This doorstopper of a book is really one long polemical pamphlet. The authors’ intention is historiographical confrontation with Bible-thumpers in Tamil Nadu, but what they lack is expertise in handling historical data and a professional approach.
Rajiv Malhotra, who appears to be the main architect of this book, belongs to the diaspora. The difference between the world-view of the diasporic Indian and the Indian of the homeland is vast. The middle-class diaspora of Indian professionals in the States is probably the richest community of US migrants, yet they have been unable to attain either first-class citizen status or get political leverage. They know first hand the fragility of an existence which experiences exclusion in various domains of social living. Their minority status and marginality in the US provides the ground for Yankee Hindutva.
The authors see three major civilisations competing for global dominance today—the West (especially the US), China and Islam. All three have diabolical designs of splitting India, according to them, and they focus on Western efforts to break India. The problem we have is not in the study of Western intervention, though, curiously, Yankee Hindutva attempts to usurp the language of anti-imperialism. Often enough, the reader does a double take—is s/he reading Prakash Karat or Rajiv Malhotra?
The problem is in analysing Dravidian and Dalit faultlines. They don’t get wished away by denial. One would expect the authors to analyse these faultlines, acknowledge the limited validity of conversions and identity politics, and discuss their limitations. Instead, they are in denial throughout and consequently fall into outrageous positions. According to them, Maoists in Dantewada get vital information from the Chinese (from their espionage on India’s defence networks and embassy communications), famed Bharatanatyam dancer Leela Samson is an evangelist, former CEC Seshan is quoted to prove that Annadurai was a pawn of the CIA. Malhotra bemoans that China’s government controls academic studies there while India’s government does not, he wonders if India has too much democracy, he is angry that there are studies on how Raja Rao is prejudiced against his Muslim characters, or how there are very few Muslim characters in Tagore’s works (now isn’t that interesting?), and he speaks extensively of the Maoist-Chinese venture in the Red Corridor from Chhattisgarh to Nepal. His take on the 2002 Gujarat genocide: “...the violent Hindu retaliation to the Godhra carnage—a Hindu-Muslim bloodbath, both sides lost lives but the Muslims lost more.”
More than half the book deals with a father-and-daughter duo, Devianayagam and Devakala; have you heard of them? They are Tamil evangelists, and while I hold no brief for either of them, I find it hard to believe, as Malhotra does, that they are Enemies Number One and Two in India. In reality, the largest numbers of Bible-thumpers are in Andhra Pradesh, which also records the largest volume of Christian funding from abroad and the largest number of ngos. But strangely the authors have no explanation why this should be so, despite Andhra Pradesh not being noted for Dravidian rhetoric as Tamil Nadu is.
Should we be embarrassed when Dalits take their issues to international fora? Maybe it sounds distasteful to you and I, but possibly we are not Dalits. As long as the Indian state and society oppresses Muslims, Northeasterners, Kashmiris and Dalits, it is natural for them to garner what support they can.
The Aryan invasion theory occupies considerable place in the book. While Dravidianists insist on the fact of an Aryan invasion (and are supported by studies of scholars such as Romila Thapar), Malhotra disproves them—but uses the same tiresome polemic without the attendant scholarship. The reader may not want to take sides, but would certainly have wanted to know about important scholarship in the area.
The conclusion is rather surprising, or is it? Malhotra sees the possibility of an alliance with the US. According to Malhotra, the US wants to build up India (containment of Chinese and Islamic threat, as a market, etc.), and it could possibly stop giving aid to India’s Dravidianists and Dalits. The conclusion reveals that the book is really aimed at US policymakers in a bid to promote an alliance between the US state and Yankee Hindutvavadis.
Apropos Gita Ramaswamy’s of the new arrival Breaking India (Books, May 23), Indian history has had only a few written records over the centuries, most by foreign visitors. Glorified oral accounts by native bards, or epic literary accounts have turned myth into history and history into myth. So we have ample space and scope for writing/rewriting our history the way we want. As long as one divides Indians into ‘us’ and ‘them’, the country will continue to be a welter of squabbling heterogeneous groups.
R.V. Subramanian, Gurgaon
Ms Ramaswamy’s ‘review’ deals with “how to perceive this book before reading it” instead of “what this book deals with and how”.
Ananda Ganesh, Bangalore
Gita Ramaswamy tars all Indians living in the US with the same brush. A few may fit her definition, but the majority don’t—not everyone is a Hindutvavaadi. And is it wrong to feel proud of your heritage?
S.V. Besur, Cleveland, US
How convenient it is to trash a robustly well-researched book with labels like ‘Yankee Hindutva’ and ‘long polemical pamphlet’. Even a cursory glance shows the authors have taken enormous pain to present facts from “as unbiased sources” as possible. For instance, they always quote from Christian/church sources on the subject of evangelism/conversion. There are even references to the so-called Hindutva magazines. To call such a book a pamphlet takes serious academic dishonesty. It’s evident the book infuriates the reviewer and hurts her cherished falsehoods and politically correct positions. After reading the book, I for one find it not to be just a ‘Yankee-directed’ Hindutva discourse. It also has original contributions from co-author Aravindan Neelakandan, born out of his direct experience with the social and cultural realities of the Tamil heartland. And why is she portraying the book as having an anti-Dalit tone? Nothing is farther from the truth.
Sank Nar, Bangalore
The review is an uninformed, unprofessional piece by someone with a chip on her shoulder and who seems to envy the success of US-based persons of Indian origin. Her charge that pios are marginalised in the US flies in the face of facts. As a senior US-based academic whose columns/reviews have appeared in leading publications, I know a thing or two about reviewing books, and secondly, I have never felt marginalised in the US.
N.S. Rajaram, on e-mail
Far from a review, the piece was a diatribe against the authors, and replete with errors at that. Ms Ramaswamy talks about Dravidian and Dalit faultlines, and says they can’t be wished away. However, she fails to recognise that these faultlines are what the authors are addressing! The first step toward finding a solution to a problem is to diagnose it correctly. And when Malhotra talks about the differences in the approach of China and India to foreign intervention, he’s not deriding Indian democracy, he is pointing out the lack of awareness among Indian bureaucrats about existing threats.
Basant Tariyal, on e-mail
According to the Oxford dictionary, a pamphlet (n.) is defined as a “small unbound booklet”. Now if the reviewer feels a 650-page book is “one long polemical pamphlet”, it breeds incredulity—and firstly, on her qualifications to write a review.
Bhagat, Princeton, US
I was astounded to read this amateurish review. In none of her views has Ramaswamy expressed what the book is.
After reading it, Outlook should have asked Ramaswamy to withdraw her shoddy attempt at a review.
Partha Desikan, on e-mail
It seems the reviewer is trying to say, by using craftily worded phrases like Yankee Hindutva, that this book is written by a couple of hopelessly delusional, rich but marginalised nris. It’s terrible that we in India have to tolerate such members of the ‘intelligentsia’.
K.P. Ganesh, Bangalore
This review is biased. The Aryan invasion theory has been totally discredited by all leading researchers. Even Romila Thapar’s stopped advocating it.
S. Gopa, Chennai
Regarding Leela Samson as “an evangelist”, it is interesting that she never explains how she feels about being a Christian on the one hand and performing items dedicated to Hindu deities on the other. Oh wait, she did say that the Kalakshetra Bharatanatyam is a “secular” style? Removing the spiritual atmosphere from Bharatanatyam is like guerrilla warfare.
Now it becomes clear why Ms Ramaswamy is frothing with rage, this book casts a beam of light on her and her ilk.
Akram Haidar, on e-mail
The problem here is that Outlook and its ilk take pride in their “sickular” credentials. The Hindu himself is the biggest enemy of the Hindu and this review proves that.
Jay Shah, Houston
I am not sure what makes this reviewer think that “middle-class” Indians in the US are excluded from all walks of social life and so “they then turn their frustration into support for Hinduism”. The author and many others somehow feel that “first-generation Indians have not assimilated in their chosen country if they express some opinion on Indian culture/politics/religion”. Hopefully, the coloured views of this educated left-leaning elite will decline over time.
Matt Shen, Bangalore
Ms Ramaswamy cherry-picks her arguments by claiming the book is a confrontation with Bible-thumpers in Tamil Nadu. She is also blissfully ignorant of the recent work done in the last three decades by Indic scholars on the Aryan invasion theory, including by historian Romila Thapar (whom she mentions) and Sanskritist Michael Witzel who have both withdrawn it. They now speak of ‘migrations.’ I’d advise Ms Ramaswamy to read the relevant literature before she ventures out even in an opinion piece, let alone a review. She uses a few catchwords she has picked up here and there and strikes at the book.
Dr Vijaya Rajiva, on e-mail
What I want to ask the author is what she was smoking while writing this review? As for her comments on Tagore, had she studied his works, she’d have known that it deals with few Muslim characters (exceptions are “Musalmaner golpo”). And if I were to jot down some of Tagore’s statements on Islam and Muslims, I’d be outright deemed communal.
Someone pretending to play agnostic with her own trickling (or tickling?) theories, yet she can’t restrain herself from “bewaring” Dravidians! Instead, I should caution people against these divisive agents.
It is intriguing to see Ms Ramaswamy coining the obviously contemptuous term, ‘Yankee Hindutva’ to denounce the book and its authors. The central theme of the book is not Hindu religion. It deals with the integrity of independent India. In doing so, it delves deep into the history of colonialism in India, the role of Christian missionaries in subserving the divide-and-conquer strategy etc. The authors give copious examples of facts to substantiate their views so it’s also amazing to hear the reviewer talk of a lack of scholarship. The language of sarcastic outrage makes one wonder if the lady who carries an obviously Hindu name is not a missionary messenger in clothes of Christian acculturation.
R. Venkatanarayanan, Noida
This is with reference to the review of the book Breaking India (Yankee Hindutva Strikes, Books, May 23). The review falsifies many hard facts about the book that could be missed only if one didn’t read it. The reviewer brands the authors as purveyors of ‘Yankee Hindutva’, a trite slogan to sensationalise, without giving any basis other than a rash, false judgement that nris are outside the US power structure. She also ignores the fact that one of the authors has lived in Tamil Nadu (where much of the book is located) all his life.
The branding of ‘Yankee Hindutva’ is intended to poison the well, by smearing the book as exclusivist hate ideology. This is incorrect, and the book makes several critiques of Hindutva, calling it “reductionism” (p. 554). The review incorrectly states that “more than half the book deals with...Devianayagam and Devakala”, when in fact these two persons are the topic of one chapter in a book of 19 chapters and eight appendices. It dismisses the book’s debunking of the Dravidian myth of the likes of Karunanidhi, calling it “tiresome polemic without the attendant scholarship”. On the contrary, the book cites extensive scholarship to make the case, including studies by B.R. Ambedkar and that of archaeologists like George Dales, B.B. Lal, Jim Shaffer.
The review alleges that the book denies the plight of the Dalits. In fact, the book makes clear that there are internal inadequacies of India in addressing Dalit issues (p. 4). Beside falsifying the book’s contents, the review also ignores major statements it makes, and all the evidence in 70 pages of end notes backed by a 60-page bibliography. This includes data never been published before. The reviewer also ignores the exhaustive documentation provided revealing the support Maoists receive from US-funded evangelical outfits. This strange, evangelist-Maoist nexus (pp 377-394) has been documented as early as the 1980s by Prakash Karat (Naxalism Today: At an Ideological Deadend. The Marxist No. 1, Vol 3, January-March 1985).
We sincerely wish Outlook will rectify the mistakes in the review by commissioning an honest and scholarly one. Ideally, the reviewer should be well-acquainted about US foreign policies on intervention, including the role of evangelists over the past century.
Thanks Gita for the honest perspective.
Would Rajiv Malhotra be open to public debates and discussions on these topics?
Thanks for an honest review of the book. Rajiv seems well aligned with the VHP and typifies their agenda and propaganda. Regarding, the 'father-and-daughter duo, Deivanayagam and Devakala', I know them quite well and N.S. Rajaram did the same in an article years ago in The Organiser, well known as the mouthpiece of the RSS.
The history of India has been distorted by Aryanism, and the Deivanayagam's have repeatedly requested open discussions on the history and literature of India. Why can't Rajiv take that up rather than resort to an approach which lacks, 'expertise in handling historical data and a professional approach'?
Its ones fundamental right to know and present the truth; then let each one decide for themselves. Prof. Irfan Habib, an eminent historian, when interviewed by the Hindu (January 8th, 1997) said, ‘Historical linguistics, inscriptions and the canons of archaeological excavations mean nothing to our friends in the VHP and the only thing that matters to them is working up religious sentiment.’
The book review show bias against one of the authors, Rajiv Malhotra, by placing undue importance on his being a U.S. based NRI. The reviewer should have refrained from making baseless and sweeping criticism of the author. Inspite of being a resident Indian I am able to relate to what is written.
First is the way in which European scholars, British and Germans included, tried to undermine the Indian read as Hindu civilization in every way. We read it in school/college although no text book explained it in as much detail as the author as. It is due to such painstaking work that I am able to see through the European game plan of dividing India. Even a cursory reading of the British rule makes you realize that the British sought to divide India in every possible way the effects of which are felt even today.
The eventual aim of dividing Indians and identify based politics was to weaken India and make Hindus more susceptible to conversions. Why else would Western nations remit billions of dollars to India every year?
http://www.rediff.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-why-more-scrutiny-of-foreign-funds-to-ngos-is-needed/20110517.htm. Social service!!
As a Hindu I am concerned when a dancer as well know as Leela Samson seeks to teach Bharat Natyam without all symbols that are associated with Hinduism. She is free to teach dance by all means but then should not call it Bharatnatyam and fool gullible Hindus. It is akin to Christian Yoga that is practiced in the U.S. Bharatnatyam and Yoga are synonymous with Sanatan Dharam and cannot be associated with Christianity.
As an Indian I am equally concerned about the father-and-daughter duo, Devianayagam and Devakala misrepresenting Sanatan Dharam. How would the reviewer Ms Ramaswamy respond if both the authors misrepresented Christianity and said so at workshops worldwide. In today’s environment a non Hindu can keep on criticizing Hinduism but is unwilling to accept criticism and existence of mythology in his own religion.
The reviewers leanings and intellectual bankruptcy can be gauged when she states that the Indian state oppressed Kashmiris. They are the most pampered people in the whole of India. Lack of space does not permit me to provide facts. Note that Hindus are the worst affected by TERROR. During Muslim and British rules and post independence in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab and the North-East.
I am disappointed Outlook!
The twisted minds cannot reason.Then they have the audacity to twist the minds of others.Hence these sort of books.They are simply the product of RSS ideology, a hatread generating one.
Anybody would exploit the weakness of others in some way to some degree.That happens in our day to day life.While this division of casted served the Brhamins well they did not bother to change and bring justice and this lasted for thousands of years.Even now the objective is to weaken the rise of Dalits and other so called lower castes and relegate them to an inferior position as it was before.Brahmins can never reconcile to the reality of equal justice and would always try to divert the attention by either writing such books or inspire other to do.These are the bookd that are akin to weeds and need to be shunned by the people with right minds
To magazines like Outlook, which act as gatekeepers of information, impose their own ideological slant on their readers and pass it off as objective truth, view a complicated world as black or white (therefore their stance that any defence of Hinduism is equal to Hindutva), promote writers who may know how to string a sentence together a little better than others (after all it is the craft from which they make their living, they should) but don't know how to truly think and only wield that skill to humiliate those who may not share their prowess, I say, your days are numbered. Fortunately, communications technologies are already bypassing you and new fora - blogs, wikis, social media - will render extinct magazines like Outlook, where the exploration of the truth has been subordinated to preserving their own power. And yes, media too, aware as it is of its power, quite obviously abuses it too.
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