AAP survey shows leadership still trusted but little else

Sankrant.org surveyed AAP core volunteers, included people that were AAP candidates for the Lok Sabha elections. The results showed disappointment at the election results and uncertainty about the party’s future direction. However, nearly half of those surveyed still said they trusted AAP’s leadership despite the problems.

Nearly 9% of the respondents were AAP Lok Sabha candidates, while a whopping 62.7% had applied to be candidates to the Lok Sabha.

Relationship with AAP

Relationship with AAP

The Lok Sabha candidate pool turned into an effective volunteer and member recruitment system for AAP. 77% of the respondents agreed that they worked very hard for the AAP Lok Sabha campaign. However, most were disappointed with the result with only 6% strongly agreeing that AAP did well in the elections and another 13% agreeing. The strongest reaction was to AAP’s strategy to contest 400+ Lok Sabha seats with 2/3rd of the respondents disagreeing with the decision.

Nevertheless, trust in AAP’s leadership was evenly divided with exactly 50% feeling they could trust the leadership while another 50% disagreed with that. Though AAP leadership was seen to be trustworthy by half, a whopping 69% disagreed that AAP was on the right track.

Question for AAP

Question for AAP

So now what? 47.1% of the respondents wanted to continue being active in AAP while another 20.5% were quite sure they wanted nothing to with it anymore. The remaining 32.3% were in wait and watch mode, suggesting that the AAP leadership has its work cut out for it in keeping its flock together.

Plans after Elections

Plans after Elections

Though only 47.1% of the respondents were certain to stick with AAP, a slightly larger number, 53.2% didn’t want to jump into anything else as of yet.

Nearly a third (29.7%) of the respondents want to be part of a new political party started by ex-AAP people, showing that people involved with AAP are keen to stay in politics, whether or not as part of AAP. 17.1% felt that they would rather be part of a non-political issue based organization to influence the government.

Plans after AAP

Plans after AAP

Part II will share specific comments made by people in the free response section of the survey. This survey was done on the behalf of AAP founder Ashwini Upadhyay who provided the list for the survey.

India as a dharma society and the rule of law

The way forward is not about going back to some hypothetical golden age or denying that we have real problems to solve today. But our problems appear unsolvable because we have failed to understand ourselves in our own language, on our own terms.

[The way forward is not about going back to some hypothetical golden age or denying that we have real problems to solve today. But our problems appear unsolvable because we have failed to understand ourselves in our own language, on our own terms.]

Some years ago I was out on a date with an American woman and she asked me why I came to the US. “For cultural anthropology of the natives,” I said. She started laughing but I was only half-joking. My reason to go to the US was to study American society. This was a country that dominated the world both economically and culturally in recent times. Much to learn there was, as Yoda would have said. It’s nice they gave me a scholarship.

So I loved and lived America. I participated in the American dream. Live-in relationship, shotgun Vegas wedding. Home in the suburbs with 2.5 children (apparently that’s the average) and American-style divorce. (Half of American marriages end in divorce) I volunteered for their folk festivals, skied, kayaked, became part of a conga-playing band, joined an esoteric Christian group, and ate steak. I was asked one time in my Christian group when I stopped being Hindu. I was surprised by the question. I told them I never did. I was there to learn.

One time, when working as a manager in a large software company, I was faced with an unconventional challenge. One of my employees, an engineer I will call Fred, stabbed another employee. Fred was a bright guy, a UC Berkeley grad, though quite introverted and shy. He had finally managed to get a girlfriend. He, his best friend John, and the girlfriend Sally would regularly hang out together. One day he went home a little early and found John and Sally in flagrante delicto. Fred lost it, at having been so betrayed, got a kitchen knife and stabbed John. Luckily it was a flesh wound, John was not hurt much, but Fred was in a pickle.

My manager Greg called me. I was told that Fred had to be fired because John had registered a complaint against him. Yes, of course, I thought. There is no law against sleeping with your best friend’s girlfriend and against causing the grievous hurt of betrayal. Fred could have killed himself and that would still not implicate John. But there is a law against Fred getting angry and stabbing John. I defended Fred but was overruled. Fred was fired.

What is legal and what is moral is different. In American society, the two are often conflated. There is a reason for this. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, (the Christian) God is the lawgiver. God gave the law to his people in His Book. Though this has been secularized, and the Book has been turned into the Constitution, this relationship with law still remains. Americans are law-abiding. They take the law very seriously. Law-breakers are criminal and evil.

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Fear of the Lord has now become fear of the law. Though this is not apparent in a superficial look, America is virtually a police state. It has the highest incarceration rate in the world. While the US is only 5 per cent of the world’s population it has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Over 2 million Americans are in jail. Felons are dis-enfranchised even after their sentence is over. They can no longer vote, so lose the basic right of citizenship. The consequences of breaking the law are huge.

By contrast, India has the lowest rates of incarceration in the world (apart from few very small countries of population under 10 million). It also has one of the lowest numbers of police per capita. The police that is there is not very effective. It comes from a colonial setup that works on the behest of the powerful and treats ordinary citizens as lower life forms. India’s judicial system is also notoriously slow and inefficient. Cases drag on for years. Relatively speaking, it is a lawless land.

But, here lies the rub. Even with an incarceration rate that is nearly 20 times that of India, per capita police more than twice that of India, and an efficient judicial system, the US murder rate is higher than India’s. Homicides are usually not dramatically under-reported, as rapes or other crimes with social stigma, so are a good measure of crime. Why is it that India, with very little law enforcement, has a lower crime rate than the US with its formidable law enforcement system?

The short answer is that India is a society that does not work on the basis of law. We have no lawgiver in the sky. Indian society operates on dharma, on conscience. I am not making the case here, at least yet, that one is better than another. The American system is highly organized and well-run. It works well for many of its citizens. I am saying it is different from how India works.

How does the difference between orderliness due to fear of law and due to dharma show up in real life? Western society operates very well as long as the external organizing systems are in place. It is when that external system breaks down that the problems arise. Society goes into lawlessness. The book ‘Lord of the Flies’ tells the story of stranded English schoolboys who descend into barbarity, when removed from law. Man is a sinner. In the absence of the patriarchal Government (literally from the Father, in heaven), all bets are off. Civilization is a thin veneer.

To see this in practice, let us compare with Japan, another dharma-ordered society. When hurricane Katrina happened in New Orleans in US in 2005, the city quickly descended into chaos. Looting remained “rampant and out of control” even a year after the hurricane. By contrast, after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, there was a marked absence of looting and society remained cooperative and orderly. This orderliness and mutual support was also seen in the response of village communities in India after the 2004 Tsunami.

Social theories from a Christian law-based society cannot easily be transposed to a dharma-based society. They yield nonsensical results. Unfortunately the bulk of social theory within India uses Western derived theories. Which is why Indian social problems appear permanently incorrigible and our social scientists ineffectual.

So how can we apply this understanding to societal problems like rape? Firstly, once we understand that Indian society is not law-based, promulgating more laws will generally not solve anything. Nor will increasing the number of policeman or blaming culture or patriarchy, another term we have recently copied from Western scholarship. The Pope, the same root as ‘father’ is the ultimate patriarch. Christianity is rooted in patriarchy, including the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (As erstwhile-Catholic Jeffrey Armstrong says humorously, they killed their mother so only the ghost is left). Eve, created as an appendage of Adam, is the cause of original sin. No wonder their feminists were up against the patriarchy.

This does not mean that men are not chauvinists in India or that women are not discriminated against in India. Even while we have celebrated Mother Divine we have treated women badly. There are historic reasons for this (Veena Oldenburg’s Dowry Murder is a great start to understand how the status of women in India decreased during British Times.) That historical study is useful in that it can help us craft better solutions to problems, not as an excuse for doing nothing. But when we DO something we must come up with and user our own models for understanding our society and how it works.

Some Western studies show, for instance, that pornography does not lead to increased sexual crimes. This may be true for a law-governed society where crime is largely managed by fear of law. However that may or may not hold for dharma society. We need to study it. In our own models sanskara and vichara are both very important. As we think, so we do. The development and training of good habits of the mind, sanskara, help in the cultivation of good conduct, vyavhara.

This is not about superficial ideas whether women should be ‘allowed’ to wear mini-skirts or Western clothes or not (allowed by whom?). They should be able to wear what they wish. We do not want to turn to burkha solutions. In fact, traditional Indian society was far freer with the human body and with sexuality. Heck, the sari with the waist showing is still more revealing than a T-shirt over jeans and, and many Indian men would happily attest, far more sexy. The Indian solution was neither to put women into burkhas or put ‘the fear of god’ into men but to culture the mind, to make it samskrit, so it could be disciplined. When the mind is disciplined, it does not need to put others into burkhas. That is the path to freedom, for ourselves, and for others. Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodah is the first line of the yoga sutras. Yoga is (self) control over the tendencies of the mind.

The highest forms of our civilisation were aimed at taking us to this higher mind. It was true of our dance, our music, our art, and our architecture. It was true of our food and our systems of medicine. It was true of our entertainment, of our kirtans, bhajans and epics. This had space for both artha, pursuit of material well-being and kama, the pursuit of aesthetic pleasure, sensuous and sexy, rich and poetic. It worked when done in accordance with dharma and never completely losing sight of the aim of moksha, or true freedom.

But when kama becomes a coarse and gross titillation; when it is manipulated in advertising towards the pursuit of artha, the mind is not moved towards the higher. We import a low-grade consumerism where sultry models sell cheap gadgets and expensive cars. We make it into some kind of ‘advanced’ high culture, while it is really the primitive culture of an unrefined mind. Porn is available at the click of a button but the cultivation of dharma has become an “unsecular” afterthought. At the same time we keep Victorian laws and are stuck to a Victorian morality that we call our traditions. We look up to a civilisation deeply conflicted about sin and sex and kept intact by the police force of law, without taking the time to study if it is an example worth emulating. Our media has turned into trash rags. Just pick up a recent issue of Times of India as an example. Here is a recent screenshot from Rediff, the top Indian news site.

India as a Dharma_1

“Sports” is about “Brazilian Prostitutes”, ironic when our Victorian morality makes prostitution illegal in India. And since when did it become sport? “Getting ahead” is about “Yummy Mummies”, sexualizing mothers. Then we have a photo of barely clad beach girl to “celebrate summer.”

The point is not the amount of flesh at display. Our temple dancers and sculptures had fewer coverings and greater voluptuousness. Remember, these figures were on and around our temples. The point is that we have lost the cultivation of the mind that made this openness possible in our culture.

These popular images—on billboards, in the media, in our item numbers, are no temple dance. They are simply the cheap thrills of a primitive mind. They do not help cultivate the mind but leave it agitated. Women are agitated with the unobtainable body image, all the better to sell artificial beauty aids to and men with the airbrushed unobtainable female. So instead of cultivating the mind, we have adopted cheap titillation of the mind with low quality impressions and think this is part of being “developed” and “advanced.”

Then we wonder why rapes are increasing. We are a society based on dharma, not law. Dharma rakshati rakshitaha. We repeat aped Western social science wisdom that rape has nothing to do with sex, but we have never scientifically verified this independently in an Indian setting. To top the hypocrisy, on the same few square inches of the Rediff website we have the pontification of the social scientist on how “women are being used to create ideas of Indian identity.” We do not see our contradictions.

The way forward is not about going back to some hypothetical golden age or denying that we have real problems to solve today. But our problems appear unsolvable because we have failed to understand ourselves in our own language, on our own terms. We can learn from the West. We can emulate aspects of their well-functioning systems of local government and law and marry it with dharma society to create a better world. Japan has dharma and well-functioning law, resulting in one of the lowest homicide rates in the world. But even to learn from others we must study them on our own terms. But how can we do that when our entire academic social disciplines exist on borrowed terms and borrowed theories?

We need to move forward using our own highest knowledge and combining it with the knowledge we choose to use from others. The first step of this research is in refining the chitta, our own mind, through the practices of sadhana and satsang. Without these our own tradition is incomprehensible to us, no matter how many texts we read. My own personal journey combined this sadhana with a study of the West since the shiny appearance of the success of Western civilisation had left us blinded. I travelled far and am learning every day. The more I travel the closer I find myself to home.

(Sankrant can be followed on twitter @sankrant)

This article is slightly edited from original published at NitiCentral.com

Varanasi should showcase timeless India, not flyover modernity

Varanasi Should showcase_1

I recently read a news report which said that planning for Varanasi’s development is in high gear. This is welcome news. One of the highlights being touted is a scheme for ‘sixty flyovers’ to reduce traffic congestion. This is hardly a highlight. It is shortsighted to look at Varanasi’s planning as that for any other modern city. The charm of Varanasi is precisely the opposite – that it is the oldest living city in the world. To enhance Varanasi’s status as a world tourist destination, there is need to highlight and preserve the Varanasi that is redolent of thousands of years of the Indian civilisation. In this regard, we can learn from Europe and cities like Bruges in Belgium, a UNESCO World Heritage site that I visited a few years ago.

Modi’s promise to Varanasi

Europe is discovering that the key to revitalising cities is not more flyovers but less automobile traffic. Pedestrian zones and non-motorised traffic areas enhance human elements of city life. Large parts of Varanasi should be made traffic-free. Innovative public transportation including low-speed electric vehicles and traditional carriages can serve these areas and add to tourist charm. Rather than planning with concrete and tar, ancient brickwork will make stepping into the city a walk into a bygone time.

Bruges is one of the foremost tourist spots in Europe as its central city is preserved to give a feeling of stepping back in its thousand-year old heritage. For Europe, a thousand year is a long time. For the US, a hundred year is a long time in history. India, where our history goes back many thousand years, we have less regard for it. But Varanasi needs to be an exception.

Modi vacates Vadodara Lok Sabha seat, retains Varanasi to serve ‘Ganga Maa’

Rather than modernising Varanasi, the focus should be on its beautification and cleanliness. Ugly telephone pole and electricity wires need to be moved underground. The city should be made plastic and garbage-free. Rather than trying the difficult task of changing the Varanasi’s culture of chewing pan and spitting, spittoons should be placed at various spots. These can be aesthetically designed and integrated into the feel of the city and cleaned regularly.

If Varanasi can be kept clean, and enabled to retain a sense of what the city was a hundred, five hundred or even a thousand years ago, tourists will stream in from all over the world.  People will not come to see its flyovers. They will come to embrace its ancient spirit. We can use technology in Varanasi- electric vehicles and underground wiring – but it should be hidden and out of sight. Let Varanasi preserve the feel of the Rasa of ancient India. And when tourists come, let’s not serve them coke.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Dead Peoples Tell No Tales

Locating Doniger in the discourse of power

“I set out to grasp the mechanisms of the effective exercise of power; and I do this because those who are inserted in these relations of power, who are implicated therein, may, through their actions, their resistance, and their rebellion, escape them, transform them—in short, no longer submit to them.” Michel Foucault

Apparently Hindus are hurt at Doniger’s book and at American academia. They want the American academy to be fair and balanced in its portrayal of Hinduism. This is a naive aspiration. Once we understand the dynamics of power, we may even conclude it to be undesirable. We locate American academic writing about Hinduism as part of the dynamics of power and knowledge—when does the mass of opinion emanating from the Western academy shift to praising something and when is it disparaged? Without understanding the power relations that create the stage for Doniger penning this op-ed in the New York Times[1], when scholarly criticism of her work is all but absent from academia and mainstream American (and Westernized Indian) media, is to labor under the illusion of Hinduism and South Asian studies in American being a place for “fair play” rather than as an extension of the institutions of imperial power.

To see this we examine the case of another set of “Indians”, the Native Americans. For many centuries, when the lands of the Natives were being conquered and their destruction was part of Manifest Destiny, the overwhelming thrust in the depiction of Native Americans in Western media and academia was decidedly negative.

From the first images and descriptions available to Europeans in the early sixteenth century, the Natives were depicted as “savages.” The best of these created the image of the “noble savage.” One of the early works in “establishing the early conception of the Indian was an oft-reprinted tract of Amerigo Vespucci.”  In Vespucci’s Mundus Novus, Indians are graphically depicted as without religion (and therefore without morals) lecherous cannibals. These images became popular in European literature as in the Dutch pamphlet “And they ete also on[e] another[.] The man eteth his wife[,] his chylderene…”[2]

These quotes are “Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the present,” by Robert Berkhofer. The book shall itself became an artifact in our study.

Before we return to Doniger and the Hindus, we have to understand that both the “left” and the “right” of American scholarship created their separate demonization of the Natives. The “left” branch of Western academia moved on to ”Scientific” Racism in nineteenth century social sciences in its depiction of Native Americans, created theories of the “Idea of Progress and the State of Savagery in the History of Mankind” and extended the theories of Evolution to classifying “Primitive Peoples” in nineteenth century anthropology.

From the “right” the picture was obvious. God had given “true religion” to His people and everyone else was in the clutch of Satan. This imagery is still alive, though in a hidden form in Doniger’s narrative.

To understand the Indian context of this, we have to remember that the left and right are aligned in this demonization; just the vocabulary is slightly different. One flavor may cite the influence of Satan and the other the “natural inferiority” of the race. As those expressions become politically incorrect, alternatives terminology such as “third world” or “developing countries” and “restoring human rights” are now preferred. We will dig into these in a future work. The image creation serves a similar objective of primitive, backward savages.

Without diving too deeply in the modern image creation of the “savage Hindu”, the pertinent question for this thesis is—when does Western scholarship about Native Americans start to change? Western scholarship towards the Natives starts to shift once they are seeing as a dying race and the threat perception from them has decreased. The first shift is romanticizing the erstwhile “demon” as the “noble savage.”

“To pity truly the poor dying Indian, American authors and artists had to transform him from a bloodthirsty demon into a Noble Savage. That transformation occurred late in the United States compared to Europe. Except for a few examples among eighteenth-century accounts, the Noble Savage in the United States is really a nineteenth-century fashion. Just as it has been said that the Europeans could easily ennoble the Indian because of their remoteness from savage warfare, so commentators have argued that American authors and artists of the Eastern United States only conceived of the Indian as noble after that section of the country had eliminated its Indian problem. Even so, the number of truly Noble Savages in book or painting was relatively few and relegated to the far away or the long gone.”[3]

Spotty instances of the “noble savage” start to appear because even though the savage was dying, he still had the ability to put up a fight. The end of the nineteenth century see the death of “Sitting Bull” and the massacre at Wounded Knee where over three hundred Natives, including women and children were killed after they had surrendered their weapons. Wounded Knee was the last armed resistance by Native Americans against extermination. Soldiers responsible for the massacre were given the highest US Army award, the Medal of Honor; twenty were given out for this battle alone.

The dead Indian can be a good Indian

Western scholarship towards Native Americans starts to shift once they have, for all practical purposes, been exterminated and no longer pose a threat. Still as late as the 1960’s, official reports were being written about the “Indian problem.”  When it is clear that the “Indian problem” is largely solved through a combination of extermination and disenfranchisement, “liberal” scholarship can now resurrect the nostalgia.

“If Whites regarded the Indian as a threat to life and morals when alive, they regarded him with nostalgia upon his demise— or when that threat was safely past…”[4]

Of course, this book written by Berkhofer in the 1970s’s, despite its good intentions cannot emerge till the late twentieth century. I call it “oops we were mistaken” scholarship. The Western civilizational impetus would simply not allow it to become mainstream before its time.

The interesting point is when does “oops we were mistaken” scholarship emerge. It emerges when the civilizational genocide of Native Americans is complete. Christianized, confined to reservation and dis-armed the Native American poses no threat. There is no danger in extolling his civilization. In fact, praising him helps in reinforcing the self-image of the contemporary enlightened non-prejudiced liberal academic, no longer consigning the other as Satanic. Except for the next civilization that is not yet quite dead.

Why is the Hindu considered a threat?

What has all this to do with Doniger and Hinduism and “South Asian” scholarship in the academy? Well, as is apparent from Doniger’s book, the Hindu is not dead yet and is still perceived as a threat.

For Judeo-Christian monotheism, deeply buried in the Western psyche in both its religious and secular versions, Hinduism is the “other.” From the first injunction of the god of Moses “thou shalt have no other gods before me,” Hinduism with its myriad incomprehensible gods serve as the polytheistic other, the strange, the savage, the backward to support the self-image of the progressive, Judeo-Christian, enlightened West.

As Jan Assman states in “The Price of Monotheism,”

“Polytheism is a concept suitable only for describing monotheism as a counterreligion that polemically distances itself from other religions.” [5]

Hinduism is the “other” for Western Civilization in both its Judeo-Christian and secular variants.

Invoking Satan has gone of out fashion so the liberal academy has transcribed it to a new motif. Let us hear Doniger speak in her New York Times essay:

“My case has helped highlight the extent to which Hindu fundamentalists (Hindutva-vadis, those who champion “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness”) now dominate the political discourse in India.

Two objections to the book cited in the lawsuit reveal something about the Hindutva mentality. First, the suit objects “that the aforesaid book is written with Christian Missionary Zeal.” This caused great hilarity among my friends and family, since I grew up in a Jewish family in Great Neck, N.Y.

But when I foolishly decided to set the matter straight — “Hey,” I wrote to an accuser, “I’m Jewish” — I was hit with a barrage of poisonous anti-Semitism. One correspondent wrote: “Hi. I recently came across your book on hindus. Where you try to humiliate us. I don’t know much about jews. Based on your work, I jews are evil. So Hitler was probably correct in killing all jews in Germany. Bye.”

This narrative is both carefully and craftily done for the New York Times reader. Doniger, as she has done for years, avoided all mention of scholarly criticism from the Hindu community that have found her narratives, shoddy, prejudiced and ridden with flaws. [6] Since it is no longer politically correct to depict the savage by how he decorates the body or by using references to Satan, the contemporary motif of pure evil, Hitler, is invoked instead. Hitler is Satan secularized. Citing an anonymous conversation, she shadow boxes with her straw man Jew-hating Hindu, never mind that Hindus are one of the few peoples that have no record of persecuting Jews.

This is of course, standard fare in the American academy (and its Westward looking Indian counterpart). The interested reader can simply do a search for academic articles and books with “Hindutva” in the title to see how consistently Satanic it is. I attended a talk given by Paul Brass at the University of Washington some years ago, which I thought was a pretty one-sided understanding of religious conflict in India. I went up to him and asked him what he thought of Ashutosh Varshney’s work that I thought was a bit more even-handed in tracing parties in India beyond “Hindutva” that also played a part in fanning religious conflict. Brass’ voice dropped to a whisper—“didn’t you hear he (Varshney) is a BJP man.”  It helped me see the civilizational impulse that produced the inquisition and, much closer to home in America, McCarthyism. I almost found myself mumbling, “I am not, and never have been, a member of the Bharatiya Janta Party.”

Returning to Doniger, she knows exactly how to hit all the right notes. She also brings out the “good Hindu” and the bad Hindu motif.

“I have long been inured to the vilification of my books by a narrow band of narrow-minded Hindus.”

Ah yes, the narrow-minded Hindu. And who is the narrow-minded Hindu? Anyone who criticizes her scholarship, of course or who objects to her fantastic depictions of Hinduism is narrow-minded, not unlike any Native American resisting extermination, who was obviously “violent.” Here she invokes the imagery of the “savage other” vilifying her books rather than referencing the many scholarly criticisms of her work by practicing Hindus, including the compilation in the book “Invading the Sacred.” This is hardly new. Doniger has repeatedly refused to engage with scholarly critiques of her work coming from the Hindu community, preferring to shadow box with her caricatures of the savage other.

I had first encountered Doniger’s work when I read the article on Hinduism that my children would read in Microsoft’s Encarta. That time I did not know who Doniger was. But apparently she was the authority on Hinduism. What I read had practically no resemblance to the Hinduism I grew up with. It could only subject my children, growing up in the US, to further racial prejudice and unfounded stereotypes. This is what Doniger thought that US children reading Encarta should know about Hinduism.

“Shiva embodies the apparently contradictory aspects of a god of ascetics and a god of the phallus. He is the deity of renouncers, particularly of the many Shaiva sects that imitate him: Kapalikas, who carry skulls to reenact the myth in which Shiva beheaded his father, the incestuous Brahma, and was condemned to carry the skull until he found release in Benares; Pashupatas, worshipers of Shiva Pashupati, “Lord of Beasts”; and Aghoris, “to whom nothing is horrible,” yogis who eat ordure or flesh in order to demonstrate their complete indifference to pleasure or pain. Shiva is also the deity whose phallus (linga) is the central shrine of all Shaiva temples and the personal shrine of all Shaiva householders; his priapism is said to have resulted in his castration and the subsequent worship of his severed member.

As Durga, the Unapproachable, she kills the buffalo demon Mahisha in a great battle; as Kali, the Black, she dances in a mad frenzy on the corpses of those she has slain and eaten, adorned with the still-dripping skulls and severed hands of her victims. The Goddess is also worshiped by the Shaktas, devotees of Shakti, the female power. This sect arose in the medieval period along with the Tantrists, whose esoteric ceremonies involved a black mass in which such forbidden substances as meat, fish, and wine were eaten and forbidden sexual acts were performed ritually.”[7]

This in an essay that had no references to puja, yoga or satsang, practices that are more commonplace practices of Hindus. The imagery of this account writing for children, while well aware of her audience, can be well be compared to the fantastic descriptions of the Native peoples as cannibals and sexual threats to White purity while preparing the grounds for slaughter. My criticism of Doniger’s piece at that time had resulted in Microsoft Encarta removing that article in subsequent editions. [8]

Of course, anyone pointing out that American children may benefit from a more contemporary and commonplace understanding of their Hindu neighbours must be a “narrow-minded” bad Hindu. And who is the good Hindu? Doniger continues:

“The dormant liberal conscience of India was awakened by the stunning blow to freedom of speech that had been dealt by my publisher in giving in to the demands of the claimants“

Here Doniger comes in as the White savior, her work resulting no less than in “waking the dormant liberal conscience of India.”

Doniger could have mentioned in her op-ed that the colonial era law, section 295A, which she mischaracterizes as a “blasphemy law”, which allows books to be banned for injuring religious sentiments came about because of Muslim protests, and has, more often than not used to ban books objectionable to Muslims including Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.  Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen’s work “Lajja” that documents the genocide of Hindus in Bangladesh was banned by the Communist (Left) government of West Bengal since it was objectionable to Muslims and the writer herself was hounded out. That many of the books banned in independent India were banned by the Congress Party either due to sensitivities of non-Hindus or of its own political sensitivities. That, if the equivalent of Doniger’s book on Hindus had been written about other religious communities in India, there would major agitations in the streets, such as the violent protests about an American film about Mohammad some years ago.  None of this would, of course, have helped Doniger make her point about “savage right-wing Hindus.” A violent action from Hindus regarding her book would have delighted Doniger and made her job easier for the “Hindu as savage” portrayal, but unfortunately the Hindus did not oblige.

As it turns out, her book was not even banned, and she had to make up for a bad situation. The book was withdrawn by the publisher due to a peaceful, legal, civil action by a mild-mannered Hindu school teacher. Nonetheless, what she lacks in facts she makes up in imagination, much like her other scholarly writing.

“I think the ugliness of the word “pulp” is what struck a nerve, conjuring up memories of “Fahrenheit 451” and Germany in the 1930s. The outrage had been pent up for many years, as other books, films, paintings and sculptures were forced out of circulation by a mounting wave of censorship.

My case was simply the last straw, in part because of its timing, just when many in India had begun to view with horror the likelihood that the elections in May will put into power Narendra Modi, a member of the ultra-right wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.”

To make the case for her Western liberal audience—she again, invokes Satan, in the figure of Hitler, that has been carefully grafted onto the popular Indian leader Modi and her self-important hubris makes the withdrawal of her book the “last straw” in a chain of Satanic acts. Of course Satan as Modi had absolutely nothing to do with her book or its withdrawal, but evidence was never really the strong suit of witch-hunts. A post on a white supremacist bulletin board from 2010 provides more evidence of Doniger being a soldier in that army than her anonymous citation of a Jew-hating Hindu in the New York Times op-ed. The following bulletin board thread is a query from a white nationalist on how to show “Asians” in a bad light.[9]

Posted by jorrdannn 

I go to a school which is heavily diverse and liberal, (dont worry im leaving for texas in 4 months). I expressed my beliefs particularly on asians and recieved many ‘dont hate’ speeches and was called a joke. How do I get my point across standing alone? 

Response by greatviking

Use references by Professors who have written about Asians. Not sure which group of Asian you are talking about (Middle Eastern, Indian, Far Eastern), but Prof. Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago has written a lot about Indians and Hindus that annoy them. She is a true White Nationalist soldier which is why Microsoft Encarta targeted her and once removed her article from their encyclopedia.

Check her out though — http://divinity.uchicago.edu/faculty/doniger.shtml

I should also add that she is one of the WNs who is from the left (there is another thread which deals with the subject of whether one can be a White Nationalist and a Communist). Her method is primarily to point out the negative influence that Hindus have had on the world in general, but this does not mean that she does not highlight White pride. She does that too in her books when she gets the chance.

If you were talking of Middle Eastern Asians, you should be able to use he works of any number of scholars. If it is the far-eastern Asians you speak about, then it is a little more difficult to find scholarly stuff on them.

Using authoritative works by Professors always convinces most students. That is what you should do.

Still, that bulletin board post does not past scholarly muster as evidence and we can hardly hold Doniger guilty because of it. Nonetheless it is still more credible than Doniger’s New York Times anonymously quoted correspondence with the Hitler-esque Hindu that she uses to embellish her image of savagery, much like the embellishments in her academic work.

There is clearer evidence that Doniger’s vilification of Hinduism is not accidental; it has a long history and is quite deliberate.  In the op-ed she comes as the great White hope to rescue Hinduism, no doubt much like the Native American traditions were “rescued” by settlers over the ages:

“That’s the Hinduism that Hindutva-vadis are defending, while they deny the one that the Christian missionaries hated and that I love and write about — the pluralistic, open-ended, endlessly imaginative, often satirical Hinduism. The Hindutva-vadis are the ones who are attacking Hinduism; I am defending it against them.”

Doniger lies. If that lie is not evident from her deliberate Encarta article, it is even more evident from the introduction in “The Laws of Manu,” her translation of the Manusmriti. In that introduction her antagonist is Nietzsche, who she takes on for his favorable view of Hinduism. She contends that Nietzsche is using his reading of Manusmriti “as a stick to beat Christianity with.” [10] She then provides a long explanation with quotes to prove Nietzsche wrong, including a Manusmriti quote on how Hindus despise the human body. It is a funny introduction to a book by an author who claims to be in love with Hinduism, though it would be quite apt for a White nationalist soldier defending Western civilization from Nietzsche’s attack.

Then there are the “good Hindus” as opposed to the savages. Though she doesn’t go as far as to use that term, the good-Hindu bad-Hiindu dichotomy is clear. There is a long history in Western colonization of the “Uncle Tom’s”—the “good natives” that turned collaborators to conquest since they had mentally acquiesced to slavery.  Here the Doniger draws on the “more liberal” for her good Hindu.

“Their voices had drowned out those of the broader, more liberal parts of Indian society.”

Hindu society is liberal society. Book banning is a monotheistic sport—there is a long history of Christian book burning and banning. However, here Doniger counts as liberal Indians, those who do not challenge her scholarship. The good Hindus are the dead Hindus. Who is a dead Hindu? A dead Hindu is one who does not challenge, one who cannot speak for the Hindu tradition because of lack of grounding in it, or has been “secularized” into ignorance of it or will not speak because of the avuncular Uncle Tom myth of sameness [11]. Anyone who does speak up, who is alive, will be quickly conflated with “right-wing Hindutva”, a worshipped of Hitler, demonstrably Satanic.  In the Judeo-Christian myth the “other” is the worshipper of false gods, in the clutch of Satan. Doniger’s defense is a simple transposition. If this were not the case, Doniger should readily be able to supply us with a list of Hindus critical of her work that she does not club with Satan.

In effect, Doniger invokes a picture of the savage other to deflect criticism to what she writes. A whole lot of Indian scholars, sepoys in South Asian departments in the US academy and “secular” Indians, willingly fire on her behalf.  The only good Hindu is a dead Hindu. The Indian sepoy army comes very handy in this respect to certify the legitimacy of the white gaze as it did to perpetuate its hold in its Indian Empire.

In the end I do not blame the American academy for being agents of US imperialism, whether in “left liberal” or “Christian right” incarnations, but I do blame Indians for falling for the idea that the knowledge projection of the academy is not part and parcel of Western hegemony. The image of the liberal scholar is a necessary asset for American academia. And the Satanic Hitler motif of savage right-wing Hindutva Hindus is effectively used to muzzle any criticism.

We can end with another quote from “The White Man’s Indian.”

“Although many White liberals may think that the nation has entered a new era of cultural pluralism and tolerance of ethnic differences, most native leaders are far from sure that such professions of idealism are anything more than the passing fancy of a few alienated Whites who talk one way while their many fellow Whites think and act quite another way. ”[2]

The Western liberal scholar (and his Indian sepoy) is part of the empire and legitimizes it. This does not take away from the fact that there are plenty of decent, sincere, well-meaning Western and Indian scholars in the academy that are not Donigers. It is a question instead to the civilizational thrust and the balance of the work emanating from the Western academy and its historical context and relationship to power, rather than of individuals.

When the Western academic enterprise starts writing “fairly” about Hinduism is when the only Hindus left would be dead Hindus, fossilized artifacts in a museum.  Hinduism would be dead. All Hindus would be converted, killed or secularized in the Western model and a few specimens preserved as curious for tourism. Then they can be good Hindus since the power project would be accomplished and any perceived civilizational challenge eliminated.

p.s. Don’t expect this article to be in the New York Times any time soon. Look for Pankaj Mishra there.

P.p.s. For what it is worth, I do not support the banning of Doniger’s or most other books.  The colonial era law under which this book was banned should be rescinded and freedom of speech respected for this and other banned books without bias.

This article was originally published on Manushi.


  1. Doniger, Wendy, Banned in Bangalore, New York Times op-ed, March 6, 2014.
  1. Berkhofer, Robert F. (2011-08-03). The White Man’s Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present (Vintage) Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
  1. Ibid
  1. Ibid
  1. Jan Assmann. The Price of Monotheism, Kindle Edition.
  1. Ramaswamy, K et al, Invading the Sacred, Rupa Publications, 2007.
  1. Doniger, Microsoft Encarta, 2002.
  1. Sanu Sankrant, “Are Hinduism Studies Prejudiced, from “Invading the Sacred”, Rupa Publications, 2007.
  1. http://www.stormfront.org/forum/t690954/
  1. Doniger, Wendy. The Laws of Manu, Penguin Books, 1991.
  1. Malhotra Rajiv, Being Different, HarperCollins India, 2011.

Image: The ”peaceful” Pilgrims massacred the Pequots and destroyed their fort near Stonington, Connecticut, in 1637. A 19th-century wood engraving (above) depicts the slaughter. (The Granger Collection, NYC)
From https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shocking-savagery-of-americas-early-history-22739301/#VjgpEHMqRfxT4F7B.99

Could the CIA be aiming for a weak central government? Revisiting the AAP Connection

Ashwini Upadhyay, who recently resigned from the AAP National Executive has brought serious charges of CIA involvement against AAP.  I am generally inclined to dismiss these as conspiracy theories of a disgruntled member, though the CIA does have a long record of political interventions throughout the world, interfering in democratic processes for its own objectives and for “regime change.” So I decided to dig into its plausibility of these charges from someone who, until recently, was an AAP insider.

There have been prior allegations of Ford Foundation funding for AAP which AAP has rebutted on its website. The AAP website rebuttal of the Ford Foundation charges states that it has never received funds from Ford Foundation and points instead to Gujarat government initiatives   Gujarat Ecological Educational & Research (GEER) and Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR) as receiving Ford Foundation funds.

First we need to understand the grant giving of Ford Foundation.

The CIA uses philanthropic foundations as the most effective conduit to channel large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source. From the early 1950s to the present the CIA’s intrusion into the foundation field was and is huge. A U.S. Congressional investigation in 1976 revealed that nearly 50% of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA

Ford Foundation and the CIA, James Petras, Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghampton University, New York.

Ford Foundation has a large presence in India.

FF’s developmental activities continue under the heading “asset-building and community development”, but it has added two other heads: “peace and social justice” and “education, media, arts and culture”. This is in line with changes in foundation/funding agency policy worldwide, whereby, since the late 1970s, a new breed of ‘activist’ NGOs, engaging in social and political activity, have been systematically promoted. [5] (Italics in original)

AAP’s rebuttal of Ford Funding on their website ends with a denial of direct funding by Ford Foundation while pointing to funding for Gujarat government projects.

“So Mr. Modi, his Government and the BJP are happy to take $$$ from Ford foundation but accuse AAP which has not taken one penny from Ford or any other foreign donors.”[10]

This is deceptive in what AAP chooses not to reveal. While pointing at Gujarat governmental organizations supported by FF, it fails to reveal the deep involvement and funding to its National Executive  members through FF funded  NGO’s.  This is also true in Kejriwal’s direct interview denying Ford Foundation funding from AAP but choosing not to reveal Ford Foundation repeatedly and consistently funded him through  his NGO’s. AAP cannot be funded directly by Ford Foundation since it is a political party; rather the Foundation works by creating long-term assets through NGO’s and a large number of AAP national executives have been part of such NGO’s.  This deception worries me because AAP, rather than being straightforward is trying to mislead with  an oranges to apples comparison – “no funding to AAP, but funding to Gujarat NGO’s”.

AAP and BJP are political parties. The question is not of AAP getting funded directly by the Ford Foundation. That would be clearly illegal and neither AAP and, especially not the Ford Foundation, are that stupid. Ford Foundation’s work with the CIA is naturally clandestine.  Also the example given by AAP of Ford Foundation giving to Gujarat governmental organizations is a diversion. There is a big difference between giving to governmental or semi-governmental agencies versus small private NGO.  Also, if everything that Ford Foundation did was CIA business it would blow its cover. It needs to have a reasonable front.  It must include legitimate  grants mixed in with small NGO grants where it cultivates long-term “strategic assets” over a period of time.

The system of private patronage was the pre-eminent model of how small, homogenous groups came to defend America’s—and, by definition, their own—interests. Serving at the top of the pile was every self-respecting WASP’s ambition. The prize was a trusteeship on either the Ford Foundation or the Rockefeller Foundation, both of which were conscious instruments of covert US policy, with directors and officers who were closely connected to, or even members of American intelligence. [6]

These grants are to small NGO’s and a disturbingly large number of prominent AAP members were recipients of this kind of Ford Foundation patronage. Has the Ford Foundation put together its strategic assets when it needed to?

Why did AAP not come clean on its website about these links of their founding executive members to the Ford Foundation? If it spoke about funding to semi-governmental NGO’s in Gujarat, shouldn’t it have revealed grants to its members from Ford Foundation through NGO’s they ran, precisely the kinds of grants the CIA uses to cultivate strategic assets? Why is AAP not honest and upfront about these linkages to its sincere and committed support base that are looking up to it as an honest party?

Now let us look at some of the notables in AAP who have been involved with FF-funded NGO’s.

Sab bike hue hain? Kejriwal and associates’ funds from Ford & Rockfeller Foundations—partial list [1][2]

Person Amount NGO Foundation
Arvind Kejriwal $80,000Rs. 74,54,706 ParivartanKabirRamon Magasasay Award Ford FoundationFord FoundationRockefeller Brothers Fund
Manish Sisodia Rs. 74,54,706 Kabir Ford Foundation
Yoginder Yadav ICSSR Ford Foundation
Meera Sanyal Pradan Ford Foundation


The Ramon Magsaysay Award is also a strategic award funded by these US foundations and comes with a history [8, See Notes]. Now, we are not suggesting that all these individuals are crooks, though Manish Sisodia in under a cloud for misuse of the funds and Kejriwal is alleged to have illegally started NGO’s and received funds while still a government employee. Many of these people may be quite sincere and I do not want to suggest that they are all knowingly acting on behest of the US, simply because of being funded by the Ford Foundation. US soft power is exercised in many ways, including having people feel that they are all working for a good cause and using the language of “human rights” and “people’s rights.” But when principals of these agency funded NGO’s later start running for parliament, it is bound to raise eyebrows.

What is the strategic interest of the US here?

The question is why would the US have activated its assets? The US is also not a monolith. There is a part of the US that wants to see India as a counterweight to China. There is another that does not want another strong player on the international stage. Even as a counterweight to China it would prefer a weaker and more pliable India, something that a strong central leadership with a clear mandate may not be.

It is frightening when you realize that an unstable coalition and mid-term polls are exactly the results that AAP is shooting for,  having convinced thousands of its well-meaning, sincere, patriotic Indian supporters towards this aim as an antidote against corruption.

Maybe all this Ford Foundation involvement is in the past and it is a coincidence that a bunch of Ford Foundation awardees happened to congregate in AAP.  I am sure there are plenty of Ford Foundation grantees in India who are not sold out. But, it gets even more frightening.  Ashwini Upadhyay recently resigned from the AAP National Executive and is bringing forth even more direct and serious allegations, the extent of which is difficult to imagine.

According to the Ford Foundation website, Kavita Ramdas “ serves as the representative for the foundation’s office in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where she oversees all of our grant making in the region.” It is one thing to be a recipient of Ford Foundation funds through NGO’s.  But it is difficult to imagine that the head of Ford Foundation India would not be complicit in US state department and intelligence objectives in India. So when the head of the Ford Foundation (or people close to her) is participating in the strategy meetings of a party that may be king maker in the upcoming Indian elections, there is serious cause for concern for every AAP supporter and thinking Indian.

Anna Hazare, Ramdev, Kiran Bedi, Kejriwal and others had created a big movement that had inspired all of us. People like Anupam Kher had jumped in to lend it star power. Kejriwal did not have the start power or following compared to Anna., Ramdev, Kiran Bedi or Anupam Kher. He is also the most implicated in his continuous relationship with the Ford Foundation through various NGO’s that funded him to leave his government job.  Most of these notable people that we respect that formed the popular anti-corruption movement explicitly dissociated themselves from AAP and have also accused Kejriwal of using them to launch himself.

I have myself gone from a I-am-Anna topi-wearing supporter to cheering the Delhi victory of AAP, to being skeptical about their plans, to being deeply concerned about what they are up to as all clear-thinking Indians should be, most of all AAP supporters who are investing their time, emotions and money into this.  Former RAW Officer RSN Singh also provides evidence of agency funding to manipulate elements of Indian media that may be working in conjunction with this plan. [2]

AAP supporters should ask AAP to come clean and ask them:

  1. Please reveal the details of all the NGO’s that members of your national executive, office bearers and election nominees have been involved with.
  2. Reveals the details and amounts of funding from Ford Foundation, Rockfeller Foundation, HIVOS and any other foreign donors towards any of these associated NGO’s, including an salaries of expense reimbursements you got from these NGOs.
  3. Respond to Ashwini Upadhyaya’s serious allegations of Ford Foundation executives and their family members being involved in strategic planning for AAP.
  4. Come clean about their post poll strategy—what are you aiming for and whether you will be willing to support existing political parties and which ones so that your supporters know what you are working towards. AAP’s election plans appear murky even to your supporters who are not able to articulate your end game in the Lok Sabha elections.
  5. Explain how your close association to CIA-linked foreign foundations would not compromise National Security.

AAP supporters, your dedication and concern for the country is amazing and something that I share deeply. But please, please be very careful that your vote, idealism and patriotism does not get misused for its exact opposite result and does not play into the hands of destabilizing forces.  Currently all we have is the word of AAP that they are fighting corruption. How they will actually act if they come to power is completely unknown. So far their words and actions have been inconsistent. Those people whose only platform is a fight for transparency must start by demonstrating that they are fully transparent themselves.

References & Notes

1.  Mr. Mohan and Prof. Vaidyanathan, “Is India Safe—What is Ford Foundation?”

2. Singh, RSN, (former military intelligence and RAW officer), “Kejriwal, India’s biggest Scam.”  This has a lot of detailed documents, must read.

3. Ford Foundation, a philanthropic façade for the CIA http://www.voltairenet.org/article30039.html

4. Education or Domination? The Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford Foundations Developing Knowledge for the Developing World. http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2011/10/21/education-or-domination-the-rockefeller-carnegie-and-ford-foundations-developing-knowledge-for-the-developing-world/


6. Saunders, Frances Stonor (1999). The cultural cold war: the CIA and the world of arts and letters.

7. Negi, Rajender Singh, “Magsaysay Award: Asian Noble, not so Noble”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 43, No. 34 (Aug. 23 – 29, 2008), pp. 14-16

8. It is also worth noting that the US-funded Ramon Magsaysay award comes with a history.  The American installed president of Philippines Ramon Magsaysay, “brutally out down dissenting voices and allowed America to pull the strings of power in his country”[7] and is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and general promotes US strategic interests. Like everything else, this does not mean that every recipient is under US control; notables like sitarist Ravi Shankar,  Kiran Bedi and M.S. Subbulakshmi have been recipients, but  there is need for caution when this award is given outside the Arts and Culture fields.

9. Blum, William, Killing Hope. U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions since World War II. Common Courage Press 2003.

10. http://www.aamaadmiparty.org/ford-foundation



NSA surveillance of BJP: Is Rahul Gandhi to blame?

NSA surveillance of BJP_1

[Instead of pushing India’s national security agenda, when even the US is sensitised to it given the egregious nature of the Mumbai attacks, Rahul deflects the US ambassador away from the LeT threat with the claim that “Hindu groups”, in particular Opposition party leader, Narendra Modi was the bigger threat.]

In 1972 in the US, the famous Watergate scandal took place. The main charges revolved around President Nixon’s involvement in authorising people belonging to the Opposition party to be put under surveillance. This was such a big scandal since it undermined the democratic process of the country in misusing power to target political opponents.

What would have happened if Nixon had instead told a foreign country, say Germany, that the Democratic Party was a bigger threat than Russia, and implied the need for it to be tracked. Such outrageous conduct would move the charges from misuse of authority to outright treason, spying and waging war against the State.

This has happened in India. A top functionary of the ruling dispensation told a foreign power that its Opposition party was a bigger threat to India’s (and presumably the worlds) security than the most dreaded terrorist outfit from a neighboring country. This foreign power then put the Opposition party under surveillance at the instigation of the ruling party.

The Washington Post recently revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) had been monitoring the BJP. How did this happen? We have at least one smoking gun. According to the Wikileaks cables, on July 20, 2009, ruling Congress party’s general secretary Rahul Gandhi told the American ambassador to India that the BJP was a bigger threat than the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Here are the exact contents of the Wikileaks cable.

5. (C) Responding to the Ambassador’s query about Lashkar-e-Taiba’s activities in the region and immediate threat to India, Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the group among certain elements in India’s indigenous Muslim community. However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalized Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community. (Comment: Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi). The risk of a “home-grown” extremist front, reacting to terror attacks coming from Pakistan or from Islamist groups in India, was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention.

So the US ambassador asks a ruling party member about the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, one of the most dreaded terrorist outfits targeting India. This outfit is implicated for numerous terrorist attacks on India and this conversation is taking place less than a year after the Mumbai terror attacks on India in 2008 that involved the LeT. Let us recall again the sequence of events.

2008:  26 Nov-29 Nov – Mumbai terrorist attacks that kill 164 people, injure at least 308.

2009:  Nov 2008-Jan 2009 – Indian investigative agencies work hard to uncover the LeT links to the Mumbai attacks.

2009:  Feb 12 – Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik admits parts of the attack had been planned in Pakistan.

2009:  US continues to investigate attacks that also killed US citizens.

2009:  July – Pakistani authorities confirm that LeT plotted and financed Mumbai attacks.

2009:  JulyUS Ambassador to India speaks with Rahul Gandhi on this matter. Rahul Gandhi attempts to deflect US attention away from LeT and names his political opponents, the BJP, the bigger threat.

2009:  October – US authorities arrest David Headley.

2010:  National Spy Agency (NSA) obtains authorisation from US court to spy on the BJP.

Instead of pushing India’s national security agenda, when even the US is sensitised to it given the egregious nature of the Mumbai attacks, Rahul deflects the US ambassador away from the LeT threat with the claim that “Hindu groups”, in particular Opposition party leader, Narendra Modi was the bigger threat. This is shocking beyond belief. He amplifies this by telling the US that “reactions” to the terrorist attacks in India were bigger threats than the attacks themselves. If terror mastermind Hafeez Sayeed had written the script for Rahul Gandhi, he couldn’t have done it any better. Of course, none of this would have come to light but for two major US dissidents, Private Manning and Edward Snowden that leaked confidential US secrets that blew the lid of Rahul Gandhi’s subterfuge.

In 2010, within a year of this conversation, America’s top spy agency has obtained authorisation to spy on the BJP from a US court.  The sequence of events is startling. It is as if the ruling party of India was acting on behalf of an enemy terrorist group and egging the US, another foreign power, on its behalf. It is like the US Government telling Al-Qaeda that Christian Groups in the US are the real problem and needed constant attention. Could such a scenario even be imaginable, and if happened, can you reflect on the staggering implications?

The validity of the WikiLeaks cables is well established with Private Manning being convicted of leaking the documents. There is little reason for the US ambassador to India to misrepresent his conversation with Rahul Gandhi in a confidential cable.

This NSAGate is like Watergate times ten. It needs a CBI investigation and interrogation with charges of treason and of waging war against the State. It is crucial for India’s security that such a scenario is never allowed to transpire again that political parties involve foreign powers in domestic political vendettas and significantly compromise the security of the Indian people and the State.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

The English Class System

Is English medium education helping in India’s economic progress or does it hold India back? Also see bhashaneeti.org for a new language policy for India.


VOL.XVII. No. 1, January 2007
Original PDF of the article:The English Class System

  1. English-medium education and economic good

The language policy debate in India has centered on two issues—of a common national language or link language and of the language formula to be adopted in primary and secondary education. The debate about the common national language has often split between those that advocate Hindi and those that support English as this common language. The Hindi advocates base their plea on cultural and nationalistic reasons while the English supporters base their stance on pragmatism – arguing for the economic necessity and global inevitability of English use.

Two aspects of English adoption and usage have, however, not received sufficient academic attention. While mounds of printed material have been produced on caste hierarchy in India; the English language class hierarchy, commonly encountered in everyday urban India, has hardly merited academic attention. The relative scarcity of studies of the sociology of the English-based Class System in India—social stratification based on knowledge of English and spoken English “accents”—with corresponding social differentiation and discrimination—is striking.

Secondly, while English medium education has been vaguely related to economic good there is little scientific research that actually establishes the causality of English medium education and economic good. For instance, does the spread of English-medium education in India help or hinder GDP growth? While there are numerous studies that attempt to relate literacy rates and universal primary education with economic good, there are scarcely any that specifically look at the medium of instruction and its relationship to other economic data.

This article makes some preliminary observations on these two aspects of English-education in India with the hope that it may be a catalyst for more rigorous appraisals of these questions.

1.1 The economics of language

When English becomes the official language of a country, does it help or hinder economic progress? To study how economics impacts language, we compared countries by GNP and official language – and came up with some surprising results.

Let us take a look at the top and bottom countries in the world by GNP per capita and examine its correlation with official language. In using per capita measures countries with a very small population may lead to less meaningful results, so we filtered out countries with populations less than 5 million. Then, we sorted the results by per capita GNP and looked at the top 20 and the bottom 20 countries.

1.1.1 Twenty Richest

Table 1 Richest countries by GNP per capita*



GNP per capita ($)

Mass Language(s)

Official Language(s)

1 Switzerland


German/French/Italian German/French/Italian
2 Denmark


Danish Danish
3 Japan


Japanese Japanese
4 United States


English English
5 Sweden


Swedish Swedish
6 Germany


German German
7 Austria


German German
8 Netherlands, The


Dutch Dutch
9 Finland


Finnish Finnish
10 Belgium


Dutch/French Dutch/French
11 France


French French
12 United Kingdom


English English
13 Australia


English English
14 Italy


Italian Italian
15 Canada


English/French English/French
16 Israel


Hebrew Hebrew
17 Spain


Spanish Spanish
18 Greece


Greek Greek
19 Portugal


Portugese Portugese
20 South Korea


Korean Korean
*Population greater than 5 million only1 Raw Data Source: Encarta Encyclopedia

The mass language(s) in this table is the identified first language of the most numerous groupings of people. There is a wide variety of languages found in this list, dominated by European languages. More pertinently, in none of the top 20 richest countries is the language of official business (and the primary medium of education at all levels) different than the native language used by the general population. In cases like Switzerland, which has multiple common languages, the medium of primary education follows the dominant linguistic group on a per-canton level with multiple official languages reflecting the major linguistic groups, without an inherent class structure privileging a colonial language. Also, in all of the countries above, the highest level of education is available in the mass languages. The pursuit of higher studies proceeds perfectly well in a large number of non-English native languages, since only 4 out of the top 20 countries of the world ranked by GNP per capita have English-based systems. The top 20 are also not restricted to European languages alone – Japan and Korea have done perfectly well economically by using their native languages as the medium of education, including in the sciences, over choosing a non-mass language such as English. Switzerland and Israel are both multi-lingual countries, but different significantly from India in that they do not suffer from a similar class system and perceived superiority of a foreign language, spoken only by a minority of people. The case of Israel’s choice of language is particularly illuminating and we shall look at it in greater detail further on.

1.1.2 The twenty poorest

Let us look now at the other table, the 20 poorest countries in the world.

Table 2 Poorest countries by GNP per capita*



GNP per capita ($)

Mass Language(s)

Official Language(s)

1 Congo (DRC)


Lingala, Kingwana French
2 Ethiopia


Amharic Amharic
3 Burundi


Kirundi, Swahili French, Kirundi
4 Sierra Leone


Mende, Temne, Krio English
5 Malawi


Chichewa English/Chichewa
6 Niger


Hausa, Djerma French
7 Chad


Sara, Arabic French/Arabic
8 Mozambique


Emakhuwa, Xichangana Portugese
9 Nepal


Nepali Nepali
10 Mali


Bambara French
11 Burkina Faso


Sudanic languages French
12 Rwanda


Kinyarwanda Kinyarwanda/French/English
13 Madagascar


Malagasy French/Malagasy
14 Cambodia


Khmer Khmer/French
15 Tanzania


Swahili English/Swahili
16 Nigeria


Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo English
17 Angola


Bantu Portugese
18 Laos


Lao Lao/French/English
19 Togo


Ewe, Mina, Kabiye, Dagomba French
20 Uganda


Ganda, Luganda English
*Population greater than 5 million only2 Raw Data Source: Encarta Encyclopedia, World Factbook

We find many of the same European languages in this table as in the table of the richest countries. The difference, of course, is obvious. In over half of these twenty countries the common languages used by the people are not even recognized as official languages. Even when they are officially recognized, such as Chichewa is in Malawi, official business and higher education is often conducted in the colonial language. For instance, The University of Malawi, is the foremost university in Malawi among the total of just four major universities in the country. On its website it lists the requirements for the University Entrance examination that is “used to examine the students’ aptitude for university work.”3 The first criterion it lists is “Language skills”, explaining that this is used to “measure students’ aptitude in English Language Skills.” Apparently university aptitude can only be demonstrated by knowledge of English—those fluent in Chichewa, the “official” language of the country and that of the common people, need not apply. The University of Malawi website does not even mention Chichewa anywhere in its contents.

By contrast, Technion, in Israel is one of the foremost technical institutes in the world. Its website clearly states4:

“The lingua franca of the country is Hebrew and this is also the language of instruction at the Technion. … Visiting Students accepted for Winter or Spring teaching semester programs should attend the Technion’s intensive five week Hebrew language course (‘Ulpan’) before they begin their studies.” (emphasis in original)

Technion is a world-class institute of technology, yet it strongly promotes Hebrew medium education. Israel is one of the top twenty countries in per capita GNP and a leading technology state. Yet the poorest countries have internalized this fallacious notion that English, and English alone, is the path to development.

The vast majority of the list of the poorest countries in this table has a class system similar to the one in India, where the language and culture of the colonial masters is considered superior to the native languages. Much of higher education, business, government and judiciary are transacted in this colonial language, often different from the languages spoken inside the home by the majority of people. The elite attend “colonial-medium” schools and use those terms and concepts to understand their own experience and those of the “natives” that they look down upon.

Note that there are 6 countries in this list of poorest 20 countries which have their official language—and that of higher education—as English, while this was the case only in 4 among the richest.

1.2 What does this data say?

We are not suggesting that all these countries are poor simply because of this language class-separation. Correlation does not establish causality. To look at the direct causality we may not need to look far — 19 out of these 20 poorest countries were colonies of exploitation by European powers, the 20th being a protectorate. That is undoubtedly one of the important casual factors.

Nonetheless in this study of colonization, studying the slavery of language, with its resultant class-separation and long-term economic and social consequences, is clearly an important issue. This language-based class separation hurts the people in multiple ways: (1) It privileges a foreign culture over the native culture, thus eroding self-esteem and a basic belief in people. (2) It disconnects the intellectual and policy discourse of the country, often carried out in the colonial language using a colonial worldview, from broad participation by the people. (3) It imposes the cost of re-education of an entire population into a different language for the purpose of higher studies, thus creating a glass ceiling for progress for those educated in the native languages, and it hold up the colonized elite classes as the standards for the rest to aspire to.

What is more remarkable, however, is the paucity of analysis on this subject. There is a sense of inevitability among the elite regarding the adoption of English. Even India’s recent economic growth and the success of its software industry have often been linked to the adoption of English.

1.3 Is business and professional success linked to English?

English-medium education is often touted as one of India’s competitive advantages and a reason for its recent economic progress. These pronouncements parade as obvious truths, so obvious that no study need be done to establish their basis in fact.

Is global business success linked to the knowledge of English? Hardly. If the economic tables presented earlier do not raise serious doubt on this account, let us examine a few specific examples.

The major East Asian economies—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—are all non-English speaking. Business schools, just like other higher education in these countries, are conducted in Japanese, Korean and Chinese, not in English. Yet these countries have produced global multi-nationals in everything from automobiles to consumer electronics—Honda, Toyota, Sony, Samsung and numerous others. Of the top 1000 companies in Asia 792 are from these 3 countries (India has 20) with combined sales of nearly 4.5 trillion dollars (India’s combined total is not even 2% of these).

A child from a village in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan can aspire to be a doctor, an engineer or a business leader without having a debilitating forced language medium shift for higher education. This allows the talents of the entire nation to be harnessed, unlike in countries with a high degree of language-class separation. In a recent study of village schools in India, we found a school in the village of Khandodra in Haryana where nearly 33% of the children in the school scored above the 90th percentile on the intelligence test that we administered. The children were all studying in Hindi medium. The principal of that school described the debilitating effects of the transition to English based higher education on these talented kids. He spoke about the issues of language – “Hamara grameen kshetra hai – agar higher education se touch hai tab hi baccha safal ho payega. Jab vo 8th class pass karta hai, 10th tak jata hai, usme English ki aisi ek heen bhavana aa jati hai, ki upar jata hai—competition mein bhi English medium hai.” (Ours is a rural area; to succeed these children need to be in touch with higher education. However when the child passes 8th class, goes into 10th, he experiences a feeling of inferiority in dealing with English; to go higher the competition is in English).

Similarly, the idea that India’s software success is due to the knowledge of English bears examining. If it were true, then English-speaking countries must display this advantage consistently. In particular, countries like Kenya, with comparable histories to India of colonization, an English-based colonial class system and a large English work force, must also be disproportionately successful in software. This turns out to not be the case. Furthermore, this theory also fails to explain why Israel, which follows largely Hebrew and Arabic-medium schooling, is a notable software success.

People in Israel migrated from all parts of the world in the twentieth century. These people spoke many different languages, yet Israel chose Hebrew, not English as their official language, reviving for modern times what had been declare a “dead” or classical language. This would be the equivalent of India choosing Sanskrit as its official and link language, instead of the colonial choice of English.

For all its heralded software India’s software exports totaled $6.5 billion (2001 figures). Israel, a country with a population less than a hundredth of India (in fact, less than half of New Delhi’s population) had software exports of over $2.5 billion in the same period. It is worth noting that Technion, one of the world’s premier engineering institutions is Hebrew medium. When I visited the Microsoft campus in Haifa, Israel I was surprised to find that they used Hebrew-based keyboards and used Hebrew as the language of communication within the Microsoft office.

As a software manager for Microsoft, I often flew in and interviewed candidates from across the world in an unending quest for talent. Some of the people I sought out were flown in from Russia—and they were certainly not hired for the knowledge of English. In many cases, their knowledge of English was so rudimentary that I arranged for a Russian speaker to interview them. They turned out to be some of the best software engineers I hired.

With India’s fixation on English-based higher education, it is able to leverage the talent of a far smaller percentage of its population. Thus India acts like a country with a talent pool which is less than a tenth of its population. The bright children from the village of Khandodra in Haryana, invariably hit against the glass ceiling of English in their quest for technical and professional education in India. This is not because of some kind of professional inevitability of English use, but a direct result of official state policy.

The Common Admission Tests for entrance to the Indian Institutes of Management is not only in English medium but English language verbal ability and reading comprehension form a significant proportion of the test. English is mandatory to be a lawyer or judge in the state High Courts or the Supreme Court in India. To become a doctor or an engineer, the best state-funded institutions remain exclusively English medium. English remains a mandatory qualifying subject for the Civil Service Examinations that selects India’s bureaucrats.

Thus the English Class System exists not only in the social domain but as state policy. The message is clear and consistent. Indian languages are “lower”, English is “higher”. You can practice in lower courts in Indian languages, but high courts require English. You can become an ordinary soldier or jawan in the army by giving the test in an Indian language. To become an officer, the test is in English.

The colonial mindset and discourse transforms officially sanctioned discrimination and the class hierarchy of language into narratives of the global “inevitability” and the natural superiority of English. To argue otherwise would be to argue for backwardness over progress; for trenchant nationalism (or regionalism) over obvious economic good. Yet this economic good is far from obvious. Imposing a mandatory language shift for higher education for the vast majority of Indians has significant economic costs—it fails to develop the talent of vast numbers of Indians for the new economy and becomes a severe axis of discrimination and continued impoverishment. English, then, can be more accurately identified as the language of India’s backwardness rather than as its progress.

1.4 Conclusion

English adoption has often been decried for its cultural costs in the extermination of native languages. However its use has often been justified on pragmatic economic grounds. Quite apart from the cultural devastation in the wide-spread adoption of a foreign language, the economic basis of the argument for English education needs to be examined with greater skepticism.

The advocacy of English often relies on arguments of the “inevitability” of its adoption for development and progress. Part II of this essay examines the relationship of these arguments of inevitability to the hierarchical English Class System prevalent in Indian society as well as its historical origins.

2. English in India: the colonial mind

“In schools and universities our Kenyan languages – that is the languages of the many nationalities that make up Kenya – we associated with negative qualities of backwardness, under-development, humiliation and punishment. We who went through that school system were meant to graduate with a hatred of the people and the culture and the values of the language of our daily humiliation and punishment”. Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature.

The Indian intellectual elites and bureaucracy, often schooled in English-medium schools and colleges, are taken by the “obvious inevitability” of English-medium professional and higher education. The facts enumerated in the previous sections are not hard to find. Yet, the very idea that someone would become a competent doctor, engineer or business professional studying in Hindi or Tamil medium just as they can in Japanese, Hebrew or even Turkish seems somewhat inconceivable in contemporary Indian discourse.

This notion of the superiority of English also holds sway in Indian social interactions where the “accent” of spoken English has become a key marker in the social hierarchy. “Convent-school” English accent is the highest in this totem pole, followed by “less-refined” private or government school English, down to those that are uncomfortable in the English idiom—and are easily condemned as uncivilized or illiterate. College graduates without “convent-school” English that I interviewed complained of this bias in the job market; even though they may be quite competent in performing the required job. Not surprisingly then, there is a spiraling demand for English and “convent” education. As we discussed in Part I, at least some of this demand is unnaturally created—with explicit bias in state policy in favor of English language higher education.

To be clear the issue is not about learning English or even speaking it well. The problem arises when medium of education itself is switched from the common mass-languages to English; when spoken English accents become a marker of class hierarchy; and where pervasive bias exists in professional and higher education as well as in the job market against the mass languages. While the Japanese may queue up to learn English as a second or third language for the sake of business or travel or to feed their fascination with America, English speaking does not become a social class marker in interaction within Japanese society; nor do they turn English learning into a whole-scale shift of higher and professional education into English medium.

2.1 The “Masks of Conquest”

Historically, India had very well developed systems of education and written and oral literatures in Indian languages. In pre and early British times, according to data painstakingly collected from colonial sources by Dharampal in his book, “The Beautiful Tree”, primary, secondary and higher education were widely prevalent in India. Based on a detailed examination of early British records available for Madras, for instance, Dharampal(1995: 20) concludes that “School attendance especially in the districts of the Madras Presidency, even in the decayed state of the period 1822-25, was proportionately far higher than the numbers in all varieties of schools in England in 1800. The conditions in which teaching took place in the Indian schools were less dingy and more natural; and, it was observed, the teachers in the Indian schools were generally more dedicated and sober than in the English versions.” Colleges used regional languages as well as Sanskrit and Persian; higher education included studies in subjects such as Medical Sciences, Astronomy and Law.

How then did we come to acquire a picture of our educational backwardness and the backwardness and unsuitability of Indian languages for higher and professional education? Gauri Vishawanathan of Columbia University, in her book “Masks of Conquest”, has done a study of the establishment of English language and literature in India. The establishment of the English-speaking elite in India took a 3-pronged approach:

  1. The destruction and/or denigration of native education
  2. The requirement of English for becoming part of the governing elite
  3. The establishment of English only, i.e. English medium schools, along with the cessation of teaching English as a language in native-language schools.

The languages and literature of a nation is a major carrier of its culture. In turning a nation away from their languages and literature, the colonial encounter bred ignorance and contempt of the native experience, while placing the idea of the “perfect” Englishman, carried through the English literature, on the native pedestal. This created a class of native “brown sahibs” more comfortable with the English idiom and values than with their own and the establishment of a literary and cultural elite that identified with the English and looked down upon the non-English speaking “natives” as Englishmen would.

“Charles Trevelyan, brother-in-law of Macaulay and one-time president of the General Council of Public Instruction, proudly exclaimed that the educated Indians “speak purer English than we speak ourselves, for they take it from the purest models, they speak the language of the Spectator, such English as is never spoken in England.” If Calcutta citizens spoke the language of the Spectator, it was by no means accidental, for editors of Calcutta journals and newspapers deliberately wrote in an Addisonian style under names like “Candidus,” “Verax’ “Oneiropolos,” and “Flaccus’ and on subjects having not the remotest bearing on Indian life, such as the fashions of the day in England, and on imagination, etiquette and morality.”(Viswanathan, 1998:115)

The same slavishness, in different form and degrees is to be observed amongst the “convent-educated” classes and English-language writers in India today. When many English-language writers present the Indian experience, it is often presented like exotic anthropology, looking down from above on native customs, completing the slavery of the mind.

The aim of English education was manifold – one was to secure a “buffer zone” of trained bureaucrats who could be controlled and who would rule over the masses, and further more to use education as a means of establishing intellectual hegemony over this class by a mix of denigrating and exoticizing the native culture – more importantly, to have this elite class identify with the values of the conquerors rather than the conquered.

The extent to which this mission succeeded in the formation of the present-day elite makes for a fascinating study. Some “Orientalists” protested against the extinction of native state literatures, and the explicit creation of a language-based caste-hierarchy, based on state policy:

“By annihilating native literature, by sweeping away from all sources of pride and pleasure in their own mental efforts, by rendering a whole people dependent upon a remote and unknown country for all their ideas and for the very words in which to clothe them, we should degrade their character, depress their energies and render them incapable of aspiring to any intellectual distinction.” 5

Nonetheless, the Orientalists, despite their professed study of Indian literature were equally complicit in establishing British hegemony. According to Vishwanathan(1998:167), “… a curriculum may incorporate systems of learning of a sub-ordinate population and still be an instrument of hegemonic activity… both the Anglicist and the Orientalist factions were equally complicit in the project of domination, British Indian education having been conceived in India as part and parcel of the act of securing and consolidating power.”

Note that British administrators forbade the teaching of English as a language outside of English-medium schools. By the 1835 English Education act, the teaching of English was taken out of native language schools – because learning English as a language, while retaining the native medium of education would allows the natives to understand the British on their own (native) terms. This is because a native brought up thinking in their own language and merely learning English as a foreign language, would be able to objectively study the British, outside of the colonial framework presented to them as objective and neutral. Thus the change of medium, and the establishment in the native mind of an English based class structure,
was a necessary part of the colonizing mission.

2.2 The role of the contemporary Indian University System

The establishment by the British of colleges and universities, organized on the lines of the London University, for training an intellectual class in the colonizer’s worldview was very much part of the colonizing mission. Macaulay’s successor, Charles Cameron who campaigned vigorously for a centralized university system, “went so far as to call for the total exclusion of the classical languages of India—Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian—on the grounds that they were inextricably bound with system of ‘pagan theology’.”(Viswanathan, 1998:113)

Even when studies of classical Indian languages and texts were carried out under “Oriental studies” this was part of maintaining a hegemony of power and control. While the Orientalist Horace Wilson argued for the preservation of native languages, he recommended co-opting the maulvis and the pundits as teachers and translators of Western tests. Viswanathan(1998:113) suggests, “Wilson refined the ‘Trojan horse’ strategy of destruction from within, to urge that the traditional men of learning of India also be co-opted as ‘additional instruments in our power’.” Even while accepting Wilson’s arguments up to a point, “under no circumstances was the Bentinck administration or any other administration following his willingness to support Oriental learning if it meant the perpetuation of Oriental languages and literature as the source of intellectual values, morals and religion.”

Along with the destruction of native literatures, “an increasing number of British administrators … discovered a wholly unexpected ally in English literature to maintain control of their subjects under the guise of a liberal education.” (Viswanathan, 1998: 85)

The success of the systematic efforts of the British administrators in creating an elite English class in these universities who trace their intellectual roots solely in the Western civilization can easily be observed today. Having internalized the negative stereotypes about their own roots, their only psychological defense remains to distance themselves from these roots as much as possible by attacking them as their conquerors taught. When the colonized identify with the mental worldview of the colonizer, the slavery of their mind is complete. This attitude of the mind, above everything else, is what we speak of in talking about the “colonized.” This experience is not limited to India, of course—so let us take a trip to Africa for additional perspective.

2.3 Ngũgĩ waThiong’o: Decolonizing the Mind

World history that is taught in Indian schools usually limits itself to European or American histories. To shed light on the contemporary Indian experience, it may be far more useful for us to study the histories of Africa and South America and their experiences with colonization, than to study the history of Europe. African intellectual Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o decided to break out of the colonial mold in Kenya.

Thiong’o is a popular Kenyan writer, who started off writing in English, but realized the impact of what he called the “culture bomb” and decided to switch to writing exclusively in his native language Gikuyu. “Decolonizing the Mind” is one of the last books he wrote in English, in which he describes the “culture bomb”:

“The biggest weapon wielded and actually daily unleashed … is the culture bomb. The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves; for instance, with other people’s languages than their own.”(Thiongo, 1986)

Thiong’o (1986:7) describes the “acceptance of ‘the fatalistic logic of the unassailable position of English in our literature'” – a logic that immures an entire class of people from reading nothing other than the colonial literature, and writing in none other than the colonial language. Even when the “native’ culture is included, it is done with the aim of presenting to the conquerors for approval or for shock as exotic museum pieces, in much of the genre that goes by Indian writing in English. Thus native culture is used for the pleasure of the colonial master, either as a symbol of contempt or as an exotic amusement that will not deeply challenge the master’s worldview. As Thiong’o emphasizes, writing in English enriches the language and literature of the English world, not of the native languages. This literature thus continues to steal from the native culture to enrich the masters’, symptomatic of what Thiongo’ calls “demands that the dependent sing hymns of praise with the constant refrain: ‘Theft is holy’.”

Thiong’o (1986: 28) describes his schooling in English-medium schools and universities in Kenya, where the mother tongues of the children were literally beaten out of them – children would be punished for speaking anything other than Englis:.

“In schools and universities or Kenyan languages – that is the languages of the many nationalities that make up Kenya – we associated with negative qualities of backwardness, under-development, humiliation and punishment. We who went through that school system were meant to graduate with a hatred of the people and the culture and the values of the language of our daily humiliation and punishment.”

Thiong’o speaks of the relationship between culture and language. Language serves two roles—as a means of communication and as a carrier of culture. While English can serve as a means of communication, it is not the primary carrier of native culture. This is something that was keenly realized by the British administrators in India as well when they noted, for instance, that English education was “replete with Christian references” just as the vocabulary of Indian languages was imbued with their basis in Indian philosophical and religious thought. Edward Thornton, British parliamentarian went as far as to say – “As soon as [the Indians] become first-rate European scholars, they must cease to be Hindoos.”6 While Indian culture is still struggling with this bold assertion, the efficacy of this cultural denigration and destruction is evident in academic, journalistic and fictional India writing in English.

No surprise, since, as Thiong’o (pg 15) continues, language is an image-forming agent in the mind of the child. “Language as culture is thus mediating between me and my own self; between my own self and other selves; between me and my nature.” While language is universal, the particularity of a language and the sounds and symbols it chooses, reflects the particularity of a cultural experience. “Thus a specific culture is not transmitted through language in its universality but in its particularity as the language of a specific community with a specific history.”

A colonial child is forced to live the dichotomy between their outer and inner worlds – the language spoken at school and at home, the language of spoken expression and the language of external writing, till the child slowly and surely starts to think and perceive his world through the eyes of the colonizer. As Thiong’o (pg 17) states “For a colonial child, the harmony existing between the three aspects of language as communication was irrevocably broken. This resulted in the disassociation of the sensibility of that child from his natural and social environment, what we might call colonial alienation. The alienation became reinforced in the teaching of history, geography, music, where … Europe was always at the center of the universe.”

Thiong’o (pg 28) suggests that the ultimate impact of using a foreign medium as the primary medium for study is a deep colonial alienation on a personal and societal level.

“Colonial alienation takes two interlinked forms; an active (or passive) distancing of oneself from the reality around; and an active (or passive) identification with that which is most external to one’s environment. It starts with a deliberate disassociation of the language of conceptualization, of thinking, of formal education, of mental development, form the language of daily interaction in the home and in the community. It is like separating the mind from the body so that they are occupying two unrelated linguistic spheres in the same person. On a larger social scale it is like producing a society of bodiless heads and headless bodies.”

It is perhaps due to this dissociation that multitudes of bureaucrats and academics can write volumes about “social problems” in India; but those social problems remain forever incorrigible. In practice the academics are completely dissociated from the society in their study. When they do study the society, they do this under colonial categories from a colonial viewpoint, disconnected from an authentic personal experience. These studies are often used to craft government policies, administered by bureaucrats in a colonial setup, and by misguided activists and NGO’s, leading to persistent despair about the “problems of Indian society and its backwardness”, where the problems may well lie in the gaze—the way the society is viewed and problematized and the particular mindset that crafts the solutions to these problems.

Thiong’o (pg 28) succinctly captures the current attitudes of the colonized elite class with regards to colonial institutions and languages, summarizing that “it is the final triumph of a system of domination when the dominated start singing its virtues.” This indeed is the case in India, where everything of value is automatically attributed to the “civilizing force” of the European conquerors, just as economic success is to English; while all the problems are decried and caricaturized as resulting from the indigenous culture—forever the source of shameful backwardness.

India still lacks a Thiong’o—a popular writer in English who switched to doing his entire writing in his native tongue. At a recent event in Seattle for the release of his new book “Wizard of the Crow”, Thiong’o mentioned that the best three words in his book was the inscription in the beginning “translated from Gikuyu.”

2.4 De-colonizing the Indian mind

Even though this essay is about the impact of English education, we do not intend to imply that English-language elite education is the sole reason for the class divide or the only source of the class divide. Nor will we automatically connect with our cultural roots simply by switching the language and translating the educational material currently written in English into Indian languages.

There is a critical distinction between the learning of English as a language for external communication to using English as a primary language in elite schools and higher education. While learning English as a language subject can today be an empowering tool and needs to be encouraged, when it is turned into the primary medium of elite education its destructive effects in the creation of a disconnected elite class far outweigh any putative benefits.

This state of affairs has been brought about as a result of conscious state policy, and thus conscious state policy is required to remedy this. Colonization is perpetuated through the state-supported institutions that are the legacy of British rule and it is these institutions that will need to be changed to remedy its effects. While it is not in the scope of his essay to examine a comprehensive new language policy, we explore here some ideas for discussion.

Recent models of switching state institutions and the medium of education out of English, such as the example of Malaysia can be a useful study. Changes must begin as a “pull”—where access is increased for Indian languages, rather than as a “push” where people are forced to learn Indian languages while access, into higher and professional education and jobs, continues to be denied to them.

In the pull model a comprehensive study can be done of examinations, such as that for selections of officers into the Indian armed forces and IIM entrance examinations that perpetuate the English bias. Similarly, Malaysia implemented a wholesale change of its court system away from English. In India the High Courts remain English-based, rendering those with fluency in Indian languages unable to practice in them. The compulsory qualifying English paper in the Civil Services examination can be dropped—to the extent English proficiency is a job requirement it can be part of the post-qualification training for civil servants (similarly for army officers).

Management, engineering, medical and other professional education needs to be made available at the highest level in Indian languages. The barrier to entry to professional and higher education is a major reason why demand for English education at the primary and secondary level is growing. Unless the problem in higher education is fixed—again a situation largely perpetuated by the state—forcing Indian languages at the primary level is going to do little good.

A further step would a requirement for converting all English-medium schools into, at the very least, dual-medium schools, through changes at the central board level in CBSE and ICSE. In particular, there is very little reason that social sciences need to be studied in English. This will allow writing proficiency to develop in Indian languages that will increase demand for written materials in native languages.

Many of these steps may be seen as “going backwards” by the elite Indians. As this essay has argued, this backwardness is in the mind. The issue, instead, is of going forward by creating broad-based access to the modern economy from all sections of society and through all languages and unleashing the creative potential of many rather than the few. While incessant attention has been paid to the issue of caste-based access in India; relatively little has been paid to linguistic access that may, in fact, be the bigger determiner of social and economic class in India today and a bigger barrier to broad-based societal access and prosperity. The obsession with caste as the problem to access is itself a result of the colonial gaze—the same gaze that fails to study the problems of the English-based class system and of linguistic barriers and prejudice. Participating in the modern global economy does not require English-medium education. Rather the requirements of English-medium, imposed by state policies and private prejudices, create a barrier to participation in this economy for the vast majority of Indians.

The study of humanities and social sciences in Indian languages, particularly in higher education, also needs to be systematically privileged. The departments of humanities and social sciences in colleges and universities in India are the refuse of colonial policies, and have had little, if any, measurable positive contribution to Indian society, other than in producing new generations of disconnected neo-colonized who exhibit contempt and disdain for indigenous culture and traditions. As a result there is very little net value being created in these studies in Indian universities. The state should examine current funding to these institutions and knock down a few ivory towers. In particular, Indian language and Indian classics study requirements need to be made part of any advanced degrees in social sciences. State funding for higher education in social sciences needs to be examined for its efficacy and positive impact on real-world social issues. At the same time, scholarships should be made available to those who choose to pursue these studies, and write their dissertation in Indian languages and that draw from Indic roots.

Distinguishing a language learnt as a communication tool from a foreign language that usurps the role of a primary medium, a suitable language policy should support the teaching of English as a 2nd language while eroding its influence as a primary language.. In particular, jobs for teaching English as a 2nd and 3rd language should be created in rural communities. This would provide employment to the multitudes of English-language teachers, while serving to break down the debilitating institutional elite class-structure that has been created by privileging the knowledge of English in India.


  1. Raw language, GNP and population data from Microsoft Encarta®, 2002.
  2. Raw language, GNP and population data from Microsoft Encarta®, 2002.
  3. http://www.unima.mw/n-requirements.html#uee
  4. http://www.technion.ac.il/technion/studies/exchange/hebrew.html
  5. From Horace Wilson, “Education of the natives of India,” Asiatic Journal (1836). Quoted from Viswanathan (1998:41).
  6. Edward Thornton, Parliamentary papers, 1852-53. Quoted from Viswanathan (1998:23)


Dharampal. 1995. The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century, Other India Press

Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. 1986. Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature.

Viswanathan, Gauri. 1998. Masks of Conquest, Oxford University Press

A Spiritual Entrepreneur

By Sankrant Sanu.

Art of Living is a spiritual foundation. Started from scratch by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar about 25 years ago, it now has a presence in over 140 countries, with over 20 million people worldwide having taken its programs. Even by the measure of entrepreneurial success alone, that is an amazing story. 

Sankrant Sanu (SS): Art of Living is an example of a very successful entrepreneurial organization. How was this success achieved?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (SSRS): The success of any institution is in the efficacy of the product. When the product is very useful to people, it brings benefit; success, then, is natural. That is one aspect. The second aspect is that of philosophy. There are many people who “talk the philosophy”, but don’t “walk the philosophy” That has very little impact on people. But when you walk the talk, that makes a lasting impact—and it helps people walk the talk, too.

SS: Is there an aspect of marketing in the way you are spreading ideas?

SSRS: Actually, we are very low in marketing. We don’t need it, and are not interested in it.

SS: This is because the product [speaks for] itself …

SSRS: Yes. Moreover, we can’t cater to the demand as of now. We are unable to find quality teachers; we need to train more and more teachers. And we are already busy doing that.

SS: There has been some criticism about Art of Living charging for its programs, because it’s a not-for-profit organization.

SSRS: People expect charitable organizations to do charity work. And they want the charity work done by taking charity…

SS: By asking for charity…

SSRS: By asking for charity, which we don’t do. Art of Living charges a small amount for its programs, and whatever money comes from that, it spends on charity. Charity cannot happen from an empty bowl—it needs funds. There is no point in taking charity to do charity. We believe in working, earning, and doing charity from that.

SS: There is a notion that Indian traditions are world-denying and earning wealth is bad. Is that a misplaced notion, or is it true?

SSRS: Not at all. Lakshmi, wealth, is regarded here as a devi, as part of divinity. So here, wealth is always worshipped, honoured. We have never said that wealth is bad. We need to create wealth. This notion is the result of an impact from the outside; it is not in the Indian ethos. When you give blessings, you say, dhandhandya smridhirastu (which means, “Let there be an abundance of everything.”). Our country’s wealth has been plundered so many times in its history; in spite of this, it is really marching ahead. If Hinduism believed in poverty, it would never have had so many riches.

“There is no point
in taking charity
To do charity.
We believe in
Working, earning,
and doing charity
from That.”

SS: So the businessmen engaged in wealth creation should, in fact, feel good about their part in society?

SSRS: Definitely. That is their dharma. If you are in business, you have to create wealth not just for yourself, but for the whole society.

SS: Is there any message you would like to give entrepreneurs as they are creating this wealth?

SSRS: Entrepreneurs should also support the buying power of people.

SS: What does that mean?

SSRS: The buying power of people has to do with corporate social responsibility, or CSR. This has been a part of our ethos for thousands of years, but these words have been coined only now. Almost every business house you see has always been engaged in charitable work—they have built schools, tanks, dharamshalas, temples.

SS: So are you saying that, traditionally, CSR has always been there?

SSRS: Yes. Traditionally, it was always there. Hospitals, schools, tanks and dharamshalas have always been built by these institutions. I would like them to continue doing that, and keep 10 percent of their earnings for education, health and social welfare.

SS: How can the Art of Living programs help entrepreneurs?

SSRS: To be an entrepreneur, you need to have creativity and intuitive power. Art of Living can provide both—creativity and intuition. Meditation and pranayama bring out these two [qualities] from within.

SS: There is a shift seen in young people today, from being job-seekers to wanting to do something on their own.

SSRS: This is what we need to provoke in them, to create in them. Usually, people want to be in the comfort zone, so they seek out a job. Once they get comfortable in a secure job, their creativity dies. Then, there is no enthusiasm left in them. That is how people get into depression. Here, [at Art of Living], we encourage people to stretch out of this comfort zone and see the Spirituality gives you the strength to stretch out of your comfort zone and be an entrepreneur.

© 2010 Sankrant Sanu, all rights reserved.

Opportunities Beyond English

To liberate Indians from self-imposed colonial shackles.

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at a college in Gurgaon in Haryana, India, when a young student raised her hand. Urvashi was visibly nervous; I could see that it took a lot of courage for her to speak up in Hindi. “Where can I take computer classes in Hindi-medium?” she asked. I had no proper answer, but I had come across similar questions in rural settings, though not in the heart of the neo-urban metropolis of Gurgaon. On the one hand, we credit India’s success in software to our knowledge of English, on the other we fret about India’s relatively low level of Internet penetration relative to China. Looking beyond English in India provides opportunities to social and business entrepreneurs alike. But first we must take off our English tinted glasses.

A recent Supreme Court judgment on the Right to Education Act suggested that we are falling behind China since “children in China are learning English”. This is a fallacy—the Chinese may be learning English but they are not switching their medium to English—all higher education takes place in Chinese. The obsession with English-medium education, particularly for technical and higher studies, is keeping millions of Indian children behind. The top business and professional schools in India remain English-based—their entrance exams are not only in English but specifically test English-language skills. A child in China, or for that matter, Japan or South Korea, does not have to deal with debilitating switch in medium to go to engineering, medical or business school. Yet, this has not prevented these countries from creating some of the largest multinationals in the world—all on the basis of higher education in local languages of higher education in local languages. As demand for education in the rural and semi- urban markets picks up, it is worth remembering that only four of the richest 20 economies in the world, by highest per-capita income, are English-based. Universal education, not English-medium, is what gives China the advantage over India. Over 300 million people use the Internet in China—in Mandarin.

It is also a fallacy that our software success is built on knowledge of English. Israel’s population is half of Delhi’s, yet its software exports rival our own. It is true that many people in Israel do know English, though not many know it well. When I was a manager for Microsoft visiting my team in Haifa, I was surprised to find that the medium of communication—written and oral—within the Microsoft Israel office was Hebrew. In this office of a major multinational, internal communications were all in Hebrew, as is Technion, Israel’s top engineering college. A culture that values knowledge—similar to that in India—not the medium of education, has driven Israel to create some of the most innovative software companies in the world.

“it is worth remembering that only
four of the richest 20 economies
in the world, by highest per capita
income, are english-based.”

However, every mismatched supply-demand situation creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Here are some obvious ones. The first is there is a market for technical education in Indian languages that is under-served. Some weeks ago someone from Tamil Nadu sent me a proposal for creating technical education institutes. “Make sure you offer Tamil-medium,” I suggested. While initially these classes may need to have lower fees, over time there is a much larger base of students to tap. It is up to us to respond to that opportunity once we start looking beyond English.

The second opportunity is in hiring. When I was working at Microsoft, Redmond, we flew software engineers from as far away as Russia for interviews. Some of these people did not speak a word of English—I interviewed them through interpreters and they were some of the best hires I made.

Yet, in India, we may overlook talent if we insist on conducting interviews for technical candidates only in English, rather than the language they would be most comfortable speaking. The goal—to evaluate them based on their technical proficiency, rather than their knowledge of English.

The third opportunity is to spread back office operations from the large cities to smaller towns and semi-rural settings, affording lower cost and access to a broader talent base. Again, flexibility and openness about language use will allow this opportunity to be tapped. If specific language skills are required, these can be imparted as part of on-the-job. Why restrict ourselves to the English opportunity alone? BPO and call centres from France to Japan beckon. The opportunity to get a complete education in our mother tongues, combined with the ability to learn any language as a skill as needed, will bring greater, more-broad based economic opportunities and liberate us from self-imposed colonial shackles of English. This will help to propel us towards a developed economy—and lift all entrepreneur boats—in which every Urvashi can participate.

© Sankrant Sanu., all rights reserved.