The Ten Heads of Ravana: Identifying the Facets of Hinduphobia
Malhotra, R., & Divya, R. (Eds.) (2023). Ten Heads of Ravana: A Critique of Hinduphobic Scholars. Gurugram: Garuda Prakashan Pvt. Ltd.
Hinduphobia is real, deep, and scary. In this anthology of ten essays, edited by Rajiv Malhotra and Divya Reddy, we are made aware of it, and reminded that Hindus better get to know their enemies.
Hinduphobia, in its hydra-headed and variegated forms, is increasing the world over by concerted efforts of influential people. The ten scholars/writers and their works analyzed in the book, compared to the heads of Ravana, represent the adharmic or asuric forces. A talented, expert group of authors — K.S. Kannan, T.N. Sudarshan, Sharda Narayanan, Anurag Sharma, Divya Reddy, Manogna Sastry, Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay, and H.R. Meera — discuss in detail each of these ten adharmic authors/academics, both inside and outside the country, who are seriously undermining the civilizational ethos of India. Rajiv Malhotra, who has in many ways become a one-many army fighting anti-Hindu forces, sets the tone for the book by offering an interesting and detailed introduction.
The Hinduphobic scholars analyzed are both Indian — Shashi Tharoor, Ramachandra Guha, Devdutt Patnaik, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, and Kancha Iliah — and western — Wendy Doniger, Audrey Truschke, Michael Witzel, and Sheldon Pollock. Without ad-hominem attacks, each essayist delves into the writings of these influential scholars to show the threat they pose to Hindus. The religious backgrounds and political ideologies of the scholars discussed are as varied as possible, including practising Hindus. The book amply demonstrates how Hindus themselves have turned their backs to become its biggest critics. At one end we have someone like Kancha Iliah who, like a hardened evangelical, spews hatred on Hindus, and at the other end are the more subtle and clever posturing by the likes of Shashi Tharoor who claims to be a practising Hindu.
The western scholars’ approach to and analyses of India and Hinduism is supposedly from a deep interest in the country. There is really no love for what they study, but they embrace the power and the prestige as well as the lucrative careers that come attached with their practice. These practitioners of “Indology,” an academic enterprise that has become a global industry of manufacturing grievances against Hindus, seek to paint every Hindu into a corner, and put every Hindu idea, thought, practice, belief, attitude, and product on its head. German and other European scholars started the project of Indology when they began studying India and its scriptures. We initially did not know what they wrote and how they disseminated their works. Later, still not well informed about their methods and agendas, we, the colonized Indians, felt flattered when scholars like Max Mueller studied Sanskrit and translated the Vedas. However, the motivation for Indology was both suspect and racist — an intellectual effort to undermine the integrity of the country — as Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee, in their classic The Nay Science, have shown.
Following the two World Wars, a devastated and broken Europe lost interest and the action shifted to the United States where the study of India continues, alas seemingly on the rotten plank that Katherine Mayo built in her “Mother India”. Indology would be a constructive pursuit if one approaches a five-thousand-year civilization with respect and a willingness to learn. But when the purpose of such studies is to undermine the country and demonize Hindus, it poses an existential threat to India and Hindus. We better challenge this enterprise therefore lest we drown in the flood of bilge emanating from American and European universities, the universities in India drawing upon the work done in these universities, as well as from the newly influential international institutions of higher learning shaped and influenced by the West.
SN Balagangadhara says that one of the interesting aspects of Indian culture is that Indians rarely bothered to study foreign religions, works, and ideas the way outsiders studied us. Indians produced an enormous corpus of knowledge based mainly on their own experiences. Why bother looking at others when what our highest purpose is to know ourself? Its decentralised polity also ensured that India never physically invaded any other country to loot and plunder. However, this decentralized political system and an indifference to study foreign religions, practices, and philosophies paved the way for the attacks on India and its culture.
Colonial rule allowed a great power to push many one-sided narratives to break India at all levels — social, economic, political, educational, and so on. However, the colonialists did what they had to do. The real tragedy came at independence when our political-academic-intellectual leaders could not look beyond the colonial narratives. It is in this context that Balagangadhara offers his thesis of “colonial consciousness”. The major harm of colonialism was not the physical plunder of the country nor the debilitating intellectual narratives produced in colonial times but the permanent reshaping of the Indian intellectual framework and Indians’ perception of themselves. This alteration of our foundational and cultural ethos not only makes Indians repeat colonial tropes – “there are intolerant religions in India; there is a ‘caste system’ in india; Aryans invaded India; Brahmins were exploitative; our arts and sciences were primitive; our culture was barbaric; and so on” — but have led them to disbelieve, deny, and mock any alternative narratives about India. This essay, without delving into the well-written individual chapters, identifies the broad themes of Hinduphobia which we come across in the writings of Indologists and those others, including Indians, writing about India.
The Aryan Invasion Story
The strongest correlation of Hinduphobia has to be the belief in and subscription to the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). The thread which runs through almost all the writers critiqued in this book is the (mis)use of the AIT. The basic story of the AIT (see here and here) is something like this: about 1500 BCE, a group of light-skinned, horse-riding invaders came from the Russian Steppes into North-West India and subjugated the dark-skinned native population without horses (the Harappans) and drove many of them away to the south of India and to distant lands.
First proposed in the 19th century, due to the linguistic commonalities of Sanskrit with other European languages, there developed the concept of a PIE (Proto-Indo-European) language spoken by a group occupying an original “homeland”. From this homeland the PIE speakers migrated to various regions of Europe and Asia where the original language transformed (degenerated) into many local versions but maintained a distinct connection to the original language. The original language and the “homeland” have been areas of intense speculation since the identification of Indo-European languages.
The strongest evidence is from the field of Linguistics, which shows a remarkable connection between the various European languages and Sanskrit (and its many derived Indian languages). However, migrations based on linguistics are not definitive since almost every other field (archaeology, textual data from the Vedas, inscriptions) has rejected such vast migrations. The most objective evidence comes from archaeological studies, which show little or no evidence to support any large-scale invasions from outside India. The textual data from the Vedas (see the works of Shrikant Talageri) not only rejects the AIT but gives evidence for an Out of India (OIT) migration to other parts of Asia and Europe. Genetics is the latest hope for the Aryan proponents but the evidence is slim, contradictory, and ambiguous.
According to the AIT narrative, these “somewhere from Central/Northwest Asia” Aryans brought Sanskrit, Vedas, and the varna system to India. The first three orders (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and the Vysyas), it is claimed, were the “original” Aryans who subjugated the Harappans giving latter the status of Shudras (the lowest in the varna system). Those driven to the mountains and hills became the tribals of India; those driven to the south of the Vindhyas became the Dravidians; and the most deprived who stayed put in the Sindhu River region became the untouchables and the Dalits of today, the AIT proponents argue. Hence, all the noxious narratives about India and in India today – that Dravidians, Shudras, tribals, and Dalits are separate from the Aryans – are firmly and deeply grounded in the AIT. Given the overwhelming evidence against large scale invasions the theory has a softer version – the Aryan Migration Theory (AMT). Even more ad-hoc adjustments have been made by Indologists, like Michael Witzel (one of the ten heads discussed in the book), who suggest that a single tribe came to India and did not return!
Anyone wedded to the AIT/AMT may not be Hinduphobic, but the reverse almost always is true. Characteristically, Hinduphobic intellectuals invariably use the AIT/AMT to undermine and demonize Hindus. The primary objective is to claim that Hindus are foreigners in their own land, and that the “indigenous” Indians were/are not Hindus. The Hindus were simply the pre-European colonizers of the indigenous groups. The only difference in these Hinduphobic narratives are the methods and skill in the use of the AIT/AMT – which vary from the harsh and vitriolic attacks of a Kancha Iliah to the polished language of a Shashi Tharoor. Marxist scholars like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib found the theories useful to perpetuate the essentially colonial story because they fit rather well with the “exploiter-exploited” Marxist paradigm. Hence, despite no evidence for the mysterious Aryans, invading or migrating, they have unfortunately become an important crutch for peddling anti-India and anti-Hindu rhetoric.
Whitewashing Islamic history
The thread that ties Hinduphobic scholars together is their attachment to “secularism”. Jakob De Roover, in his Europe, India, and the Limits of Secularism, shows how secularism embraced as a state policy after independence was a profound mistake stemming from a lack of understanding of religions, traditions, and the nature of both Europe and India. Secularism was a solution for Christendom at a specific period in its history when the various Christian denominations were fighting each other based on their individual doctrines.
Secularism, separating the church from the state, was not a universal solution for all cultures and for all periods of time. Secularism, however, became one of the pillars of Nehruvian policy for a new India. An improper understanding turned first Hindu and Indian traditions into religions, and then applied the solution of secularism to them. This has led to many problems and the most important, paradoxically, is the rise of “Hindu fundamentalism”. The conversion of traditions into “proper” religions makes them more intolerant and exclusionary. The Indian solution from across centuries was the reverse — “traditionalising” of religions which came to us from foreign lands, so that they became more tolerant and inclusive.
However, the pursuit of secularism in the political-academic combine became appeasement of the followers of a particular religion – Muslims — which meant diluting the bloody history of Islamic imperialism in India. The first Education Minister of India for ten long years was an Islamic scholar. A country, recently split on religious identities, and a Hindu culture which needed to be redefined and resurrected after a thousand years of physical and intellectual pillage, chose a Muslim to guide its educational policies. The later hijacking of Indian history by Marxist intellectuals like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib (the Aligarh School of historians) allowed the propagation of a distorted history which whitewashed most of the Islamic rulers’ brutalities and iconoclastic activities.
This attempt to foist Marxist/Islamist versions of Indian history was a deliberate attempt not to hurt “Muslim sentiments”. Our intellectuals and academics could have set the narrative right by ensuring that Muslims now cannot and should not be held responsible for the crimes of the past Islamic invaders. There was no need to falsify history. At the same time the country could have moved forward and there might been an opportunity to build harmony between the two communities – Hindus and Muslims. However, in a poorly conceived strategy based on falsehood, they, in fact, strengthened the connection of present-day Muslims to the past, bloody Islamic imperialism.
The methods of the individual scholars discussed in the book vary — from the explicit denial of atrocities committed by Muslim kings (akin to Holocaust denial) like Aurangzeb (Audrey Truschke) to twisting history (Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib). Therefore, the defence and thus the distortions of Islamic rule have become entrenched in Indian universities and media. In this, Shashi Tharoor plays an clever game. He is quite open and harsh in his attack on the English colonialists but spares the Islamic imperialists. His argument is that the Muslim imperialists “stayed back” in India and settled here. How does that absolve them of being plunderers, desecrators, and destroyers is a question he does not bother to answer, given his political aspirations and Congress Party credentials.
It is in this context the works of Arun Shourie (Eminent Historians) and Neeraj Atri with Muneishwar Sagar (Brainwashed Republic), who have exposed the noxious role of Left/Marxist historians in twisting and manufacturing historical narratives, become important. Hindus now despair or seethe in anger realizing how badly the country’s history has been hijacked and/or misrepresented.
Reducing Hindu History to Footnotes
An important characteristic of Hinduphobic scholars is the diminution of Hindu contributions and confining them to footnotes. Historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib asserted that Indians had nothing to be proud before the foreign invaders – Muslims and Europeans – arrived in India. Authors of the Ten Heads of Ravana demonstrate how the Left/Marxist narratives are stacked against Hindus: for example, Sheldon Pollock claims that Sanskrit and the upper castes were/are exploitative; Doniger and Pattanaik label the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as myths that gained prominence only after the Islamic rulers established their presence in India; Rama and Krishna are presented as figures of doubtful historicity; Hindu kings are presented as fractious infighters who allowed foreign invaders to walk in; that there were no great Hindu rulers; and that Indian cultural offerings are/were of minimal value.
Krishnadevaraya, Marthanda Varma, Lachit Borphukan, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Sikh Gurus, and the Marathas are given superficial or minimal importance and attention while Delhi-centric Islamic history is offered in great detail and much applauded. The lives and deeds of obscure and transient rulers of Delhi are presented in much detail, so much so that they are now embedded in our collective memories. Social evils are tied to Hindus (caste system, untouchability, exploitation), and foreign invaders are presented as benevolent, far-sighted, and egalitarian. In Brainwashed Republic the authors show how historians achieved this by using every trick in the writing trade: lies, appealing to authority, appealing to prejudice, cherry-picking, disinformation, euphemisms, exaggeration, grand generalization, guilt by association, half-truths, intentional vagueness, labelling, loaded language, oversimplification, third-party technique, unstated assumption, thought terminating clichés, and so on. At least two generations of Indian students have thus gone through college and built their lives believing that nothing good came from their country.
Unfortunately, it takes a great amount of convincing for Indian intellectuals that Hindu society too, before the invaders, made major contributions (and continues to do so) to the spiritual, cultural, philosophical, and scientific wealth of humankind. We were the richest and the most prosperous country in the world before the Muslims and the Europeans entered and conquered India. India and China, in almost equal share, contributed more than 50 percent of the world’s GDP for seventeen centuries from the start of the millennium as Angus Maddison has shown in The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. This could not have happened if a “primitive” culture (composed mainly of Hindus) were wallowing in ignorance and superstition.
Our traditional scholars had generated a huge corpus of knowledge – from the arts and governance to the sciences and mathematics. Unfortunately, what has been presented of the past is mostly that of “villainous Brahmins” hoarding and withholding knowledge and creating a hierarchical and oppressive society. Dharampal, using colonial records, has shown that the narrative of Brahmins denying others education is simply false.
Sanskrit as an Exploitative Language
One distinct characteristic of scholarly Hinduphobia is the attack on Sanskrit. Sheldon Pollock is the primary example of this brand of scholarship. He believes Sanskrit is a “dead” language fit only for study like other dead languages like Latin. Rajiv Malhotra (The Battle for Sanskrit) has shown how Sheldon Pollock who, in his speculations about Sanskrit, undermines the entire culture of the country. A typical feature of Pollock is his use of extremely dense language that can bewilder the ordinary reader and making the reader believe that what is purveyed is correct.
The essay on Pollock informs how Pollock essentially deconstructs Sanskrit grammar and offers Sanskrit not as a great language but as an “ideology” that “oppresses” Dalits, women, and Muslims. Pollock seeks to explain the use of Sanskrit as an attempt by kings and Brahmins to oppress people, expand the influence of Hinduism to countries east of India, and as an influence on Nazi racism! Pollock would rather have us believe that the most perfect language ever devised by humans can only destroy the plurality of India, aggravate inequality, and encourage violent nationalism.
Unlike Vyaas Houston, the founder/director of the American Sanskrit Institute, who describes Sanskrit as the “perfect language infinitely more sophisticated than any of our modern tongues,” and Rens Bod who believes that the history of linguistics begins not with Plato or Aristotle, but with Panini’s Astadhyayi, with its complex use of metarules, transformations, and recursions, Pollock’s project is the active destruction of the worth and influence of a Sanskrit which scholars now show even having parallels and applications in computer programming languages.
How did a perfect language with a perfect grammar become oppressive, exploitative, and dead? For the colonials, it came in the way of their narratives of a primitive civilization needing the help of the benign rule by white Europeans. Unfortunately, post-independent India saw a Marxist ideology become the driving force and foundation of India’s system of education. Sanskrit soon therefore was not only treated as a “dead language” but became the “deadly carrier” of Brahmanism, patriarchy, and oppression.
India Bashing/Hindu Bashing/Brahmin Bashing
Holding Brahmins responsible for all the evils of Indian society is the essential component of Hinduphobic narratives as it is the cudgel used to beat Hindu/Indian civilization to death. In the hands of a vulgar propagandist like Kancha Ilaiah and provocateur academics like Wendy Doniger, the old Brahmin-bashing has now developed new and long legs. The story of “villainous and scheming Brahmins” has not changed, just like the story of “scheming Jews” in Europe, in Muslim countries, and in the US. Brahmins and Jews – the “chosen” and the “excellent” — therefore have to deal with the wrath of society internally and the evil eye of foreign mischief-makers.
The most insidious story disseminated about Indian religions/philosophies is that the “pure” religion of the Vedas (Vedism) became degenerated in the hands of “crafty Brahmins” and became Brahmanism. According to this story, Buddhist and Bhakti elements were able to inject some good features to decadent Brahamanism and transformed it into present-day Hinduism, which, according to Hinduphobes, is still mostly bad. They claim that Hinduism was/is responsible for all the social evils in the country, especially the caste system and untouchability. In more recent times, economists have gone further and blamed Hinduism for India’s tardy economic growth after independence.
Tragically, post-independence, the Indian critique was not of European colonialism but an internal critique focused on the so-called forward castes — the villains created by the colonialists. Brahmin bashing became an academic and political project in which destructive Marxists joined hands with Islamists, and propped up the barely literate “academics” like Ilaiah. The left-influenced academia, with their favorite theories of the exploiter and the exploited; the missionaries, with their sly and insidious propaganda; and the Islamists with their new found oil-money infusion have been able to brainwash Indian students and the lay public in partnership with European and American academe. The chief criteria for academic acceptance in the top universities now is to criticize Brahmins, and to demand from the Brahmins daily mea culpas.
Eroticising of Hindu Gods, Intellectual Violence, and Playing the Victim Card
Some of the violence inflicted on Indian culture are by the likes of Devdutt Pattanaik and Wendy Doniger who offer absurd interpretations of our texts. H.R. Meera evaluates the work of Wendy Doniger, an influential American Indologist, who, now in her 80s, remains obsessed with sexual themes and themes of exploitation of women and lower classes in her Freudian reading of Indian texts. Her books reveal a deep antipathy toward Hindus. She offers false or provocative commentaries on Indian history, politics, traditions, culture, antiquity, scriptures, deities, and important rituals. For example, her wild imaginings of Rama as both a sex addict and an oppressor of lower castes and women, Lakshmana as having sexual fantasies of Sita, indicate her willingness to turn Indian civilizational stories and history into modern American porn. Continuing to hold the Eliade Chair at the University of Chicago, she has mentored scores of scholars who now populate the departments of history, religion, and philosophy around the world peddling her porn as intellectual popcorn. Rajiv Malhotra has labelled her students “Wendy’s children”. Misbegotten, surely.
In her controversial book, “Hindus: An Alternative History,” Doniger manages to sexualize almost all the scriptures: the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Upanishads, and the Vedas too. The Freudian analysis, for whatever it is worth, seems more applicable to Doniger herself. A combination of left/Marxist, Feminist, and Freudian ideologies informs her scholarship. Krishna’s advice to Arjuna to fight the good battle, she claims, make the Bhagavad Gita a manual of violence. However, when her works are criticized, she refuses to engage with her critics, plays the victim, and blames “Hindutva fanatics” for the public response to her shoddy work.
The physical and intellectual onslaught on our culture has continued unabated after independence due to the combined efforts of politicians, activists, social scientists, and Indologists. At the primary and fundamental level what they have done is to declare non-Hindus as “minorities,” and offer them rights they have denied to Hindus. Nowhere else in the world do we such a feature not only in practice but enshrined in the Constitution itself! Next, in the name of “secularism,” the majority Hindus have been told that they will “never be forgiven or forgotten”. In reverse, Muslims and Christians have been offered appeasements and their history of violence and their misdeeds are sought to be erased, forgiven, and forgotten.
Hinduphobic scholars use a variety of theoretical frameworks, which offer no verifiable and consistent data and results. They seek to show that tribals, Dravidians, Dalits, Shudras, Christians, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists are separate from the first three orders of Hindus — Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vysyas. This division of Indians along these “faultlines” is a threat to national unity and security. Similarly, the favorite trope of these scholars is that India was never a nation. Alas, the Westphalian notion of a nation-state fails to make sense in defining Bharatavarsha, a civilizational entity based on shared culture and spirituality.
The Discourses of Dalit Exploitation and Untouchability
Untouchability was a noxious weed rightfully targeted and reformed from within. The abominable practices where Brahmins and other upper castes indulged in social exclusion of various jatis, barred temple entry, denied access to water wells and other public amenities, certainly existed, and are still practiced in pockets of rural India. But criticism and reform came from within and equally from intellectuals, saints, sages, kings, political leaders, and ordinary people alike. Post-independence, untouchability has been designated a crime and constitutional/judicial reforms continue to address the inequalities existing in society based on the “caste system,” and “caste” categories have now been enshrined in the Indian Constitution itself.
However, as scholars have shown, the segregation of 1,200 jatis and 65 million people into one single category (Dalits) based on a single tenuous criterion of “ex-untouchability” status is extremely problematic. It is not the economic, social, political, and educational status that define a “Dalit” but only an “untouchability” status in the past. The definitions of untouchability have been circular and ambiguous which had led to constitutional debates. Today, everyone just assumes the notion of untouchability without any careful investigation or questioning.
However, the strangest paradox is that despite declaring untouchability (whatever be its understanding) as illegal, despite making large scale provisions for reservations (positive discrimination) in many areas of education and employment, the anger and the divisions have only increased. The fissures are only deepening as the only narrative about India on national and international platforms is that of Dalit exploitation.
Ironically, since the Dalit identity itself is mostly a political and constitutional construct and the records do not show any mass discrimination against this group (as scholars like Dunkin Jalki, Sufiya Pathan, and Nihar Sashittal have shown) what we are witnessing is the continuation of the dangerous colonial narrative which says Hinduism equals caste system which equals untouchability, and that the solution for untouchability is the destruction of Hinduism.
Balagangadhara has said that “Indologists use discredited theories from earlier social sciences to put across outlandish claims regarding a culture about which they are ignorant. Contemporary social sciences draw upon these ignorant claims to put across equally outlandish claims about human societies and cultures, again in ignorance of what the Indological claims rest upon. Both Indology and the social sciences enter a death-dance where neither dies but knowledge does”. Western narratives and West-inspired academic creeds and cults have established a stranglehold on modern Indian thought. Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchi show what is ultimately at stake — freeing the ancients from being subjects of interrogation and permitting the ancients to question us moderns instead.
“The Ten Heads of Ravana” is a phenomenal effort on the part of Rajiv Malhotra, Divya Reddy, and the team of scholars who have contributed to the book. Each writer has taken pains in dissecting the work of those attacking the “last surviving pagan civilization” in the world. Some of the “heads” are clearly Trojan horses who attack Hindus despite being Hindus. They are the most dangerous. International academics pose a civilizational threat as their books and articles become reading material for competitive civil services exams in India and become prescribed reading in colleges and universities. Civil servants, in their positions of power and influence, determine further the educational policies of Indian citizens. The politicians, barring a few, are mostly clueless about the noxious nature of Indological scholarship or they are afraid to challenge those who are skilled writers and speakers of English.
The Ten Heads of Ravana is thus essential reading for all Hindus who are concerned about their own status as Hindus, the integrity and security of India, and the strength of Hinduism in a fractious world.
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