“Is it safe to be a Hindu Intellectual?” asks Rajiv Malhotra
For nearly 20 years, after voluntarily retiring early from a successful business career, I’ve spent my time and energies exclusively to studying, documenting and critiquing Western and Christian scholarship on India’s religions and traditions. My work including books such as Invading the Sacred, Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, Indra’s Net, and Breaking India have exposed in great detail the biases and conflicts of interest that colour and mar much of the scholarship that has emanated from America’s most prestigious universities and professors. I have pointed out at the way Indians are in awe of the white man telling them what they presumably did not know about themselves. I have pointed out the inferiority complexes many Indian so-called intellectuals suffer from.
From the very beginning of my activism, not surprisingly, I’ve invited the wrath of certain American academics and their Indian followers. From character assassination and name calling to the obstruction of my ideas and the slamming shut of doors, the price for talking back to power has been high for me personally. Thankfully, there are many Indians and Indian Americans who read my works and follow me on social media and discussion forums and are familiar with some of these battles. I frequently share the challenges and obstacles that I face not only to chronicle the cultural and social history of Hindus in America but also to let our community know, without any sugar coating, what we’re up against. The battles that I fight publicly are after all the battles that many of us wage privately in encounters that denigrate and heap contempt on our heritage. As I’ve taken on the Western academy or scrutinized their pet theories, I along with the many Indians watching, have realized that some people are given more freedom to speak than others.
There has been a vicious campaign against me and my writings in the cyber and media space. This started soon after I gave a talk recently at the 16th World Sanskrit Conference in Bangkok, about the key ideas in my forthcoming book ‘The Battle for Sanskrit’. It addresses some key disagreements: should Western assumptions in Sanskrit studies be the dominant paradigm for understanding our tradition? Are Indians simply becoming consumers rather than producers of discourse on their own tradition? Can Sanskrit be viewed as mainly a tool of oppression? Is Sanskrit also sacred rather than purely secular? And so on. The points certainly generated lot of interest and support from the traditional side. But there were a lot of disgruntled voices as well which felt threatened.
Many attempts have been made in recent years to stop my work under one allegation or another. The latest attack is a petition signed by 192 persons alleging that in my previous book, Indra’s Net, published one and a half year ago, there are 9 places where I ‘plagiarized’ from sources which I have not adequately cited – implying that I have appropriated ideas without due acknowledgment. Hence, the response demanded by them is for the publishers to drop my books and make an apology. The petition was written by one Richard Fox Young who teachers at a Christian seminary in New Jersey. It just happens to be in the same town where I live, but many Indians have been misled to believe that he is a professor at Princeton University which he is not.
I saw a strong rebuttal by some scholars who have actually read my book, and it has been used as a counter petition. While the petition attacking me got 192 signatures, this petition supporting me has received 6,500 signatures already. See: https://traditionresponds.wordpress.com
The complaint claims that I have ‘plagiarized’ primarily from a book by Andrew Nicholson. But in fact, I haveheavily cited Nicholson in both the chapters the petition complains about. 12 out of the 30 Endnotes in Ch.8 refer to Nicholson. Not to mention that the chapter is replete with invocations of Nicholson by name numerous times. The same pattern applies to Ch.11 where any reader will see that Nicholson is mentioned enough number of times to suggest that a passage followed from Nicholson. But in a manipulative way, the allegations are made to make it seem as if I never acknowledged.
As in just about any complex work by scholars, in this book there are some omissions and copyediting errors which are more a result of oversight than mala fide intention. These ought to be rectified. And if this were the petition’s real intent then why would they simply not write a letter to the publishers highlighting the omissions and suggesting corrections? That is the standard practice in academia of which the complainant claims to be a puritan adherent. And why do they launch this sudden well-orchestrated attack one and a half years after the book has been in circulation? Has Richard Fox Young ever reacted the same way concerning his colleagues in his seminary whose works are full of such omissions and even blatant misrepresentations? I doubt it, and this brings me to my next point which relates to his over-enthusiasm and over-reaction.
Richard Fox Young uses the brand name ‘Princeton’ leading gullible Indians to believe that he is a professor at Princeton University. Let me be clear: He is NOT a professor at Princeton University. His employer is a Christian Seminary that happens to be located in the town of Princeton. This town has many institutions, of which his seminary is one, just as Delhi has many universities, madrasas and seminaries. The web site of his seminary is:http://www.ptsem.edu/ and his personal page at the seminary is: http://www.ptsem.edu/index.aspx?id=1960&menu_id=72. Imagine someone is working at a Madrasa or Church in Delhi and leads people to assume that he is a professor at Delhi University.
Let me also state that I have known him for 20 years. He leads his seminaries’ Afro-Dalit work. This is something I have come down heavily upon in my book Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian Faultlines. This critique is neither personal nor emotional. It is criticism of a system that I find harmful to us. It was by interacting with some persons from his seminary that I learned about Afro-Dalits. So I turned my investigation into a very successful book that has opened many eyes.
When I was invited by Princeton University to present and discuss Breaking India, the host wanted to have a Christian view represented as well. He asked Richard Fox Young to be the discussant at the event, but he refused and suggested another person to speak for Christians. This man was Rev. Thompson.
The video of that evening event is available at: http://www.breakingindia.com/princeton-university-discussion/
Richard Fox Young used an Indian Christian as his front man to speak his ideology, and another Dalit Christian was planted in the audience who made a nuisance by attacking the host before walking out in protest on behalf of Dalit Christians. The video makes clear why Young hates me ever since. He knows well that when I refer to the ‘breaking India forces’ in my talks, his work is being implicated for nurturing the anti-Hindu propaganda I talk about.
This also explains why Richard Fox Young and John Dayal in India are collaborators and one retweets the other routinely. When I debated John Dayal on foreign funded NGOs in Delhi (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OWY_haNDNI ) it naturally would have upset Richard Fox Young. He is considered as the seminary’s resident expert on Hinduism, training Christian evangelists and missionaries on Hinduism so they can go about doing their work to save Hindus more effectively. A natural ally for him is the Indian Left – the common enemy being Hinduism for both. Yet he tries to be very friendly and caring towards Hindus.
The timing of his attacks could be a combination of two factors. First are his insecurities stemming from the increasing acceptance of my work which challenges established Western paradigms in Indian and Sanskrit studies; and second is the fear of my forthcoming book which will shake some of their ideological foundations and their role as a gatekeeper of Hindu studies. His is a strategic attack on behalf of the entire Hinduphobic coterie because my book challenges their positions at a very seminal level. Though parroting intellectual freedom and the importance of dissent, their persistent attacks on me for twenty years prove them to be the ones violating the spirit of intellectual freedom.
The person named on the petition as the one who formally uploaded and started it is Jesse Knutson based in Freemont, California. He is a Sanskrit scholar who collaborates and follows Sheldon Pollock, the main target of my critiques in my forthcoming book. (See: http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520282056 andhttps://globalcenterforadvancedstudies.org/jesse-ross-knutson/). My forthcoming book also discusses Knutson’s work as aligned with Pollock’s theories, according to which Sanskrit poetry was written primarily to serve political agendas of the elites; the sacred dimension is side lined in their interpretations.
Some of the prominent signatories to their petition are well-known Pollockites like Ananya Vajpeyi, a fire-brand anti-Hindu journalist and scholar affiliated with elitist organizations. It is clear that this hit-job is from a collaboration of leftists and Christian evangelists, the classical cartel of Hinduphobics.
I write this to give my readers an insight into what is going on. But I request them not to lose heart, nor to expect easy victory. What we face is the potential risk of the intellectual re-colonization of India, this time using brown-skinned sepoys working as puppets controlled in foreign-based centres such as the seminary located in Princeton. I wish to thank my supporters for standing up for me in such large numbers. I am moved by this and encouraged to continue fighting the good fight.