat the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and this is actually just the youngest incarnation of a very ancient sacrificial tradition that preceded.]Sir, Agreed that some orthodox Christians symbolically consume the flesh and blood of jesus thro bread/beef and red wine respectively. But can consumption of consecrated food items be equated to ritualistic destruction of consecrated objects ??

--karthikrajan

अश्वमित्रः said...

Well, the symbolic eating of Jesus Christ is just the last stage of a long development that began with the ritual eating of first human and later substituted animal victims. The sacrificial victim is not killed and eaten because he is hated and despised, quite the contrary obviously.

Shankar Sharan said...

@ अश्वमित्र
Really क्षम्यताम् was not at all needed. All I wanted to focus on the Indian anti-Hindu intellectuals, who get tremendous support and encouragement from many powful Western agencies. I am ready to accept, that many Western schoalrs as well as managers of establishements do so in good faith, believeing they are dealing with top level intelelctuals.

But, sadly, that is not the case. The secular-leftist intellectuals group here is efficient in marketing each other, and doing so with the govt officials as well as the Western agencies.

अश्वमित्रः said...

"Sir, in which religion is this feature found ? Can u give some examples, because, i have not come across such instances before."

And closer to home, of course, there's... the ashvamedha.

aronite said...

'A good handful of passages in ancient texts are shown to confirm that the Vedic cattle-herders considered beef a normal part of their diet'. Or is it handful of texts made as good to prove that case which could be actually just 'ritualistic' and misunderstood?
Since when was beef eating or not eating become central to hindu identity?
Vedic riks are works of kavis ie, poets and what to make of the cows and the shining herds spoken of there if done literally to write a stupid's history?
America too is recent Notion- but not just a nation and a Notion but a cultural identity that is american way of life and Americanism. Why should hindutva or even Hindu rashtra version of it have contnious traceability to remotest history in oredr for it to acquire political or sociological space?
Would the Israeli masgot of Star of David get 'deconstructed' when shown that it nevert existed but just the hannukah or trident?
christian identity should be dropped since crucifix never existed in Roman times! And the crescent and star since its turkish pagan and not Islamic or even Arab.
i dont see any merit in Elst conferring even the little credibility= when we know savarkar advocated beef eating and is a rank hindu communalist and hindu rashtra advocate and that he did exactly to counter these polemic -which means its all such old trash recycled. Hindutva had already deconstructed this attempts at deconstruction?
Lastly if immigration of disparate peoples of europe and disparate faith systems such as Jews can go on to acquire a vibrant new Identity- via America and israel, why shouldnt successive waves of invasions compel and forge a Hindu identity? After all vijayanagara and marathas are anterior to jewish and american self descovery?