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)

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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. 

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