Saturday, November 18, 2017

Western TV about the RSS

(Pragyata, 15 November 2017)

Logo van canvasOn Friday 3 November, the Flemish broadcaster VRT Canvas, in its programme Terzake ("To the point"), presented a Dutch documentary from the series De Westerlingen ("The Westerners"), in which young Dutchmen meet youngsters in countries across the world to explore the differences in culture. In the past, the impression was that all cultural differences were on the way out because the non-Westerners were simply Westernizing. Now, it has become clear that some differences are here to stay, and that even in non-Muslim countries, there is a tough resistance against too much Westernization.

This time around, we were taken to India where a Dutch youngster called Nicolaas was meeting young Hindu Nationalists. According to the announcement on the TV station's website: "In India extremist associations acquire ever more influence. Nicolaas Veul meets activist young Hindu Nationalists in the holy city of Allahabad. He goes around with Divya, Ritesh and Vikrant. They fight for a Hindu India, and against influences from outside."

Hindu fascism?

At the outset, in the car on the way to an event of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangha ("National Volunteer Corps", RSS), he was quickly briefed by an Indian Secularist about the Hindu Nationalists. These were said to be "increasingly powerful", to be issuing for use in schools "textbooks rewritten in a pro-Hindu sense", and  to be "openly linked with the Nazis".

This was a nice summary of the power equation in the reporting on India worldwide and in all the different segments of the media: all press correspondents in and "experts" on India look at Indian society and esp. the communal conflict through the glasses that a handful of Secularists have put on their noses, reproducing the latter's anti-Hindu bias and disinformation. For the average viewer, every topic in the ensuing meetings came under the cloud of these initial "revelations", eventhough nothing in the RSS performance effectively filmed confirmed or illustrated any of them.

Since the 1980s, I have never heard the term "Hindu Nationalists" without the addition that they are "emerging" or "increasingly powerful". They should have been all-powerful by now. The only (partial) exception was the few years after the 2009 elections, when the BJP had been defeated even worse than in 2004, so that supporters of the socialist-casteist parties, including partisan experts like Christophe Jaffrelot, concluded that Hindu Nationalism was on the way out. However, instead of building on the existing power equation to push Hindutva deeper into oblivion, the Secularist Congress wasted its chance because it got too wrapped up in driving corruption to unprecedented levels, too much for the electorate to stomach. Once the next electoral campaign got under way, even the Secularists soon conceded that a BJP victory was becoming inevitable.

However, contrary to what the observers all think or say, the present BJP government under Narendra Modi, while numerically strong, is ideologically extremely weak. It is not in any way Hinduizing or "saffronizing" the polity or the education system. It is continuing the Congressite-Leftist anti-Hindu policies mandated by the Constitution, or at best looking the other way but not changing the Constitution to put a definitive stop to such policies. Thus, subsidized schools can be Christian or Muslim, but not Hindu: in the latter case, either they get taken over by the state and secularized, or at best, they have to do without subsidies. Temples are nationalized and their income channeled to non-Hindu purposes, a treatment against which the law protects churches and mosques. And this is no less the case in BJP-ruled states, where the Government could have chosen not to avail of the opportunities given to it by the Constitution.

Nowhere in this documentary would you pick up any hint to the main communal reality in India: the anti-majority discrimination. It is admittedly hard to explain to outsiders, and therefore easy to conceal or deny, but Hindus are indeed second-class citizens in their native country. I am aware that right now, many non-Indian readers will refuse to believe me, but it is really like that. Anywhere is the world you can download the text of the Indian Constitution, so please verify for yourself, starting with Art.25-30.

So, what did you get to see? Many people in the city were on the streets converging on an open ground where a meeting of a local RSS unit (shakha, "branch") with physical and ideological training was about to take place. They were wearing (or in the case of newcomers, buying) the RSS outfit with white shirt and black cap and trousers. It was the new uniform, for till recently the black trousers would have been brown knickers, even more colonial-style. Their military style was highlighted, though everyone could see for himself that all the "weapons training" they did was with sticks, rather harmless in the age of the Kalashnikov. Naturally, there was no hint that an endless series of murders of RSS men has been committed by Kerala Communists, Khalistanis in Panjab, and others. The RSS youngsters also did not bring it up, or if they did, that part was not shown. The persistent suggestion was that they were the perpetrators of violence, not its victims, though no such violence was actually shown.

When interviewing these RSS activists, Nicolaas repeatedly remarked that this or that guy was actually impeccably friendly and quite nice. Not at all how we would picture the fascists announced initially by the Secularist. Then what was wrong with them?

Valentine Day

The real topic of this documentary series was the culture clash and the native resistance against Westernization. And indeed, these young people refused to absorb the flood of Westernizing influences. One example of a pernicious influence was Valentine, taken straight from the existing Western commercial pop culture. More ideologized people denounce it also as a "Christian" holiday. Valentine was a Roman priest who performed tabooed weddings, and when martyred and sainted, the Church gave him a day in the Saints' calendar, 14 February, coinciding with the pre-Christian fertility feast presided over by the goddess Juno Februa ("clean, purifying") of 13-15 February. It took a thousand years, to the age of the troubadours and courtly love, before he graduated to patron-saint of romanticism.

As such, commerce catapulted him to the fore, and made the saint's day into an occasion pious Christians would frown upon: the feast of sentimentalism and getting carried away with infatuation. Since the late 18th century, there is a whole literature, and later movies, about youngsters following their hearts and overcoming the resistance of their unfeeling narrow-minded parents. This is now re-enacted in India, where commerce and the Secularist-promoted fondness of all things Western is spreading the highly artificial celebration of Valentine's Day. This has become the symbol of Western decadence, in which the pursuit of emotional kicks takes precedence over long-term institution building, marriage and the resulting children's well-being. Nicolaas's Indian interlocutor wants to spare his country the breakdown of family life that has come to characterize the modern West.

But in the documentary, in the interview with the RSS activist, we only see a humourless spoilsport's jaundiced rant against a day of innocent fun. The Dutch lad just doesn't see that there is another side to it, and that the Hindu critique of Valentine has its legitimacy. This RSS fellow was voicing a very positive viewpoint, one in favour of the precious fabric of traditional social values, of the time-tested mos maiorum ("ancestral custom"), which is being undermined by modernist influences symbolized by Valentine's Day. Possibly it is not good enough to overrule modernization, but that remains to be seen, and the traditionalist view deserves a proper hearing.

In the streets, the Dutch newcomer to India saw Westernization all over the place. Western fashion, neon lights, shopping malls, Kentucky Fried Chicken, young couples kissing in public. Even an RSS spokesman admitted he sometimes goes to the Mc Donalds. So, the final impression that the viewers will take home is that, in India at least, Westernization is unstoppable. It is not uncontested, true, but the nativists, though not convincingly put down as "fascists" anymore, are not very competent and are at any rate unable to stop it.


But then, come to think of it, the RSS fellow didn't have the required communication skills to overturn an anti-Hindu bias instilled in the Western public since decades. And by "anti-Hindu", I do not mean the kind of grim animus seen in the Missionaries or the Secularists, but a background conditioning: Nicolaas has no quarrel with the Hindus as such, and he is probably not even aware of his implicit anti-Hindu bias, but like most Westerners with an interest in India, he has innocently absorbed the partisan view of India fostered by the really hostile people.

It is unrealistic to expect this one fleeting television conversation to change a bias built up over decades. Still, the RSS spokesman could have defended his position better. On the other hand, his peaceful and civilized but weak argumentation was a logical illustration of a deliberate policy pursued since the 1920s. It was in line with the old RSS's boy-scout mentality of disdain for all communication ("do well and don't look back"). Founder KB Hedgewar, who had started out as member of a revolutionary wing of the Freedom Movement, with secretive and purely oral communication to avoid discovery by the police, installed in his new organization a hostility to any concern for outside approval, and to the media and their narrative. A consequence today is that RSS spokesmen are gravely lacking in communication skills. On average, they have a far better case than their clumsy performance in interviews and TV debates would suggest.

Twice the RSS refused a media presence. I was somewhat surprised to see this. In the early nineties, when I went around to RSS/BJP centres to interview Hindu Nationalist leaders, there was still plenty of distrust for outsiders, and communication was largely excluded. I knew then that I was exceptionally privileged to be allowed access, as a result of my lone pro-Hindu conclusions in my book on the Ayodhya temple/mosque conflict. But then private TV stations conquered India, gaining entry in the remotest villages, and finally the internet made communication unavoidable, even for the RSS. I had thought that this seclusion had by now become a thing of the past, but the RSS appears to have retained some of it. 

The result is that RSS spokesmen, while not at all the "fascists" of Secularist mythology, come across as village bumpkins. In this case, an interviewed RSS man suffered from a lack of serious historical knowledge, or of a chauvinist type of gullibility. He explained that India has invented plastic surgery and, as proven by the Ramayana, the airplane. This story has two related drawbacks: as far as evidence can tell, it is not true; and it is bad publicity, for while it may make a handful of gullible folk admire Hindu culture, it turns Hinduism into a superstitious laughing-stock for many more. When the Dutchman brought up homosexuality, the RSS man said: "That doesn't exist in our country." Just like it didn't exist in the Soviet Union ("a symptom of bourgeois decadence") nor in Africa according to Robert Mugabe ("they may be gay in America, but they will be sad people in Zimbabwe"). Again, even those Westerners who condemn odd sexual behaviour will laugh at these clumsy attempts to make it stop at your country's border. This way the RSS tendency is particularly weak in the prime precondition for communication, viz. seeing things also through the eyes of your interlocutor.


Today, the image of Hinduism is less grim than when Hindu Nationalism realistically coveted power of for the first time came to power (1990s). One reason is reality: all the grim Doomsday predictions about the Hindu Nationalists "throwing all Muslims into the Indian Ocean" and "turning the clock back regarding Dalit emancipation", failed to come true. Recently, Narendra Modi has conducted a very successful foreign policy, and the Western powers can only dream of the economic growth figures India takes for granted. Less importantly but tellingly, the Hindu parents are making progress in the California textbook affair, where some negative portrayals of Hindu culture will be amended, contrasting with the total defeat inflicted on the Hindus in 2006. The anti-Hindu lobby in American academe, largely consisting of NRIs and Indologists, has lost considerable steam.

(The same impression could be had from Sona Datta's documentary about Hindu art and temple architecture, a few days later. Over-all quite informative as well as full of awe for Hindu brilliance, it nonetheless started out with familiar secularist lies about pluralist Moghuls who "built their magnificent mosques next to Hindu temples" and presided over a peaceful and tolerant empire "when Europe was savaged by wars of religion". But unlike in the recent past, this propaganda was not that obtrusive.)

And so, this Dutch young man approached the RSS men with an open mind, in spite of the hateful briefing he had initially received from a secularist. He had good things to say about the nativists he met. But he also carried his prejudices with him, less against the "Hindu" than against the "Nationalist" element, and less intense than 10 or 25 years ago, but still palpable. Conclusion: the power equation on the publicity front is still favourable to the secularists but not unfathomably desperate for the Hindus anymore.

(Still visible till 3 December 2017: (Dutch subtitles but all the talking is in Hindi or English)

Read more!

Conference season

This September 2017 was conference season.

The archaeology conference

On 2 September I spoke at the congress of the European Archeological Association in the outskirts of Maastricht. Several sessions concerned the Urheimat of the Indo-European language family. I could participate in an interdisciplinary session with archaeologists, geneticists and linguists, where I took the opportunity to present the India-as-Homeland theory. A few linguists there knew me and had an idea of my narrative, but otherwise the audience was completely surprised by it. Due to time constraints there were no questions, and it was afterwards that I talked to a few people privately. I cannot report any useful feedback there, except for a professor belonging to the Leiden school of linguistics who had read some papers of mine.

He was friendly as usual but not yet convinced. This is not abnormal, a far cry from the insistent stonewalling practised against the Out-of-India Theory by the likes of Steve Farmer. It is normal for a reigning paradigm to have a certain robustness and take some time before giving in to inconvenient new data. Often it turns out that with a little fine-tuning and sophisticating, we can domesticate the new data into the existing paradigm. So, focusing on an isogloss uniting Sanskrit with Greek, the augment (initial vowel added to the imperfective forms of the verb), hard to explain if they left a Pontic Homeland in opposite directions, he remarked that the augment in the Sanskrit-to-Greek sequence of languages tends to behave differently in each of these languages.

Well, of course their behaviour is less than identical. Greek and Sanskrit have grown so far apart as to become different languages, not mutually understandable anymore, with Greek e.g. losing the dual number and three of the eight cases. It is therefore only to be expected that the augment developed some idiosyncrasies in either of the languages as well. But the fact that they have the augment while the Western branches of Indo-European do not, remains hard to digest for a Pontic Homeland scenario and is eminently favourable to an Indian Homeland.

Participating in these conferences is important for the personal communication with colleagues you would otherwise only know from their publications. In this case, concerning the Aryan origins debate, you get the chance to explain to the ignorant what it's all about. Most have kept knowledge about it out. The search for the Homeland is itself not popular anymore, partly for its suspected political motives, partly because a really convincing answer remains elusive and leads to the impression that "we will never know anyway". The specific Indian homeland scenario has gotten associated with Hindu Nationalism, itself the object of routine vilification. But it should not be hard to explain among colleagues that these circumstances fail to invalidate the evidence for an Indian homeland.

A wholly different session, mostly manned by Scandinavians, focused on the use of the past by the "extreme right". Anti-immigration or anti-Islamic parties have come to the fore in many European countries, though the speakers here failed to give even one example of their proposals and policies that would reasonably qualify as "extreme right". But it remains obvious that these nativists care a lot about the national heritage. By the definition used here, the Hindu Nationalists would certainly qualify. In the early years after the founding of the Jan Sangh (°1951, reconstituted in 1980 as the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, presently in government), national heritage was indeed one of the main concerns of party presidents like SP Mookerjee, Raghu Vira or Balraj Madhok. Today, however, and unbeknownst to most, the party has become an ordinary pro-capitalist party swearing by "development" and callously indifferent to issues of heritage.  

The eye-catcher of the conference was the keen interest in the Palaeolithic Continuity Theory launched by Mario Alinei, topic of an entire session with a handful of supportive speakers. This theory claims that the Indo-European languages ​​have more or less lived in their historical habitats for more than ten thousand years, e.g. the Celts on the Atlantic coasts. In that case, Stonehenge and other megalithic structures have still been built by the Druids after all. Interesting, but nevertheless, most linguists do not believe it at all.

istorical disciplines attract quite a bit of bizarre people with bizarre views, and I can testify that fora of historical linguists such as the Journal of Indo-European Studies have conveyed a lot of bizarre theories from the rarities' cabinet over the years. Time will tell us whether I myself belong to this category of odd men out.

The religion conference

In the medicine campus Gasthuisberg of my own Alma Mater (the Catholic University of Leuven), the European Association for the Study of Religion held its conference on 18-22 September. Secularism as a theme made a side appearance in many sessions but was the main theme in the session I participated in, with the paper "Secularism: from Europe to India and back".

I told the august audience that most publications on India's religious landscape and legislation are in agreement that "India is a secular state" (though they call this secularism, already since the 1960s without let-up, "increasingly threatened by Hindu Nationalism"), and that all these experts are wrong. A survey of the relevant Constitution articles with their discriminations against Hinduism shows unambiguously: India is not a secular state at all. The most poignant example is the discrimination in education by art. 30, which has led to the attempt by Hindu sects and organization to have themselves declared non-Hindu. There are no Christian or Muslim sects declaring themselves non-Christian c.q. non-Muslim (on the contrary: the Mormons call themselves Christian and the Ahmadiyas Muslim, though their parent religions have doubts about acknowledging them), but a big handful of Hindu sects do clamour for the exit: there you have an objective criterion for the claim that being a non-Hindu brings tangible privileges that would not exist in a secular state. This Article 30 is the basis for the Right To Education Act (2008), which imposes a heavy burden on Hindu schools alone, forcing hundreds of them to date to close down.

The Hindu Nationalists, for their part, prove to be no threat at all, neither to the reigning non-secularism falsely called secularism, nor to a theoretical real secularism. This is fully borne out by their 9+ years in government (1998-2004 and 2014-), which saw a total standstill on the religio-Constitutional front: neither initiatives to change the status-quo within the limits of the present-day law nor, a fortiori, any legal changes achieved.  

The audience, mostly religious scholars not particularly involved with India, was surprised but mostly sympathetic. Some defenders of Indian "secularism", anti-Hindu discriminations and all, tried arguing that the minorities need protection against the majority. Historically, this would have been true in Christian countries, and today it is very much true in Islamic countries (but have those pro-"secular"-ists ever pleaded for discriminations protecting the persecuted Pakistani Christians?), but pray, what injustice have the Hindus ever committed against the non-Hindus? To be sure, within the Hindu fold there has been gross discrimination against the low castes, but this only emphasizes the non-discrimination against the religious minorities by contrast.

The Orientalist conference

The same week in the German city of Jena there was, 4 years after the conference in Münster, the Conference of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft ("German Oriental Society"), called the Deutsche Orientalistentage ("assembly of German Orientalists"). True to its name, it perpetuates the venerable old tradition of Orientalism, heedless of the calumny against this academic discipline propagated by Edward Said. The latter's error-riddled book Orientalism (1978), a grand and apparently intoxicating conspiracy theory turning all Orientalist scholars into agents of the colonial project, remains wildly popular in the Asian Studies departments of the Anglosphere and a cornerstone of most Indian intellectuals' worldview. I felt far more at home at this conference with numerous serious scholars than at, say, the European Conference for South-Asian Studies (ECSAS), among tenured agitators who have completely done away with classical and other textual studies to replace them with postmodernist sociology and political "science".

It so happened that the Sinological session started with a tribute to my former fellow-student Carine Defoort, now a very energetic Sinology professor at our Alma Mater, Leuven University. My own paper was also in the Sinology session, though by subject it could have been in the Indology session as well: it was about Neidan (Chinese "inner alchemy") as the proposed source of Indian Kundalini Yoga with its well-known Cakra system.

But then, among the organizers of the Indology session, I am a controversial name because of my known skepticism towards the pious lies of my peers, their so-called secularism paradigm flavoured with anti-Brahmanism. That far at least the anti-Hindu "South-Asian Studies" school has penetrated in the Orientalist institutions, unlike in the other sections, where scholars aren't expected to militate against their chosen object of study. In spite of Said's fantasies, most Orientalists had or have a tendency to "go native", to sympathize or identify with the culture they study; most Sinologists can argue the case for China with conviction, or at least tone down and relativize any criticism that is unavoidable. By contrast, only in the case of India is a scholar accepted in his peer group if he gives proof of a bias against the country and religion he has chosen to study.

So, using a transparent excuse, they rejected my paper, eventhough in this case my positions happened to be disliked by the Hindu Nationalists as well, viz. for tracing one of the best-known aspects of Hinduism to a foreign source. I saved my chances by shifting to the Sinology session.

Contrary to my experience in Delhi (WAVES, December 2016, where someone present unfriended me, also in real life, because of my supposed "anti-Indian stance") and Ghent (university's Indology Day, March 2017), where I had presented earlier stages of this research, in Jena this paper did not provoke much reaction. Apart from a few young Ph.D. candidates and a few Chinese participants, nobody in the audience evinced any surprise or enthusiasm. For them it was but one of the many tedious talks you hear at scholarly conferences, nothing controversial. In so far as they had adopted some Chinese chauvinism, they approved of my story, which after all gave credit to Chinese culture for a well-known aspect of Indian culture. But that Chinese culture was inventive, creative and simply great, was no novelty to them. They took it as a matter of course.

Among the people I met was Dr. Reinhold Grünendahl, working as an Indologist in the famous university of Göttingen. I had last met him at the  Münster conference of 2013. I had written about his paper confronting Sheldon Pollock's and Vishva Adluri's theses on the history of German Indology ( He briefed me of recent developments that had only confirmed his position in the debate, and informed me that he had left the topic behind it now because nothing fruitful remained to be said anymore.

In the Indo-European session, the highlight was Paul Heggarty's paper. This trail-blazing expert roundly acknowledged the existence of an Indian-homeland paradigm next to the prevailing steppe-origin paradigm. This is in itself already a breakthrough regardless of his actual position. Most scholars in the field don't take the India thesis seriously either because they simply don't know of it, or because they have been warned off by agitators (like the non-expert Steve Farmer) who describe its proponents either as ludicrous amateurs of the PN Oak type or as fanatical chauvinists compromised with the Gujarat 2002 "genocide" and other allegedly Hindu Nationalist riots. It is with  clean conscience that they take an in itself unscientific attitude of stonewalling vis-à-vis a rival theory, i.c. against any overture from the Out-of India side.

Heggarty still worked largely with a assumption of a more Westerly homeland, partly because of the genetic evidence. This indeed shows a (limited) population influx into India, but then we know of such influxes in the historical period, and we can verify that none of them has changed the Indian language landscape, save for some loanwords. Scythians, Huns, Greeks, Tocharians (Kushanas), Turks, Afghans: all have linguistically assimilated, eventhough in the latter two cases, they were ideologically conditioned to remain as separate as possible. There is no reason why any West-Asians coming in earlier should have been better equipped to culturally confront the advanced and huge Indian native population any better.

But he did acknowledge other genetic evidence that would ultimately fortify the Out-of-India scenario. Thus, the early Greeks show a distinct genetic contribution from Iran. And of course, Central Europe saw a dramatic genetic as well as archaeological change in the early 3rd millennium, which even mainstream scholars take to attest the influx of the Indo-Europeans coming from Yamna on the steppes. Me too, I see nothing wrong with positing the Yamna culture as homeland of at least the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and Baltic branches,-- but not of the Indo-European family a a whole. This position was readily confirmed by Heggarty when he pointed out that the Yamna culture was simply too late to be the ultimate Homeland. Though he did not articulate this implication, it happens to accord with the Out-of-India scenario, with Yamna as a secondary centre after the emigration from India.

The use of conferences

Whatever may be wrong with Wendy Doniger, she had one observation right: she likened scholarly conferences to the morning hour at kindergarten, when all the toddlers are asked to talk about their recent experiences. They all tell their own story unconnected with all the other children's stories, and no interaction develops. Nowadays at conferences, there has at least been this improvement that papers are grouped into thematic sessions, but even there, many novices and even some more seasoned speakers remain exclusively focused on their own work.

The main benefit of conferences in this day of internet forums and teleconferencing remains the face-to-face interaction with colleagues. This is an opportunity for getting around policies of stonewalling, especially important on two fronts: the Indo-European origins debate and the Indian secularism debate. In both, the anti-India and anti-Hindu bias is only weakly grounded. Most scholars only take this position because it is the reigning opinion, and usually they don't know any better. They are the captives of gate-keepers excluding alternative views from the institutions and the prestigious journals. Personal contacts may help to open their eyes. 

Read more!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Down with “nationalism”

 (Bharat-Bharati, 28 Sep. 2017)

For once, the secularists have it right. The nationalism by which the Hindutva crowd swears, is a Western invention. Feelings for your home country are universal, and natives of India will need no prodding nor any foreign or native ideology to defend their country when necessary. Nationalism is just there, as a gut feeling, not in need of any promotion or defence. But as an ideology, it is the creation of the modern West, hardened in the fires of World War 1. Of the secularists, we already knew that they always ape the West (or what they assume to be Western), but for champions of native civilization, it is worth noticing.

Long before I learned about India, I already knew that national provenance is not very useful as an explanation of anything in politics. I remember the TV news report ca. 1970 of a public speech by Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau. Suddenly he was interrupted by a bearded young man loudly scolding him. Trudeau singled him out for an improvised reply: “You have been swayed by those bogus progressistic ideas from the US, from Chicago and Los Angeles. Get Canadian, man!” Similarly, the Flemish politician Eric Van Rompuy (younger brother of the later EU President, Herman Van Rompuy) criticized Leftist-inspired innovations as “counter to the Flemish national soul”. As if there can be anything Canadian or non-Canadian, anything Flemish or non-Flemish, about ideas.

Nationalism in a changing world

In the 1920s, because of the Freedom Struggle, loyalty to some form of Indian nationalism was the obvious choice for self-respecting people in India. And because of the British presence and influence on the curriculum, European ideological influence was larger than life. Just at that time, after World War 1, nationalism was at its peak. When theorizing the national struggle, Hindu activists had little choice but to take inspiration from European thinkers like Giuseppe Mazzini, mastermind of Italian reunification and translated by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

The construction of Hindu concerns in terms of "Hindu nationalism" (effective meaning of "Hindutva", a term launched by Savarkar) was understandable. So, it is not our aim to berate freedom fighters like Hindutva author Savarkar, Hindu Mahasabha co-founder Swami Shraddhananda or RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar.

However, they could have looked to Hindu history to see that one of the central concerns of all nationalists was completely lacking there: homogenization. India was the champion of diversity. States were rarely linguistically homogenous and rulers didn’t care to make them so. Loyalty was less to one’s state (which could easily change) but to a more lasting and more intimate identity: one’s caste. As BR Ambedkar’s grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, said: “Every caste a nation.” States had only limited power and were hardly present in the lives of their citizens. By contrast, modern nation-states sought to involve its citizens in the state project, e.g. by conscription, and to insinuate itself in their lives, see e.g. Otto von Bismarck’s creation of social security to cement Germany’s newfound unity.

If the Hindutva stalwarts per se wanted to look to “civilized” Europe, they could have taken inspiration from a number of multinational empires there. In Savarkar’s student days in London, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires still flourished and were characterized by a state religion (Orthodoxy c.q. Roman Catholicism), just as Hindutva stalwarts had in mind, whereas ethnic nationalism favoured secularism, e.g. German unification deliberately downplayed the Catholic/Lutheran dichotomy. Another example of how nationalism and religiosity are naturally antagonistic, was provided by Turkey: while Atatürk abolished the Ottoman empire’s religious bias, his secular-nationalist republic created the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. The old empires had a dominant language (Russian c.q. German), but along with a certain unequal tolerance to minority religions, they also left room for minority languages and made no attempt to impose a single language. This could be contrasted with the then purest example of nationalism, the French Third Republic (1871-1940) where the minority languages, still spoken by half the French population in the 19th century, were being destroyed and the state “religion” of secularism was aggressively promoted.

True, with World War 1, the aforementioned empires disappeared, but another example even closer at hand survived: the United Kingdom. Few people realize how the specific status of each part of the UK differed: the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Wales etc., all had and still have a different relation with the British Crown. The Welsh and Gaelic languages were not supported by the state, but there was no active campaign to weed them out either. In spite of a rising level of tolerance, there was a state religion and all traditional customs and institutions were upheld. All while struggling for their sovereignty, perhaps Hindus could have learned something from their colonizers? (For starters, they could have realized that Britain was named after Brigid, the fire-clad goddess whose name is related to Bhrgu, the Vedic Ur-seer who introduced the fire sacrifice.)

Back to reality. The Hindutva pioneers opted for the then-prestigious model of the nation-state and tried to cram Hindu political aspirations into it. Rightly or wrongly, this is what happened, so let us start from there. The normal course for a political doctrine is to take in feedback from evolving reality, and to improve with the times. A speech by a Marxist leader today will sound very different from one by his predecessor a century ago. But in the case of Hindutva, the reverse development took place. It froze in its tracks.

This way, important international developments passed without registering on the RSS radar. Nationalism lost its lustre and even became a term of abuse. First there was the circumstance that the German and Japanese imperialists of World War 2 had sworn by stalwart nationalism (many of the Resistance fighters too, e.g. Charles de Gaulle, but that has been forgotten), whereas their Soviet enemies called themselves internationalists. This way, nationalism came to connote both evil and defeat. Secondly, the more recent wave of globalization turned nationalism into a nostalgic past-oriented attitude, something for village bumpkins who had missed the latest train of progress.

Yet, the Sangh Parivar remained blind to these developments and kept on swearing by interbellum nationalism. It continued to take inspiration from its first leaders, Hedgewar and his successor Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. If you don’t know their voices and you listen to a tape-recorded speech by Hedgewar and one from his current successor Mohan Bhagwat nine decades later, you wouldn’t know who is who: the thoughts they express are interchangeable. That does not reflect on Hedgewar, who was a child of his time and contributed the best he could to the Hindu cause. But it reflects quite negatively on the course the Sangh Parivar has taken since then.

“Nationalism is Hinduism”

In one sense, the word “nationalism” is defensible from a Hindu viewpoint. For the overseeable past, Hinduism has been native to India, whereas Christianity and Islam are irrevocably of foreign origin, with their founding histories and sacred places located outside India. Other factors remaining the same, Hindus will always identify with India in a way that Christians and Muslims cannot.

On this reality, VD Savarkar based his definition of Hindu as “one who has India as both his Fatherland and his Holyland”. Applying this insight, MS Golwalkar came up with his oft-quoted suggestion that, if India was to be a Hindu state, Christians and Muslims could only stay there as guests, not as citizens. This deduction followed logically from the premise that India would be a state of the Hindus.   

Golwalkar’s rhetoric was notoriously clumsy, but the point to retain is that he made a distinction between Hindus, howsoever broadly defined, and non-Hindus. Whether or not that distinction should have any juridical consequences, fact is that Hindus and non-Hindus were deemed different in respect of nationhood. That was a non-secular vision. In a secular state, religion wouldn’t matter, but Golwalkar opted for a state in which religion would determine citizenship.

A comparison with Israel comes to mind, where any Jew worldwide can claim citizenship. Some non-Jews are citizens because they already lived there before the creation of the Zionist state or because they are spouses of Jewish immigrants, but as a class they cannot claim citizenship. And indeed, both Savarkar and Golwalkar did invoke Zionism as an inspiring example.

To sum up, nationalism can be loaded differently from the religiously neutral meaning given to it by the Nehruvians. For now we should make abstraction of the anti-Hindu discriminations instituted by Jawaharlal Nehru and his partisans, and merely take them at their word when they dishonestly pontificate that in India, secularism means religious neutrality. That neutrality, at any rate, is not what Savarkar and Golwalkar had in mind.


As the decades went by, the Hindutva movement kept calling itself “nationalist”. In the 1940s, the emphasis came to lie on the unity and territorial integrity of India, against the Partition project designed by the MA Jinnah’s Muslim League. Advocates of the Partition were also called nationalists: ”Muslim separatists”, in Congress parlance, but they saw themselves as “Muslim nationalists”. One man’s separatism is another man’s nationalism, and these men argued that the Indian Muslims had every attribute of a nation. They gave in somewhat to the then-fashionable trends of democracy (hence the importance of numbers, so that rule by 24% Muslims would not be legitimate) and nationalism. In this case, modern nationhood thinking could be made to continue seamlessly where Muslim theology had spoken of umma and recent Muslim (particularly Ottoman) history had thrown up millat, meaning “religious community”, as an equivalent of “nation”.

Lined up against them within the Muslim community were the so-called “nationalist Muslims”, meaning that minority among Muslims who rejected Partition because they wanted to gobble up the whole of India, not just a part of it. They were not impressed with the nationalist idea that the world should be divided in sovereign territorial units belonging to nations. At most these could be administrative units within the really sovereign unit, the Caliphate, intended to comprise the whole world. Nor were they impressed with the modern fad of democracy. As Pakistan’s spiritual father Mohammed Iqbal said: “Democracy is a system in which heads are counted but not weighed.” So, like in the Middle Ages, Muslims should just emulate Mohammed and grab power any which way. Later, Muslim power could always see to it that Muslims become the majority. Since Gandhi and Nehru had always been called nationalists, Muslims who sided with them against Partition in order to keep their option of all-India conquest open, were also called nationalists, though what they really hoped for, was a reunification of the Muslims in a new Caliphate where they would lord it over the unbelievers.   

Do keep in mind that both parties had the same goal: Islamic world conquest. The wrongly called “nationalist Muslims” went straight for it, largely because the modern world was unfamiliar to them, while the separatists made temporary concessions to the new circumstances and first wanted to consolidate Muslim power in Pakistan. Initially they were even willing to settle for Dr. BR Ambedkar’s proposal to exchange populations, so that no Muslim would stay behind in remainder-India. They couldn’t believe their luck when on this score, India’s hands were tied by Gandhi and Nehru, so that while the Paki Hindus had to flee, the Indian Muslims could stay where they were, thus forming a fifth column for the next phase of Islamic expansion.

Integral Hinduism

Forty years later, ca. 1965, Deendayal Upadhyaya adopted the promising term "Integral Humanism", in Hindi Ekatmata Manavavad or Ekatma Manavadarshan. This seemed to transcend the division of mankind in box-type nations. Moreover, unlike nationalism, it did not seem to have been borrowed from the West, in spite of appearances. In the 1930s, the French Catholic political thinker Jacques Maritain had launched the notion of “humanisme intégral”, the ideological core of what was to become the dominant post-war movement of Christian Democracy. But it is unlikely that that is where Upadhyaya had the term from: at that time, there was still a large barrier between the French and Indian public spheres, and the term had been used cursorily by Indian writers as well, being a rather evident concept.

Let us nonetheless note the parallel: in 1930s’ France, there was a militantly secular regime, the 3rd Republic, and an advancing threat of Communism, exactly like in 1960s’ India. Both were effectively atheist but called themselves “humanist”, which had the effective meaning of “non-theist”. Against these two arms of atheism, the core counter-insight from the religiously committed side was that “a humanism which denies man’s religious dimension, is not an integral humanism”. Materialism amputates the natural religious dimension from man, and this has to be restored.

So, in name, “integral humanism” had a touch of genius. It sounds so innocent and positive, something that nobody can object to. That is why, in spite of being the official ideology of RSS and BJP, in which every member is trained, it is never mentioned in textbooks by “experts” on Hindutva. Out of an unscholarly political activism, these “experts” prefer to push more negatively-sounding terms, of which “Hindu nationalist” is still the kindest. It is unthinkable to read a textbook on the Labour Party without coming across the word “socialism”, yet so noxious is the intellectual climate in both India and India-watching, that it is entirely the done thing to write expert introductions on the RSS-BJP without mentioning its actual ideology.

Alas, once Upadhyaya went beyond the basics, he relapsed into talk that can only be explained as nationalistic. The central concept in his system is Chiti, the "national soul". This notion had been dear to Johann Herder, the Romantic theorist of nationalism ca. 1780. Last winter in Pune and Mumbai, the heartland of Hindu nationalism, during Upadhyaya's centenary, I noticed that this rather simplistic ideology went through a revival, with some convivial symposiums but few new ideas. It was again around this nationalist notion of Chiti that the main churning took place.

The concept of a “national soul” could make sense as a purely descriptive attempt at encapsulating the statistical tendency of a "nation" towards a certain mentality. But even as a statistical average, it is susceptible to serious evolution. 

One example. The ancient Romans were known for their organizing power, and this is what allowed them to defeat the fearless but less organized Gauls and Germans. But then Arminius, a German mercenary in the Roman army, learnt about these organizing skills, returned to his country, organized a German army, and defeated the Romans. It was the first time the Germans got associated with organizing skills, a great tradition of theirs ever since. By contrast, after holding out as great organizers for several more centuries, the Italians became proverbially chaotic, great artists but lousy strategists or politicians. The "national soul" is an entity subject to change. They know all about cuisine and amore, but you wouldn’t entrust any organizational task to them.

While not very precise as a descriptive term, Chiti is even worse as a normative concept. The stereotype of "the drunken Irish" may have a grain of truth in it, but for Irish nationalists, it is hardly a value worth defending. I don't know what the Hindu/Indian national soul is (the first European travellers in Asia, not colonialists yet, had stereotypes of “the violent Muslims”, “the indolent Buddhists”, “the perverse Chinese”, and yes, “the deceitful Hindus”), but I imagine it may also have some less desirable traits, not really worth upholding. In Upadhyaya's day, Communism was a major concern, but it was not wrong because it failed to accord with the Indian Chiti -- it did not accord with the Russian or Chinese Chiti either. Any serious critique of Communism or other challenging ideologies can perfectly be made without reference to the "National Soul".

Here again, Chiti serves as a secular-sounding escape route from a religious category. That, after all, was part of Upadhyaya’s agenda. Alright, his term “Integral Humanism” was bright, and the best possible secular-sounding approximation to a perfect translation of the Hindu term Dharma. What Upadhyaya was really getting at, was that Indians have a mentality in common that oozes out from Hinduism. The “idea of India” that secularists like Shashi Tharoor or Ramachandra Guha like to preach about, is but a secular nod to the unmentionable term Hinduism. However, rather than being proud of his Hinduism as the source of integral-humanist values, Upadhyaya, like most Sanghi ideologues ever since, was in the business of downplaying and hiding this Hinduism behind secular terms. His “integral humanism” ended up as the equivalent of the secularists’ “idea of India”. He pioneered what was to become “BJP secularism”.


During the Ayodhya controversy around 1990, the RSS-BJP professed loyalty to the “Indian hero” Rama and indignation about the “foreign invader” Babar. In reality, his geographical provenance had nothing to do with demolition of temples. The Greeks, Scythians, Kushanas and Huns had been foreign too, as were the British, yet they had not been in the business of temple-destruction. By contrast, Malik Kafur had been a native but as much of a temple-destroyer as Babar, after he had converted to Islam. So in reality, there had been a religious conflict between Hinduism and Islam, the religions of the “Hindu hero” Rama and the “Muslim invader” Babar, but Sangh Parivar escapists had tried to clothe it in nationalist language of “Indian” vs. “foreign”. 

When Mohammed and Ali entered the Pagan pilgrimage site, the Ka’ba in Mecca, they were not foreign invaders. They were of the same gene pool, skin colour, language, food habits, literary tastes, and anything else that may define a nation, as the people from whom they were about to rob the temple. And then they broke the idols, just as the Muslim invaders did in Ayodhya and everywhere else in India,-- as well as in West and Central Asia and in the Mediterranean.

Conceptualizing Islamic iconoclasm in terms of “national” vs. “foreign” is completely mistaken. In the case of the contemporary Sangh Parivar, it has moreover become a wilful mistake, an act of escapism. It thinks it can escape the label of “religious fanaticism” and earn the hoped-for pat on the shoulder from the secularists by swearing it is not Hindu. It now claims to be wedded to secular “nationalism”, not realizing that this term also invites contempt, at least in the West and therefore also among the Westernized intelligentsia.

However, its continued loyalty to “nationalism” could be dismissed as only a publicity mistake. It seems to me that its ever more pronounced shame about its historical sobriquet “Hindu” is more serious. Though once calling themselves “Hindu nationalists”, and still called that by all media, they are now only nationalists, and they repeat this over and over again to secularist interviewers, thinking this will earn them their approval. "Nationalism" has gotten absolutized at the expense of Dharma, and now serves the Sangh and esp. the BJP as a conduit towards secular nationalism, dropping any Hindu concerns altogether.

BJP secularism

We are currently witnessing the incumbency of “BJP secularism”. This non-ideology was already taking shape with the Nehru imitator AB Vajpayee’s increasing dominance in the later Jana Sangh and early BJP. It became evident in the Ayodhya events, which the BJP leadership eagerly distanced itself from after reaping the rewards in the 1991 elections. When Hindu activists defied the BJP leadership to demolish the disputed structure on 6 December 1992, BJP leader LK Advani called it “the blackest day in my life”, though in the larger scheme of things, this act greatly expedited a solution to the controversy, thus saving thousands of lives.

The Vajpayee government of 1998-2004 did strictly nothing about the list of Hindu priorities, not even the version laid down in the 40-point Hindu Agenda of another Sangh branch, the VHP. The late Pramod Mahajan realized (possibly purely as matter of electoral calculus) the untenability of the contrast between BJP programme and BJP performance: he wanted the BJP to raise certain of these demands. It they were to be vetoed by the allies, or defeated in the Lok Sabha, then they would form excellent stakes in the election debates; and if they were to pass, the BJP could take them as trophies to the campaign. But Vajpayee was adamant about going to the voters with a purely economic programme, and though India’s growth figures were then at its peak, he got soundly defeated.

The current BJP government is repeating this performance. The Supreme Court judgment against triple talaaq (divorce through instant repudiation of a wife) was used as a fig-leaf somehow proving that the BJP was slowly inching towards the abolition of the separate Islamic family law system and towards a Common Civil Code, an old election promise. In reality, the case had been brought by a few Muslim women. That the BJP happened to be in power was merely a coincidence. The private bill proposing to abolish anti-Hindu discrimination in education is just that: private, emanating only from BJP MP Maheish Girri, not from party or government. Like Jawaharlal Nehru, like erstwhile RSS theorist Nana Deshmukh, like all the NGOs meddling in Indian affairs, like every capitalist or socialist materialist, the BJP swears exclusively by “development” (vikaas).

Not that it will ever receive the much hoped-for pat on the shoulder from the secularists. In their circles, the done thing is still to throw texts from the 1960s or 1920s full of Hindu rhetoric at the supposedly Hindu party, as if these could tell you what the party is about today. So long as this pat on the shoulder is an unreachable goal beckoning in the distance, the RSS-BJP will sacrifice anything including its professed ideology to get it. For in its universe, the secularists still lay down the norms that it tries to live up to. 


Time and again I get to see how the nationalist paradigm distorts issues. Thus, the missionary challenge is no longer a matter of Western intrusion into India. Most missionaries are now Indian, and even the Evangelical sects teleguided from America will make sure to send a native to any inter-faith meeting or TV debate. Missionaries are not CIA agents plotting against India, they have their own agenda since centuries before the CIA or the colonial entreprise even existed, and their target is not some nation or state, it is all Pagan religions, in India principally Hinduism.

Two examples from my own experience. A Hindu who used to like me, turned his back on me after I uttered my scepticism of a certain guru called Gurunath who claimed that the enigmatic character Babaji (a normal form of address for any ascetic), described by Lahiri Mahasaya and Swami Yogananda as a Himalaya-based yogi of indeterminate age, is the same character as Gorakhnath who lived a thousand years ago. He found that I was unimpressed by his assurance that this Gurunath is “enlightened”. I happen to have met a big handful of people deemed “enlightened”, and I have concluded that their yogic power and knowledge, in itself superior to our humdrum lives, does not magically confer on them a superior knowledge of worldly matters. At that mundane level, their knowledge and opinions are no different from those of any other man from the same background and circumstances. Therefore, if he wants to make eccentric claims such as of a man living for millennia, then he has the same burden of proof on him as any ordinary man. After that, my Hindu friend cut off the debate and decided that I was insufferably attached to a “Western” prejudice. As if numerous Hindus don’t have a similar healthy scepticism of paranormal claims; and as if conversely, there aren’t equally gullible Westerners in great number.

In another discussion, Hindus were arguing that Partition was the doing not of the poor hapless Muslims, but of the British, who had it in for the Hindus, so much so that they even committed “genocide” on them. Well, “genocide” implies murderous intention, and Hindus only flatter themselves if they attribute this to the British, who merely wanted to make money and thus instituted economic policies with an enormous collateral damage, but didn’t care one way or the other whether the natives lived or starved. When the Muslim League launched the Partition project, the Brits initially rejected it and only came around when Muslim violence had made it seem inevitable and the beginning Cold War made them see its benefits. Moreover, while no Hindu says it openly, it is so obvious to any observer that they only want to play hero against the long-departed Brits because they have interiorized the fear that they might offend the Muslims, with whom they still have to deal. What SR Goel called “the business of blaming the British” is a trick of misdirection, popular among stage magicians, which only a buffoon would believe.

Anyway, during the discussion, I used the Indian word “tamasic” rather than the English equivalent “deluded” or “slothful”. Immediately, one of them flared up and warned all the Indians present that I was equating “Indian” with “tamasic”. And then all through a number of altercations, he went on with this line of deluded discourse. Political delusions are as common among Westerners as among Indians, and appeasement of Islam has become just as big in Europe as in India when the Muslim percentage became similar. Conversely, people who are skeptical of the faux-heroic attitude against long-dead colonialism as a cover for cowardly Muslim appeasement exist as much in India, starting with the late SR Goel, an impeccable patriot.

Falling back on the nationalist paradigm makes Hindus misunderstand issues. It is of course far easier to separate people by skin colour than by ideology, very appealing to the lazy, tamasic mind. But it is sure to make you mistake enemies for friends, and friends for enemies. If you think you can afford that on a battlefield, suit yourselves.


When you are on a battlefield, not because you choose to but because your enemies impose this confrontation on you, it is a matter of life and death to be supremely realistic. You simply cannot afford to misconstrue the reasons and stakes for the battle, nor the nature and motives of your enemies. It is but rare that the ideological stakes coincide with national ones, as they did in the Indo-Pak confrontation during the Bangladesh war.

A Hindu yoga master whom I know once made the effort of disabusing some European yoga aspirants from their fascination with India: “India is not that important, India will disappear one day.” India is not absolute, not Sanâtana, “eternal”. India is relatively important as the cradle of yoga, and secondarily as the cradle of many other cultural riches. But what is important is its culture, Sanâtana Dharma. If a party of Hindu travellers get stuck on an uninhabitated island without the means to escape from there, they can still set up their Ram Rajya in this new territory. Maybe they won’t have coconuts and marigolds there to reproduce their rituals, but to those circumstances too they can adapt their Sanâtana Dharma.

Finally, let me state that nationalism, not as a pompous ideology but as an intimate feeling, as what a better word calls patriotism, is just natural. Certain ideologies try to estrange you from it, but Hindu Dharma accepts and nurtures it. Every penny spent on RSS propaganda for nationalism is a penny wasted. Every effort to rewrite textbooks in a nationalist sense, is an effort misdirected. A feeling for your motherland is simply normal and doesn’t need any propaganda. For the Vedic seers, the Motherland was only the Saraswati basin in Haryana, king Bharat never heard of the subcontinent named after him, but for today’s Indians, that subcontinent is a lived reality. It is that expanse to which they are attached, and that we should uphold.

In the modern age, when the state is far more important than in the past, the Indian republic is a necessity to defend Hindu civilization. In that sense, it is only right to be an Indian patriot. But that national feeling goes without saying.

Read more!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sheldon Pollock's Idea of a "National-Socialist Indology"

(Purva Paksha: the first Swadeshi Indology Conference, Chennai, July 2016)


Sheldon Pollock is by no means the first one to build on the mythology that has overgrown the factual core of a link between racism in general, National-Socialism in particular, and the study of Indo-European and Sanskrit. In his case, the alleged National-Socialist connection of Sanskrit is heavily over-interpreted and emphatically taken to be causal, as if the interest in Sanskrit has caused the Holocaust. We verify the claims on which he erects this thesis one by one, and find them surprisingly weak or simply wrong. They could only have been made in a climate in which a vague assumption of these links (starting with the swastika, which in reality was not taken from Hinduism) was already common. Yet, even non-specialists could easily have checked that Adolf Hitler expressed his contempt for Hinduism, repeatedly and in writing.

Pollock’s attempt to even link the Out-of-India Theory with the Nazi worldview is the diametrical opposite of the truth; it was the rivalling Aryan Invasion Theory (which Pollock himself upholds) that formed the cornerstone and perfect illustration of the Nazi worldview. This linking could only pass peer review because of the general animus against Hinduism and Indo-European indigenism in American academe. The whole forced attempt to associate Hinduism with National-Socialism suggests a rare animosity against Hinduism., 


Sheldon Pollock’s Idea of a “National-Socialist Indology”

Sheldon Pollock, professor of Sanskrit at Columbia University, links Sanskrit with the Holocaust, no less. Or at least, his critics (Malhotra 2016, Paranjape 2016) cite him to that effect. But according to Tony Joseph (2016), one of Pollock’s declared defenders, “the anti-Pollock campaign is based on quotes stripped out of their context”. Be that as it may in general, in the present paper we will take care to put Pollock’s utterances on the links between the Sanskrit tradition and National-Socialism (NS, Nazism) in context. As it happens, in this case, there is simply no context that could possibly render Pollock’s position harmless, for it is the single worst allegation possible in contemporary Western culture, viz. responsibility for the Nazi Holocaust. Nevertheless, we will give due attention to this context.

A somewhat frivolous element from the immediate context was that NS Germany was hosting Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose. (“Jana Gana Mana, independent India’s national anthem, was first performed in an imposing celebration at the inauguration of the Deutsch-Indische Gesellschaft in Hamburg on 11 September 1942, for Bose had chosen it as free India’s national anthem”. (Hartog 2001:iv))  But that context can perhaps best be left undiscussed, for the regiment that Bose had formed, was anything but Hindu traditionalist. Far from inspiring caste hierarchy into their NS hosts, Bose’s soldiers were not organized by caste, unlike those in the British-Indian army. Bose was a socialist, a progressive, on the same anti-caste wavelength as Pollock; but the Nazis never held that against him.

So let us see what Pollock himself chooses to focus on.

The centuries before National-Socialism

In his overview of pre-Nazi German Indology, Pollock only follows the received wisdom when he stereotypes 19th-century German scholarship. He credits the German Orientalists with the creation of Wissenschaft, the scholarly canons that became normative in academe worldwide, with an ideal of objectivity (as in the definition of historiography by Leopold von Ranke, mentioned by Pollock 1993:84: reconstructing events “as they have been in reality”); but also with a frantic search for a German national identity. In that project, they used the Sanskrit tradition, viz. as partially preserving the “Aryan” identity that, through Indo-European (Indogermanisch or Arisch) linguistic unity, could inspire any German cultural self-identification.

Like so many contemporary scholars of the field, including Hindus and Muslims, he assumes the conceptual framework of Edward Said’s thesis Orientalism (1978). There, Said analyses the academic discipline of Orientalism (formally: “Oriental Philology and History”, as still on this writer’s diploma) as but an instrument for control, a method used by the colonial powers to dominate the natives of the Orient. This claim has been lambasted as riddled with factual errors and as conceptually a conspiracy theory by Irwin (2006), Warraq (2007) and Elst (2012), but has taken academe by storm and is now cited as gospel.

Pollock (1993:114) gives a nod to the existence of a “pre-orientalist orientalism”, a scholarship originating in the Catholic Church’s late-medieval attempts to reconnect with the Oriental Churches and to study its Islamic rival, when Europe had no colonies yet. Yet he formulates his own career project in Saidian terms: “Moving beyond orientalism finally presupposes moving beyond the culture of domination and the politics of coercion that have nurtured orientalism in all its varieties, and been nurtured by it in turn.” (Pollock 1993:117)

The expression “orientalism in all its varieties” refers, among other things, to the special nature of Orientalism in its mainstay, German-speaking Central Europe. Unlike France and England, Germany had initially no colonies, and later only some colonies far from the Orient. This fact should refute Said’s whole thesis, but he neutralizes it by keeping German Orientalism outside the purview of his book. (Later, this gap was filled by Marchand 2009 and, for Indology, by Adluri & Baggchee 2014) According to Pollock (1993:83), Germany practised its own Orientalism in an attempt to solve its “problem of identity”, and more consequentially, “to colonize Europe, and Germany itself, from within”, in a “German allomorph of British imperialism”. And here we see, with a big stretch, the connection between the proverbial German scholarship of the 19th century and the Nazi project of empire. Just as British Orientalism was evil by being a concoction in the service of empire-building, German Orientalism was evil by its connection with hyper-nationalism and genocide. That, at least, is Pollock’s message.

Nazi investment in Indology

Modern scholars devote a lot of time to studying every possible dimension of the NS polity and ideology, including the work of anyone thought to have NS ties, such as the philosopher and NS party member Martin Heidegger: ‘Like the predicament of Indology, that of humanistic studies in general has belatedly seized the attention of scholars, as

Der Fall Heidegger [“the case of Heidegger”] demonstrates.’ (Pollock 1993:112)

And so, Pollock includes his own specialism, Indology, among the culprits. The indictment: “In German Indology of the NS era, a largely nonscholarly mystical nativism deriving ultimately from a mixture of romanticism and protonationalism merged with that objectivism of Wissenschaft earlier described, and together they fostered the ultimate

‘orientalist’ project, the legitimation of genocide.” (Pollock 1993:96)

The allegation is extremely serious. Yet, he never quotes any of those Indologists as actually declaring they want genocide; or that the aim of their professional choice is genocide. Since, moreover, genocide is somehow declared to be the ultimate finality of Orientalism, this seems also to indict the French and British Orientalists. Alright, he fails to prove that rather unlikely point; but what does he prove? 

He claims a “substantial increase in the investment on the part of the NS state in Indology and ‘Indo-Germanistik.’ Both [Heinrich] Himmler and [Alfred] Rosenberg sponsored institutes centrally concerned with ‘Indo-Germanische Geistesgeschichte’.” (Pollock 1993:95) Note the sly cursory shift from Indology to “Indo-Germanistik”: the former deals with India and, as we shall see, received no increased interest from the NS regime at all; while the latter deals with Europe and especially Germany, the putative racial heir of the Indo-Europeans, and became the centre of NS attention.

In fact, the proof he himself adduces, proves something else than an increased German interest in Indology. He compares a total of 26 full professors of "Aryan" orientalism in Germany with just 4 in England, the colonial metropole – but for the year 1903 (detailed in Rhys-Davids 1904). This had nothing to do with a NS penchant for India, for this special German interest in the Orient existed since long before (and incidentally, makes minced meat of Said’s linking Orientalism with the colonial entreprise).

In support, Pollock refers to a primary source, the Minerva Jahrbücher, an annuary with academic data. But after thoroughly checking these, the contemporary German Indologist from Göttingen, Reinhold Grünendahl (2012:95), shows these data to confirm an uneventful continuity with pre-NS days: “As was the case with the 1933/34 volume and Rhys Davids’s paper of 1904, none serve to corroborate Pollock’s presumptions. The same holds for recent evidence-based studies that in any way pertain to such issues […], all of which confirm that Pollock’s deep ruminations on ‘the political economy of Indology in Germany in the period 1800–1945’ (1993: 118n5) are entirely unfounded. Nevertheless, his attendant admonition

that this is an ‘important question’ awaiting ‘serious analysis’ (118n5) has become a kind of gospel, recited by others […] with increasing confidence, but with very little to show as yet in terms of substantiation. Yet, all this while, dozens of ‘histories of German Indology’ are built on the—still unfulfilled—promises of that gospel.”

In his researches, Grünendahl (2012:194) has checked Rhys-Davids’ writings and discovered a telling example of how the racialist “NS” worldview was already present in Britain earlier: “However, a more important factor seems to me to be Rhys Davids’s racialist—or more precisely Aryanist—bias, documented, for example, in statements to the effect that

Gautama Buddha ‘was the only man of our own race, the only Aryan, who can rank as the founder of a great religion’ and that therefore ‘the whole intellectual and religious development of which Buddhism is the final outcome was distinctively Aryan, and Buddhism is the one essentially Aryan faith’ (1896:185), which ‘took its rise among an advancing

and conquering people full of pride in their colour and their race… ‘ (1896:187).”

But Pollock (1993:94) has a point when he notes that a number of Indologists were NS party members or SS officials, e.g. Walther Wüst, Erich Frauwallner, Jakob Hauer, Richard Schmidt. He estimates these as one-third of the Indology professors. He admits that there was a silent opposition too, e.g. when Wüst became board member of the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (“German Oriental Society”), “the aged Geiger [= Wilhelm Geiger, Wüst’s mentor] objected privately to the behavior of Wüst.” (Pollock 1993:123) And that may have been the tip of an iceberg, though we will not hazard a guess on the proportion of open resisters, silent resisters, fence-sitters and collaborators.


Pollock gives the impression of a rather shaky grasp on NS history. It is, after all, not his field. Rather than properly delving into it in preparation of this ambitious paper, he seems to have gone by the received wisdom prevalent in his own liberal circles. The charitable explanation is that, not being a historian of WW2, he simply overstepped the boundaries of his competence. The alternative is that he deliberately forged this claim about Indology and National-Socialism as a weapon, in this case against the Sanskrit tradition. Some popular writers (e.g. Pennick 1981) have indeed done something similar, often after classifying Hindu ideas like reincarnation in the “occult” category. They have correctly sensed the windfall of benefits, whether political or commercial, guaranteed to whomever manages to instrumentalize references to National-Socialism. 

He claims that “the extermination of the Jews would seem to pose a serious challenge to any purely functionalist explanation of National Socialism.” (Pollock 1993:88) Perhaps there was still some room for doubt in 1993, and though marginal, the hypothesis of “intentionalism”, viz. that the genocide of the Jews was planned since the beginning of the Nazi movement, was still in existence in erudite company. This hypothesis would imply, in a maximalist interpretation (viz. that any supporter of National-Socialism wilfully supported all of its programme), that NS Indologists like Fauwallner or Hauer supported “genocide”.

Strictly speaking, Hindus have no reason to defend these Indologists, for none of them was Hindu, and they projected a non-Hindu NS framework onto Hindu texts. Given the complexity of the reasons for a man’s inclinations, their interest in the Sanskrit traditions implies nothing at all about the Sanskrit tradition itself. Nevertheless, it is worth observing that even if these scholars were party members, this does not mean they supported genocide, for that item was not on the party programme. Anti-Semitism is bad (and of that, they can certainly be held guilty) but genocide is something else again. Even when it was later decided upon, it was still carried out in secrecy because the top Nazis knew that it would offend the German population including many party members.

Today, no historian worth his salt takes this intentionalism serious anymore, though it lives on in Hollywood stereotyping. Apart from unsupported by facts, intentionalism also sins against the reigning postmodernist canon by being “essentialist”, i.e. positing an irreducible unchanging nature to NS ideology; when even that turns out to be historical and changeble under the impact of circumstances. The “functionalist” hypothesis has won the day, viz. that the idea of genocide only came about in a chain of unforeseen decisions under war circumstances in 1940-41. Even then it was carried out in secrecy: as late as 1943, Jewish Councils in occupied countries co-operated in the deportation of their own community, thinking Auschwitz was merely a labour camp. You could be a NS party member and support the idea of a Jew-free Europe (through emigration, as had happened in the 1930s) yet not support nor even know about genocide. To be sure, ethnic cleansing is reprehenssible too, but it is not genocide. Scholars ought to exercise a sense of proportion.

For political campaigners living in the relative comforts of the post-war era, it is easy to laugh at the German commoners’ 1945 profession: Wir haben das nicht gewusst (“We didn’t know about it”); but very often, it was formally the truth. Again, supporting the NS regime was bad enough; but it was something else than support for genocide. Pollock, voracious quoter that he is, can at any rate not cite any NS Indologist as expressing support for genocide.

But suppose, just suppose, that tomorrow, an incriminating statement by one of those Indologists gets discovered. Well, he is a human being, susceptible to all kinds of influences, not just those from his field of specialism. It would then still remain to be proven that the Sanskrit tradition which he studied, had given him this inspiration for genocide. Sanskrit writers can be accused of teaching inequality through caste, and Pollock does indeed do so, but it has not been quoted here (nor, as far as is known, anywhere else) that the Vedas or Śāstras preach genocide.

Now, if Vedic literature ever enjoined (not even just recounted, but actually enjoined) genocide, there is no doubt that the Dalit movement, the missionaries, the “secularists”, the Khalistanis, the many anti-Hindu India-watchers, and perhaps Pollock himself, would gleefully quote it. Not that they ever quote the instances of genocide in the Bible or in the traditions about Mohammed, but for Hinduism they would not be that polite. Indeed, it would have been logical to quote it very prominently in this very paper, as it would prove its entire point. But it seems not to exist.

Anti-Semitism and the Sanskrit Tradition

While genocide entered the mind of some top Nazis only by 1941, another element always associated with the NS ideology was intrinsic to it since the beginning, and very prominent in its writings since ca. 1920 and in policies since 1933: anti-Semitism. While Pollock takes as a matter of courses that to the Nazis, “Aryan” was the opposite of “Semitic”, he doesn’t furnish any fact or quote at all that would meaningfully link this with the Sanskrit tradition.

He correctly notes that the NS view of the Vedas was through an anti-Semitic lens: “The Ŗg-Veda as an Aryan text ‘free of any taint of Semitic contact’; the ‘almost Nordic zeal’ that lies in the Buddhist conception of the marga [way]; the ‘Indo-Germanic religion-force’ of yoga; the sense of race and the ‘conscious desire for racial protection’; the ‘volksnahe kingship’ such is the meaning of the Indo-Aryan past for the National Socialist present, a present that, for Wüst, could not be understood without this past.” (Pollock 1993:89)

Yes, that is how the Nazis saw it because they were racist and anti-Semitic to begin with. But the knowledge of the Sanskrit tradition could add absolutely nothing to that. There was nothing in the Vedas themselves that suggested anti-Semitism, it was entirely in the eye of the beholder. Anti-Semitism existed in Europe ever since the people became convinced, through Christianity, that the Jews had been responsible for Jesus’ death. Modern nationalism added an ideal of homogenization, so that Jews were wished away as an obstacle to this ideal. By contrast, Vedic literature doesn’t know of Jews at all, and Hindu history has only shown a pluralistic hospitality for the Jewish communities on the Malabar coast, complete with their distinctive traditions.

In fact, that pluralism and respect for different identities could be cited as a redeeming feature of the caste system targeted so systematically by Pollock. Hindu reformers who deny the intimate link between caste and Hinduism during the past twenty or so centuries are wrong. But they might start by enumerating some redeeming features, such as the sense of belonging-to (rather than of being-excluded-from), and pluralism. Within the caste framework, nobody’s comfort or identity was threatened when a foreign community was added. At any rate, the really existing caste system did not include anti-Semitism.

The only thing Pollock can come up with here, in a footnote, is this: “The ratio ārya : caṇḍāla [outcaste, untouchable] :: German : Jew was made already by Nietzsche”. (Pollock 1993:119) Friedrich Nietzsche was popular among top Nazis, but they read him selectively, leaving out the positions that would not have endeared him to an NS regime. He disliked German nationalism and especially anti-Semitism as, at least, vulgar.

Nevertheless, it is true that Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols: The ‘Improvers’ of Mankind 3) speculated on the Jews’ origin as emigrated Caṇḍālas, Untouchables, based on more speculations by the amateur-Indologist Louis Jacolliot. We have discussed this question in full detail elsewhere (Elst 2008), but briefly, it all hinges on the mistranslation of the word dauścarmya, “having a skin defect”, from the enumeration of Caṇḍāla traits in the classical law code Manu Smṛti (10:52, but based on 11:49). This word was understood as “missing a piece of skin”, hence “circumcised”. In reality, Manu nowhere mentions circumcised ones, whether Jews or Muslims.

Moreover, Nietzsche’s account doesn’t fit the neat scheme given by Pollock. Nietzsche recognized that in some ways, Jews do not fit the dirty and submissive stereotype of outcastes at all, and have been characterized by Aryan traits ever since their entry into history. They ennobled themselves by becoming warriors and conquering their “promised land”. They are stereotypically very money-savvy, like the trader caste, and their obsessive purity rules and book-orientedness remind one of the Brahmin caste. Whereas Untouchables do the dirty work at funerals, Jewish priests or Kohanim are expected to stay away from corpses. Jews were demonized by the Nazis, but not as low-castes.

Unlike the stereotype of Caṇḍālas (more applicable to the Gypsies, known to descend from Indian low-castes and despised by the Nazis), the Jews were considered as rich, powerful, manipulative and extremely clever. Jews definitely did not relate to Germans the way Hindu low-castes relate to the upper castes. And anyway, the NS policy regarding the Jews was not based on this Nietzsche quote.

The “Aryan” homeland question

The official birth of Indo-European linguistics by William Jones’s famous Kolkata speech in 1786 (set on a scientific footing by Franz Bopp in 1816, as recognized by Pollock 1993:84) set in motion the search for the original homeland of this language family. The initial favourite was India, as famously stated by Friedrich von Schlegel (cited by Pollock 1993:85). In the present context, it might be a significant detail that Schlegel “married the daughter of the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn”, for which he was reproached as “missing racial instinct”. (Poliakov 1971:217) Many other scholars from this period can be cited to the same effect, e.g. in 1810, Jakob-Joseph Görres had Abraham come from Kashmir. (Poliakov 1971:219)

In the next decades, the putative homeland was relocated westwards, but Pollock (1993:77) claims that the Germans “continued, however subliminally, to hold the nineteenth-century conviction that the origin of European civilization was to be found in India (or at least that India constituted a genetically related sibling)”.


This insinuates that the Nazis still believed in an Indian homeland whereas the British and their allies had long converted to the idea of a more westerly homeland. This much is true, that the NS state was intensely interested in the question of Indo-European origins: Communist states “employ myths of utopia, while fascist systems employ myths of origins”. (Pollock 1993:85) But then, Pollock artfully smuggles in a continuity between the earlier Out-of-India hypothesis and the preferred NS location of the homeland. The NS state’s legitimation by “Aryan” origins “had been provided early in nineteenth-century Indian orientalism; a benchmark is Friedrich von Schlegel's identification (1819) of the ‘Arier’ as ‘our Germanic ancestors, while they were still in Asia’ (Sieferle 1987:460). In the later NS search for authenticity, Sanskritists, like other intellectuals ‘experts in legitimation’, as Gramsci put it, did their part in extrapolating and deepening this discourse.” (Pollock 1993:85; Antonio Gramsci was the Italian Communist leader who, ca. 1930, theorized the acquisition of cultural hegemony as a prerequisite for political revolution.)

Note also this adroit suggestion of Indian paternity in this quotation from the NS Indologist Walther Wüst: “I know of no more striking example of this hereditary, long-term tradition than the ingenious synopsis contained in the brief words of the Führer and the longer confession of the great aryan personality of antiquity, the Buddha. There is only one explanation for this, and that is the basic explanation for components of the National-Socialist world-view: the circumstance, the basic fact of racial constitution. And thanks to fate, this was preserved through the millennia . . . [through] the holy concept of ancestral heritage [Ahnenerbe].” (Pollock: 1993:90)

Note that in all Pollock’s quotations from NS Indologists, only one Hindu is mentioned by name, repeatedly: the Buddha. He tries to make the Mīmāṁsā thinkers with their chiseling of Śāstra law into an inspiration to the Nazis (as if they needed Mīmāṁsā to conceive of inequality), but never manages to find a Nazi quote about them. None, for example, about the 12th-century Śāstra commentator Bhaṭṭa Lakṣmidhāra, whom he himself drags in frequently as justifying societal hierarchy. On the other hand he presents the Buddha as an antidote to Vedic inequality, yet that same Buddha turns out to be very popular among the Nazis. 

There was no NS belief in an Indian homeland at all, on the contrary. To be sure, there was a belief in a racial kinship with the ancient “Aryans” in India, freshly invaded from their more westerly homeland. Of Nordic origin, these Aryans brought their talents into India and gave expression to them in ancient writings, and these naturally showed a kinship with Greek thought and other “Aryan” achievements in Europe.

Thus, NS Indologist Erich Frauwallner says, in Pollock’s account (Pollock 1993:93): “Frauwallner argued that the special meaning of Indian philosophy lay in its being ‘a typical creation of an aryan people’, that its similarities with western philosophy derived from ‘the same racially determined talent’, and that it was a principal scholarly task of Indology to demonstrate this fact. Reiterating an axiom of NS doctrine, that ‘Wissenschaft in the strict sense of the word is something that could be created only by nordic Indo-Germans’, Frauwallner adds, ‘From the agreement in scientific character of Indian and European philosophy, we can draw the further conclusion that philosophy as an attempt to explain the world according to scientific method is likewise a typical creation of the Aryan mind.’"

India was not important to the Nazis because they saw it as their ancestral land (they did not), but because it illustrated the Nazi worldview: (1) dynamic white Aryans enter the land of indolent dark people; (2) they subjugate them in a racially-conceived caste system, a kind of Apartheid; (3) in spite of trying for racial purity, they succumb too often to the charms of native women, so they racially degenerate; and therefore, (4) they ended up overpowered by whiter races, first the Turks and then, mercifully, their own purer Aryan cousins from Britain. Since the mid-19th century, this worldview had already been promoted by Britain, meanwhile it had been fortified by the ascendence of Darwinism (“struggle for life”, “survival of the fittest”) and finally acquired an extra intensity in NS Germany.

In the first years of the renewed debate on the Indo-European homeland, it was a common confusion that the Out-of-India theory, disappeared after Schlegel but now back in strength, had something NS about it, e.g. Zydenbos 1993. This confusion was deliberately fostered by some Indian “secularists” trying to criminalize the Indian homeland hypothesis, e.g. Sikand 1993. In reality, the NS theorists as well as the NS textbooks emphasized and highlighted the putative European homeland and concomitant invasion into India. Zydenbos and Sikand themselves were in Hitler’s camp.


The confusion centred on the word Aryan, of Sanskrit origin. In NS discourse, this was routinely interpreted in a racial sense, though race was here not just skin colour but also had a cultural component. Thus, both Sanskrit and German could only be such precise and structured languages because they emanated from racially predisposed nations (and the “degeneration” of Sanskrit to the much looser modern Indian languages is thus a consequence of racial degeneration). In vulgar propaganda, the linguistic, cultural and biological dimensions were completely confounded, but this even influenced high-brow discourse: “An example of this more sophisticated orientalism is the work of Paul Thieme”, Harvard Sanskritist Michael Witzel’s revered teacher, esp. his “analysis of the Sanskrit word ārya, where at the end he adverts to the main point of his research: to go beyond India in order to catch the ‘distant echo of Indo-germanic customs’.” (Pollock 1993:91)

From Adolf Hitler’s mouth, no words in praise of Hinduism are known. A few expressions of contempt, yes, e.g. Subhas Bose’s army: “Hitler himself ridiculed the 3000-man strong regiment of Indians.” (Hartog 2001:iii) But there is one statement of importance in the present context. Among Hitler’s rare utterances on the Hindus was a racial interpretation of the AIT. These are his own words (Jäckel & Kuhn 1980:195, quoting Hitler 1920): “Wir wissen, dass die Hindu in Indien ein Volk sind, gemischt aus den hochstehenden arischen Einwanderern und der dunkelschwarzen Urbevölkerung, und dass dieses Volk heute die folgen trägt; denn es ist auch das Sklavenvolk einer Rasse, die uns in vielen Punkten nahezu als zweite Judenheit erscheinen darf.” (“We know that the Hindus in India are a people mixed from the lofty Aryan immigrants and the dark-black aboriginal population, and that this people is bearing the consequences today; for it is also the slave people of a race that almost seems like a second Jewry.”)

For Grünendahl, this is merely an example of how the primary sources of German history contradict the free-for-all that amateurs make of it. Joseph (2016) dismisses Grünendahl’s many factual data as only to be expected from a “German”, an ad hominem against a whole nation, as well as a covert admission that he cannot refute even one of them. Grünendahl (2012:196) had noted the same inability in an earlier Pollock defender, Vishwa Adluri (2011): when challenging the many facts mustered by Grünendahl, Adluri neither shows Grünendahl’s data to be incorrect, nor does he bring other facts proving Pollock’s case: “a pitiable want of judgment as well as evidence.”

But the objective finality of Pollock’s thesis is more specific, viz. to blacken the Indian homeland hypothesis by associating it with National-Socialism. Reality, however, is just the opposite: more even than other Europeans, the Nazis espoused and upheld a westerly homeland and the invasion hypothesis. This invasion happens to be a corner-stone of Pollock’s worldview, with invader castes guilty of expropriating and subjugating the natives, who became the lower castes. Hitler-Pollock, same struggle!

To end this discussion on an element of nuance, however, we have to note an odd passage.

Though Pollock repeatedly affirms NS belief in what is nowadays called the Out-of-India theory, and assumes this throughout his paper, honesty demands that we mention how one time, very cursorily, he nods to the opposite (and true) scenario: “From among the complexities of NS analysis of the Urheimat question it is worth calling attention to the way the nineteenth-century view expressed by Schlegel was reversed: the original Indo-Europeans were now variously relocated in regions of the Greater German Reich; German thereby became the language of the core (Binnensprache), whereas Sanskrit was transformed into one of its peripheral, ‘colonial’ forms.” (Pollock 1993: 91-92)

Even this is not entirely true, for the dominant opinion was that the homeland was to the east or southeast of Germany, while even the SS research department Ahnenerbe explored locating the homeland in Atlantis: fanciful, but at least outside Germany. Still, Pollock’s statement does justice to the NS worldview by denying India the honour of being the homeland. It explains why we often see a shift in the focus of NS Indologists from India to “Indo-European” or “Aryan” issues, racially identified with Nordic. Thus, in 1934 Jakob Hauer still wrote on “Indo-Aryan” metaphysics of struggle, but in 1937 he published on the religious history of the “Indo-Europeans”. Pollock’s own enumeration of supposedly India-related activities usually confuses “Indian” with “Indo-European”, i.e. “Aryan” or essentially “Nordic”. It is only by confusing those two that an impression of a NS orientation towards India can be created.

National-Socialism and the Sanskrit tradition

Two factors of a seeming connection between Hinduism and NS Germany are unavoidable: the swastika and the term ārya. About the swastika, the matter is simple: it does not come from India. It is a more widespread symbol, very prominent e.g. in Troy, excavated by a German, and part of Greek history which was a decisive inspiration to Germany’s academic culture. It was also very common in the Baltic area, where German army veterans formed Freikorps militias to defeat the Bolsheviks in 1918-20. When they came home, often to join nationalist parties, they brought the swastika with them.  (More detail in Elst 2007) The NS view was that it was Nordic in origin, and that it only became common in India after having been imported by the Aryans.

As Sünner (1999:66) puts it: “the hooked cross, which the Nordic cult of light carried into the Orient”. Indeed, this was part of a general septentriocentric worldview: “Unconcerned about historic truth, their builders were termed as ‘Indo-European Urvolk’ and ‘heroes of the North’, who later co-founded the civilizations of Egypt, India and Persia.” (Sünner 1999:60-61) India was not in the picture, except as a distant horizon to be conquered and civilized by Norsemen.

As for Aryan: “The term ārya itself merits intellectual-historical study (and I mean diachronic analysis, not static etymology) for premodern India at least of the sort Arier has received for modern Europe.” (Pollock 1993:107) True, Hindus too might learn a lot from realizing that this term is historical, that it has gone through changes, and that the classical meaning “noble” (a meaning unattested in the Ŗg-Veda) has mundane roots too. Yet, Pollock does no more than focus on the Manu Smṛti, fairly late and worn-out as a supposed repository of caste teachings and anti-egalitarian musings about ārya vs. anārya.

Moreover, Pollock (1993: 107-8) brings in the concept of race: “From such factors as the semantic realm of the distinction ārya/anārya and the biogenetic map of inequality (along with less theorized material, from Vedic and epic literature, for instance), it may seem warranted to speak about a ‘pre-form of racism’ in early India (Geissen 1988: 48ff.), especially in a discussion of indigenous ‘orientalism’, since in both its classic colonial and its National Socialist form orientalism is inseparable from racism.”

That is certainly the NS reading, but from a top Indologist, we might have expected an explanation of whether this was the Indians’ own intended reading. He doesn’t go into this question at all but confidently assumes an indubitably positive answer. To exonerate him, we might take this as merely a logical application of the Aryan invasion scenario, firmly established since the mid-19th century: the Aryans came in, met a different race of aboriginals, and imposed a racial Apartheid on them: the caste system. So, in a way, the case against Pollock is the case against Western Indology as a whole.

His arguments about the inequality fostered by the Śāstras thus always has a racial dimension. Caste is too big a subject to argue out here, but let us notice that he has no problem mustering incriminating quotations excluding low-castes from Vedic knowledge. He does acknowledge feeble dissenting voices, such as the early Mīmāṁsā thinker Bādari, who argued that Śūdras too can build Vedic fires for sacrifice, since "the Śūdra desires heaven, too (…) and what is it in a sacrifice that any man can do but that the Śūdra is unable to do?" (Pollock 1993:109) But the over-all picture is decidedly inegalitarian. However, inequality is a nearly equally distributed good, and for that value, the Nazis could have found inspiration in other societies, if they needed any at all, such as the Arab or colonial slave systems.

Inequality yes, but racial, no. All this depends on the racial reading of Sanskrit concepts, starting with the enumeration of four social functions (without a word about how to recruit for them) in late-Vedic hymn RV 10.90, “the locus classicus in the Veda” for caste division. Even “the biology” is said to be “of course latent in the RV passage”, though he does not say how and other readers cannot find a trace of it. (Pollock 1993:125) All this follows from the Aryan invasion scenario, and on this point, there is no chance of refuting Pollock unless the homeland debate is waged all over.

At any rate, none of these interesting musings about Indian society played any role whatsoever in NS policies. Pollock (1993:86-87) is only projecting his own focus when his Indologist’s eye recognizes caste phenomena in NS policies: “The myth of Aryan origins burst from the world of dream into that of reality when the process of what I suggest we think

of as an internal colonization of Europe began to be, so to speak, shastrically codified, within two months of the National Socialists' capturing power (April 1933). The ‘Law on the Reconstitution of the German Civil Service’, the ‘Law on the Overcrowding of German Schools’, and a host of supplementary laws and codicils of that same month were the first in a decade dense with legal measures designed to exclude Jews and other minority communities from the apparatuses of power (including ‘authoritative’ power, the schools and universities), and to regulate a wide range of social, economic, and biological activities.”

Finally, another point of difference between NS racism and caste society is this. The relation between the Germans and the “inferior” races was conceived as hierarchical, but the NS conception of German society was not as a hierarchy: all members of the master race were deemed reasonably equal. Hitler himself had climbed up from down below; there was no objection against social mobility. Germans were not to be held inside the class they happened to be born into, unlike the low-caste Hindus in Pollock’s oft-stated view.

In this connection, Hitler himself objected to the idea of a hereditary priesthood. Though he doesn’t name it, this could be applied to the Brahmin caste: “The Catholic Church recruits its clergy in principle from all classes of society, without discrimination. A simple cowherd can become cardinal. That is why the Church remains combattive.” (Pierik 2012:83, quoting Hitler’s table talk of 2 November 1941) So, even in his anti-Brahminism, Pollock finds himself in Hitler’s camp.

The banalization of criminalizing Hinduism

In his conclusion, Pollock digresses about the future of his scholarly discipine. There, he takes for granted the connection he has earlier posited between Sanskrit and the Holocaust. In an entirely non-polemical tone, he off-hand builds on this putative connection: “How, concretely, does one do Indology beyond the Raj and Auschwitz in a world of pretty well tattered scholarly paradigms?” (Pollock 1993:114)

In the process of disinformation, an idea is first launched and argued in high-brow papers like the New York Review or the Economic and Political Weekly; subsequently it is presented as the received wisdom in more general media, like the Washington Post or the Times of India; but the final stage is when the idea is presented as a matter of course, and conveyed through popular media, women’s magazines etc. That is what completes the instilling of false ideas in the popular mind.

Similarly, to promote an idea intended to become a fixture in our worldview, it is useful to repeat it, first as a topical proposal to be proven, then as a theorem deemed to have been proven, finally as a truism on which other proposals can safely be built.

Yet, we don’t hold Pollock as an individual guilty of this disinformation. Though his authoritative voice does its bit to determine the Zeitgeist, he was mainly surfing on an already-existing Zeitgeist.

Firstly, the tendency to project the Nazi episode onto something morbid and unique in the more distant German past, and particularly the exoticization of 19th-century Germany’s supposed self-doubt and search for an identity, was already very common in the preceding decades (e.g. Poliakov 1971), and still is to some extent.

Secondly, the link between Hinduism (as well as Lamaism) and Nazi culture had already been proposed by a number of writers. Moreover, it converges with a widespread revulsion among Westerners against the caste system, which they liken to slavery and identify, through the Aryan invasion hypothesis, with racism. This misses the warlike element in National-Socialism, but that is slightly made up for by all the stories about Hindu riots and by the symmetry fallacy whenever Muslim violence comes in the news: “Ah, but all religions do it; Hinduism must have a similar terrorism.” Even then, it still doesn’t have the element of “genocide”, but Pollock remains determined to read that into it.    


It is one thing to hold a view that, upon analysis, turns out to be mistaken. To err is but human. However, one should become extra careful when the view one expresses, is an allegation. It becomes even more serious when it is the worst allegation one can possibly make, viz. the accusation of responsibility for the Holocaust.

The situation with allegations is simple: either you prove them, or you yourself are guilty of slander. This then can be held against Pollock: he has made a grave allegation, yet has failed to buttress it with proof, though not for lack of trying.

The question which Hindus should contemplate, then, is this one. Should the Sanskrit tradition be given in care to a pofessor of Sanskrit who stands by such a grave though false allegation against it? 

Adluri, Vishwa, 2011: “Pride and prejudice: Orientalism and German Indology”, International Journal of Hindu Studies, 15, p.253-294.

--, and Bagchee, Joydeep, 2014: The Nay Science, A History of German Indology, OUP, New York. .

Breckenridge, Carol A., and Van der Veer, Peter, eds., 1993: Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, UPenn Press.

Elst, Koenraad, 2007: Return of the Swastika, Voice of India, Delhi.

--, 2008: “Manu as a Weapon against Egalitarianism: Nietzsche and Hindu Political Philosophy”, in Siemens & Roodt 2008, p.543-582.

--, 2012: “The Case for Orientalism”, in The Argumentative Hindu. Essays by a Non-Affiliated Orientalist, Voice of India, Delhi, p.442-455.

Geissen, Imanuel, 1988: Geschichte des Rassismus, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt.

Grünendahl, Reinhold, 2012: “History in the making: on Sheldon Pollock’s ‘NS Indology’ and Vishwa Adluri’s ‘Pride and prejudice’”, International Journal of Hindu Studies no.16, p.189-252.

Hartog, Rudolf, 2001: The Sign of the Tiger. Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian Legion in Germany, 1941-45, Rupa, Dehi.

Irwin, Robert, 2006: For Lust of Knowing: the Orientalists and Their Enemies, Allan Lane, London.

Hale, Christopher, 2003: Himmler’s Crusade. The true story o t 1938 N expedition into Tibet,, Bantam, London.

Hauer, Jakob Wilhelm, 1934: Eine indo-arische Metaphysik des Kampfes und der Tat: Die Bhagavad Gita in neuer Sicht, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.

Hauer, Jakob Wilhelm, 1937. Glaubensgeschichte der Indogermanen, Vol. 1, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.

Hitler, Adolf, 1920: Warum sind wir Antisemiten?, in Jäckel & Eberhard 1980, p.184-204.

Jäckel, Eberhard, and Kuhn, Axel, eds., 1980: Hitlers sämtliche Aufzeichnungen, 1905-1924,

Joseph, Tony, 2016: “Battle against Pollock”, Business Standard, Delhi, 3 May 2016.

Malhotra, Rajiv, 2015: The Battle for Sanskrit. Is Sanskrit Political or Sacred? Oppressive or Liberating? Dead or Alive?, HarperCollins, Delhi.

Marchand, Suzanne, 2009: German Orientalism in the Age of Empire. Religion, Race and Scholarship, German Historical Institute, Washington DC, and Cambridge University Press.

Paranjape, Makarand R., 2016: “The deepest Orientalist”, Business Standard, Delhi, 29 April 2016.

Pennick, Nigel, 1981: Hitler’s Secret Sciences, Nevile Spearmen, Suffolk.

Pierik, Perry, ed., 2012 (1980): Hitlers Tafelgesprekken 1941-44 (“Hitler’s Table Talk”), Aspekt, Soesterberg.

Poliakov, Léon, 1987 (1971): Le Mythe Aryen. Essai sur les Sources du Racisme et des Nationalismes, Editions Complexe, Paris.

Pollock, Sheldon, 1993: “Deep Orientalism? Notes on Sanskrit and power beyond the Raj”, in Breckenridge & Van der Veer 1993, p.76-133.

Quinn, Malcolm, 1994: The Swastika. Constructing the Symbol, Routledge, London.

Rhys Davids, Thomas William, 1896: Buddhism: Its History and Literature, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, London (American Lectures on the History of Religions, First Series, 1894–1895).

--, 1903-4: "Oriental Studies in England and Abroad", Proceedings of the British Academy, London, 183-97.

Said, Edward, 1995 (1978): Orientalism, Penguin, London.

Schlegel, Friedrich, 1808: Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier, Mohr, Heidelberg.

Sieferle, Rolf Peter, 1987: "Indien und die Arier in der Rassentheorie", Zeitschrift für Kulturaustausch 37:444-67.

Siemens, Herman, and Roodt, Vasti, eds., 2008: Nietzsche. Power and Politics, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.

Sikand, Yoginder, 1993: “Exploding the Aryan myth”, Observer of Business and Politics, 30-10-1993.

Sünner, Rüdiger, 1999: Schwarze Sonne. Entfesselung und Missbrauch der Mythen in Nationalsozialismus und rechter Esoterik, Herder Spektrum, Freiburg im Breisgau.

Thieme, Paul, 1938: Der Fremdling im Rigveda, Brockhaus, Leipzig.

Warraq, Ibn, 2007: Defending the West. A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism, Prometheus, Amherst NY.

Zydenbos, Robert, 1993: “An obscurantist argument”, Indian Express, 12-12-1993.

Read more!