It was in 2012 that I picked up in the Kolkata airport a 650-paged book with the alarming name “Breaking India”, authored by Rajiv Malhotra of Princeton USA and Aravindan Neelakandan of Tamil Nadu. Within a year it had gone through four prints. When I picked up another copy in 2014, it was the ninth impression. By 2016 it had gone in for the fourteenth edition. Meantime it had already been translated into Tamil, Hindi and Kannada.
It seems to sell like a thriller in spite of its heavy appearance, rambling progress of ideas and massing of unrelated material. Someone has called it “a long polemical pamphlet.” It may well deserve that description, possibly with the addition, “with an eagerness to impress the reader with a mass of unrelated information.” The entire work is a veritable labyrinth where the main issue too often goes out of sight.
The chief target of the authors are American and European Churches, intellectuals, think-tanks, foundations, government and human rights groups whom they accuse of working hard for the disintegration of India. This seems to stand against the evident conviction prevailing in the very parts of the world the book is referring to that India is a bastion of democracy to be strengthened in contrast to the chaos that prevails in its immediate west and the totalitarianism that dominates the north.
One would have expected from the authors a sense of solidarity with fellow scholars who are showing keen interest in the less privileged communities of the subcontinent, and not eager to tie themselves up in unshakeable bonds with the exploitative economic machine that reaches out with its tentacle to the nation’s corners in the name of globalization.
Too much scholarship today is at the service of the masters of the market and the manipulators and distorters of culture. No wonder a bulky disorganized book with high pretension to scholarship goes into fourteen editions in five years. It responds to the need of the saffron brigade for slogans, and provides an intellectual basis for justifying the harassment and humiliation of intellectuals who seek to serve the cause of the downtrodden. Hate words and violence-strategies that follow are not without some intellectual inspiration.
Another reviewer of the book pooh-poohs what he calls “Yankee Hindutva” scholarship, which avidly seeks recognition in India that he fails to win in the US. This sounds an unkind remark, but when evidence shows that Hindu NRIs are subsidising most Hindutva activities, exactly what the authors are contending that foreign agencies are doing for Christian NGOs working for the weaker sections, we do not know who is more unfair.
It is still to be established how much of the NRI finances go to deviant Hindutva activities like bashing beef-eaters and praying groups, and maintaining anti-Romeo squads and moral police. It would be good to explore how such activities contribute to building up “unity” in India. Such an endeavour may reveal who in truth are seeking to “break up” this great nation.
Another commentator sees the book attacking in a planned way every “scholar, linguist, scientist, politician, philanthropist and missionary” who speaks for the “lower caste” Indians. However, there is a saving feature in the book. Malhotra says the book is not to sensationalize issues (which he is actually doing), but to initiate a debate (p xiv). That is exactly what we would like to do.
He does admit that in India there are several centrifugal forces like communalism, socio-economic disparities, and other internal cleavages (p 1-2). He has no suggestion how some healing can be brought to these wounds; but he is eloquent when it comes to assigning responsibility to others.
Most surprising is his reference to “ the colonial-era construction of the Dravidian identity, which did not exist prior to the nineteenth century and was fabricated as an identity...” (p xi). It is this central statement that stands questioned. Here begins the debate. Was there no Dravidian identity before the nineteenth century? Did Columbus ‘construct’ America, or did he just discover a millennia old reality? Is the Dravidian identity a nineteenth century construct or a millennia old anthropological fact?
The book does not attempt to answer this question at all, for example, studying the language structure in comparison with others, grammar, syntax, numerals; people’s social habits, relationships, family patterns; cultural achievements, worldviews, value-systems, metaphysical concepts. This is what the scholars he condemns have done, not only to the benefit of the society concerned, but that of the whole human race.
Again, for Malhotra and Neelakandan the Aryan race is an eighteenth and nineteenth century creation, “Inventing the Aryan Race” they call it (p 12). While we agree that the discussions of that period clarified the racial identity of a society that had scattered itself from the Gangetic plains to the Iberian peninsula, they were not able to create ‘ex nihilo’ two mighty races that continue to amaze the world. As for the Aryan Invasion Theory, while the Hindutva forces wish to deny it for their own vested interests, the recent findings of 16 scholars led by Martin Richards based on DNA evidences strongly argue for it. But I would not like to insist on this.
My question is, are the Dravidian and Aryan races mere colonial constructs, inventions of prejudiced scholars, or are they ethnic realities recognized in Anthropology? All the other perambulations of the two scholars in the book are mere distractions, when the main argument stands unproved.
The upper class Indians went mad with excitement when German scholars flattered them those days for being of the same identical Aryan race. But today when the conquered and subdued people at the lower levels of India challenge their continued domination, they are eager to establish that their DNAs are identical with those of the Dravidians and Mundas. But they are not.
If we accept this fact, we will be grateful to the much abused scholars who gave attention to minorities and weaker communities, agencies that sponsored their activities, and the missionaries that came to their assistance. And “Breaking India” can be re-written more briefly with a list of acknowledgements. All the rest about Schlegel, Max Muller, Gobineau, and Chamberlain are merely interesting curiosities.
The misuse of racism reaching a climax in Nazi ideology (Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a bestseller in India today) does not invalidate the reality of racial and ethnic differences. If this awareness of differences has led to a problem in India, it is for the dominant classes to act like elder brothers and sisters and come forward to create a sense of togetherness with the humbler sections of society. That is what the Founding Fathers of the nation had done. They never denied the differences. They sought to build solidarity among the different communities.
Those who hold an ideology ‘Exclusivism and Arrogance’ want to deny precisely that. They sing of ‘ek jati, ek party, ek dharm.” A cold chill passes down the spine of minorities when they hear such words. The NRIs have their janma bhumi, karma bhumi and punya bhumi on different continents. Everything is legitimate to them as long as they fund Hindutva. In Indian minorities this is not legitimate.
It is the promoters of exclusivism that break up India. It has been such an ideology that divided India at Partition. Voices are heard today in Pakistan wanting to divide India into three Pakistans. Chinese media spoke of dividing India into 20 pieces and more. Churchill predicted that the Subcontinent would dissolve itself into 300 and more units within a decade after British bade goodbye. None of these came true.
But the enemy is within: those who spread prejudices against well-meaning social workers, those who discourage intelligent thinking and independent social research, those who plant hatred into the hearts of the simple-minded and the less enlightened. The terrorists are not the illiterate youth who take to violence; the terrorists are the script writers, the bear-huggers.
Arguments proposed in this book have had consequences: Christian NGOs have been stopped from receiving funds, foreign scholars have been turned back from attending conferences in India, intellectuals and religious superiors have been refused entry into the country, social workers and missionaries have been harassed, heads of institutions and organizations have been humiliated by the lowest officers over accounts. There are clear enough laws to safeguard the interests of the country and security of the nation. We need not go by Malhotra-allegations and Neelakandan-suspicions.
In this context, one important plea may be made. Just as the Government keeps a close watch on the foreign contribution accounts of the NGOs, our proposal is that strict vigilance also be kept over the NRI contribution to Hindutva groups. Our special plea is that, for the sake of neutrality, the Minority Commission also be given some role in supervising these transactions.
It is our prayer that the ideals that Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, Nehru and others fostered in Indian hearts may not be snuffed out during the brief spell that the Saffron Squads hold the fortress.
(Published on 31st July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 31)