Blogs > Cliopatria > Vandals Attack Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

Jan 7, 2004 1:59 pm

Vandals Attack Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

Well here's one in the eye for historians, researchers, biographers, people who staff research institutes, people who learn from historians, researchers, biographers, people who staff research institutes, and the books and manuscripts they have in those institutes. Who do they think they are, anyway?

I would provide all the links separately but complete review already has. Thanks to the people there and to the reader at B&W who told me about it.

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Ophelia Benson - 1/8/2004

Or a three-way between India, China and Pakistan. Yep, that will make North Korea and Iraq look positively cuddly.

Thanks for the expansion; very interesting. Those ignored politely-raised hands make a good general metaphor.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/8/2004

Well, I don't have my conference notes handy, but it was pretty memorable. It was at ASPAC, the Pacific region meeting of the Assocation of Asian Studies, held in Honolulu this last June. The panel was on Indian nationalism, I think, but there was only one paper presenter and the panel organizer: the other presenter (or presenters, I don't remember offhand) and the scheduled discussant had travel problems or some such. The presenter, a graduate student, gave a carefully neutral, but nonetheless chilling, account of Hindu nationalist paramilitary training "summer camps." Then the organizer, a senior scholar, decided to hold forth on his own, starting with a quick, backhanded dismissal of the paper presented.

The first thing I remember was his impassioned argument (actually, the whole thing was done in what seemed like a mix of ironic superiority and barely suppressed rage) that to call the VJP a "Hindu Nationalist Party" or "Hindu Fundamentalist Party" was akin to translating the Republican Party as "White Capitalist Supremacist Party" or some such. Then he went on to argue that the Hindutva movement was entirely legitimate because there were nationalistic movements in other countries, so why shouldn't India have one too, and critics of it should attack those other movements first...... There was something there about Indian history being for Indians and he went on and on and on, ignoring the politely raised hands, and I finally decided that I'd had enough of the "experience" and if there wasn't going to be a discussion (and there was no sign that there was, and he'd mentioned a few topics he had to skim over and was planning to get back to) then I was done, and I left.

I got a little coffee, and tried to calm down. I wandered by the room again a little later, and he was still talking. I didn't know most of the other scholars in the audience (the East Asian and South Asian groups within Asian studies are really very different groups, with very different issues and without a lot of crossover), so I never got a full report on what happened after.

I tend to agree with Tim Burke's assessment of Hindutva as a totalizing nationalist ideology coupled with fascistic politics, complete with the paramilitaries. If you want to be really scared, consider the transition China is making from Maoism to totalitarian nationalism, and consider that China and India seem to be getting along better and better lately. The problems we're having in the Middle East are child's play compared to what happens if India and China decide to form a real Axis. Or fall out and go to war, for that matter. We'll look back fondly on our little problems with Iraq and North Korea....

Ophelia Benson - 1/7/2004

Purity - what a lot that one concept has to answer for. The Taliban are very keen on purity too, along with some other religious strains we can all think of.

Ophelia Benson - 1/7/2004

That's very interesting - about the conference. Can you tell us more?

Timothy Burke - 1/7/2004

Well, here I go right after trying to set rules for historical analogies, but I think it's perfectly fair to compare Hindutva to European fascism circa 1933 or so. And here I do not mean the obvious, loaded comparison to Nazism and Nazi anti-semitism, but more the general fascist, anti-modernity idea of culture and nation found in Italy, Spain and Germany, the notion that the nation must come from some purified essence of a people and culture, and cosmopolitan, mixed, modernist elements must be burned away and discarded, sometimes metaphorically or positively (say, through behaving in new ways, or adopting new practices, or creating new aesthetic forms like Italian futurism) and sometimes through the active assault on cosmopolitan, dissenting, heterogenous or "foreign" elements within the nation's boundaries.

I think that's a pretty fair description of Hindutva as a political and cultural movement. It differs from fundamentalism in that it's actually not altogether that religious--it uses Hinduism as a synonym for a purified "Indian" identity rooted in some allegedly primordial, unchanging essence residing within the subcontinent, not as a body of doctrine which must be enforced upon believers. (In fact, some Hindutva advocates actively insist on Hinduism's doctrinal and practical pluralism and lack of interest in prosletyzing as markers of Indian distinctiveness and separateness from all "foreign" elements within contemporary India, and a rationale for the purification of the Indian nation).

Jonathan Dresner - 1/7/2004

At first I nodded at this line from Annanova: "Another horrific and senseless book destruction-rampage, this time in India." Then I thought, isn't that redundant? When is the destruction of books, much less irreplaceable manuscripts, sensible or comforting?

The rise of Hindutva (the word "fundamentalism" actually fails to capture the intensity and rigidity of its thinking) is a deeply troubling trend. I walked out of a talk at a recent conference when it became clear that it was an extended apologia for such thinking (and that comments were not going to be entertained).