Reconceptualizing India Studies: Book Review

Koenraad Elst

In his latest book, Reconceptualizing India Studies (Oxford University Press 2012), the attentive reader will see a critique of the Indological establishment in the West and the political and cultural establishment in India. Like Rajiv Malhotra’s recent works, it questions their legitimacy. The reigning Indologists and India-watchers would do well to read it.


Two of the eight papers that make up the book deal with Edward Said’s influential bookOrientalism (1977).

Although Balu was very critical of Said in an article reacting to his uncritical obituaries, here he is quite generous with his praise: “He has provided us with the ‘Archimedean point’ to move the world.” (p.48)

Not a word about the books refuting Said on numerous points of fact and on his interpretative framework, which has the character of a conspiracy theory: all those scholars were only pretending their many viewpoints (often identifying with the culture studied) and were in fact agents of colonialism.

Anyway, to the extent that Said is right, and that the colonial-age Orientalists were being unfair to Asia, we must see the mental constraints on all scholars of that period. The Orientalists were determined by the thinking of their societies:

“Consider the possibility of Albert Einstein’s being born as a contemporary of Thomas Aquinas’s. Would he have been able to formulate the theory of relativity? Given what we know about human knowledge today, our answer can only be in the negative: he would not have had access to the experimental data and the theoretical concepts required to frame his theories. In this sense, even a genius is limited by his time.” (p.46)

Orientalism is a useful notion at least in analyzing Western attitudes to India and Indians in the present. Analyzing the examples of Jeffrey Kripal’s and Paul Courtright’s writings on the Hindu saint Ramakrishna and on the Hindu deity Ganesha, he shows how Western scholarship is marked by fundamental logical and conceptual flaws (such as circular reasoning, proving what has first been assumed) and by the tendency to talk about rather than with Indians. Their trivializing theses are characterized as “violence” (p.135) and “blind” (p.139).

The concept of Orientalism has two roots, one of which was important to understand Said’s personal stake in it, the other to appreciate the concept’s enormous popularity. Like all Middle-Eastern Christians, he was wary of the imperialist designs of Latin Christianity, which he saw as the origin of its secularized expression, the science of Orientalism (which did indeed start with the late-medieval outreach of Rome to the Middle-Eastern Christians).

At the same time, his strongly pro-Muslim sympathy, which took the form of culpabilizing any scholarly critique of Islam as a Western imperialist project, was due to the Christians’ centuries of living as Dhimmi-s (“charter people”, “protected” ones), used to bending before and singing the praises of Islam.

Said’s defence of Islam, over 90% of his book and the topic of several other publications of his, together with his sowing suspicions against Western scholarship, were exactly what trendy Western and westernized intellectuals needed, and what the Islamic world has gainfully instrumentalized since.

Balu does not go into the autonomous precolonial imperialism of Islam, a factor of religious riots in South Asia quite independent of colonial rule and its heir, the secular state. But in several other chapters, he identifies a more contemporary factor of communal violence: the worldview underlying that same “secular” state.


Look at the secularists, who for decades now have gone gaga over Said’s concept of Orientalism:

“Orientalism is reproduced in the name of a critique of Orientalism. It is completely irrelevant whether one uses a Marx, a Weber or a Max Müller to do so. (…) the result is the same: uninteresting trivia, as far as the growth of human knowledge is concerned; but pernicious in its effect as far as Indian intellectuals are concerned.” (p.47)

India has produced intellectual giants like (limiting ourselves to the 20thcentury) R.C. Majumdar, P.V. Kane or A.K. Coomaraswamy, but the Indian secularists are intellectually very poor copies of their Western role models.

The most acute case of “Orientalism” in the Saidian sense is precisely Nehruvian secularism, the consensus viewpoint shared by most established academics and media. Thus, about caste, “Nehru used Orientalist descriptions of the Indian society of his day and made their facts his own.” (p.74)

Citing as example a Western India-watcher, Balu notes that the latter

“is not accounting for the Indian caste system by using the notion of fossilized coalitions in India; he is trying to establish the truth of Nehru’s observations (that is, the truth of the Orientalist descriptions of India)”, because the social sciences “where uncontested, (…) presuppose the truth of the Orientalist descriptions of non-Western cultures.” (p.74)

That is the problem of the existing “South Asia Studies” in a nutshell. It underscores the need for more serious comparative studies, a field in which Balu has been a pioneer.

This critique applies especially to the dominant treatment of India’s “communal” problem:

“When Indian intellectuals use existing theories about religion and its history – for example, to analyze ‘Hindu-Muslim’ strife – they reproduce, both directly and indirectly, what the West has been saying so far. (…) the ‘secularist’ discourse about this issue can hardly be distinguished – both in terms of the contents or the vocabulary – from Orientalist writings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” (p.47)

Secularism is the direct heir of the colonial dispensation.

Balu’s explanation of intercommunal relations in India and the state’s role therein is original and clear. In his opinion, the secular state is not there to curb religious violence, but is in fact the cause of this violence. He focuses on its position in the question of religious conversion, which is forbidden in some neighbouring countries and demanded to be forbidden by many Hindus (both Mahatma Gandhi and the Hindu nationalists). But it is upheld as a right by the Muslims and especially by the Christian missionaries — and by the “secular” state.

The latter clearly takes a partisan stand in doing so; and it would also be partisan if it did the opposite. It is impossible to be non-partisan.


The whole “secular” discourse on “religion” and intercommunal relations is borrowed from Christianity. The basic framework to think about religion is informed by Western experiences and fails to see the radical difference between these and the native traditions: “the secular state assumes that the Semitic religions and the Hindu traditions are instances of the same kind” (p.203).

In reality, Hindus and Parsis don’t missionize and refrain from basing their religions on a defining truth claim. By contrast, Christianity and Islam believe they offer the truth, and consequently want everyone to accept it.

Secularists decry as cheap Hindu propaganda the assertion that Hinduism is naturally pluralistic and innocent of religious strife and exclusivism, which is considered to be typical of the proselytizing religions.

But in fact, Christian missionaries and Muslim observers noted the absence of sectarian violence among the Hindus: “The famous Muslim traveler to India, Alberuni, also noted the absence of religious rivalry among the Hindus”. (p.205)

This Hindu phenomenon even affects Alberuni’s own community: there is much more violence between rivaling Muslim sects in Islamic Pakistan than in Hindu-populated India. If the secularists want to promote religious harmony, as they claim, they had better promote traditional Indian values rather than side with Christianity and Islam.


Balu’s theses are uncomfortable and sure to provoke debate. So far, the attitude of the India-watching class and of the elites in India has been to ignore any criticism of their worldview.

But this man’s stature as a leading professor who heads a very active research department in a major secularist university in the West will make many of them sit up and notice.

On the whole, Balu’s thesis is optimistic. He offers solutions to the problems he analyzes, mostly solutions that he himself has already worked out or has been practising for years.

It is not as if any fate condemns Indian policy and academic India-watching to their present prejudices. He also believes in the promise of the age of globalization, and thinks Indians and Europeans genuinely have something to offer each other.

(This essay was included in K. Elst: On Modi Time, Voice of India, Delhi 2015)


Rearming Hinduism: Book Review

Abhinav Agarwal

Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia and the Return of Indian Intelligence Paperback, by Vamsee Juluri

He who controls the history of a people controls the people.

Colonization of the land is easier to fight than colonization of the mind. Who then gets to define Hinduism today? Should foreigners with a tainted past and suspect motives get an unqualified right to do so? For those who have abrogated to themselves this right, what’s their agenda, their motives?

Academia in the United States has a well-deserved reputation for independence, and exercises far greater intellectual honesty – for the most part – than compared to, say, many of the leftist-controlled institutions in India.

This streak of honesty breaks down, however, when it comes to Indology, and especially Hinduism studies. Almost without exception, Hinduism as a subject in US academia has for decades been in the control of the racists, the xenophobes, the bigots, the supremacists, and at times the outright insane.

Like the person who insisted in an “acclaimed” book that “most of India” lay in the Northern Hemisphere (for the record, and this is not a matter of opinion – all of India is entirely within the Northern Hemisphere; not “most,” but every square-inch. In fact, the southernmost tip of India – Kanyakumari – is a good 800 kilometers north of the Equator, and has been that way for at least the last 15 million years)!

Vamsee Juluri’s book, “Rearming Hinduism”, is an intellectual tour de-force; a contemplative work where you are likely to go back and re-read pages to derive a greater appreciation of. In many ways, the book forces you to think about the import of what’s implied. In the small but growing literature on reclaiming Hinduism from the Hinduphobes, this book is a welcome addition.

Give this book a read.

Hinduphobia in Western Academia

Understanding Hinduphobia in western academia is a difficult task at best. Simplistic generalizations may act as a temporary palliative for the anger and hurt that their writings arouse, but they neither inform nor equip us to fight back effectively. Worse, they lead us into a permanently reactive mode, forever doomed to lose a battle where the rules of engagement are allowed to be set by the Hinduphobes.

Fighting this battle is not an easy task, since “Hinduphobia has five hundred years of privilege that gives it a monopoly on the press and the academy, and a tremendous influence over our own postcolonial educational system and intellectual class as well.

One need look no farther than our first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to see what lasting damage a colonized mind can inflict upon the cultural fabric of a nation.

The roots of Hinduphobia lie, unsurprisingly, in the “leftist takeover of the academy and the social sciences” in the United States. While the putative benefits of such a takeover were “diversity and empowerment“, when applied to Hinduism, however, it became impossible to be “conservative and Hindu in academia.

White guilt over slavery and colonization was transferred on to Hinduism, with all the baggage of racism, casteism, and fundamentalism. The right of the Hindu to represent himself and his religion at this high-table of academia was taken away – we were ipso-facto incapable of being intellectually honest.

For a long time, the uncontested narrative was that of a racially superior race “civilizing” the natives of dark lands, of converting – in more ways than one – savage races steeped in violence and primitive animal sacrifice to a higher, nobler ideal. When the European colonizers in the Indian subcontinent came across a more advanced and uncontestably superior civilization, history had to be rewritten – or created – as necessary.

Therefore, what the Hindus invented in Maths – like the decimal number system and zero among many, many other things – was credited more to the Arabs and later completely secularized (there were even suggestions that it were the Greeks that may have discovered the concept of zero, and that this discovery traveled to India only much later); while what was good in science – astronomy for example – was dated to a time well after those discoveries had been made in the west.

The Vedas were undeniably more advanced works – literary as well as philosophical – than anything the European colonizer had at home or had come across. The credit for these scriptures was thus lain at the door of the Aryans, who in turn were presumed to have brought their superior civilization to the subcontinent, and along with it the Vedas – the holiest scriptures of the Hindus.

Fabricating Indian History

But this appropriation was only the first step. The next was to systematically distort and demonize everything that could be conceivably termed as good in the Vedas – “The Vedas were words that were chanted when animals (and sometimes humans) were being killed. There is also a corollary claim now from this school of theorizing: the Vedas were also about killing and eating cows.

The more bizarre the theory, the greater the credence that was sought to be lent to it. An incestuous cabal of academic mafia would then work to praise each other’s works of thinly-disguised Hinduphobia and establish that only such literature received the imprimatur of authenticity. Arun Shourie’s book, “Eminent Historians”, was a devastating exposé of this you-scratch-my-back… clique among Indian historians.

“There are two reasons for the persistence of the myth of Vedic violence. At one level, it is geopolitical. It is the old colonizer’s myth about the superstitious natives, steeped in brutality and in need of civilizing forces, such as either a colonial religion or secular rule of law.”

The outlandishness of some of the claims of the Hinduphobes would elicit peals of laughter were they to be examined closely. It was declared that what was bad in Hinduism – in spite its foreign origins – was the result of the corrupting influence of the Indian climate which caused them to have “grown dark and dull in the sun.” For example, Abraham Eraly, an Indian Hinduphobe, employs this line, hook and sinker,  in at least one of his books – “The Age of Wrath.” Colonists carried perhaps a deep memory of their own experiences that coloured their world view.

The monsoons, so beloved and cherished and celebrated in India, when viewed from the colonist’s eyes, became the cause of imagined “violence” in Hinduism because they signified “uncertainty“! A presumed “normativity of violence” led to the “myth of Vedic violence“. “From Darwinian survivalism to the naturalization of violence is a small step. If we extend our scope now to violence in the media and pop culture, if we look at the story that all our movies, TV shows, videogames, books, and comics are putting out about violence, we can see how pervasive and widespread the naturalization of violence is today.

Vivisection is but one such manifestation of this casual insensitivity for life-forms deemed inferior to one’s own kind.

“What vivisection is really teaching us is not biology but an ideology; call it speciesism, necrophilia, scientism, Darwinist fatalism. In the end, it teaches millions of children that the suffering of a living being is inconsequential. It teaches them to harden their hearts, dehumanize themselves, and unnaturalize themselves, all in the great cause of science.”

The unremitting nature of these falsehoods and deceptions can perhaps be traced to the need to attribute success and progress to an innate superiority of the European, of the occidental over the orient, of the white over the black, the brown, the yellow.

It has been well-established that England got a leg up on the rest of Europe on the Industrial Revolution, thanks to the loot it plundered from India after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. Vamsee speculates that “It is surely more than a coincidence that they got over their dark ages and had their Enlightenment just around the time they met us, but we don’t hear much about that at all.

The brilliance of the colonials in whitewashing history to fit their Euro-centric supremacist narrative would lead one to suspect that this is more probable than what a “coincidence” would imply.

Book Exposes Hinduphobic Attacks

What the first half of Vamsee Juluri’s book also did, at least for me, was to look at all the different lines of attack by the Hinduphobic cabal and discern a common underlying theme – hidden albeit – that had hitherto escaped me.

It is not just academic hubris that can singly explain the vehemence of the Hinduphobes in insisting upon the immutability of the Aryan Invasion Theory. Upon this one myth rests an entire edifice of racism, bigotry, and Hinduphobia. Yes, the need to establish the primacy of the west as the superior, conquering race is one raison d’etre. But tied to the Aryan invasion theory is the much larger agenda to prove the subservience of all of Hindu thought, creativity, and nativity to foreign ideas. The convenient but false chronology that the Aryan Invasion Theory provides is thus a vital linchpin.

“But an even more brazen denial of Hindu agency, this time of women, takes place in Doniger’s mythic opus. If the Mahabharatha had a fierce, independent heroine (as opposed to a passive one in the Ramayana’s Sita), Doniger writes, it was probably because the bards were impressed and inspired by the fierce and independent Greek women who came by to India at that time. Anything, even Aphrodite and Athena, can be dragged into this now, just to evade the reality that there might be some Hindu women who were fierce and independent too. This too is a common orientalist trope, an old racist colonial myth about the dynamics between white women and people of color.


Rather than acknowledge that Indian women might have been independent and strong-willed themselves, a reality too many people know only too well, our Hinduphobic experts tell us to salute the independence of the foreign women who inspired Draupadi. The dusky Indian sexist male, after all, can only picture a strong woman when she comes from the civilizing West.”

Similarly, the argument that there was “no Ram in reality and that the Ramayana is a work of fiction” is only one line of attack, meant more to divert attention from the other, more insidious attack – “that the ideal of Ram Rajya was really a reflection of Ashoka’s rule because the Ramayana was composed around that time.

And on and on it goes – the relentless attacks of the Hinduphobes and its associated clique.

So what does Hinduism really teach?

Hinduism talks about one God, yet “without insisting there is only one God. We also speak of 330 million gods.” While there are many interpretations of that number, “The one I like best says that there were 330 million people on earth when that phrase was coined. It just means each one is a part of God…

While the first part of the book attempts to uncover the origins and psychology of the Hinduphobic academic gang in the west – and for my money, is brilliant in every sense of the word – the second part of the book is more a celebration of Hinduism, of the diversity that exists in it that sees the divine even in animals, where gods are seen not as mere gods but as friends, guides, companions, as children.

In “Rearming Hinduism“, the desire is in disarming “the ignorance that causes harm in this world.

This message is in the (last) chapter that was written from Kashi in May 2014 – a momentous time in India’s history, or as the author writes – “We have desa and kala on our side again.” A journey that took its first step in May 1998 took a giant stride in May 2014.

Abhinav Agarwal is a son, husband, father, technologist and an IIM-B Gold Medalist.

Book Review: The Idea of Justice: Amartya Sen

Saradindu Mukherji

This book review is jointly authored by Saradindu Mukherji and Shoumendu Mukherji.

The Nobel laureate in economics makes tremendous use of history, contemporary politics and value systems, with a generous mixing of moral judgement in The Idea of Justice (Amartya Sen, Allen Lane, 2009), like many of his publications and public lectures. This review primarily takes up only such matters.

The idea of justice—the origin of the very concept, its tumultuous growth battling the impediments on its  forward journey, its mechanism, and the debate over its effectiveness, is a formidable intellectual challenge, and so is Sen’s critique of Rawls, regarded perhaps rightly as one of the most renowned philosophers of our times.  There is a very interesting discussion of the ‘Rational Choice Theory’ and ‘Sustainable Development and the Environment’ and more admirable is the way Sen makes them intelligible to the uninitiated. Throughout the course of history, the idea of justice has been conceived and administered in varying ways depending on the socio-cultural ethos and political systems that prevail in various countries.

The Supreme Court of India has opined, ‘justice may be social, moral or legal, meaning between two contesting parties in a court of law, as per the record of the case based on evidence after a fair and impartial trial. Further, it has been held that to secure the ‘ends of justice’ is to act in the best interest of both parties within the four corners of the statute preserving the balance and sanctity of the Constitutional and statutory  rights of the individual and public at large.’

However, in the present times, the idea of justice as propounded by the Supreme Court of India has often been nixed by the belief that ‘justice must be seen to be done (R v Thames (1974) 1 WLR 1371) ’ at the cost of ‘natural justice i.e. the right to a fair trial’ in order to please our society at large where perception often triumphs over ‘realism’.

An adverse public opinion is manufactured against the accused prematurely on sub-judice matters without weighing the evidence. This precedent is not only irresponsible but damaging to the very root of our legal framework. ‘Rule of law’ has two aspects—substantive and procedural, where each element complements the other. Compromising on any one over the other owing to exigency or for ‘playing to the galleries’ critically scuttles the ‘due process of law’ and results in‘rule of law’ becoming nugatory.

Be that as it may at the operational level, Sen offers a cross-country scenario of the concept of justice, spread well over many centuries in this work. We note with much optimism his plea for  clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate’ ( p.vii).

Since Amartya Sen functions in an European-American intellectual milieu,  the Western backdrop that  he provides does not satisfactorily explain the symbiotic relationship between a  more accountable system of  governance, i.e, ‘Tudor Revolution of Government’(Elton), the rise of opposition in the late 16th Century British Parliament, the Puritan contribution to the emergence of a democratic spirit, the struggle between the King and the Parliament culminating in the Glorious Revolution(1688), the Bill of Rights (1689), and the  growing acceptance  of  some foundational ideas like   ‘rule of law’ , ‘equality of all before law’, origins of the ideas of state engineering, and similar other related attributes.

The absence of such political developments in his sketch leaves a gap, and more so, because he has Magna Carta (1215), as one of his starting points followed in due course by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

If Hobbes was rejecting the liberal prescription (p.308-309, fn), it might be explained more by the fact that Cromwell had come to power by then, and England was ruled (1649-60) without a king. The English politics and social relations had undergone much transformation from the time when he first wrote in 1640, and then came out his Leviathan (1651).

The last time an English King had been executed was in 1649, and the ‘Commonwealth’ was in power  in a very chaotic situation, while the ‘true Levellers’ or Diggers were trying to practice some sort of ‘communism’ so to say. It is no coincidence that Winstanley’s ‘Law of Freedom’ was published in 1651 too. We may note here, how the missing dimension has been so deftly sketched in Christopher Hill’s path-breaking ‘World Turned Upside Down’. Theorising, as we may think, does not necessarily emerge out of contemplation, but often because of the ground reality.

While tracing the uneven course of the evolution of ‘redressable   justice’, one would have expected a mention of the Court of Star Chamber, and the role of the Habeas Corpus Act, if  not the Code of Justinian,  and the basics of Roman law and Grotius (1583-1645), famous for his seminal idea of the modernization of jurisprudence, having ‘freed natural law from its ancient alliance with theology’.Similarly, the Stuart legislations against the havoc-creating ‘enclosures’, another practical measure to provide justice to the deprived, fail to find a mention.

Methodologically and logically, Sen trips occasionally as on Bruno, Akbar’s Din-i-Ilahi or in the case of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides seeking shelter in Saladin’s (12th century) Cairo (p.333), to draw an untenable conclusion regarding Islamic intolerance and a certain mind set .

Sen is oblivious of the account of the severe sufferings of the Coptic Christians of Egypt as described by the Muslim historian of Copts, Taqiy-al-Din –al Maqrizi in Saladin’s time. One may however, remember that much of the adoration of Saladin in Europe owes its origin to Sir Walter Scott and the visit of William II of Prussia to Saladin’s tomb, and the latter being just another dimension of the Berlin-Baghdad railway project as a component of the Pan-Islamic project.

While one would easily overlook   Sen’s confusion over a date (p.1) regarding Hastings ‘commanding’ East India Company, when Burke tore him apart  in the House of Commons  in May 1789  (Hasting’s ‘command’ in India had ended by 1785), it would be difficult to explain his inconsistency in uniformly applying standards, when he applies it to others . ‘Can there be a satisfactory understanding of ethics in general and of justice in particular that confines its attention to some people and not others, presuming-if only implicitly-that some people are relevant while others simply are not ?’(p117)

We would take up two scenarios, to see if Sen himself follows the standard he lays down.

As one who had ancestral roots in Dhaka (Bangladesh), and happens to be a frequent visitor to Bangladesh, how is it that Sen misses out the implication of the Enemy/ Vested Property Act which has further crippled the long-suffering Hindu minorities there? See the path-breaking research by A.Barkat, S, Zaman, A.Poddar, M.Ullah, KA Hussain, and S.K. Sen Gupta, ‘An Inquiry into Causes and Consequences of Deprivation’, Dhaka, 2000.

It would be difficult to believe that Sen is really oblivious of this. But if he has deliberately pushed it under the carpet, then the question arises: does it reveal his concern for justice or is it his abetment/approval of injustice?  And mind you, Sen has a chapter on ‘Minority Rights and Inclusive Priorities’ (pp352-354).

As Sen asks in another context, ‘So what is fairness ? This foundational idea can be given shape in various ways, but central to it must be a demand to avoid a bias in our evaluations, taking note of the interests and concerns of all stakeholders as well, and in particular, the need to avoid being influenced by our respective vested interests, or by our personal priorities or eccentricities or prejudices’(p.54). 

Amartya Sen may set himself againstthe standard he so eloquently sets for others, and ask himself where does he really stand? While he applauds the role of  ‘impartial spectator,’ where would lesser mortals place his ‘close friend,’ a ‘visionary’ named Mahbub-ul-Haq, the former Pakistani Minister of Finance and Planning (1982-1988), (p.226) when Pakistan-sponsored terrorism was at its height in Indian Punjab. The question begging an answer: was Haq despite his ‘human development approach’ an ‘impartial spectator’   or had he ever shown any normal humanitarian concern for the hapless and persecuted religious minorities as a Cabinet Minister? There is a concept of ‘guilt by association’, and one would like to know who all could be guilty of this?

Sen’s studied reticence on this issue raises uncomfortable questions in light of the fact that another Nobel laureate, V.S. Naipaul has described Pakistan  as a ‘criminal enterprise’ while the rest of the world, including we Indians, look at it as a rogue and a failed state. And once again, we experienced that at Gurdaspur day before yesterday.

This not only takes us to another contested domain that Sen Takes up, the  so-called ‘Asian values’ and its homogenizing reach in the context of what Chris Patten had once observed. For example, one can compare and contrast  India’s handling of the tribal people as in our north eastern states and that of  Malaysia regarding its non-Muslim Orang Aslis or the treatment of the Buddhist Jummas (commonly called the Chakmas) in the Chittagong Hill Tracts by the Pakistani/Bangladeshi regimes.

India is tolerant and accommodative of other religions because of  its 80 per cent Hindu population, and has consistently sustained a system of parliamentary democracy and much higher growth of its religious minorities unlike so many other countries in Asia, and particularly in its immediate neighbourhood. Is it not a fact that Islamic countries, exceptions apart, even with some rudimentary trappings of a ‘westernized’ state, are  rapidly erasing even that window-dressing, and  sliding back into the Middle ages from which they had barely emerged?

The omission of Gladstone (1809-98: who was Britain’s Prime Minister four times), whose bold experiments in practical liberalism (both in Ireland and India, including the abortive Illbert Bill (1883), all reflecting his concern for some justice even in a colonial situation, his  sympathetic views on the Armenian genocide by the Sunni Ottomans/Caliphate  looks galling, especially when Sen has space for a lot of unsubstantiated history and Bollywood.

There is still lesser explanation for ignoring Cornwallis’s Criminal Code (1790,1793) in India, which provided  a rule for guidance of Muslim law officers, that in a murder case, they were to be guided by the intention of the murderer. This was a remarkable contribution. Indeed, Cornwallis did more. Amputation of limbs (Islamic shariat) was replaced by temporary hard labour or fine. He further stopped the practice of withdrawal or seeking compensation by an heir and relative of the deceased in a murder case. Despite the Permanent Settlement (1793), this was a remarkable contribution by the British colonial masters.

Sen not only overlooks that but also completely ignores another piece of legislation by Cornwallis (1793), that non-Muslims could give testimony against Muslims in criminal cases previously prohibited in Islamic law. Sen’s studied reticence on the indefensible, true specimens of an intolerant theological code, is easy to understand in light of his admiration for the Islamic rulers of India, and their legacies. Powerful, ‘vested interest’ which he theoretically, and otherwise considers a serious impediment in the administration of justice but casually smothers  in his own analysis and public lectures.

Sen discusses  nyaya, niti and matsya nyaya. While Manu-smriti comes under the scanner,  Yajnavalka  Smriti is not mentioned, and so are the Mosiac law and Hamburabi’s Code. He overlooks that despite Manu’s code, there were many transgressions of it without  inviting severe punishment,  as one finds in the effectiveness of the women’s right to inheritance in the Dayabhaga system which prevailed in his native Bengal, as distinct from mitakshara, that prevailed elsewhere in India.

Amartya Sen however,  concurs with those who have characterized Manu with ‘some modicum of veracity, as a fascist law-giver’ (p.20). Knowing Sen’s known habit of unjustified Hindu-bashing, it does not come as  a surprise that Sen comes to the defence of Islamo-fascists so consistently.  He remains oblivious to what Tagore, in his own version, one of the influences on him, uses the term    ‘Bhagwan Manu.’ Tagore cites his advice to treat reward as poison and accept calumny as a divine nectar (Letter to Pulin Bihari Sen, 20.Nov 1937), when the controversy over Jana Gana Mana was raked up by some. Sen might do well to remember that the polytheististic tradition of the ‘unbelievers’ has no concept of a fatwa  and mass murder as in other ‘sacred traditions’ he rationalizes so often.

It would be revealing to take a look at what all he writes and smothers in‘Minority Rights and Inclusive Priorities,’ in claiming how Gandhi had emphasized ‘inclusiveness’. But we know that it was no sudden invention in 20thcentury India, and that is why an overwhelmingly Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Pagan Bharata, with its unsullied tradition of ‘inclusiveness’ provided shelter, safety and honor to the persecuted refugee victims -the Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians throughout the ages.

Amartya Sen again ascribes too much to some vague  ‘public discussion that followed the attacks, to which both Muslims and non-Muslims contributed richly’ in the context of ‘a murderous attack in Mumbai in November 2008 by terrorists from a Muslim background (and almost certainly of Pakistani ancestry), that the much-feared reaction against Indian Muslims did not emerge’.

Sen is wrong in suggesting that Hindus routinely attack Muslims whereas in reality, the latter indulges in their periodic genocidal attacks on the Hindus. Immediately after the partition of India, while Pakistan, true to its ideologues (including Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, now being sanitized as ‘Makers of Modern India’ by India’s ‘eminent’ and ‘secular’ historians) succeeded in eliminating its Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian population.

In fact, Hindus suffer in various parts of the world at the hands of the Muslims including England, over issues ranging from Palestine to Ayodhya. Would Sen recollect the pogrom of the Hindus in East Pakistan (I964) over the Hazratbal theft in Kashmir, which affected his ancestral city of Dhaka? Would he remember what the Pakistanis and their local collaborators did to three million people (90 per cent of the victims being Hindus) during the Bangladesh war of liberation? And if Hindus had routinely done what the Muslims did, how would Sen with his command over statistics, explain the  decline of Hindu population  in India while the population of Muslims continues to increase?

As for the  public discussion between Hindus and Muslims, one wishes it really works in Pakistan, Bangladesh and our own Jammu and Kashmir, so that the Hindus have some sense of safety and  security, and Hindu refugees from the Kashmir valley now refugees in their own land, were restored their landed property and honor.

We all might wonder as to why it did not work when Gandhi and Nehru were at the helm, and had to deal with the ‘constitutionalist’ and ‘Maker of Modern India’- that mass murderer, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Well, Sen and his band of  ‘secularists’ know in the heart of hearts that it was the infinite patience of Hindus and their inherent tolerance of ‘others’ that prevented a retaliation. Anyway, Sen might still do a tremendous service to humanity if he can work out similar dialogues between the ‘Holy warriors’ of the ISIS and the persecuted Yezidis, Shias and Christians in the areas under the new Caliphate.

In paying a rare compliment to the Hindus, while saying that India with  more than 80 per cent Hindus has a Sikh prime minister and a ruling party president of ‘Christian background’ and a Muslim President (and having had several Muslim presidents in the past), with ‘none of the three principal governing positions of the country being occupied by non-Hindus-while ‘there was no noticeable sense  of discontent’ ( p.353), Sen smothers a very important dimension: he refrains from saying that the then president of Congress, India’s ruling party, is just not a Christian, but also an Italian. Was he deliberately pushing it under the carpet ? Would Italy accept a Hindu Indian in similar position or if Bobby aka Piyush Jindal, in his Hindu persona would have been a  serious political aspirant in America?

After all, Indian National Congress of yore had its first President, a converted Christian, (Womesh Chandra Banerjee), and so have been various Cabinet Ministers and Defence Service Chiefs after independence. No Hindu ever opposed or criticized that. So to have a Christian president of the ruling party was no cause of concern for the Hindus. To have a non-Hindu Defence Service Chief or Chairman of the UPSC, or a Chief Election Commissioner besides Cabinet Ministers in Central government or States, Governors or important Ambassadors  are not unknown to the Hindus of India. How many Hindus in similar positions would Amartya Sen find in his beloved Pakistan and Bangladesh? What justice does Sen talk of and for whom, is often difficult to fathom.

Yet, one  must admit, that Sen reveals, in this rarest of rare passage, a streak of atavism perhaps, and shows that he has not totally forgotten some of the basic ideas that Kshitimohan Sen (his grandfather) had put down so evocatively in his important study on Hinduism. Be that as it may, Sen is back with his campaign of disinformation after a few paragraphs. He goes on to talk of ‘the organized riots in Gujarat in 2002, in which close 2000 people, mostly Muslims died…’ (p.354). Sen had completed this book seven years after that incident, and now, and even six years after that, no one has found a shred of evidence to say that it was organized, unless of course Sen has his own Court of Enquiry. Sen does not mention the roasting alive of the 58 Hindu pilgrims in the railway coach at Godhra which led to the   subsequent violence. How could he smother the all-important cause, and yet inflate the figures?  This is Amartya Sen at his best.

‘According to the statement of the GOI, the community-wise break-up of the victims in Gujarat is as follows: 790 Muslims killed, 254 Hindus killed, 2,500 wounded and 223 gone missing. In a state with 88 per cent Hindus and 10 per cent Muslims, ruled by an allegedly pro-Hindu government, the casualty figures do not fit into the pattern of a genocide or pogrom of a particular community.’   

This had been pointed out (27 Nov 2007, The Indian Express) earlier. Sen might well ask this to himself if this is fairness. Has it ever happened in Pakistan or Bangladesh, where so many members of the majority community have suffered at the hands of the minority or their security agencies? Did it ever happen in Hitler’s Germany when the Jews had taken the lives of German Christians? Sen’s sympathies are obvious and with such a worldview, can he really pontificate on the  idea of Justice?

Among various  other issues, he  misses out the practice of meting out justice to the so-called war-criminals, and the politics of vested interests and blatant partiality that go into its operation, or the growing practice of seeking apologies by the perpetrators of grievous wrongs to many traumatized communities as in the case of the aborigines of Australia or the Americas.

Sen says, ‘There is something very appealing in the idea that every person anywhere in the world, irrespective of citizenship, residence, race, class, caste or community, has some basic rights which should respect’. (p.355). Let the readers find out if he has really taken us any forward in this direction ?

If one is dealing with historical experiences and wants to be fair, and has something original to contribute to the concept of Justice and its dispensation, too much of an ideological preference could be a serious disqualification, and the whole purpose of any theorizing and the claim of  taking a moral stance  might be defeated. Moreover, with   arbitrary and selective examples, unlike that of Sir Vidia Naipaul and Nirad Chandra Chaudhury, there are all-too visible  gaps in Sen’s highly readable but extremely biased narrative.

Many of us by now, are made to wonder like that  character  in a famous Tagore play who  finally exclaimed, ‘I really don’t know what is justice and what is injustice’ (‘nyaya anayaya Janine Janine’).

But then, as Richard II (Shakespeare) profoundly pontificated: ‘Not all the water in the rough rude sea can wash the balm from an anointed king’ !

Shoumendu Mukherji, graduated from the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata and at present is an advocate at the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court.

Views in this article are the authors’ personal opinions and do not reflect those of the organizations they are affiliated to.

Dr Saradindu Mukherji is an academic and historian, He was a Charles Wallace Visiting Fellow, department of Politics, Centre for Indian Studies, University of Hull. He was a former Member of ICSSR, He retired as Head of Department of History, Hansraj College, University of Delhi. He is currently a Member, Indian Council for Historical Research.