Language Hegemony and
the Construction of Identity
by Rajiv Malhotra
The Importance of Marketing:
For most industries, packaging and distribution are more critical than production, and those in control of distribution often end up controlling production as well. This was a lesson from the spice and textile trade, where India was complacent being merely a producer, and abandoned the distribution role to Europeans who eventually also ended up controlling production and the producers. In the case of tea, until Tata’s recent acquisition of Tetley, the British kept most of the end-user revenue because of their marketing role in packaging and distribution. Their value-added had expanded to making tea bags, developing ice tea and de-caffeinated tea. A dominant distributor eventually uses its power to also control development and production. This pattern has also been true of Indian ideas and heritage that went into Western civilization via the Arabs, Persians, and Greek. This non-involvement attitude towards the distribution of ideas was viable in the old days when the guru could wait for the right student to arrive, and any move to ‘promote’ knowledge was below his dignity. But in today’s competing worldviews, this attitude is not viable and is often the mark of arrogance, psychological complexes, and an introverted mentality.
In this age of information and intellectual property, packaging, distribution and marketing of ideas is more key than their development. Language is the vehicle through which this packaging and distribution is accomplished. Hegemony of language is therefore comparable to control of ideas by controlling their distribution. Since language is ultimately a ‘game’ of contexts and meanings, whoever defines the language of discourse controls the rules of the game. Georg Feuerstein writes, “Language pre-structures the facts in a certain way and introduces various blind spots”. Language battles, especial implicit or invisible, are more critical than battles over the ideas.
Ignoring that ours is in an age of global competition is foolish, howsoever noble and visionary the supporting rhetoric. It would be similar to not abandoning business or career success just to be nice to others. Lawyers have their own language of due process and contracts, and often the outcome can depend on mastery of this, rather than merit in a pure sense. Academicians have their scholar’s language, involving games for publishing, peer reviews, career advancement, and market share of ideas. The whole case over Microsoft’s breakup is about control of technological standards, which is equivalent to the hegemony of language.
Language as Lens:
Skillful use of cultural language can and is used routinely to define a belief, subtly denigrate a community, appropriate another’s ideas by clever renaming and re-mapping, and assert cultural hegemony over others. America is assimilating cultures and the world is negotiating globalization; future norms, prejudices, and social positions among various groups will depend largely on the linguistic framework that becomes standard, making it imperative to participate in the process.
For example, by defining a topic of study as the ‘caste’ structure of India, the choice of language positions the western scholar on a pedestal with Indian culture under the microscope on the defensive. But suppose textbooks were rewritten to discuss ‘social’ structures in society. Then the west’s own social stratification would have to be compared. Choice of words defines the context.
In the creation vs. evolution debate, the prevailing language defines it as a simple binary option. There is either Biblical creation, or else there is mechanical and random Darwinian evolution. Each side tries to prove its case mainly by negating the other, but the whole methodology is faulty because these are not the only two alternatives. Indian ideas of the evolution of consciousness as the living universe itself, immanent and yet transcendent, are never included as a candidate in such popular debates. Here, language pre-empts innovation of thought in the west. This vacuum is often filled by the ‘liberal Christian’ theology of Teilhard de Chardin, who repackaged Vedanta into Christian symbols and metaphors, while his followers continue to suppress that influence.
The field of consciousness studies centers on what has been defined by its leaders as the ‘hard’ problem, which is to explain how the brain could have conscious experience. But in this choice of language, there is the implied assumption that it is the physical brain that results in conscious experience. Many spiritualists and Indian thinkers would say that it is consciousness that manifests the brain, rather than the other way around; Buddhists might say that consciousness and brain are co-created and mutually interdependent, rather than consciousness emerging out of physical matter. This definition of the hard problem was adopted in part to impress scientists to take the field seriously, or else it would be dismissed as mysticism, which is taboo for any scientist, philosopher or otherwise world-affirming scholar of good repute to be associated with. The language of this field has been designed as a cloak for spiritually inclined scholars to ‘come out’ looking like scientists, but has become a lens of distortion. It has also become the most active bazaar for old eastern ideas to be claimed as original new discoveries via new language.
American schools teach the history of slavery, the Jewish holocaust, and the genocide of the Native Americans, in a neutral and factual manner. Similarly, there is now a rapidly increasing trend to teach world religions in schools and colleges. ‘Pluralism’ is the umbrella metaphor for this trend to portray various religions at arms-length and ‘objectively’ as opposed to preaching, promoting, or endorsing any one over the others. Of course, the implementation of this ideal falls short in case of Hinduism, since most teachers are ignorant and most authors are non-Hindus (which I have argued is the fault of Hindus for ignoring the academic scholarship of their own heritage). By contrast, the operative term in India’s education is not ‘pluralism’ but ‘secularism’, which has the opposite effect. By failing to expand the public’s awareness towards appreciation of the various religions of their neighbors, classmates and business colleagues, this abolishing of arms-length education ‘about’ religions has increased the power of religious preachers, politicians, and various underground streams. Even the teaching of classics such as Ramayan and Mahabharat, which are analogous to Iliad and Odyssey in Western culture, is suppressed in India. Sanskrit, which is analogous to Latin, is excluded from most schools. This is a case of poor choice of metaphor between pluralism and secularism, especially critical in India’s case where the intellectuals in control of post-independence education have been leftists.
The Political Language of Freedom:
A good example of turning the hegemony around using skillful language is one related to me by Swami Agnivesh. At a World Bank sponsored conference on religion and economic development, the western participants emphatically proposed more ‘freedom’ in the global economy to alleviate poverty, and were congratulating themselves for the superiority of western values of open markets. Freedom, like motherhood, is something where nobody wants to find themselves arguing against. Agnivesh surprised them by accepting their proposals to free the world’s markets totally, provided they went even further in their definition of economic freedom. Why limit it only to the freedom to move goods and money across borders, he said? Why not also allow complete freedom of movement of labor across boundaries? He used all the theological rhetoric of freedom to question why the west failed to open its borders to people, dismantle all immigration and passports, in the name of globalization. The western participants were dumbfounded; they had never anticipated anyone proposing more freedom than them. The WTO and related trade dialogs are entirely about negotiating the language of freedom.
Besides economic freedom through globalization, another powerful use of the language of freedom has been for religious freedom. However, seldom is it debated whether there should be controls on freedom to follow a canon that commands and/or recommends in the name of God to oppress, condemn, hate, or even kill others. Should denouncing a community as ‘condemned’, ‘sinners’, ‘pagans’, or ‘heathen’, be deemed as ‘hate speech’, which is unlawful in many places? Which freedom is more important – freedom ‘from’ hatred, or freedom ‘to’ hate? Should the quid pro quo for having religious freedom be respect for others’ religions?
Macaulay’s Language Game and the Empire:
Thomas Macaulay was appointed by the British to the Supreme Council of India, the body in control of allocating funds for education in India. Paraphrasing R.R. Dasgupta, an Aurobindo scholar: “Lord Macaulay laid the foundation for education in India through his famous document, ‘Minute on Indian Education’ in February, 1835. His objective was dictated by the imperial interests and served that purpose, but there is no doubt that it amounted to the stifling of the nation’s genius and future, and a negation of human values.” Here are excerpts from Macaulay:
“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. ..I have no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic. ..(But) I have conversed with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I have never met one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth more than the whole native literature of India and Arabia. ..The dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary not scientific information, and are so poor and rude that, until they are enriched by some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them. The intellectual improvement of the people can at present be effected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them. ..I would at once stop the printing of Arabic and Sanskrit books, I would abolish the Madrassa and the Sanskrit college at Calcutta. ..Are we obliged to teach false history, false astronomy, false medicine, because we find them in company with a false religion. ..Assuredly, to encourage the study of a literature admitted to be of small intrinsic value, only because that literature inculcates the most serious errors on the most important subjects, is a course hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality, or even with the very neutrality which ought, as we all agree, to be sacredly preserved. ..The superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable.”
Through control of language, this was planned hegemony over ideas and symbols. Over time, it became a force to conquer mentally, because it was planted within Indian minds, invisible and harder to fight than physical dominance. The endgame was the universalizing of colonial ideas and values, through prominence of their writings. Macaulay’s goal to create Indians who would be mentally British but in Indian bodies succeeded, and today such persons are sometimes referred to as ‘coconuts’ – brown on the outside but white inside.
While Macaulay worked hard to reprogram Indian minds from indigenous into English, Lord William Bentinck, who was in charge of the Bengal Presidency, employed a complementary strategy. Bentinck became a serious student of Sanskrit and explained this in a letter to the board of directors of the East Indian Company: “By studying their scripture, we shall draw them near and transmute the chains of iron into chains of gold”. Not surprisingly, Bentinck was helping the ‘Serampore Mission’, one of the most aggressive sects of Christian missionaries, and recommended that the East India Company finance Max Muller to translate the Vedas and what became called the ‘Sacred Books of the East’. Muller’s concept was that the books be made available to the missionaries to launch the defamatory and diabolic assault on India’s civilization. These controlled translations by Europeans also led to many scientific, literary, and philosophical appropriations by the west into its own civilization. This was another manifestation of the same dual-aspect strategy of appropriation and plunder: one faction appropriates the intellectual property while the other denounces it, each making the other’s task easier to perform and justify.
European Nationalism and the Language Game of Aryanization:
The emergence of European racism and nationalism are interwoven into its complex tapestry, and to label racism as German is simplistic and false. The following strands and their mutual influence in each period have to be analyzed to understand racism properly.
The idea of Aryans in the sense of Indo-European language, religion, people, (later, also Aryan “race”), did not exist in Europe before W. Jones / Franz Bopp, 1786/1809 CE. Until then, Europe was interested in China and the 18th century Europe was full of its art and writings. Then, Voltaire and others got interested in India and its wisdom or in the “Hindus” in general. India as a source of wisdom and origin of peoples became especially prominent in the first part of the 19th century, when Europeans were not yet termed as “Aryans”.
Nationalism was based all over Europe, first on the discovery and study of one’s own neglected past, and then to recently discovered medieval documents. Each European people tried to discover its background. This was similar to many great cultures that have sought their origins elsewhere: the Romans in Troy, the Greeks with the Pelasgians and Europa (from Phoenicia), the Afghans or Ethiopians in Salomonic Israel, the Hebrews/Jews from Ur (in S. Iraq), the Irish and Mayas “from the North”, the 7th c. central (Yamato) Japanese from Kyushu and beyond (Korea). Many of these ideas were concocted at various times in history for reasons of prestige or out of other political and cultural motives. This is exactly what happened with the Asian/Indian origin of the Europeans in the late 18th and early 19th century. The very “ancient” China, and then the “6000 years old” Zarathustra (via Antequil Duperron), and India (via the Latin Upanishad translation from the Persian version of Dara Shikoh) first come in this context. The Vedas were regarded as stemming from the “childhood” of mankind, leading back to human origins. Until the late 19th c., Germans still spoke of the Indo-Germanic languages, religion, and people.
The term Aryan ‘race’ came mostly after 1870, and mostly in Britain. It was first applied to the Indo-Europeans mostly as a British fashion persisting well into the 20th c. In the second half of the 19th century, India was not seen so positively when the home of the Indo-Europeans (by then considered as “Aryans”) was sought outside India, from the Caspian Sea to the Baltic. Racism emerged in this late 19th century Victorian period amidst a mixture of: (1) the linguistic shift from Sanskrit as the oldest Indo-European or even parent language to sister status with Greek; (2) upcoming Darwinism; and (3) development of “Race Science” by the Frenchman Gobineau, the British H.S. Hamilton, etc. Aryanization was only one factor behind the subsequent Nazism, and more important ones were the “race science” started by Gobineau and Hamilton. Also, anti-Church attitudes, anti-Semitism, increasing Darwinism, and belief in the teleology of scientific progress, were all strong sentiment around 1900. The West thought that it had discovered everything to be discovered and that it was master of the earth.
By 1900, Aryanization had been firmly established in some German academic circles (Archaeology: Kosinna; anthropology etc.), just as elsewhere in Europe. This would have been merely another “academic” theory, had it not been for an important amalgamation from a curious combination of people and ideas. In 1900 Vienna was the capital of the multi-lingual, multinational Austro-Hungarian empire, which included German, Slavic, Hungarian, Italian, and many Jews especially all over Galicia (i.e. Southern Poland). Here was a fluid situation, with nationalistic ferment in all these groups, including anti-Semitic ones. It was in this climate that many small nationalistic groups arose. Among the German speaking ones at Vienna were groups such as the Ostera (USHAS = ‘EASTER’) journal with a pagan/nationalistic/anti-Semitic mixture; the nationalistic Indologist L. Schroeder (a Balto-German from Latvia); and R. Wagner’s mythological opera (Wagner worked with Schroeder). The British race theorist HS Chamberlain married into the Wagner family. These people knew each other and/or interacted with each other. Into this milieu the young Hitler arrived from countryside Austria. He was selective, and picked and chose a curious mixture of beliefs from this kind of exposure. The rest is history.
Kak paraphrases from Vernant (in Olender, M. “The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion, and Philology in the Nineteenth Century”. Harvard University Press) his own interpretation built upon this historical backdrop. Western Indology, he feels, has imposed a Eurocentric view of India via a dogma called the ‘Aryan Invasion’, now amended as ‘migration’ but still insisting on the non-Indian origin of Vedic Civilization. The Aryan Invasion is a direct offshoot of the White Man’s Burden presented in linguistic terms. Like all dogmas, it is immune to evidence. While defended fiercely, its current remaining proponents avoid providing evidence in its support, claiming that having been in place for 150 years gives it enough aging to be valid, and those who question too deeply are labeled as ‘fundamentalists’. The Oriental ‘other’ was defined to be racially mixed and inferior, irrational and primitive, despotic and feudal. This was facilitated by selective use of texts and by rejecting traditional interpretations, an approach that is now called Orientalism. To speak of a “pure” race is meaningless since all external characteristics of humans are in a continuum; yet in the European triumph of the 19th century, this was not contested vigorously. When it was found that the languages of India and Europe were related in structure and vocabulary, with Sanskrit being far richer than any Western language, the scholars responded with myths. The field of comparative philology was born as a quest for ethnic origins. Vernant writes that this search for `roots’ went hand in hand with faith in a meaningful history, whose course had to be seen as guided by Providence in the light of Christian revelation. Indian texts do not use the term Arya or Aryan as a race, only as a culture of nobility. There is reference in the Manu Smriti where even the Chinese are termed Aryas, proving that it was not a race. South Indian kings called themselves Aryas as did South Indian travelers who took Indian civilization to Southeast Asia. But European scholars invented the mythical Aryan ‘race’, and established the disciplines of Semitic and Indo-European studies. The purpose of much European intellectualism was to reveal the secret of the Christian West’s nobility, and to bestow upon it the privilege to justify its religious and political domination of the world. Although ‘Arya’ never had a racial connotation in the texts, these scholars insisted on that interpretation. It was further assumed that Aryan meant the European race, allowing Europe to claim for itself all of the “Aryan” civilization as its own heritage. Europe combined the civilization of the mythic Aryan and the monotheism of the Hebrew as its own. This dual inheritance was seen as the mark of its imperial destiny.
Despite his monotheism, the Jew was shown as lacking Aryan blood, and hence scholars justified his fate in “the dark silhouette of the death camps and the rising smoke of the ovens.” (Vernant). On the other hand, the Asian was depicted as a ‘mixed-blood’ Aryan and destined to be a serf. He could partially redeem himself if he rejected his heritage except the earliest core that existed when the Aryans in India were a ‘pure race’ – by bowing down to his Aryan masters. For scholars such as Max Muller, this became the ultimate religious issue. Echoing Augustine, Muller saw in his own religious faith a way for the progress of the Asians: “Christianity was simply the name of the true religion, a religion that was already known to the ancients and indeed had been around since the beginning of the human race.” (Olender). A linguistic “Garden of Eden” called the proto-Indo-European (PIE) language was postulated. The homeland of this language was assumed as Europe, for which several wonderful qualities were postulated. This was a theory of race designating the Europeans as the original speakers of the PIE. By appropriating the origins, the Europeans also appropriated the oldest literature of the world from India. Without a past how could the nations of the empire ever aspire to equal the West? Indian literature was seen to belong to two distinct layers. At the core were the Vedas that represented the property of the pure Aryans. At the next level, weakened by mixture with the indigenous tribes, the literature was shown to come from irrational rituals.
Nazism as the Culmination of the Language of Fanaticism:
Language also shapes and mirrors an unconscious mentality that makes one open or closed. Fanaticism is merely an extreme case of closed mindedness. In 1882, Nietzsche said, “God is dead”, by which he meant that blind faith was shifting from religion to political movements, which he called ‘barbaric brotherhoods.’ Objective truth was being replaced by truth defined by the spokesmen of a given barbaric brotherhood. This became clearer in the next century, with the rise of Fascism, Communism and Nazism. Anything could be presented as ‘truth’ if it served a purpose. This is essentially what the ‘SS’ and Stalin did for propaganda, and was later the method of Indian secularists.
This idea of ‘truth’ to serve specific ‘good’ purposes has also been the life-blood of missionaries. While God may be dead, the Church’s intellectual methods found their way into some recent barbaric brotherhoods. One of the main influences of Evangelism upon western thinking is the theology of exclusivity. Exclusivism is at two levels: exclusivism of belief and exclusivism of thought process. Theology is the instrument of the latter, and is considered the exclusive method of truth. It is not a guide to explore or discover the truth through different pathways, but to affirm the exclusive ‘truth’ of canonized dogma. In fact, theology forbids such exploration of diverse pathways. Thomas Aquinas expressed it in the dictum ‘Philosophia ancilla theologiae’, meaning, “Philosophy must be subordinate to theology.” This ‘thought control’ led to the Inquisition. Biblical language has led to a choice against freedom, exploration, discovery, and one’s private spirituality with or without intermediaries. In ‘Holy War’, page 530, Karen Armstrong writes:
“Throughout our story we have seen wars and battles being fought for feelings that are so deeply entwined with our sense of self that logic and reason cease to function ….. We in the west must come to terms with our own inner demons of prejudice, chauvinism and anxiety, and strive for a greater objectivity.” The mentality she criticizes is exactly what led to the ‘barbaric brotherhoods’, “with the aim of the robbery and exploitation of non-brothers”, in Nietzsche’s words. It culminated in Nazism, as was acknowledged by Hitler when he told Bishop Berning of Osnabruch: “I am only doing what the Church has done for fifteen centuries- only more effectively.”
It is fashionable among some western scholars, especially in psychology and spirituality, to portray the world’s problems as a “Kali archetype’ – a way of explaining the collective violence and hatred in human consciousness which occasionally erupt. This archetype of the east includes being world negating and backward, and is contrasted with the west’s science, progressiveness and special status in God’s plans. On the other hand, what I have presented in this essay is a different explanation of history. I claim that belief systems based on unique, non-reproducible historical events and beyond question, will end up in canonized dogmas. These then need to be defended vigorously at all cost, resulting in concentrated organizational power, which has its own abusive quality. Intellectuals get channeled to build theories of ‘isms’ to project power and win the ‘us verses them’ game. Ultimately, this leads to fanaticism where open mindedness is denounced and abolished in the name of ‘truth’. Nazism, Fascism, and Communism, are manifestations of this archetype in collective human consciousness. And so is exclusivist Evangelism, which is touted in the name of ‘freedom’ of religion?
Westism and its Portrayal of ‘World Negating’ Indians:
There are four western trains of thought that require separate analysis beyond this essay:
- The British had their hegemonic agenda of economics. Their love affair of India lasted while it was their ‘property’ and reversed as Indian nationalism started to assert. The East India Trading Company’s share of the global economy was larger than today’s combined share of the top 50 companies of the entire world. But history textbooks of Britain’s industrial revolution fail to examine the role of India as supplier of virtually all the capital, much of the raw material, and the major market for the finished goods. Nor does it mention how the arson of India’s indigenous civilization made European development possible.
- The Germans had a need to find their roots of superiority, to build a national identity for their feudal tribes. Devoid of ancient archaeology or history, Germany’s identity was formulated based on its discoveries of a superior civilization in India with linguistic similarities to theirs. German thinkers first glorified India as their cradle. Later, the need for indigenous German roots meant that “Aryans” were declared to be Germans and Indians as less pure relatives. Their interpretation and condemnation of a ‘world negating’, inferior and poor Indian society caused many scholars’ U-Turn to Christian exclusiveness, and to assert German nationalism. It is amazing to see so much German study of India from 1700 till 1950, including many writings by some of the most famous German thinker of their time, and yet India’s influence is barely mentioned in today’s textbooks on European History. They teach Nazism, but without explaining the appropriation of Indian civilization by German nationalists, although that was the intellectual foundation for the rise of Nazism. Few westerners understand that India’s swastika was the symbol of this appropriation, the result of a made-up race theory to intimidate and suppress Jews in Europe and Indians in Asia.
- In the teaching of American history today, it is barely a footnote that the expeditions by Columbus and others were not for any romantic spirit of discovery by the western mind. Rather, the Queen of Spain was at that time the world’s largest and richest venture capitalist, and the discovery of new trade routes to India, with maps, navigational secrets, and colonial hubs along the way, was as commercially rewarding as control over operating system software would be today. It was the core proprietary know how of that time.
- The American transcendentalists, including Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, Eliot, Huxley, were heavily inspired by the Upanishads, Bhagvad Gita and other Vedanta sources, and wrote profusely about them. But later historians downplayed the Indic influence upon their thought. Students of these literary giants seldom touch the subject of Indic influences that were behind so many of their great works.
‘Westism’ is my term for this meta-language of conscious and unconscious hegemony. Implicit in this hegemony is the ‘world-negating’ picture of Indian civilization. This is so deep in the western psyche, and more dangerously in Indians’ psyche, that western plagiarism from India is ‘normal’. India’s heritage is repackaged as the west’s scientific discoveries, depicted as an upgrade from the world negating mysticism and symbolism of India. The plagiarism is also justified as helping ‘save’ the world negating Indians by bringing them progressive western ideas, which their own civilization is portrayed as being devoid of. The plagiarists also convince westerners to stay away from India’s ‘negative’ ideas and practices, although what they sell are the very same Indian ideas repackaged supposedly in a more ‘progressive and world affirming’ way.
Many western thinkers have gone through four stages of scholarship: (1) Learn, respect and appropriate from India; (2) Distance from the Indic source to ‘clean up the know how’; (3) Rename it as Western and/or Christian; (4) Trash the source as world negating, primitive and backward in comparison to the ‘scientific and progressive’ west, thereby justifying the appropriation. I have termed this final stage ‘academic arson’, for it is like an arsonist burning a place after robbing it.
Some scholars never went past stage (1) or (2), but successors repositioned the ideas into subsequent stages. Jung reached stage (4) but did not mask his Indic sources, whereas his successors deny the Indic roots of his ideas. Teilhard de Chardin wrote notes about his own stage (1) but these are unknown to his followers. Schrodinger’s quantum physics was done in stage (1) and he openly defined himself as a Vedantin till he died, but today’s quantum physicists and historians emphatically hide this philosophical link. They have invented new language, to explain it as Kantian and/or neo-Platonic if they are secular, or else as Christian theology if they are spiritual, in either case avoiding being linked to the taboo of India.
De-Negating Indian Civilization’s Portrayal:
Given the deeply rooted archetype of Indian civilization as being primitive, exotic but irrational, and in some views even religiously ‘condemned’, it is most important to confront this head on. While the detailed process of this deconstruction is complex and beyond the scope of this essay, the methodology I am using can be summarized below:
- The first question to address is whether India was always poor and less developed than the west in its long history; for so, then it would add credence to the stereotype claim. On the other hand, if it enjoyed success in the intellectual and materialistic realms, that would make the world negating notion untenable. There are two parts to this question:
a. Did India make important contributions to the world’s civilization,
(i) in ancient times and/or (ii) in modern times?
b. What was India’s economic condition until the 19th century,
(i) as per various records of visiting and domestic historians of the relevant periods, and
(ii) based on physical evidence that survives from archaeological and other materials.
- Since answers to (1) decisively prove an advanced civilization in India including in matters of the intellect and worldly progress, it is natural for a skeptic to wonder what happened to it, and this mental block must also be dealt with head on. My methodology here has two parts:
a. The Islamic period’s massive genocide, plunder, and destruction of civilization was well documented by Islam’s own scholars because it was considered pious for the invaders to commit such acts in the name of Allah. Will Durant has written: “The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading…” Indians have been afraid to face this history.
b. To summarize the British colonial impact, Samuel Huntington writes in his recent ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ that in 1750 India accounted for 24.5% of the world’s manufacturing output, and the West (Europe and America combined) for less than 19%. But in 1913, India’s share of the world output had gone down to less than 2% and the West’s share had increased to 81%. He explains, “The industrialization of the West led to the de-industrialization of the rest of the world.”
- To understand what has led to the current portrayal of India, one has to examine and expose various intellectual agendas, which are a grim reminder not to abandon the field of the humanities to others:
a. German nationalism was based on the Aryanization of its identity, by combining
(i) the appropriation of India’s civilization and (ii) the rejection of Indians as inferior.
b. Britain’s agenda to control a population one thousand times more than its own men based in India was through mental subjugation – the well-known Macaulay plan.
c. India’s own post-independence intellectuals turned to the leftist model, partly out of the Macaulay success of inferiority complex in their own heritage, thereby worsening this self-image. From copying the colonial West it became copying Soviet and Chinese socialist models, in each case at the expense of indigenous heritage.
d. The most recent portrayal is through the language of Evangelists. This language consists of radical constructs such as ‘sinners’, ‘condemned’, ‘heathen’, ‘pagan’, ‘polytheists’, and ‘hell’. It is ironical that those who portray Indians as being world negating explicitly tout the negative language of hatred! Secular westerners consider it their burden to ‘save’ Indians from backwardness and irrationality. Religious ones consider it God’s command to ‘save’ Indians from ‘damnation’.
- Indian texts need to be properly interpreted against the charge of being world negating and lacking in social values. Sri Aurobindo was a champion in this endeavor, basing his seminal work “The Life Divine” upon his large commentaries on the Vedas, Upanishads, Yoga, and Gita. That he was not promoting a ‘western progression’ idea against a world negating Indian civilization is evident from his and the Mother’s very explicit and voluminous works on the central importance of India’s civilization to the future evolution of human consciousness.
Each of the four parts above must be taken in the context of the overall mission. Taken in isolation, each has been criticized by some who even support the overall purpose. For instance, many have commented that (1) is useless because we should think of the future scientific progress rather than the past, which is a view that ignores the role of heritage and self-esteem in progress. Those looking at (2) in isolation have commented that this re-examination of historical atrocities would create negative vibrations and serve no purpose, which is a view of accepting the world negation stereotype as a given and living under the glass ceiling of the ‘rational’ West. Part (3) has not even been discussed much, as it calls for rediscovery of European history which is well beyond a simple call to reopen Indian history. Part (4) is the intellectual challenge started by Sri Aurobindo more daringly than anyone else and deserves to be continued. Each of these four threads is large enough to deserve a dedicated world conference, books of essay collections, and source books of previously published materials. This would entail finding, motivating and coordinating a multi-disciplinary team of scholars from history, religion, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology – in fact, the entire humanities. When completed, I am convinced that it will have a greater paradigm shifting impact than even Edward Said’s “Orientalism”.