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Statement by Professor Alok Kumar, Department of Physics, State University of New York, Oswego

Statement by Professor Alok Kumar Department of Physics

To Whom It May Concern

I received an e-mail in middle of July, 2015 from a fellow historian of science, asking me to take an urgent action to assist Rajiv Malhotra. I had little interaction with Rajiv for several years and was clueless about the issues he was facing. I had no idea that an organized and concerted effort to stop his upcoming book from publication was going on. And, Rajiv is also accused by an author of plagiarism although this person’s work was cited 30 times following proper academic norms in his book, Indra’s Net. I was dismayed since the Rajiv Malhotra I know would not commit such errors.

I have known Rajiv for about two decades as a fellow researcher in Indic studies and I have exchanged a variety of ideas with him over the years. These were the early years of the Infinity Foundation, an organization founded by Rajiv to mobilize scholarship in Indic Studies. He funded various projects in prestigious universities, including Harvard University, Rutgers University, etc. I am also a recipient of a small grant from the Infinity Foundation that I received in 1999, amounting less than 0.5 percent of what I have received over my career. I always found Rajiv to be professional, to the point, straight forward, creative, and scholarly.

Rajiv Malhotra studied in prestigious St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and Syracuse University. With his hard work and talent, he succeeded in his business ventures and achieved what most of us can only dream of. He earned enough money to retire at the age of 44 to devote his full attention to answer the famous Needham’s question. Joseph Needham, a famous historian of science from Cambridge University, to expose the fallacies of the current version of the history of science raised the following question: Why science had not developed in China or India, but only in Europe? Needham exposed the hollowness of the existing version of the history of science by creating a multi-volume book, Science and Civilization in China. Needham was successful in countering the criticisms of the West with the help of a large number of Chinese scholars and the massive machinery of the Chinese government. Yes, Needham did receive plenty of help from the Chinese government to conduct his research. As a result, it is a well-known secret of science today, known to most historians of science, that the current science texts are essentially Eurocentric. Slowly, multicultural contributions are entering in science texts. Within our lifetime, as most historians hope, we will be reading a far different version of the history of science.

In contrast, Rajiv Malhotra is following a much different path in his efforts to answer Needham’s question related to India. He was a one man show in the early nineties who had to face criticisms from his fellow Indians, who were trained in western thoughts and saw no problem with the existing model in academia, and from the western scholars. The Indian government was totally oblivious to the cultural roots of the country and felt no need to chronicle its own history and support his efforts. Therefore, while Joseph Needham was bestowed intellectual and financial resources, Rajiv had to generate these resources step-by-step with his own efforts through an arduous journey that has always been full of hurdles. He is on his way to make an impact similar to Joseph Needham. He has miraculously stuck to his convictions and faced these challenges head-on. As he is nearer to his goals, he again faces the biggest hurdle of his career that is academic and also personal. His credibility as a scholar is now attacked by some. Rajiv’s hurdles, ridicules, and criticisms have made him the person he is today.

Rajiv’s first task in the late nineties was to establish a website to document Indic contributions in all fields, mostly centered-around science, attract scholars to promote research in this field, and to disseminate this scholarly knowledge to the general public. He asked scholars to write short articles for the website, and I was one of those. Coincidently, in 1991, I had discovered an eleventh century manuscript from the Muslim Spain, dealing with perhaps the first chronicled global history of science, which I turned into my first book, Science in the Medieval World. This original manuscript was a popular book in the early medieval Europe and later became extinct in the English-speaking world. This eleventh-century book classified nations based on their contributions to science. According to this book, “the first nation (to have cultivated science) is India.” As an Indian, I felt so proud of this statement that I decided to start my article with this statement for Rajiv’s website. For some reason, when Rajiv read my article, he thought that this statement was my assertion, not coming from a historical document. He called me and used somewhat blunt, I even felt a bit abrasive, language for writing such a statement. He flat out told me that he would not post my article on his website. I told him that it was his misunderstanding. This statement was actually written in Europe by a noted scholar during the eleventh-century. He asked me to share the book with him. After he read the book, he agreed to accept the article. As a result, my article is now posted on his website for the last two decades. On the basis of this example, it is obvious in my mind that Rajiv is not interested in falsely boasting the contributions of India. It is disheartening and painful for me to read that such a person who values truth so much is labeled as an extremist who would use false means, even plagiarize, to achieve his goals. My experiences are opposite. The Rajiv I know works hard and follows highest standards in his scholarship. I firmly believe that he shares what he truly believes in, even when I disagree with him.

Rajiv is not a scholar who works in abstraction. An abstract scholar will read a few books in his/her office, analyze them, and evolve a new theory out of it, disseminate it to the general audience without experiencing the ground reality. In contrast, Rajiv writes articles and books that are based on his experiences, along with inevitable consultation of the existing scholarship. His experiences may be slightly different than other people’s experience since he has been able to walk on the inner corridors of academia and has the direct experience of Indic culture. His total immersion to learn the Indic traditions has provided him unique insights and the knowledge he possesses. This knowledge is good enough to call him a scholar of high quality.
The Western literature has gone through about 400-500 years of conditioning. Just imagine the massive literature that we have produced on Greece in the last thousand years. Therefore, the western literature is now matured and new researchers can make use of this old established tradition. On the contrary, studies on Indic tradition are in infancy stage due to the foreign occupation/influence on the Indic region for nearly a millennium. In such a situation, at times, wrong hypotheses are made, wrong observations are made, wrong theories are designed, and even wrong conclusions are made. As a result, at times, the western abstraction is in conflict with experienced based learning of the east. I have no doubt that, with time, literature will
evolve, differences will be patched, and Indic studies will emerge as a coherent discipline of study. Till then, we must restrain ourselves and follow scholarly rules of engagement, allow academic freedom to scholars, and resolve issues in amicable ways. It is essential for the advancement of knowledge.

Suppression of ideas had been practiced several times in human history. Some cultures or countries practiced book-burning or killed scholars to suppress ideas. The documented history is clear that those cultures suffered greatly. The Alexandrian Library was burned, scholars were killed, and Egypt lost its glory; Spain burned Muslim manuscripts, extradited Muslims, and lost glory; Germany, during the Nazi period, burned books, prosecuted scholars based on religion, and lost glory. It is myopic and unfortunate to suppress scholarly ideas, especially if the ideas are sincere and based on facts and truth. I strongly feel that organizing a campaign to stop Rajiv’s upcoming book is fatal to future scholarship on the subject. Such suppression had never worked in the past and it will never work in the future. Such actions simply have no place in a civilized society. I do not know the contents of Rajiv’s upcoming book, Battle for Sanskrit. However, knowing him, I strongly believe that the book is based on his experiences and scholarly facts, like all of his previous books. I am not supporting Rajiv’s scholarship here; I am supporting his liberty to share his thoughts in a civilized way. This is a hallmark of a civilized society. We must keep it this way all around the world, including USA and India.

About the Author: Presently professor in the Department of Physics, State University of New York, Oswego. Prior to this, he worked in California State University, Long Beach and in Technische Hochschule, Darmstad, Federal Republic of Germany. He is the author/coauthor of the three books: (1) Science in the Medieval World, (2) Sciences of the Ancient Hindus, and (3) A History of Science in World Cultures.

Author: Alok Kumar

Published: July 27, 2015

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