1.2. THE ARYAN INVASION THEORY IN INDIAN POLITICS
1.2.1. The AIT and the “anti-national forces”
There are quite a few cases worldwide of late-medieval and modem history having repercussions on contemporary politics, witness the role of bad memories in ex-Yugoslavia. By contrast, I do not know of any question of ancient history which is as loaded with actual political significance as is the AIT in India. The AIT was turned into a political tool in order to question the Indian identity of the Indians, and thereby weaken the claims of Indians to their own country. This political use of the AIT continues till today, especially at the hands of what Hindu nationalists call “the anti-national forces”. Christian “liberation theologians”, Islamic missionaries, assorted separatists and like-minded anti-Hindu or anti-India activists are still highlighting the AIT in order to:
1) Mobilize lower-caste people, supposedly the “subdued natives” forced into the Apartheid prisonhouse of caste by the invaders, against the upper-caste people, supposedly the progeny of the “invading Aryans”. All this propaganda is carried out in the name of the low-caste leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, eventhough Ambedkar himself had strongly rejected the AIT and the notion that caste status has a racial origin: “European students of caste (…), themselves impregnated by colour prejudices, very readily imagined it to be the chief factor in the Caste problem. But nothing can be farther from the truth, and Dr. Ketkar is right when he insists that ‘all the princes whether they belonged to the so-called Aryan race or to the so-called Dravidian race, were Aryas. Whether a tribe or a family was racially Aryan or Dravidian was a question which never troubled the people of India until foreign scholars came in and began to draw the line.’”32
2) Mobilize Dravidian-speakers against speakers of IE languages, esp. through the Dravidian separatist movement which was started under British patronage in 1916 as the Justice Party, later refounded as the Dravida Kazhagam, and which reached its peak in the 1950s. One of its gimmicks was the glorification of the “black Dravidian” hero Ravana against the “white Aryan” hero Rama, disregarding the Ramayana information that Ravana was actually an Aryan coloniser of Sri Lanka and a performer of Vedic rituals, while Rama was dark-skinned.33 Its most consequential success was the sabotage (masterminded by the English-speaking elite in Delhi, not in the Dravidians’ but in its own interest) of the implementation of the Constitutional provision that Hindi, a North-Indian IE language, replace English as official language by 1965.
3) Mobilize the tribals, who have been given the new name “aboriginals” (AdivAsI) as part of this strategy, against the non-tribals, who are to be treated on a par with the European invaders of America and Australia. This in spite of the demonstrable foreign (East-Asian) origin of the Munda and Tibeto-Burmese languages spoken by the most vocal tribes.
4) Mobilize Indian politicians towards delegitimizing Sanskrit, that “foreign language brought by the Aryan invaders”, as India’s culture language and as a school subject, in order to further dehinduize India and weaken her cultural unity: “Sanskrit should be deleted from the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution because it is a foreign language brought to the country by foreign invaders - the Aryans.”34
5) Mobilize world opinion against the “racist Aryans”, meaning the Hindus, since they are the “Aryan invaders who imposed the caste system as a kind of Apartheid to preserve their racial purity and dominance”, never mind the fact that the association of “Aryan” with “race” is a strictly European invention unknown to Hindu tradition. Now that “idolater” and “heathen” have lost their force as swearwords, “racist” is a brilliant new way of demonizing Hinduism.
1.2.2. Crank racism
The explicit use of the AIT for political purposes is in evidence in a string of publications aimed at pitting the lower castes and the tribals against Hinduism, from Swami Dharma Theertha’s The Menace of Hindu Imperialism (1941) to S.K. Biswas’s Autochthon of India and the Aryan Invasion (1995).35 It is most obvious in the militant anti-Brahmin movement spearheaded by the Bangalore fortnightly Dalit Voice, edited by V.T. Rajshekar, a former Indian Express journalist fired because of his links with Khalistani terrorism. This extremist wing of the broader Dalit movement (Dalit meaning “oppressed”, ex-Untouchable)36 has formulated an Indian variant of Afrocentric history, copied from the Black Muslims in the USA, with whom it co-operates closely.37
Thus, the theory of continental drift, first suggested by Abraham Ortelius in the 16th century, and formulated scientifically by Alfred Wegener in 1915, is harnessed to the cart of Dalit Afrocentrism: “The Dalits were the original inhabitants of India and resemble the African in physical features. It is said that India and Africa were one land-mass until separated by the ocean. So both the Africans and the Indian Untouchables had common ancestors.”38 Actually, the break-up of the Urkontinent Gondwanaland took place millions of years before mankind spread across the face of the earth.
More importantly, physical anthropology does not bear out the African connection of India’s lowest castes: though their ancestors may well have migrated from Africa along with those of every other homo sapiens, they are racially far closer to the Indian upper castes than to the Africans. It does not even bear out the racial dividing-line between upper and lower castes: lower castes are genetically closer to the upper castes of their own region than to people of the same caste rank in other parts of India.39 A recent survey has yielded this conclusion: “Detailed anthropomorphic surveys carried out among the people of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal and Tamil Nadu revealed significant regional differences within a caste and a closer resemblance between castes of different varnas within a region than between sub-populations of the caste from different regions.”40 Yet, cranky as it is, Dalit Voice is strongly supported by militant Islamic centres, by Christian Liberation Theology circles and by many Western academics because they share its anti-Brahminism.41 Their reason probably is that they share Dalit Voice’s motto: “What Hindus hate, we must love, and what Hindus love, we must hate.”42
In fairness to the Dalit cause, it must be emphasized that Dalit Voice is not representative (and often diametrically opposed to the goals) of the broader Dalit movement as envisaged by Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956), a most necessary movement given the slackness of the other castes in implementing social reform. Thus, while Ambedkar became a Buddhist, Dalit Voice downplays the liberating message of Buddhism in favour of Christianity and Islam, religions criticized and rejected by Dr. Ambedkar.
1.2.3. Anti-Brahminism and anti-Semitism
Describing the Brahmins as the “Jews of India”, V.T. Rajshekar combines anti-Brahminism with anti-Semitism: “Since the Brahminical Social Order is much more ancient it is quite likely that the Zionist founding fathers got their inspiration from the BSO (…) Dalit Voice has thus proved right in predicting that the Jews and the ‘Jews of India’ will join hands to crush Muslims, Blacks and India’s Dalits.”43 He publishes calls to “get a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion from the Iranian embassy in Delhi to understand the Zionist hatred against Blacks and Muslims.”44
Rajshekar also copies some of the classics of anti-Semitism: “The First World War, the Second World War, the establishment of Communism, the rise of Hitler, were also systematically planned and executed by Zionists.”45 With his sex scandal, Bill Clinton was the “victim of a Zionist conspiracy”, for the Zionists, who “control the entire American politics, economy and the media as well”, are “angry that Clinton refused to finish the ‘demon’ of Islam and render all-out support to Israel”.46 Rajshekar’s constant railing against the CIA-Zionist-Brahminical world conspiracy has earned him a mention in a recent authoritative survey of contemporary anti-Semitism.47
Even apart from this confabulated conspiracy, an analysis of anti-Brahmin rhetoric shows that it is approximately, and in considerable detail, the Indian equivalent of anti-Semitism. Thus, Brahmins think they are the chosen ones; they (at least the orthodox) distinguish themselves by funny dress and hairstyle; they are cowards but past masters at manipulation and pitting outsiders against one another; they are pale bookworms with a transregional language of their own; they always help their own kind and deceive the others; and they monopolize wealth. For an early example, Jotirao Phule wrote: “The Brahmin’s natural (instinctive) temperament is mischievous and cantankerous, and it is so inveterate that it can never be eradicated.”48
Moreover, just as in the Nazi view the antagonism between Soviet “Judeo-Bolshevism” and American “Jewish plutocracy” was but a deceptive front for the omnipresent Jewish hand, the Indian conflict between traditionalist Brahmins and socialist Brahmins (e.g. the founders of the Communist Party of India, mostly Brahmins) is also a mere puppet-show masking the hand-in-glove cooperation between these two types of Brahmins.49 Even their occasional shows of goodness and concern for the common good always turn out to be exercises in manipulation. And worst of all, as per the AIT, the Brahmins are foreigners, usurping the rightful inheritance of the sons of the soil.
This line of anti-Brahmin rhetoric on the model of anti-Semitism comes full circle with the following allegation, originally made in 1971 by K.K. Gangadharan, a Leftist sociologist from Maharashtra working in Christ College in Kanpur, and since then adopted by the likes of V.T. Rajshekar: the Chitpavan Brahmins, a caste in Maharashtra which immigrated from Afghanistan (hence their taller build and lighter colour) when that region was islamized in the 10th century, and which took a leadership role in the struggle against the Moghuls, the British Raj and Congress secularism, are so “arrogant” and “fanatical” because, unbeknownst to other Indians, they actually have Jewish ancestors!50
That Brahmins monopolize wealth has even less basis in fact than the same stereotype of Jews. Brahmins always had an ideal of “simple living and high thinking”, and observed a prohibition of “selling” their Vedic knowledge and ritual status; Brahmins with lucrative posts counted ipso facto as lower in rank. Moreover, the traditional sources of wealth for certain Brahmin families have dried up (abolition of maharaja courts, nationalization or expropriation of temples) and today poverty is rampant among most non-westernized Brahmins. But it is easy to sell the notion that the ritually highest caste must also be the richest, esp. to Western audiences brought up on one-dimensional materialism.
However, the wealth aspect of anti-Semitism does find an Indian counterpart in the Bania merchant caste, which in the past few centuries and particularly in the most islamized parts of the Subcontinent occupied exactly the same niche in society as the Jews in medieval Europe: often they were the only Hindus who could buy themselves the safety which allowed them to preserve their Hindu identity, and as non-Muslim money-lenders they were allowed to practise “usury”, which is prohibited to Muslims. As a devout and vegetarian class, they are stereotypical Hindus, and at the same time they are a natural object of envy, just like their successful Hindu relatives in Britain and Africa. This makes them another excellent scapegoat for anti-“Aryan” crank racism in India, as exemplified by Dalit Voice’s regular tirades against the most famous Bania, Mahatma Gandhi, and against the Bania core constituency of the BJP.
1.2.4. Foreign support for anti-Brahminism
According to the politicized version of the AIT, the following is the grim truth about the situation of the pre-Aryan populations of India: “The Aryan invasion has been a disaster for India, just like for all the other Alpino-Mediterranean peoples invaded by the steppe nomads. Let us imagine that the Huns had overpowered us, destroyed our civilization, and that we would be their slaves till today, as well as our descendents for thousands of years to come, and we will understand the drama of the defeated Harappan civilization.”51 These are the words of a locally well-known Belgian yoga teacher, André van Lysebeth, someone who owes a lot to Hindu tradition and who is probably dubbed “that Hindu” by his neighbours. Yet, in attacking the Brahmins he is merciless.
The chief instrument of this racist enslavement was the caste system. In describing the horrors of caste, Mr. Van Lysebeth has the good sense to draw attention to the two separate concepts of jAti (the thousands of actual endogamous communities) and varNa (the theoretical four layers of society: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras), which Europeans have lumped together in the Portuguese term caste. But the next thing he does is to re-equate them, this time as being both terms of racial purity: “The Sanskrit term jati, which designates what we call the castes, means ‘race’, neither more nor less. It’s simple, it’s clear.”52 And: “The prime criterion of discrimination, purely racial, is varna, a Sanskrit word meaning colour (evidently of the skin).”53 Actually, jAti has all the meanings which the word “race” had in the 18th-19th century: kinship group, nation, race, species. Thus, mAnava-jAti means “the human race”, or more accurately, “the human species”. And varNa, “colour”, has nothing to do with skin colour, but refers to symbolic colours allotted to the elements, the cardinal directions, and likewise also to the layers of society.
But the notion of caste as a form of racism is well-entrenched: “Compared with the imposed racism of the Aryans in India, the Apartheid in South Africa is a gentle joke, and I am weighing my words.”54 The villain of the piece is easily identificable: “Aryanized India is under the thumb of the racist Brahmins, smug and full of their superiority over all other human beings, even over all of creation.”55 They set the tone for all the ills of Hindu society: “Venality, hypocrisy, callous unconcern, are the characteristic traits of the Aryans, starting with the Brahmins.”56
But Mr. van Lysebeth, who equates Brahminism with Hitlerism, sees the problem as even larger than India: “From India to Europe, the same drama has repeated itself everywhere. Leaving their icy steppes, from 3000 BC onwards nomadic plunderers invade the pre-Aryan civilizations, making the defeated natives their serfs. These barbarians were neither of pure race, nor superior, except in brute force. Everywhere they have destroyed civilizations.” The only revenge left to the natives was to smuggle their own traditions, supposedly centred around a Mother Goddess cult, into the new orthodoxies as a counter-current against “the foreign patriarchal system, imported from the cold”.57 In this age of multiculturalism, we had just learned to scrap the word “barbarian” from our dictionaries, and that we should see the complex cultural motifs and structures even in the most illiterate and primitive cultures. But the Barbarian is back, and his name is Brahmin.
It is perfectly OK to say about Brahmins those things which anti-racist legislation has prohibited in many countries in the case of Blacks and others. Be that as it may, the remarkable point here is the zeal with which a Western yoga adept has thrown himself into the anti-“Aryan” struggle. That is how deep the AIT has moulded public opinion in an anti-Hindu sense: the very people whom you would expect to sympathize with India and with the community which has preserved ancient traditions through the millennia, have been enlisted in the opposite camp, for no other reason than their belief in the AIT and the concomitant racial understanding of caste.
The same thing is true of the Western Indology departments, where many professors share the positions of anti-Brahminism to a greater or lesser extent. In my student days in Leuven University’s Asian Studies department, I saw students of Chinese develop into zealous defenders of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and students of Islam become apologists of Islam. The Indology students, by contrast, never developed such feelings for Hinduism, and this was in large measure due to the negative light cast on Hinduism by its original sin of the Aryan invasion and the “racist imposition of caste”. Of course it is legitimate to criticize caste; but it is perverse to do so on the basis of false history.
1.2.5. The Aryan conspiracy
The anomaly that the Aryan invasion is the key event in Indian history but that no Hindu ever heard of it, has led to a new species of paranoia. Wherever an invasionist looks around in India, he will always see reminders of the devastating Aryan invasion. Often, these reminders are of an “occult” type: those who pass them on to future generations are not aware of their true meaning. It sounds like the story, popular among enthusiasts of the divinatory Tarot cards, that Egyptian Masters of Wisdom decided to encode their secret knowledge in the designs of ordinary playing-cards, so that man’s propensity to play games would ensure the transmission of the ancient knowledge to future generations until such time as people would once more be worthy of being initiated into it. In the case of the Aryan invasion, the time has come: after 3000 years of silence and forgetfulness about the Aryan invasion, the secret has been uncovered, and the hidden meaning of all manner of cultural elements is finally being understood.
Thus, Malati Shendge claims that a number of hymns of the Rg-Veda were composed to celebrate the victory of the Aryans over the non-Aryans, while at the same time incorporating some of the traditional lore of the more civilized defeated non-Aryans. In her view, this explains the prohibition for Shudras (low-caste people supposed to be the natives) of listening to Vedic recitation: “The Shudras were especially debarred from the practice of the Vedic religion. This was not so much for preserving the purity or the monopoly as for the fear which constantly haunted the Aryan mind and of which it could never be free, viz. the revolt of the non-Aryans leading to their (Aryan) expulsion from this land. Thus the Shudra was prohibited even from listening to the Vedic literature simply because if he understood the basis of this religion he might rebel, jeopardizing the social peace. Secondly, if he understood the dirty trick that was played on him, i.e. the borrowal of the Asura lore and its transformation into an Aryan religion, he may once again be reminded of his past glory.”58
One wonders why these natives, who vastly out-numbered the Aryans and lived their separate lives in their designated corner of the caste system, were unable to preserve the true story about the usurpation of their land and power by these foreign invaders. But then, gullible Westerners listening to the invasionist reinterpretation of Hindu lore by Indian agitators have been made to believe that the true story has effectively been preserved in the popular Tantrik tradition.
Thus, Mr. Van Lysebeth suspects that Hindu ritual and symbolism is all about the struggle between Aryan invaders and Dravidians. Even Shiva’s trident, now a symbol of militant Hinduism as well as a mystical symbol into which all manner of philosophical profundities have been read, is really a symbol of pre-Aryan resistance against the Aryan invaders: “India is a volcano where the pressure mounts under the crust constituted by the millennarian Aryan structure.(…) Shiva’s trident is ‘officially’ the three gunas [the three qualities: light, turbid, dark] of Samkhya [=cosmological philosophy], or the three nadis (subtle energy channels) of yoga. But for those who know, it is all different, for the trident was the preferred weapon of the Dravidians, while its Aryan counterpart had four teeth. The Rgveda says: ‘With their four-pointed weapon (caturashri) Mitra and Varuna kill the bearers of the trident.’ The Indian Rajmohan Nath (…) comments on this verse: ‘This gives an indication of the ancient conflict between the two camps which still continues in India.’”59
Those who care to look up the Vedic verse (1:152:2) will find that it merely says, in Ralph Griffith’s literal translation, that “the fearful four-edged bolt smites down the three-edged”. The passage as a whole is one of the many difficult points in Vedic translation, and every modem translator has a different version; but though they are mostly well-grounded in the AIT, no serious translator has turned this passage into a reference to aboriginal tridents against invaders’ quadridents. The most logical explanation available is the one given by the classical commentator Sayana: in glorifying the might of the truth (satya) in the sage’s power-word (mantra), mentioned in the first half of the verse, it is asserted in general (as if it were a well-known proverb at that time) that he who has more or stronger weapons defeats him who has fewer or less effective ones.60
As for the meaning of trirashri, which was translated as “(Shivaite) trident”, its dictionary meaning is simply “three-cornered”61; it is part of a series which includes caturashri and even shatashri, “having a hundred angles or edges (said of the thunderbolt)”.62 There is no hint that the trident is meant.63 More decisively, there is nothing un-Aryan about the trident, considering that it was an attribute of the Greco-Roman god Poseidon/Neptune, both names with IE etymologies. In Germanic and Celtic folk art, three-armed (triskel) and four-armed (tetraskel) variations of a given symbol (fylfot, swastika) coexist. That the three-armed version is anti-Aryan and the four-armed one pro-Aryan, is without foundation.
Likewise, Malati Shendge and others have made much of the Vedic myth of the Dragon-slayer: Indra defeating the dragon Vrtra would be the Aryan invader defeating the native Vrtra. Since this killing is associated with the release of the waters which were withheld by Vrtra, it is also imagined that the Aryans had destroyed the impressive waterworks with which the Dravidian Harappans ensured the fertility of their lands. However, the myth of the Dragon-slayer is a pan-IE myth, even known among non-IE people like the Babylonians (Marduk defeating Tiamat). Have they all invaded Harappa and killed its chief water-engineer?
Mr. Van Lysebeth was invited to attend a Vedic fire ceremony (agnihotra) once, but those wily Brahmins were not able to deceive him: “They are careful not to tell us that it is in commemoration of the destruction of the enemies, the Dasas, that several ingredients are thrown into the fire, among which the grains symbolize the destruction of the harvest, the cities and the forts, nor [do they tell us] that the pieces of meat represent the enemies burned to death.”64 Is it not far-fetched to explain the ritual use of fire, which exists in a great many cultures that have flourished on earth, as a commemoration of the burning down of Harappan cities? And the ingredients of the offering as representing the enemies who were burnt alive in those genocidal bonfires? Especially when no traces of this Aryan campaign of burning and destruction have ever been discovered.
Numerous allegorical interpretations can be imposed on any text or symbol; in New Age bookstores, you can find books on the “esoteric meaning of fairy tales”. But this is mostly just what the Germans call Hineininterpretieren, “interpreting meanings into the text”. None of the authors imposing an invasionist interpretation on Hindu scriptures, rituals and symbols, has ever shown how their reading is anything more than just that. They are merely, as the saying goes, elated to discover the Easter eggs which they themselves have concealed.
1.2.6. Indian Marxism
Among the most active and determined academic opponents of any serious reopening of the AIT debate, we find Marxists such as Prof. Romila Thapar (whose positions will be discussed below) and Prof. Ram Sharan Sharma.65 Let us make it clear from the outset that there is nothing controversial about the label “Marxist”: in India, Marxism is still the dominant paradigm in the Humanities, and hundreds of academics are still proud to call themselves Marxists. It is therefore a bit bizarre when Romila Thapar insinuates that the non-AIT school merely uses the label “Marxist” as a cheap way to dismiss the Indian pro-AIT scholars like Sharma and herself without proper refutation: “Those that question their theories are dismissed as Marxists!”66 If confirmation from an unsuspect Marxist source is needed, Tom Bottomore’s standard dictionary of Marxism mentions and quotes both R.S. Sharma and Romila Thapar as representatives of Indian Marxism.67
The Marxist dominance of India’s cultural sphere is not a convenient rumour, it can easily be documented and its genesis traced and explained. Nehru was fond of Communism though personally too bourgeois to join it. It was chiefly his daughter Indira Gandhi (guided by her secretary P.N. Haksar) who, when she was critically dependent on Communist support during her intra-Congress power struggle, promoted Communists (often unregenerate Stalinists till today) and created many new institutes for them, including Jawaharlal Nehru University. In 1975, when the Communist bid to take over the Congress Party from within was thwarted by Indira’s son Sanjay Gandhi, the Communist power position in the intellectual sector was left untouched: its importance escaped the Gandhi family, who only focused on immediate political power. When in 1998, the new BJP Government nominated people of its own choice to the Indian Council of Historical Research, a roar of indignation went up among Indian Marxists against this “politicization of scholarship”, highlighting to the alert observer the extent to which the Marxists themselves had treated the ICHR as their own playground, and how, like spoilt children, they couldn’t stand losing it.68
Marx’s Indian followers have a confused but predominantly negative attitude to the question of India’s legitimacy as a united republic. They are willing to accept the unified Indian state as long as it is useful to their own ends (as in 1959-62, after their election victory in Kerala gave them hope of taking over India, a hope crushed by the embarrassing Chinese invasion of 1962), but they are just as ready to discard it, because they do not believe in it and have no loyalty towards it. Around the time of independence, they actively campaigned for the Balkanization of India, hoping to gobble up one fragment after another. They never tire of denouncing anything that bolsters India’s unity as a “myth”. For them, India is an artificial unit, a prisonhouse of nations, bound to fall apart.69
In contrast with other colonized countries, Marxists in India played no important role in the freedom movement, except negatively. According to a Western Marxist observer: “Uncompromising opposition to Gandhi and his cherished Hindu convictions meant that communists were cut off in a considerable measure from the mainstream of the patriotic struggle”.70 Ever since, they have supported every antinational cause: the crushing of the Quit India movement (1942), Partition (1947), the Razakar terror campaign to prevent the merger of Hyderabad with India (1948), the Chinese claims to Indian territory (up to 1962: “China’s chairman is also India’s chairman”). As late as 1997, Communist leader Sitaram Yechury refused to admit that China had been the aggressor in 1962.71 In the 1990s, they have threatened secession of the states they control in the event of a Hindu-nationalist election victory.72 It is a different matter that by the time this victory took place, in 1998, the Communist movement had become too weak and grey to hazard such action.
To complete the picture, it should be realized that as born upper-caste Hindus alienated by westernization, Indian Marxists are animated by a seething hatred of their ancestral culture. Unlike the British who felt some patronizing sympathy for the heathens whom God had entrusted to their civilizing care, anglicized Hindus feel a need to exorcize the remainders of Hindu heritage from themselves and their surroundings.
1.2.7. Marxism against India
To understand the compulsion on Indian Marxists to hold out against changes in the dominant AIT paradigm as long as possible, we should know a few things about their unique position as compared to that of Marxists elsewhere. Their animosity against the native culture of India and against a theory which would strengthen their own country’s prestige is somewhat surprising, for in most Third World countries, Marxists have also been ardent nationalists in the struggle for cultural as well as political and economic decolonization. In Communist countries, national history was rewritten not only to vilify the reactionary forces (e.g. Confucius) but also to highlight and glorify the nation’s contribution to material culture and scientific progress. This is or was true of China, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and of their supporters abroad. Thus, Cambridge scientist historian Joseph Needham’s loyalty was to Mao’s version of Stalinism as a system, but he got enamoured with China itself and wrote a very Sinocentric history of Science and Civilization in China, highlighting the unexpectedly large contribution which China has made to human progress.
Along the same lines, we must note in India the lone Marxist historian Bhagwan Singh, who has contributed to the critique of the AIT, focusing specifically on the material culture and the economic data available in Vedic literature and the archaeological record of the Harappan cities, to show that the two match.73 Also, Western Marxists of an earlier generation have protested against the imperialist projection of colonial racism onto the colonized native society, as in the AIT-related racial theory of caste: “The early Indo-Aryans could no more have thought in modern terms of race prejudice than they could have invented the airplane.”74 Finally, Soviet historians have extolled ancient Hindu contributions to science and political culture which were ignored by their political allies in India.75
Most Indian Marxists, by contrast, along with their supporters in Western Indology departments (when it comes to controversial issues, most Western India-watchers are incredibly gullible parrots of whatever their privileged Indian contacts tell them), go out of their way to belittle India and to vilify as “chauvinistic” or worse any attempt to revalue India’s contribution. The mainstream of contemporary Indian Marxism is true to Karl Marx’s own contempt for and worst-possible interpretation of all things Indian. Marx thought that Hinduism “was the ideology of an oppressive and outworn society”; he “shared the distaste of most Europeans for its more lurid features. (…) he was as sceptical as his Hindu followers were to be of any notion of a Hindu ‘golden age’ of the past.”76
Marx acknowledged the colonialists' historical mission of eliminating the “Asiatic mode of production”, and claimed that colonial rule could only be compared (to its obvious advantage) to the memory of Turkish or the threat of Czarist rule, but not to native rule, for which India was historically unfit because it had never been a nation. In an 1853 letter, Marx wrote that “Indian society has no history at all, at least no known history. What we call its history, is but the history of the successive intruders who founded their empires on the passive basis of that unresisting and unchanging society.”77
The idea of a continuous and glorious civilization in North India dating back more than 5,000 years does not fit in well with this vision. That of the barbaric Aryans imposing foreign rule on the hapless natives is much more useful, esp. for characterizing Indian society as “oppressive”. This way, lingering colonial prejudices of Western scholars and the class interests of India’s anglicized elite and anti-Hindu intelligentsia reinforce each other to create the strange spectacle of Indians and indologists virulently opposing any rethinking of India’s past which might increase the weight of India’s own contribution to her own history.
For instance, Romila Thapar questions the term “Indus-Saraswati civilization”, which “evokes the Rigveda” (by bringing the Vedic river Saraswati, where the biggest concentration of Harappan cities has been found, into the picture), for its “ideological and political dimensions”, and she imputes to its proponents the following motive: “The equating of the Harappan and Vedic culture is not essentially an attempt at correlating archaeological and literary sources (…) There are other agendas which are being addressed in the attempt.”78 It is bad form and bad scholarship to bypass someone’s arguments to attack his motives, and even worse to replace his stated motives with imputed motives, but this is one phenomenon which outside observers of the debate will have to get used to: Indian Marxism has given wide currency to the approach of “I don’t care what arguments you come up with, I’m going to tell you what your true motives are, you reactionary pig”.
But then, even if reprehensible, this imputation of motives may once in a while hit upon the truth. 1 believe Prof. Thapar is right when she guesses this reasoning in the minds of Indian AIT critics: “If it can be argued that the Harappan culture is in fact Vedic or that the Rigveda is earlier even than the Harappan, then the Vedas continue to be foundational to the subcontinental civilisation of South Asia and also attract the encomium of representing an advanced civilization, superior even to the pastoral-agrarian culture actually described in Vedic texts.”79 However, I think that in saying this, Prof. Thapar has also revealed what exactly goes on in the minds of Indian Marxist critics of AIT criticism. Indeed, Vedic tradition does gain in stature by being identified with the vast and advanced Harappan civilization: that is why Indian nationalists like it, and just as precisely, it is why Indian Marxists abhor it.
1.2.8. The establishment vs. the outsiders
Since the Marxists have occupied the seats of academic and media power for decades, it is no surprise that their attacks on others often take the form of a haughty dismissal. David Frawley’s contributions are laughed off with reference to his lack of western academic training (he studied the Vedas in a traditional Indian setting, becoming an acknowledged vedacarya). The fact that he published about Ayurveda and Vedic astrology are sufficient to denounce him as a “quack”. With reference to Subhash Kak and N.S. Rajaram, indeed complete outsiders to the Indian history establishment, Romila Thapar dismisses the contribution of these “American-trained professional scientists researching on ancient India” as essentially “nineteenth-century tracts [though] peppered with references to using the computer so as to suggest scientific objectivity”, typical for amateurs who do history “as a hobby”.80
Should people be allowed to speak out on subjects not mentioned on their diplomas? Romila Thapar seems to think so when it comes to her own case, e.g. as a non-linguist she invokes the authority of the linguistic evidence several times: “Such an early date for the Rigveda is untenable on the available linguistic evidence nor is there support for the argument of a westward flow of people from northern India, neither from linguistic nor from archaeological sources”81 And: “These reconstructions disregard the linguistic data, probably because it would puncture their argument. It is conveniently stated that the linguistic models arise out of political and cultural factors and presumably therefore may be ignored.”82
The latter sentence is an incorrect rendering of N.S. Rajaram’s rejection of the linguistic evidence. Though he does make much of the political context behind the linguistic theory of an East-European Urheimat, his point is, rather, that the reconstruction of a proto-language can never reach beyond the stage of mere hypothesis, for it cannot pass the decisive scientific test of empirical verifications.83 This critique is pertinent, though by no means as devastating for the scientific value of historical linguistics as Prof. Rajaram assumes; it is at any rate more than a “convenient” excuse.
I believe AIT critics are wrong to disregard the linguistic evidence, but I also believe that for those who rightly choose to take it into account, evaluating the linguistic evidence requires specific competence. The US-based scientists’ exaggerated skepticism vis-à-vis linguistics has at least made them abstain from dabbling in a subject they don’t sufficiently understand. By contrast, Romila Thapar discusses not only the linguistic but also the astronomical evidence, if only to dismiss it as unreliable.84 Now, here is a subject on which I would rather trust a NASA scientist like Prof. Rajaram than a bookworm from JNU’s History department. Likewise, the evidence of Vedic mathematics (Baudhayana’s Shulba Sutra as logical ancestor of Babylonian and Greek mathematics) is a subject which I would rather leave in the care of professional mathematicians like Rajaram and Subhash Kak. If anything looks “19th-century” in this debate, it is the conspicuous negligence by Prof. Thapar and other invasionists of the input from the exact sciences, an input which has gone far in strengthening the anti-AIT case.
True, there is often something naive about exact scientists when they enter the field of the Humanities. But then, people from the Sciences have a logic and a lucidity and a healthy aversion to compromise with prevalent opinion (natural laws not being bendable to opinion), so that, once they have learned the ways of the Humanities, they often do much better than the established authorities. This is particularly true in India, where bright students are invariably guided towards the scientific departments, so that the Humanities typically attract the second-rate students, quite a few of whom go on to become professors. Anyone can master the art of providing erudite footnotes, but the Vedic and Harappan evidence, particularly the evidence reachable through the “hard” sciences (astronomy, geology), is a much more serious nut to crack.
Another Marxist historian, Parvathi Menon, has ridiculed Dr. Natwar Jha, who has elaborated a Sanskrit-based decipherment of the Indus script, as “just a schoolmaster”.85 Comments N.S. Rajaram: “This is not true, but it doesn’t matter. The great mathematician Ramanujan was a clerk in the Madras port, while Einstein himself was serving as a clerk in the Swiss patent office when he discovered Relativity. (…) The idea of objectivity is beyond such minds; status means everything.”86
Mercifully, Romila Thapar and her friends haven’t found occasion to comment on Shrikant Talageri yet. His bright and innovative contributions, quite literally written after working hours “as a hobby”, would not suggest to the readers that he actually makes a living as a bank clerk. There was a time when Marxists denounced academic ivory towers and applauded the contributions of working people, but in India they have been too privileged to be even polite towards people who make an honest living.
1.2.9. Indian Marxists abroad
In their campaign against India and Hinduism, Indian Marxists get plenty of patronage from Western universities. When Non-Resident Indians raise money to fund a chair of Indian Studies in a Western university, what they get for their money is in most cases the appointment of an Indian Marxist academic who comes to confirm the Western audiences in their most negative stereotypes about India, e.g. by reducing every single aspect of Hindu civilization to “caste oppression” (it is Axioma 1 of contemporary Indian Studies that Hinduism is caste, wholly caste and nothing but caste). Thus, the Hinduja Foundation has set up an Indic Studies programme in Columbia University, but its staff includes determinedly anti-Hindu characters who even vilify their own sponsors at conferences elsewhere.
One occasion where I saw US-based Indian Marxists in action was at the 1996 Annual South Asia Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, in a panel purportedly dealing with the AIT debate. I knew that excellent and innovative papers by N.S. Rajaram and Shrikant Talageri had been rejected by the organizers, so I felt entitled to expect presentations of top-notch scholarship dwarfing even that of Rajaram and Talageri. Instead, what the audience got, was a canvassing session for the “Forum of Indian Leftists” without any scholarly papers. The speakers disdained to even mention any of the argumentative contents of the AIT debate, except “David Frawley’s paradox” (the AIT’s puzzling implication pointed out by Frawley, viz. that the Harappan civilization had numerous cities but no literature, while Vedic civilization had a vast literature but no cities)87, which they simply laughed off without discussion ad rem.
But Frawley’s paradox is entirely pertinent: what are the chances that a literate culture leaves the biggest conglomerate of archaeological sites behind, but only a handful of short inscriptions as the complete corpus of its literature; while the illiterate conquerors produce a vast and sophisticated literature within a few centuries, but leave no sizable architecture behind? What are the chances that the largest civilization of the world loses its language to a conquering band of nomadic tribesmen? The AIT has the weight of probability against it.
The one interesting piece of information in the whole session was presented by Vijay Prashad: about the impact of the Aryan race theory on the position of (Asian) Indians in the USA in the past century. It turns out that for much of the time, they were counted as “white” thanks to their IE connection, and that they strongly held on to this profitable classification rather than to show solidarity with other non-white minorities. But in the 1970s, when the policy of positive discrimination for ethnic minorities started to have a serious impact, Indians were not slow to parade their skin colour as entitling them to minority privileges. If true, this is yet another interesting instance of the political use of the AIT. However, Prashad revealed his destructive intentions when he called Dalit Voice “a wonderful paper” and praised its disruptive positions, esp. its division of Indians in aboriginals and invaders.
Biju Matthew insisted on the Stalinist position that in the social sciences, no theory ever comes without a political agenda. So, he reduced the whole AIT debate to a question of cultural policy of the Indian bourgeoisie, which was badly trying to be European. This was indeed part of the motive for the 19th-century acceptance of the AIT by the likes of Keshab Chandra Sen, but not of the present-day rejection of the AIT. But Matthew had not cared to notice the diametrical opposition between the former, colonial, and the latter, anti-colonial positions, perhaps because he counted on a knee-jerk reaction of hostility to anyone who merely utters the word
all the more serious about deciding the burning question whether Non-Resident
Indians should call themselves “Indian” or “South-Asian”; he himself opted
for the latter “because it has the advantage of being antinational”.
He wanted South-Asians in North America to shake off their religious and
national identities and develop an “identity project” on the model of the
African-Americans, which would only leave race as the distinctive trait
of South-Asians in the US, a self-identification which approximates racism
in its original meaning. I am in no position to berate African-Americans
for defining their own identity in racial terms, for the reduction of their
complex ethno-religio-linguistic identities (Yoruba, Ashanti etc.) to their
skin colour was forced on them by Arab (7th-20th century) and later also
by European slave-traders (15th-19th century); but to deliberately drop
existing non-racial identities for a racial one, that is another matter.
32Thus spake Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his paper “Castes in India”, reproduced in his Writings and Speeches, Gvt. of Maharashtra, 1986, vol. 1, p.21, with reference to S.V. Ketkar: History of Caste in India, Low Price Publ., Delhi 1990 (1909), p.82. Though he condemned the Hindu caste system in the strongest terms and ended up converting to Buddhism, Dr. Ambedkar shared may doctrinal points with the Hindu nationalists, often even being more outspoken than they: he was a merciless critic of Islam, opposed the conversion of low-castes to foreign religions, ridiculed Mahatma Gandhi’s extremist pacifism and religious fantasizing, lambasted Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy, and rejected the AIT.
33Note the agreement between the Indian Left and the European racists. In his L’arc de Civa. poèmes antiques, the 19th-century French poet Charles Leconte de Lisle wrote: “Rama, toi dont le sang est pur, toi dont le corps est blanc, (…) dompteur étincelant de toutes les races profanes” (“Rama, you whose blood is pure, you whose body is white, bright subduer of all the profane races”). In fact, the Ramayana is about a struggle between two heroes who were both Aryan and both dark-skinned.
34Frank Anthony, a Christian former Member of Parliament, quoted with strong approval by Razia Ashraf, a Muslim protester against the Sanskrit news service on All-India Radio, in a letter to Indian Express, 9-2-1991.
35Swami Dharma Theertha’s book has been republished as History of Hindu Imperialism, Dalit Educational Literature Centre, Madras 1992.
36The term Dalit as a social category was introduced by the Hindu reform movement Arya Samaj in the late 19th century in its campaign for dalitoddhAra, “upliftment of the oppressed”. Its English counterpart “depressed classes” was used by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as a more precise alternative to Mahatma Gandhi’s religious term Harijan, “people of God”, a term which has recently given way to Dalit or to the legal term scheduled Caste in ordinary usage.
37E.g., a few years ago, Black Muslims opposed the renaming of a street in Atlanta, Georgia, as Mahatma Gandhi Square, in deference to the hatred of the Mahatma’s integrationist views by the polarizationist Dalit Voice group. It must be admitted, though, that they had a case in collecting all the statements by Gandhi (during his South-African period 1893-1914) which could be construed as derogatory to Blacks, see e.g. “Gandhi’s anti-African racism”, chapter 2 of Fazlul Huq: Gandhi Saint or Sinner?, Dalit Sahitya Akademy, Bangalore 1992.
38V.T. Rajshekar: Dalit - the Black Untouchables of India, Clarity Press, Atlanta 1987, p.43.
39This was already argued by Dr. Ambedkar, e.g. in Writings and Speeches (1989 ff.), vol.7, p.301, with reference to G.S. Ghurye: Caste and Race in India, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai 1969 (1932). It is significant that the vast majority of the numerous publications on caste fail to mention Ghurye’s important work even in their biblography; as for Ambedkar, his explicit rejection of the AIT-cum-racial explanation of caste goes equally unmentioned in the copious pro-Dalit and Indian Marxist literature.
40Kailash C. Malhotra interviewed by N.V. Subramaniam: “The way we are. An ASI project shatters some entrenched myths”, Sunday, 10-4-1994.
41See e.g. the Flemish missionary monthly Wereldwijd, March 1986 and February 1991; some of V.T. Rajshekhar’s separately published brochures (from Dalit Sahitya Akademi, Bangalore) are transcripts of speeches given at Christian conferences.
42Dalit Voice, 16-2-1992.
43Dalit Voice, 16-1-1993.
44Dalit Voice, 1-12-1991.
45Dalit Voice, 16-1-1993.
46“Clinton, victim of Zionist conspiracy?” Dalit Voice, 1-9-1998.
47Léon Poliakov, ed.: Histoire de l’antisémitisme 1945-93, Paris 1994, P.395. The phenomenon of anti-Semitism in a vocal though marginal and unrepresentative section of the Dalit movement is attributed somewhat patronizingly to the “mental confusion among India’s poor Dalits”.
48Collected Works of Mahatma Jotirao Phule, vol.2, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai 1992, p.73, quoted with approval in Dalit Voice, 16-12-1992.
49See e.g. V.T. Rajshekar: Dialogue of the Bhoodevatas. Sacred Brahmins versus Socialist Brahmins, Dalit Sahitya Akademy, Bangalore 1993.
50K.K. Gangadharan is quoted to this effect in Gérard Heuzé: Où va l’Inde moderne?, L’Harmattan, Paris 1993, p.87. As for V.T. Rajshekar to this effect, see Dalit Voice, 1-2-1995 and 1-3-1995; and V.T. Rajshekhar: Brahminism, Dalit Sahitya Akademy, Bangalore n.d., p. 28.
51André Van Lysebeth: Tantra, le Culte de la Féminité, Flammarion Fribourg 1988, p.59.
52A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.46.
53A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.47.
54A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.26.
55A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.58.
56A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.62.
57A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.30.
58Shendge: The Civilized Demons. The Harappans in the Rg-Veda, Abhinav Publ. Delhi 1977, p.378. Asura originally “god”, since late-Vedic times “demon”, enemy of the Devas or “gods”. The shift is the result of a confrontation between Iranians, who mostly addressed their gods as Asura/Ahura (esp. Ahura Mazda), and Indians who mostly addressed their gods as Deva. On both sides, the enemy’s term was forthwith demonized: Asura for Indians and Daeva for Iranians were turned from “god” into “demon”.
59A. Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p.211, with reference to Rajmohon Nath: Rigveda Summary, Shillong 1966, p-83.
60Ralph A.T. Griffith: The Hymns of the Rgveda, Motilal Banarsidass reprint, Delhi p. 102n.
61M. Monier-Williams: Sanskrit-English Dictionary, entry Trir-ashri, p.461.
62M. Monier-Williams: Sanskrit-English Dictionary, entry Shatashri, p.1050.
63There are non-weapon interpretations, e.g. on the model of shaDyantra (literally “six-pointed star” but effectively “conspiracy”), trirashri may, in opposition to caturashri (“square”), have a connotation of “not (fair &) square” in a figurative sense. Swami Dayananda Saraswati (Rigveda, vol.3, p.76) translates it as “wicked”.
64André Van Lysebeth: Tantra, p. 196. Similarly on p. 195, with reference to Malati J. Shendge: The Civilized Demons: the Harappans in Rigveda.
65See e.g. R.S. Sharma: Looking for the Aryans, Orient Longman, Delhi 1995, and the interview with him in a programme by the Dutch Hindu broadcasting foundation OHM, 1997.
66Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p. 17.
67Tom Bottomore: Dictionary of Marxist Thought, Blackwell, Oxford 1988, entry “Hinduism”.
68The ICHR controversy is discussed in Arun Shourie: Eminent Historians, Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud, ASA, Delhi 1998.
69This assessment-cum-prediction is made quite cheerfully by Romila Thapar in her 1993 interview in the French daily Le Monde.
70Tom Bottomore: Dictionary of Marxist Thought, p. 205.
71“China vs. India: who is Yechury batting for?”, Indian Express, 28.2.1997.
72According to Ashok Mitra, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal, in an interview in the Rotterdam daily NRC Handelsblad, 20-3-1993, “India was never the solution”.
73Bhagwan Singh: The Vedic Harappans, Aditya Prakashan, Delhi 1995.
74Quoted from Marxist theorist Oliver Cromwell Cox: Caste, Class and Race (1948), p.91, in Ivan Hannaford: Race, the History of an Idea in the West, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1996, p.383. Hannaford summarizes: “The relationship between Brahmans (white), Kshatriyas (red), Vaishyas (yellow) and Shudras (black) was not a color [“varNa”] relationship in the ‘racial’ sense but a metaphor identified with dharma - ‘a way of life virtue complex (p.95) - that was acquired by “the mode of livelihood” or “the inherent qualities of nature”. His fundamental argument was that the case for color as a dominant factor in the development of caste was not supported by the evidence of historical literature, and that it was foreign scholars who had made it so.”
75K. Antonova, G. Bongard-Levin, G. Kotovsky: A History of India, 2 vols., Progress Publ., Moscow 1979 (1973), discussed in Arun Shourie: Eminent Historians, Their Technology, Their Line, their Fraud, p. 189ff.
76Tom Bottomore: Dictionary of Marxist Thought, p. 203, paraphrasing K. Marx: The First Indian War of Independence, Moscow 1959 (a compilation of Marx’ columns on the 1857 Mutiny in the New York Daily Tribune), p.156.
77Quoted with approval by S.K. Biswas: Autochthon of India and the Aryan Invasions, Genuine Publ., Delhi 1995, p.10.
78Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p.16.
79Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p. 16. It is one of Bhagwan Singh’s main theses (in The Vedic Harappans) that the image of the Vedic people as rustic pastoralists is wrong, e.g. it is in conflict With many indications of long-distance and overseas trade. To the extent that the Rg-Veda describes a more primitive cultural setting than what the ruins of Harappa suggest, this is explained by identifying the Rg-Vedic culture with an earlier stage of Harappan culture, before its most impressive urbanization, e.g. by K.D. Sethna: KarpAsa in Prehistoric India: a Chronological and Cultural Clue, Impex India, Delhi 1984.
80Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p.16-17.
81Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p.15.
82Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p.17.
83N. S. Rajaram: Politics of History, pp. 174-196.
84“The use of astronomy in dating an entire text is regarded as unreliable since the references to planetary positions could have been incorporated from an earlier tradition which need not have been Vedic”, according to Romila Thapar: “The theory of Aryan race and India”, Social Scientist, January-March 1996, p.12.
85Parvathi Menon in the Communist fortnightly Frontline, 21-2-1997; see also JNU professor Shereen Ratnagar’s hostile review of N.S. Rajaram’s work in Frontline, 9-1-1996. The principle of the decipherment is presented in N. Jha: Vedic Glossary on Indus Seals, Ganga Kaveri Publ., Varanasi 1996.
86N.S. Rajaram: From Harappa to Ayodhya, p.12.
Frawley (with N.S. Rajaram): Vedic ‘Aryans’ and the Origin of Civilization,
WH Press, Québec 1995, p.23. Note that the authors, or their publisher,
took care to put “Aryans” in quotation marks; and that the publisher changed
his name from “World Heritage Press” to “WH Press” to obscure the word
“heritage” (German Erbe, as in Ahnenerbe, “Ancestral Heritage”,
the name of the SS research department): so intense is the fear that the
vaguest allusion to terms employed by the Nazis would be deemed indicative
of Nazi intentions. Also see Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak & David
Frawley: In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, Theosophical Publ.,
Wheaton IL 1995.