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The Cartel’s Politics

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How institutional ideologies and capital empower the scholars’ cartel politically, and how Indian scholars perform in compromising positions for the cartel. Article #9 in the continuing dialogue.

For the on-going debate, please see the RHS bar under Also See

The companion article, The Cartel’s ‘Theories’, gave my response to one set of issues raised by Vijay. Additionally, this article explains how institutional ideologies and capital empower the scholars’ cartel politically, and how Indian scholars perform in compromising positions for the cartel.

It covers the following topics:

1) The US has replaced the British as the main funding source for India-related studies worldwide. This is natural and to be expected of any superpower, given the following needs: (i) to understand various areas of the world for the development of policy and (ii) to have a standing army of scholars-activists ready for deployment in a variety of ways. (See my columns: America must re-discover India and Preventing America’s Nightmare

2) The Pew Trust’s power in academe is described; but Pew is merely one of many multi-billion dollar private foundations that control the funding and pulling of strings to popularize certain themes and theories, as well as to influence the advancement of scholars indirectly through their proxies inside the system. Ford Foundation deserves a study by itself as to how it has influenced certain agendas over others in India. I invite Vijay to collaborate for a study on who funds what, and also to develop a process for scholars/activists to make transparent disclosures of all their grants and other affiliations.

3) These items then pave the way to address my main point here: that “resistance”, “camps”, and criticism of various kinds amongst scholars are merely managed and controlled forms of opposition, and are ultimately not real but virtual.

4) Contrary to their claims, the South Asian Studies NRI scholars are not India’s intellectual home team, as they are neither qualified (in the siddhantas and categories of Indian thought) nor truly free.

5) Using the very recent concrete example of FOIL’s mobilization against me, I illustrate that many of these scholars are part of the Sepoy Army to defend the fortress.

I also explain that it is not enough for Vijay to claim to have dealt with an issue that I raise, simply by giving some bibliographic reference to show that he already knew about it. This is not a TV game-show on who knows more. As long as the issue remains in the real world, it is still an issue no matter how much might have been written on it. This and some relatively atypical counter-examples seem to be Vijay’s common way of addressing many issues.

Academic whistle-blower

In the fall of 2002, a young, outspoken academic scholar in South Asian Studies – a whistleblower of sorts – posted the following on the internet list of the politically powerful academic group known as RISA (Religions In South Asia). He is Christian Wedemeyer, Department of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen, and he also moderates the Indology list on Yahoo. He dropped the following bombshell:

a) Many (perhaps most) of the leading lights of South Asian Studies in the US today were funded at least in part by “National Defense Fellowships” (now FLAS) – money earmarked by the US Government in the frenzy of post-Sputnik paranoia, in order to train Americans to know the Others’ languages and so keep pace with the Soviet drive to world domination;

b) the American university system is now in practice (if not in theory) a branch of the governmental intelligence services (cf. Sigmund Diamond’s important work “Compromised Campus”, New York, 1992). As Diamond notes (p. 53): “When former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy said that all university area studies programs were ‘manned, directed, or stimulated by graduates of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services],’ he was writing more than history; he was giving a prognosis of the future and making policy. There always had been and always would be ‘a high measure of interpenetration between universities with area programs and the information-gathering agencies of the government of the United States. ‘”

c) related to b), leading lights of US South Asian Studies (and mentors to many current members of RISA) like Norman Brown were (and, likely, are) up to their ya-yas in CIA and State Department contacts and (presumably) funding ; and

d) (As I noted in my MA thesis), “at the same time as all of the books and conferences such as Introducing India in Liberal Education, whose rhetoric speaks of integrating Eastern contributions into the great liberal educative tradition of ‘the World’ (i.e. the West), the political ramifications of ‘area studies’ were being encouraged and exploited . Interestingly, at this very conference, held in Chicago in 1957, at which these issues were being addressed, we see as attendees the names of ‘Chadbourne Gilpatric, The Rockefeller Foundation ,’ ‘William Marvel, Executive Associate, Carnegie Corporation of New York,’ and ‘Cloen O. Swayzee, The Ford Foundation ‘ – all foundations implicated in connection with contemporaneous covert F.B.I. collaboration in Diamond’s recent study of the collaboration between the government intelligence agencies and American universities. ” (cf. “Orientalism is a Humanism: Materials and Methods for an History and Auto-critique of Buddhist Studies”, Columbia, 1994).

Wedemeyer then challenged his academic colleagues to introspect honestly about whether they were, in fact, paid mercenaries:

“What does this mean for South Asian Studies (and “Religion In South Asia”)? Are we merely to conclude that all these people (our colleagues and mentors, not to mention “we”) are simply “bought and paid for”? Are we all guilty of a kind of ‘trahison des clercs’? Should we caution ourselves against accepting such money and thus giving “academic respectability” to the nefarious plans of the State Department, FBI, and CIA? I think (and I assume most would agree) that the situation is more complex than this. We seem to trust that our colleagues and mentors can accept money from such sources, perhaps telling them what they want to hear (and sending their lesser-quality students to work as translators and code-breakers), yet continuing with their critical, objective scholarship (or something approximating the same).”

The above post by Wedemeyer, was triggered by RISA’s attack against a conference in 2002organized by The Infinity Foundation, co-convened by Prof. Robert Thurman of Columbia University and me, which Wedemeyer and many other academic scholars participated in.

In the same internet debate, another academic scholar named Judson Trapnell (who, unfortunately, has passed away) wrote an honest admission of the academic scholars’ vulnerabilities in bringing personal biases to their work:

“Given our training in contemporary hermeneutical theory, why do we have difficulty in accepting that we, and those institutions who fund us, bring assumptions to our work–assumptions that may seem suspect to others? I am puzzled both by the claims to higher objectivity in Western academic research and by the criticisms of others for not meeting up to our standards – i.e., in bringing political agendas to bear upon such research. Who among us does not bring them? To be human is to have such agendas, to operate under certain beliefs. Inevitably we become defensive when someone dares to try to expose our assumptions. But once the emotions have cooled, it is our responsibility as scholars to consider carefully, even prayerfully, whether there is some truth in what the other says. Then we may engage in a mutual revelation of assumptions with our critic, rather than a heated and defensive attempt to condemn the other for having an agenda that differs from ours.”

Compromised Campus

The excellent book by Diamond, “Compromised Campuses,” (referenced by Wedemeyer above) uses recently declassified government documents to show how Ivy Leagues (he focuses on Harvard and Yale) were bastions of CIA/FBI surveillance of scholars who were branded as trouble-makers, and, in particular, the author shows the role of Henry Kissinger as a government agent when he was at Harvard. It documents how the government agencies and bureaus influenced academic selections by many covert means. This, according to the book, was a widespread infiltration, and was with the full knowledge and cooperation of the universities’ highest level authorities, including university presidents. The author also remarks that there is no reason to believe that things have changed today, because similar institutional strings, funding, agendas, and covert means remain intact.

In this regard, I quote (anonymously per request) from a private email that I received after The Peer-Review Cartel article appeared, from an academic scholar in another Western country:

“The problem of the abuse of institutional academic power is not restricted to Indology. It is present in much of the social sciences, since academic debate has political implications and is explicitly influenced by the dominant institutions of society. As a scholar in the fields of international relations and international political economy, it is clear to me that six US-based journals control intellectual output in the field worldwide. They directly or indirectly promote ideas that support US foreign policy interests – once you cut through the crap! Any ‘dissent’ itself is in fact self-legitimating because the real secret of wielding effective power and successful domination is to sponsor and control a ‘critique of the self’; a Gramscian phenomenon, in effect. Much ‘critique’ of Hinduism and India is to show that Hinduism is mumbo-jumbo and backward, and India a potential danger to the world because of its reprehensible Brahmin-dominated caste culture. Indian scholars, wishing to taste the joys of Western material comforts, cannot contest this, and once compromised, they cannot obviously admit that they are a whore while seeking to embrace purity and truth!

A small number of white scholars have intimate ties with government agencies and conformity radiates from this core, via funding and positions in high status institutions, though obviously they don’t control everything. Two of the world’s leading anthropologists, working on India, report to the intelligence services in their own country and have intimate ties with the Church. They also have strong personal ties with some of India’s leading leftist scholars. Unfortunately, I can’t be more specific…

Another email was from a medical researcher complaining about her field. It shows how widespread and deep-rooted these institutionalized prejudices run:

“The peer-review process is for academicians to keep their jobs and to keep truly innovative ideas out. It allows mediocrity to survive. This is not just in liberal arts but in Medicine as well. The hostility displayed by the peer-reviewers of Western journals for any innovative idea coming from a Third World country borders on savagery. The idea is run to the ground, and only after a certain ‘negotiation’ and compromise is it allowed through. The small coterie of controlling academicians (more correctly administrators) support each other, and are generally totally convinced that only people of European ancestry are capable of producing anything original. Their favorite method of rejecting new ideas from the Third World researchers include attacking the language or finding some technical ground to ridicule the whole effort. Some Third World papers are let through because they are somewhat stupid, so that they can condescendingly patronize.”

In a future article on this cartel issue, I shall describe my model to interpret the above e-mail’s reference to the way the system deliberately selects “stupid” items from the third-worlders, in order to “condescendingly patronize.” I refer to this as the Ganga-Din Syndrome. There are many scripts available in the Western Grand Narrative (WGN) for Indians to perform as deliberate-morons. The British actor, Peter Sellers, depicted such characters in some of his roles. Unfortunately, many Indians have become programmed to subliminally behave like morons in front of whites, as if they were enacting a script that was being expected of them. I will claim in my future article that many Indian postcolonialist scholars are, in fact, performing like Ganga-Dins in the Western Grand Narrative, because such roles come with carrots.

This is why I disagree with Homi Bhabha and others who characterize this behavior as “resistance,” and I see it as a sellout. Much of what Bhabha calls “hybridity” is to glorify the sellout, by including a script for it within the WGN that makes it seem “progressive”.

Who funds what?

I am glad that Vijay acknowledges that private mega-buck funding often compromises academic independence.

For example, Pew Trust is controlling the academic (“secular”) Religious Studies discipline at not just one Davos, but many. Its Protestant evangelical mission is very publicly stated as follows (Religion and the Public Square: Religious Grant Making at The Pew Charitable Trusts, by Luis E. Lugo):

“During the first 30 years of religious grant making, certain patterns were established that continue to this day. Perhaps the most pronounced of these is the Trusts’ distinct and continuous interest in the evangelical movement within American Protestantism. This was expressed during the early years primarily in the support that was extended to evangelical institutions of higher education, including colleges and seminaries, and to a variety of evangelical parachurch agencies, from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Christianity Today magazine to the American Bible Society and World Vision…”

“Some things are clear from this early period. One was the commitment of J. Howard Pew and others in the Pew family to support institutions that uphold historic Christian principles rooted in biblical standards. Another was their desire to see the Christian faith applied beyond the walls of the church to the great intellectual and social issues of the day…”

“[O]ne of the fundamental purposes of the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust: ‘To promote recognition of the interdependence of Christianity and freedom…'”

“The Pew Evangelical Scholars Program has encouraged the most talented evangelical scholars nationwide to produce outstanding work from a Christian perspective on topics important to their disciplines, and the Pew Younger Scholars Program has recruited the most intellectually talented graduates of evangelical colleges and seminaries to enter into academic careers…… Pew-funded scholars have produced an impressive array of major-press books, journal articles, edited collaborative volumes, presentations at annual scholarly conventions, and university lectures. Networks of evangelical scholars have been formed, and fruitful cross-disciplinary, cross-generational conversations have been generated…”

Furthermore, Pew Trust controls the supply of survey research data on public attitudes about religion; it dominates in giving the grants for scholarships and post-docs in the “secular” academic study of religion; and it funds a variety of major programs at the top universities. It is also one of the top two funding sources of the American Academy of Religion.

The Henry Luce Foundation also has a very solid Christian leaning, and Luce’s family was Christian evangelists. It is a similar private family endowment operating in this space. Since Mr. Luce is in his old age, his successors and other appointed trustees have taken over, and are said to have Christianized it further. I was informed (unconfirmed) by a reliable person close to the situation that even his present wife (who is sympathetic to Buddhist causes) was turned down by the controlling Christian trustees when she wanted to give certain grants to Buddhism-related causes.

Too much of this is kind of political influence is unofficial, confidential or is simply never compiled systematically for public scrutiny. It is very important to do a report on who funds what: I would be glad to pool resources and information with anyone interested to inquire into every funding source pertaining to India-related studies. (Funding agencies are already required to file annual reports on who they fund what amounts and for what purpose, and it would be a matter of compilation.)

In parallel, I would also recommend to Vijay that we propose a code of conduct for scholars and activists to voluntarily disclose their funding sources and affiliations publicly, not because there is necessarily anything wrong in every instance, but for the sake of transparency.

This disclosure is especially critical in the case of scholars with dual careers: one career is inside the academy that serves to legitimize them, and the other un/semi-official career is in often some vague, undefined, unaccountable affiliations classified under a meaningless umbrella such as “peace activist”.

Managed opposition

There are considerable mechanisms in the career maze that scholars must learn to get through to advance.

The management of controlled internal opposition is a major mechanism behind the success of the Western Grand Narrative, as illustrated by the following examples from diverse fields:

a) Exxon is the world’s largest investor in solar energy research, but in order to protect its billions of dollars in fossil fuel underground reserves, it must ensure that breakthroughs in solar energy do not advance too fast, or else the new energy sources would erode into its own asset value. On the other hand, it must periodically announce solar energy breakthroughs to give hope and to prevent genuine competition from filling the vacuum. So both sides of the competing interests are ultimately controlled by Exxon.

b) Many pseudo-democracies pretend to have oppositions, but these cosmetic-only oppositions are controlled by those in power.

c) Ronald Reagan used to periodically get his cronies to “roast” him on primetime TV shows, so as to be seen as having a good sense of humor and the ability to take criticism.

d) Musharraf got his chief nuclear scientist to publicly take the blame, and he instantly pardoned his own co-conspirator (who knew too much of the dirty laundry), thereby putting a stop to further inquiry. Officially, the due process has already been carried out as per the law, because the scapegoat confessed, and the General used his legal powers to pardon in the national interest. The US government quickly accepted the whole matter and slid it under the rug, while the controversy over WMD’s in Iraq (of far less security risk) takes center stage in the media. There was a deceptive arms-length relationship between the parties, because, in fact, they are potentially inter-related.

e) The funding of the World Social Forum by organizations like the Ford Foundation (until recently) is another good example of “managing dissent.”

Similarly, the academic system encourages Indian pseudo-intellectuals to engage in harsh criticism of the West, provided they do it using Western categories. This is managed so as to not become too intense, and yet to be severe enough to protect the system’s reputation.

So post-colonialism is largely a criticism from within the neocolonial system. In fact, it strengthens the Western Grand Narrative and pre-empts the potentially devastating criticism that could come from alternative worldviews using alternative categories. The third-world post-colonial critic is merely playing a script approved and supervised by the West. One should not imagine that these Indian scholars truly have unlimited freedom or agency, or even the training, to criticize the Western Grand Narrative (WGN) beyond some approved threshold. From the big icons – such as Bhabha, Spivak and Chakrabarthy – all the way down to ordinary undergraduate English majors who are trying to master “theory”, they are performing within the limits of different kinds of approved roles within the WGN.

The producers and directors of the Western Grand Narrative remain Western institutions, controlling the theater of activity through appointed string-pullers, including many Indians.

Carrots for compromise:

One must notice how Uma Narayan (whose criticism of Western feminist agendas was extensively quoted in the companion article on The Cartel’s ‘Theories’), got promoted as Director of the Women’s Studies Program at Vassar College, with the result that she no longer produces such provocative scholarship that questions Western feminism’s legitimacy to the same extent.

Another example is Gowri Vishwanathan, who wrote her brilliant book, Masks of Conquest(Oxford University Press, New Delhi 1998), in which she explains how English Literature was brought to India’s education system in the 19th century specifically for the purpose of breeding educated Indian babus who would be in awe of the culture of their European masters, and who would look down upon native language/literature. But, later, Vishwanathan wrote another kind of book, which makes Christian conversions seem good for Indians, and for this she got an award and her career advanced fast. She has now stopped writing the “Masks of Conquests”kinds of books, at least not with the same vigor, and has joined the Hindu(tva)-bashing activists.

These are just two of many similar examples of correlations between career advancement and a change in the nature of the scholarship. But one must not be too quick to infer causation, i.e. that one is the consequence of the other, at least not without further analysis. Furthermore, I want to clarify that I have great admiration for the earlier works of both these scholars, and my intention here is to wonder if they are helplessly paying the price of advancement in this system. They are merely examples of a widespread phenomenon that needs to be examined closer.

I will explain in future articles how carrots lure Indians into roles within the WGN that compromise their ability to challenge the WGN. “If they are potential challengers, buy them” – seems to be the plan in many cases. The individual scholar being appropriated is often in denial.


Vijay writes: “The post-colonial scholars who are more historically-minded and who are driven by theory are not in power… (Emphasis supplied.) And: the journal [of Subaltern Studies] itself has not superceded the more traditional authority of the Orientalist and quasi-Orientalists who continue to be dominant over the institutions of the field.” I agree with both these statements.

These statements confirm that, despite whatever so-called “resistance” these post-colonialists might have tried, they remain voices largely on the margins of Western academe. So Vijay appears confused over where he stands on this issue, and vacillates with three different positions: (1) He generally seems to agree with me that there is pro-Western bias. (2) But then he tries to explain it away by citing examples of atypical publications/individuals that are fighting this bias. (3) And then Vijay accepts that these attempts are on the margins and have failed to dislodge the entrenched biases. So he is back to square one.

Given #3, Vijay must agree with me that the problem remains, despite whatever “heroic” efforts some individuals might have attempted. As an activist, Vijay knows that just because we can mention a Dalit rally that happened yesterday, or a book protesting their plight, does not suffice as evidence that their problem is resolved. Yet, Vijay often lists bibliographies or names of individuals who are “resisting,” as a way to show that the problems I highlight have been “taken care of” already. He uses rare counter-examples as if the issue at hand is gone.

Vijay might (once again) respond trivially to my descriptions of Western government, church and private funding influences, and to my explanations that Indian scholars are the intellectual underdogs. By citing an example of someone’s writing, he might claim, “I already know it,” as if that matters. This is not the TV game, “Jeopardy,” so it is irrelevant what either of us already knows. Let us differentiate between a problem’s diagnosis and its treatment. That some lone voices might have diagnosed it already does not imply treatment. Furthermore, treatment does not imply cure. So the ground reality that Eurocentrism drives knowledge production and distribution is not voided by citing someone who already said this or that or noting some exceptions.

The post-colonial scholars are merely playing the roles designated for them inside the Western Grand Narrative. Anyone who does start to seriously challenge the WGN will be either be co-opted within the system with rewards (as mentioned above), or marginalized (with negative “Hindutva” branding). Sometimes a threat-reward combination can nudge the scholar to get on the “right track.”

What makes this system work is that ordinary desi writers/activists are in awe of the South Asianized icons who rule the ghetto of South Asian Studies. In India, most students in JNU’s English Department (and other prestigious English Departments), and to some extent in History, Sociology and Politics Departments, want to study Western literary “theory” more than anything else. This hero-worshipping of the gods/goddesses of trends is very high among Indians, and the lure of visas, travel, jobs and other symbols is like a giant suction pump attracting hordes of young people.

However, the Western academic mainstream does not respect post-colonialism very much and keeps it on the sidelines on a leash. It is an ornament in the portfolio and not seen as having substance.

The post-colonialist scholars’ main impact has been to make careers for themselves, based on exploiting white-guilt to create such academic programs, and to serve as role-models to reproduce more of their own kind back home.

Virtual “camps”:

Vijay writes that I do not understand “the camp structure of the academy, where scholars of different political and methodological views fall into different camps that both produce knowledge that can be read by each other, but who also produce critical work on each other’s work.” But I have shown (and will continue to show even further) that the different “camps” are ultimately sub-narratives and roles within the WGN.

Each “camp’s” inmates have the discretion to decorate their cells, to eat the food they like, to listen to their favorite music, and to congratulate themselves for being so free, at least relative to the images of the horrible culture back home. The actors performing in the WGN do have latitude to improvise, and even to resist, but only up to a limit.

This illusion of intellectual freedom is unexposed partly because of compartmentalization: The Peer-Review Cartel showed that overspecialization results in greater arbitrariness in the use of authoritative sources outside one’s own specialty. One may choose like-minded theories and ideological positions from the other disciplines, and bring in the referees that are suitable.

Home Team

What is needed is a home team grounded in Indic categories that is also able to do in-depthpurva-paksha of the West (which today’s experts in Indic siddhantas are unable to do and are even unaware of the need). A truly post-colonial home team would be immersed within the Indian traditions and be able to create counterpoints from within it, rather than continuing to view it as an object to be studied by theories developed in Western academic contexts resting on the pyramid of Western thought – from Greco-Roman, to European Enlightenment, to Postmodernism, and so forth.

Therefore, the desi South Asianists are not a home team, but are proxies appointed by the West to pretend to be India’s home team: This is part of the managed resistance program of the WGN. Many of them have good intentions and they need to learn Indian systems of thought. But right now, Indic thought is mostly in the hands of Western scholars, who have extracted many of their “original” theories and ideas from it (as in the example cited of Herb Benson of Harvard), while the Indians have been shamed into disdain of their heritage on sociopolitical grounds.

The Sepoy Army

Vijay writes that he does not know Courtright personally or professionally. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Vijay does not know Courtright’s work. Nevertheless, when I published a rejoinder to Courtright in India Abroad a couple of months ago, Vijay instantly posted the following call to action against me, to his FOIL comrades:

From: Vijay Prashad

Friends: In the latest issue of India Abroad, Rajiv Malhotra has written an article entitled “Satyagraha against academic defamation of Hinduism.” In the article, Malhotra, head of the Infinity Foundation, launches a satyagraha against religious studies in the US, particularly against how Hinduism Studies is taught. Some right-wing scholars have also launched the Dharma Association of North America, with a Nov. 21 conference at Atlanta. The paper carries a report from it. I wonder if there are some religious studies people on the FOIL list who might be interested in crafting a response to these developments. There is a need for a progressive voice in this debate over ‘who has the right to teach Hinduism’ and what kind of ‘Hinduism’ gets taught. Solidarity, Vijay.

It is encouraging that Vijay has apparently backed out of that project, presumably after he found that it was a complex matter with many protagonists already on many sides, and that FOIL did not have the necessary background or sophistication in Religious Studies to be able to make any worthwhile contribution. However, it would have been even better had he not mobilized his comrades in the first place, but had written his doubts directly to me in the same open spirit with which I wrote to him to get this debate started.

Even though Hindus in America are minorities, there is a contradiction between the Indian Left’s treatment of Hinduism in America and its treatment of Christianity/Islam in India (which are minorities there). I have not come across serious criticisms by the Indian Left of overly-rosy portrayals of “Christianity” in India, with the same vigor as it routinely attacks Hindu Americans’ “chauvinism.”

Nor have I come across the Indian Left’s criticism of the way Judeo-Christianity (as the majority religion in America) permeates American secular life, with the same vigor as its vicious attacks against Hinduism permeating Indian society (as the majority religion in India).

Therefore, the Indian Left has completely failed to switch contexts from India to USA when it critiques Hinduism in America, because it has not repositioned Hinduism in the American context as a minority religion deserving the same supportive activism that the Indian Left gives to other minority religions in USA and India.

Imagine as an analogy that Religious Studies was prevalent in India’s universities, and that as a part of this discipline, minority religions were covered with courses on Dalit Studies, Indian Islam Studies, Indian Christian Studies, etc. Now, what would be Vijay’s reaction if 90% of the academic scholars of Dalit Studies (as an example) were practicing Brahmins? Or, imagine if 90% of the scholars of Indian Islam were practicing Brahmins. (I use this analogy because only approximately 10% to 20% of the academic scholars of Hinduism Studies in USA have public identities as practicing Hindus.) In their defense, these practicing Brahmin scholars (of Dalit/Islam) would be able to prove their eminent academic credentials, their years of competent research, etc.

My guess is that Vijay would probably claim that (i) the Dalit/Muslim insider’s voice has a direct experiential feel about being a Dalit or Muslim, respectively, which the practicing Brahmin lacks and (ii) the practicing Brahmin represents a community with a competing history and interest and is likely to subconsciously superimpose his biases no matter how honest he may be as an individual.

Let us take this analogy further: Suppose an Indian Muslim activist starts to blow the whistle on the Brahmin-dominated study and teaching about Islam across Indian universities, by pointing out many instance of glaring errors and outright insults (the equivalent of Courtright’s, Doniger’s, Kripal’s, Caldwell’s, etc. depictions of Hinduism). Now my question is this: Would Vijay mobilize his Sepoy Army to go after such a Muslim writer because he dared to challenge the system’s asymmetries? I think not. But if Vijay can, with a clear conscience, answer this is the affirmative, then I would agree that his mobilization against me was well-intended (despite being ineffective due to FOIL’s lack of expertise in Religious Studies). If not, I must question the legitimacy behind such a mobilization.

In his soul-searching to answer the question raised above, Vijay must bear in mind that black Americans once had a similar struggle to gain direct participation in their portrayal in higher education, because until then it was white scholars who researched and taught about blacks. Furthermore, women’s studies in USA came about as a result of a similar activism by feminists who claimed that, even with the best of intentions, a male-dominated depiction of women was at least incomplete and potentially flawed. I am unable to fathom why the Indian Left denies Hindus in America the same rights and processes that are normal for all new groups and old minorities.

Furthermore, Vijay lists Gadhar, FOIL, and various Indian post-colonial scholars as pioneers in “resisting” against the dominant culture. He complements their courage and supports them. Why, then, did he not see my work in the same positive light? How am I different in my resistance against what I perceive as systemic Eurocentric biases against my tradition?

One can only presume that this global opposition by the Indian Left is peculiarly and asymmetrically directed towards Hinduism alone. While the Indian Left is allowed (by the Western academy) to tilt at the windmills of imperialism in ways that do not make much impact, the price they must pay for admission into this game is to get co-opted in the imperialist project, by doing the groundwork for Christian Evangelists, i.e. by demonizing Hinduism.

My hypothesis is that Jack Hawley, or some other “Barra Sahib,” encouraged or indirectly facilitated this mobilization by Vijay. After all, Vijay and I had never met or come into direct contact previously. But Hawley has had years of encounters with me and has tried every trick in his catalog to try to debunk my challenges to his fortress. While the Hawley matter is outside this debate, my question to Vijay is: Was Vijay co-opted as a sort of commando in Hawley’s Sena? If so, is this not another instance of getting browns fighting against browns?Why did Vijay fall for it so naively?

In any case, the closed-room Internet chatter among India’s Left about me is fascinating to watch. Here is an excited sepoy writing on FOIL’s list:

Usha Z:

Hi all, I’m enclosing an individual response by Raja who’s also critiqued the H-Asia reaction to Rajiv — please see below. As of now, Jo and Neilesh are signed on to craft the reponse. Where are all the other historians/south Asianists on foil? Please do join in — if anyone has a problem posting the response to H-Asia, I can do that. Would it be possible to sign off as FOInquilabiL? Or proxsa?

Another anxious voice of FOIL chimed in, calling me a “creep” without even knowing me:

Dear Usha, I just read the previous post with the responses from faculty…THe problem seems to be there are no critical anthro, soc, womens studies folks responding to this creep . so far seems mainly historians, poli science, south asian studies folks. peace, raja..

This fed the frenzy further, based on false data and outright misinformation, as contained in the following post.

From: J. Sharma

After reading about the Mehrotra piece, I went to the Infinity site and was perturbed to see that they are sponsoring a session on Teaching Indic Traditions at the Association of Asian Studies conference, and are also mobilising to influence the content of World History courses. I gather from their website they are already sponsoring Indic religious studies at Lancaster, UK(which otherwise has a very respected program) under the tutelage of Prof Julius Lipner who has strong links to the Hinduja Foundation, and a visiting position in Sanskrit at Harvard. So it would seem that they are now trying to enter History through the World History backdoor. I’d like to hear from fellow historians in particular, as it is probably necessary to alert professional bodies like the AAS and the AHA to the implications of this kind of opinion. If Usha, Daisy and Vijay have any more information…Again, I am fairly new to Foil and US academia, and might have missed some pertinent discussions in the past. I teach history but am not in an Indic/South Asian/Asian studies dept. I teach South Asia/British Imperial and World History courses. I plan to check out how H-Asia and other list-servs are reacting to this.

There is far too much garbage in the above email to be worth parsing out, except to point out how a scholar who is “new to FOIL and US academia” must establish her credentials as sepoy-in-training.

This mayhem went on, as illustrated below:

From: J. Sharma

Dear Usha and Neilesh,

I was wondering whether we should wait for Rajiv M’s promised second piece. In any case, I would suggest that since N and U are already putting something together we build on that. My sense is that we should take advantage of this encounter between concerned academics and activists to perhaps think out strategies about History (specifically of South Asia). And since these seem to be more public than I imagined, I’d rather those of us who are interested get together in a sub-set, at least while we are discussing things through.

(Note : Since I am not a member of the FOIL list, all the emails quoted above were sent to me anonymously by someone. Some of them came from multiple senders)

Opening the fortress gates

I am glad that Vijay wrote the following in his previous post in this debate: “I do not agree with the view that academics should not have an open dialogue with those who are not academics… Vijay then asks me to cite evidence to demonstrate any lack of open dialog from the academic side. So I shall now give a few examples, starting with the fact that FOIL’s own behind-the-scenes approach (as illustrated above) is not indicative of the “open dialog” principle he espouses.

Furthermore, Vijay was the keynote speaker at a Harvard conference, on November 8, 2003, meant for South Asian educators, in which, as per some attendees, Vijay spent much of his time making outlandish insinuations against me personally. From what I have heard (and I am still hoping to get more concrete facts), he combined wild conjectures and guilt-by-association methodologies to demonize me. This can hardly be considered Vijay’s “open dialog,” because: (1) I was not invited to respond at the event (nor was I notified of the event or that I was the topic of discussion even afterwards), making this a trial-in-absentia. (2) I was never contacted by Vijay to verify his allegations about me, which violates his principles of empirically-based inquiry. (3) The correlates cited were sketchy at best, and were clearly over-interpreted to say the least.

At the Delhi conference in December, it was relayed to me (since I was absent) that Vinay Lal defended Courtright’s book in private conversations. (This book states that Ganesha represents a “limp phallus” in Hindu worship, among other award-winning conclusions.) Lal’s argument rested on the “credibility of the scholar” since it had been published by Oxford University Press, who wouldn’t publish it if it wasn’t of the highest academic standards, versus the lack of credibility of the critics outside academia.

The on-going discussions at Emory, between the Courtright camp and those who seek to ban his book (which I do not support), exclude me, although I am referenced by both camps. But even more importantly, why has Courtright not engaged with the point-by-point Sulekha critiqueabout his book in the same manner as if it had been done by a “peer”?

The discussion list of the Religions In South Asia academic group disallows non-scholars (as defined by the Western academy) from membership. (Of course, these rules are occasionally bent to allow a few non-academicians who will tow their line.)

The relatively new Hinduism Unit of AAR, that was created specifically to give Hinduism a balanced voice, has had proposals from Tracy Pintchman (former head of the Unit) to amend the charter in order to block voting rights of those she calls Indian “engineers.” (Just as the Amish people call all outsiders “Yankees,” so also some RISA scholars think that all diaspora members must be engineers, even though many are physicians, corporate executives, business owners, and so forth!)

The Hindu-Christian Studies group that meets at AAR used to have membership open to anyone who paid the dues. But, whenever certain scholars would post a link about some Hindus committing atrocities (this was long before Godhra, etc. happened), some non-academician would post another link about Hindus being killed in Bangladesh or some other place. The powers in control could not tolerate the latter, as they were in place to do “data-gathering” only about the former. So they suddenly disbanded the list, and made a fresh one in which they have denied membership to all those who criticize their biases. In effect, this is a Hindu-Christian dialog in which the Hindu proxies are selected by the Christian team. Once again, Christianity, Inc. decides who is licensed to speak for Hinduism.

The Ann Gold saga described earlier in this debate is about my unsuccessful attempts to convince anthropologists to redefine what they mean by “peer.” My position has been that the village women of Ghatyali (Rajasthan) must be repositioned from being Ann’s “native informants” to being her “peers.” They must be able to interact with her as equals, to give their views on whatever she has produced over twenty years about their culture. The West should respect other cultures as peers, and get rid of the nonsensical and outmoded “native informant” asymmetry that puts the Western scholar on higher ground.

Furthermore, I have proposed that every AAR panel on any Hindu tradition or facet of society (Vaishnavs, Shaivites, some jati/tribe X, or whatever), should invite a respondent from that particular group who is their official (or unofficial) spokesperson, especially one who has issues about the scholars’ work. I even offered to help facilitate the travel in those cases where it becomes necessary. But the academy has been disinterested.

Each of the above examples supports my claim that the academy is closed to outsiders’ attempts to engage it.

It is noteworthy that Dalai Lama has had a decade-long peer-to-peer dialog with Western scientists at very high levels (in physics, health sciences, neurology, consciousness studies, etc.). There are at least half a dozen volumes published from this dialog. It is held every year or two, in either Dharamsala or in the US. The most recent one was in the Boston area and resulted in a cover story on The Science of Meditation in TIME magazine. Note that while the sub-text in this piece is “Just Say OM”, there is emphasis on Buddhism but no mention of Hinduism. The Dalai Lama and his tradition are not performing in native informant roles, but have negotiated a peer status effectively. Academia has no similar peer relationship with Hindu leaders, partly because (i) Hindu gurus do not have their Western disciples as professors in important places in the same manner as the Dalai Lama does, and (ii) the Indian Left has done a great job in demonizing and delegitimizing Hinduism.

Finally, Vijay’s response also ignores very many key points in The Peer-Review Cartel. But since I am off to India, this matter shall have to be continued later…

Published: February 12, 2004