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The Battle For Sanskrit: Media Follies

The Battle For Sanskrit Media Follies

 The battle for our sanskriti is raging in full force.  

On one side we have the Hindu bashers operating under the Western Indology flag. This is a highly developed eco system as they hold the reins to prestigious Ivy League institutions in theU.S. and anyone seeking degrees in the field of Indology are required to subscribe to their views.

Thus have they been able to leverage the prestige of the institutions to build an army of misinformed and prejudiced people. These people have been inducted into Indology study departments all over the world and are currently spilling lies and hate with the goal of destroying our civilization and dividing our people. They have multiplied astronomically over the years and spread their tentacles across the globe through students (degree holders). In addition, their livelihoods are dependent on their mastery in spilling this hate, which is why they have come up with many unique and original approaches to do the job.

On the other side, we have Rajiv Malhotra+. The reason I say this is, he is the lone person who discovered what was going on, researched the industry and reached out to Indians through his books (Invading The Sacred, Breaking India, Being Different, Indra’s Net and The Battle For Sanskrit). The + denotes Truth, similar to what The Pandavas chose in the battle of Kurukshetra. It also means that like it or not, Malhotra’s decades of tapas have started to pay off and both the Indian people and many ordinary Westerners are increasingly seeing what is going on.  So his side is swelling in numbers.

Given the path-breaking nature of Malhotra’s latest book, The Battle For Sanskrit, a series of events have taken place over the past few weeks. I first present here the chain of events and then show the reactions of the press so the reader can judge for him/herself how good a job the press has done.

Event Highlights

  1. Rajiv Malhotra released his book called the Battle for Sanskrit, which included an extensive critique of Western Indologist Professor Sheldon Pollock among other things. This work is purported to be a first of its kind since Pollock has been writing on Hinduism for several decades and has his own thriving ecosystem but traditional scholars weren’t aware of his contributions, or their effects on Indian society and social discourse. Malhotra, being located in the U.S. with a deep understanding of the American milieu as well as the Hindu tradition to which he was born, decided to take up the task. Because of his background, he could bridge the gap between the Western Indologists and traditional scholars, many of whom endorsed his work and sought alliances with him.
  2. What followed was a petition by 132 distinguished Indian traditionalists to remove Pollock from the position of general editor of the Murthy Classical Library of India (MCLI). MCLI was set up to translate 500 Indian works in various languages. The petitioners quoted from Pollock’s lecture titled “What Is South Asian Knowledge Good For?” where he says, “Are there any decision makers, as they refer to themselves, at universities and foundations who would not agree that, in the cognitive sweepstakes of human history, Western knowledge has won and South Asian knowledge has lost?  …That, accordingly, the South Asian knowledge South Asians themselves have produced can no longer be held to have any significant consequences for the future of the human species?” 
  3. A Western Indologist called Prof. Dominik Wujastyk took exception to the petition and alleged that the traditional side hadn’t read the entire piece by Sheldon Pollock on which the petition was based. He correctly said, “In this passage, Prof. Pollock is criticising the administrators of western universities who do not give proper recognition and value to Indian knowledge systems, and only view India as a place to make money or to make practical applications of knowledge systems of the West”. He quoted from various pages of the lecture to support this claim. 
  4. In a subsequent rebuttal, Professor Krishnamurthi Ramasubramanian quoted Pollock from the same lecture: “greater part of South Asian achievements and understandings” have “no claim whatever ... to any universal truth value in themselves, and precisely because they pertain to what are specifically South Asian modes of making sense of the world.” Professor Ram agreed that Pollock has a way of making concessions during his lectures but comes back to refute them thereafter, upholding the view that the petitioners pointed out. His concluding lines are also significant: that "our understanding of 'usefulness' and 'truth' [of South Asian knowledge] has grown substantially in the time since Marx and Weber" (clearly displaying his bias and conclusion about the drishti or lens with which the studies are to be done). He also pointed out Pollock’s political activism: “Prof. Pollock has been a prominent signatory of two statements which have strongly condemned the actions of the authorities of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the Government of India in taking constitutionally mandated legal actions against the anti-national slogans raised by an unauthorized assembly of protesters at the JNU on the 9th of February 2016. While castigating the actions of the democratically elected Government of India as an “authoritative menace”, these statements do not condemn the protesters who called for the dismemberment of India and abused the Supreme Court of India for “judical killing”. As regards Wujastyk’s claim that the petitioners weren’t familiar with the whole lecture he said “We are not upset by Prof. Wujastyk's claim that “Prof. Ramasubramanian has misunderstood Prof. Pollock's views by 180 degrees”, though it is totally incorrect. But we are deeply dismayed by his insinuation that many of  those who have signed this petition (most of them eminent Indian scholars) “have signed Prof. Ramasubramanian's petition, presumably without having read Prof. Pollock's work for themselves, or having failed to understand it.”  As indicated by Gandhi, statements exhibiting such condescension borders almost on racial prejudice.”
  5. At around the same time, the South Asia faculty issued Changes to the school curriculum in American Schools “South Asia faculty suggested edits to grade 6 school text books: World History and Geography: Ancient Civilizations”. The changes clearly show that the department is phasing out the existence of India and Hinduism from the minds of school children. We all know that people tend to trust school text books unquestioningly, so these children are being prepared to fight for untruths, with the potential for spilling further hate. It appears that while we blame Muslim terror groups for working on the minds of young children, the South Asia faculty is doing much the same thing although under the cloak of civility.

a.    instead of “Northern India”, “Indus Valley Civilization” 
b.    add “Pakistan” so the line reads “Indus Valley River in India and Pakistan”
c.    Arabian peninsula, India and equatorial Africa should be changed to “Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Ocean littoral and equatorial Africa”
d.    Change India to the Indian subcontinent
e.     “The early civilization of India” should be changed to “The early civilization of South Asia” 
f.    Change Harappa to Indus
g.    Delete reference to Hinduism and replace with religion of Ancient India 

6. Rohan Murty is batting for Pollock.

Role Of Media

The media was relatively silent until Prof Dominik Wujastyk entered the picture. 

In fact, Malhotra had a mega launch, visiting many leading institutions all over India and lecturing packed halls. He also visited the Kanchi Shankaracharya for blessings and collaboration. I read just a couple of stories at the time describing his “whirlwind tour” and noted some fear that the social media was becoming more important than the regular one.     

But after the petition was filed and gathered 10K supporters within a couple of days (the number keeps growing), Dheeraj Sanghi wrote in a personal blog that he had “no idea about Prof Pollock”, but had read the whole lecture. In what remains of this blog, he talked about the distinguished scholars/academics behind the petition with great disdain as if that too should be part of free speech. He went on to talk at length about the need to critique Pollock on objective terms. He doesn’t appear to have read “The Battle for Sanskrit” yet. Some of the comments below this article are enlightening. 

The Economic Times Bengaluru was also one of the first out with a story. The tiny news story took a tone that many would term neutral but the following line in Pollock’s support was a giveaway: “Those aware of Pollock's work held that the signatories “misrepresent Pollock to achieve their end”." This is of course a clear indication that the writer was aware of the details of Pollock’s work and also had personal knowledge of the fact that none of the signatories of the petition were so aware. This feels presumptive and dishonest.

Anushree Majumdar’s piece in the indianexpress as it exists today appears relatively neutral (although she does have an inexplicable laudatory tone for MCL et al). Also, she starts off with the words “ Nearly six years after American scholar Sheldon Pollock was chosen to steer the course of the Murty Classical Library of India”, but doesn’t mention the reason for the stir after six years, i.e., a certain detailed critique of Sheldon Pollock’s work called The Battle For Sanskrit.  

Then came Mridula Chari of Scroll, who could hardly hold her praise of Pollock (since Scroll doesn’t welcome comments and has for long been a mouthpiece for Western Indologists, this is very easy to do). She dismisses Pollock’s anti-national politics as a “fashionable allegation”. This article also included selective quotations from Pollock’s lecture.  

Then there was an article by “sepoy” (amazing how the modern web doesn’t require you to display true identity when you are obviously out to slander others and talk in favor of breaking up nations and dividing people). The writer talks at length about school text books and the history of Ramayana, but doesn’t bother to explain the anomaly: the existence of Ram Mandir before the Mughal period is now archeologically proved. She/he then goes on to talk about an utterly laughable claim that “Hindus claim to have pure Aryan descent”, when this is a construct of Western Indology 200 odd years ago to divide the people of India (we have Dalit separatism today because of it). The Aryan invasion theory has since been proved archeologically incorrect, but the argument goes on.

Scott Jaschik had an article on the issue as well, where he expressed solidarity with Western academics. The article had little else to add to the discourse, until right at the end, where he made a claim that “some scholars in India whose views clash with nationalists report losing their jobs or their influence” (he links to another American site as evidence, where a Muslim writer rues the plight of an Indian leftist, liberally sprayed with references to Indian political parties). One wonders at the use of the word nationalist as if it is a special kind of sin perpetrated by Indians, as if Americans are not required to be nationalist or uphold nationalistic sentiments.

The Economic Times also hosted Muslim writer Arshia Sattar who is known for her deconstruction of the Ramayana under Pollock’s guidance. While she couldn’t resist defending her mentor, she didn’t add anything to the debate. 

Indrani Basu applauded Rohan Murty, junior fellow at Harvard University, who claimed that the petitioners were like people sitting in a peanut gallery throwing shells at those who were actually working. Basu doesn’t mention the rebuttal from Professor Ram and actually has nothing else to add about the whole thing at all. 

There are many other news stories and rebuttals, but I’m stopping quoting them here because I have to stop somewhere. Also, this platform doesn't allow me to hyperlink as I would have liked to do, which limits the scope of this piece.

When a reader goes through these stories, some obvious similarities and features stand out-

A Question Of Motivation

All of the above write-ups take a very strong stand in favor of Pollock, driving one to wonder about their motivation. After all, when so many Indian scholars and academics have taken such a strong stand and the repercussions for the unity and integrity of India are openly visible to all, it’s strange that the media is spewing out one story after another although they can find nothing new to add. This naturally leads one to believe that there is a publicity campaign going on, but whether it’s Sheldon Pollock or the Murthys doing it is anyone’s guess. The Murthys certainly have the money and Pollock the required ecosystem, so it appears to the outsider that the two are in bed together.

A Question Of Sensationalism 

The first news stories covering the issue were enough proof of this. While touching on the contents of the petition itself and skirting around the seriousness of the concern, the writers used their eloquence to push the JNU sedition case to the forefront while expressing their solidarity with antinational activists. 

While the public was trying to figure out whether a politically motivated depiction of their history was indeed harmful to them, the second lot of writers was getting ready. This lot picked up Prof Wujastyk’s objection to the petition to spin stories about how the Indian traditionalists hadn’t read the whole lecture and poked fun at their interpretation of Pollock’s 1985 paper on Sanskrit shastras.

A Question Of Rigor

While Pollock has manufactured debatable and at times, utterly outrageous theories, no one can deny that he worked very hard to secure the finances and then do the job. Journalists would have done well to read Malhotra’s book before jumping to conclusions, but they were obviously rushing to get the story out without much care for authenticity.  

A Question Of Ethics

The more I think about it, the more I am amazed at the easy immorality of journalistic representations. There seems to be no mandated responsibility to report the truth and the facts. Protected by an umbrella called “free speech” that applies to them alone, they can go about condemning or praising according to their wishes. Their hosting organizations can allow or omit any comments as they desire under the pretext of “review” and the public voice can be crushed as if it didn’t exist.

Bottom Line

It is evident that journalism is a modern concept because, if there was a shastra on journalism, the ethical standards of journalists would be higher and they would be motivated by the social responsibility built into the dharmic way of life. The world would therefore rid itself of these regressive, self destructive tendencies and move peacefully towards higher truth. 

In a market economy where words aren’t valuable in themselves as vehicles of transcendence but as the currency for political control, academic “findings”, the fabrication of history and news production are increasingly merging and transforming into a dangerous monster playing on humanity for the greatest financial gain. The intelligent amongst us would do well to take note.

Author: Sejuti Banerjea

Published: March 05, 2016

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. Jagrit Bharat is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Jagrit Bharat and Jagrit Bharat does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. 

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