Guest Post: India, a wounded civilization

Rohit will (once technical issues are sorted out) be joining our stable of writers.  Until that happens, he asked me to post this from his own blog:
(again, to be clear, this is not my writing, it is written by Rohit Pradhan)

India: A Wounded Civilization

The facts are starkly clear. The Bangalore branch of a storied bakery chain based in Hyderabad was targeted by certain individuals who forced it to cover Karachi. And replace it with the Indian flag. Never mind that the extant organization was founded by a post-partition Sindhi immigrant in the memory of the land he had been forced to flee in the orgy of the violence which followed India’s partition. The parent chain issued an abject clarification on multiple social media channels reiterating its Indian roots. It wasn’t a homage to Karachi which happens to fall in the Pakistan of 2019 but the city which was home for generations of the ancestors of its founder. The utter absurdity of this entire episode is beyond belief.

Perhaps, one is reading too much into a single incident. Perhaps, in a country of 1.3 billion people, it is easy enough to assemble a mob of few who are offended by everything. Or anything. Or perhaps it is not as singular as it may superficially appear and there are some larger lessons to learn here. Three points follow.

First, Karachi bakery has been forced to issue that absolutely shameful apologia because no one expects the Indian state to protect it from the anger of righteous mobs. The mobs which can cite whatever perverse version of nationalism they are extolling currently. And while the blame for it majorly goes to the ruling dispensation, the fact that its establishment was targeted in a state ruled by the opposition simply can’t be ignored. One formation may encourage this perversity; the other side has mostly abdicated its responsibilities so fearful it is now of rocking the prevailing doctrine. Politics is not a purist sport but if you can’t draw even the most basic distinctions, then it may not be one participating in as well. This is no attempt at false equivalence but underlining the fact that a reassurance from the leaders of Karnataka would have gone a long way in assuaging the frayed nerves of a bewildered organization caught in the middle of India’s cultural wars.

Second, the kind of nihilistic nationalism which thought it fit to assault a blameless commercial organization has sadly received a major assist from the social media. Where hunting down alleged anti-nationals has become a major sport and a pathway to gain popularity, cheap retweets, and potentially significant monetary rewards. The more strident the tone; the more heartfelt the criticism is the absurd logic where even a national icon like Sachin Tendulkar can no longer be insulated by his humongous achievements and services to India.

Liberals can’t escape the blame entirely here: their previous prescriptions of people-to-people contact or decrying war as a priori have failed abjectly to deliver any sensible results. They have long dominated the conversation utilizing similarly convenient rhetorical tools dismissing every criticism as warmongering.

As the narrative has dramatically shifted, they have no epistemological counter to this closing of the Indian mind. In this new world, they have failed to craft a new language which can counter this toxic and self-defeating nationalism. The neo-Right has intuitively understood and adroitly exploited the frustration of ordinary Indians. The liberals have withdrawn from this tough fight favoring the easy environs of their echo chambers facilitating the further normative dominance of this singular version of nationalism. Unless they are prepared to embrace patriotism located in the Indian genius and not their ersatz explication, their further disfranchisement is assured.

Third, writing in the Indian Express, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, has recently argued that India has lost to Pakistan. If further evidence was required of that interrogation of India’s deep psychological wounds: Karachi bakery provides the perfect instance. The anger, the frustration, the fecklessness, the sense of being utterly helpless have found the fullest expression. A country which in its own estimation deserves a place among the comity of the most powerful nations in the world has been utterly shown up. And it has nowhere to hide: unable to counter repeated terror attacks from an apparent also-ran which it had long left behind in its wake.

It maybe couched in the braggadocio of sneering twitter insults and memes recalling 1971, but no one should confuse it for what it really is: utter and complete surrender. Unable to punish the external perpetrators, its sullen frustration has turned inwards: manufacturing villains where none exist. The social media nationalists would indubitably disagree but this is weakness masquerading as strength and vicious backlash corralling the weak. A schoolyard bully lashing out at the vulnerable because even as its parades its strength, it is utterly aware of its decrepitude. A wounded civilization too proud to recognize its own ruins.

It makes one go back and read V S Naipaul’s An area of darkness A stronger criticism of the Indian civilization is yet to be written and its searing postmortem of its psychological wounds has never been surpassed. Unfortunately, because Naipaul was so unsympathetic a figure both as a writer and in his writings, both Indian liberals and nationalists have often misunderstand him as a brown sahib, and not what he really was: a man who wanted to embrace the land of his ancestors, and whose love story went awry.

There is anger, and then there is anger. There is the fury of Naipaul which uses a surgeons’ scalpel to bludgeon a country which had left him frustrated and confused. But it still stems from a deep reservoir of affection almost willing it to do better. And there is anger which is self-destructive; which appeals to the most baser instincts; and which simply can’t countenance the wisdom of a better India.

India must choose wisely. And must select which version serves it better: the defeatism of the inward looking malignancy which has long given up on India, and must therefore pander or the the one which pricks and raves and rants because giving up is simply not an option. And a better future might still arise from the debris of an eviscerated India. And from recognition of its weaknesses.

Naipaul’s next two Indian travelogues were more hopeful of its future. Perhaps therein lies redemption.

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59 Replies to “Guest Post: India, a wounded civilization”

  1. You are right India is indeed a wounded civilisation, which will keep on picking its scabs.

    Turning the young Hindu rage towards Muslims (sometimes other minorities) is a time tested strategy in India.

    In 1992 there were riots in my hometown Varanasi. In the Muslim majority locality of Madanpura the PAC (a state government police force) entered Muslim homes. Gleeful “uncles” told tales of how their women were dishonoured and their men beaten up, so badly that a generation of Muslims won’t dare to raise their heads. Hindu rage was satiated for a whole generation and there were no riots or any significant communal tension in Varanasi.

    India is a young country, a new generation has grown up who has no recollection of the collective punishment meted out to Muslims. Their energies can again be redirected towards Muslims. And so it will continue.

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    1. I am from the same region and your argument is beyond hilarious, giving you a benefit of doubt since I won’t accuse of being disingenuous.
      Ever heard about Mau Riots just 80-90 Kms from there? Happened very recently during 2005 under a supposedly secular government. One of the chief perpetrators is a candidate for MP in the upcoming general election from my own fucking constituency. He was also MP during 2004-09.
      Bas fokat ka narrative pilwa lo in secular chutiyon se.

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      1. Totally true.
        Muslims are not a cowed down populace in India. They are often the ones who start kinetics like when they did the burnt down the train in Godhra which led to riots.

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    2. “India is a young country, a new generation has grown up who has no recollection of the collective punishment meted out to Muslims. Their energies can again be redirected towards Muslims. ”

      The thing is we live in a world which no longer need “riots” to manufacture “Unity” or satiate “Rage”. Granted it could spill over inadvertently to violence,but i don’t anticipate large scale riots of the pre 2000s to make a comeback. It not because somehow we have become liberal, its because you don’t need them anymore. Now there is enough “rage” to go around on day to day basis, though social media and all. The muslim is sufficiently cowed down politically, its a battle b/w Hindus now. The one which liberals (seem to be) losing , hence Pratap Bhanu Mehta argument that “India has lost to Pakistan”. The fight he is referring to is not about Pakistan , its b/w the two India’s essentially.

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        1. Yeah i meant was it wont be a regular fixture as it was before the advent of social media/cable tv generation. Because there is no need to.

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  2. Karachi Bakery incident provided a great opportunity to politicos like Advani or local Patriots to give a fine speech . Incidents like this should be taken as opportunities for political theater instead of cowering before lumpen elements.

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  3. The whole Karachi bakery case was a contrived one. Some local hoodlums in order to come in the political limelight apparently threatened a Karachi Bakery shop in Bangalore. This was not even a mob, it was just a few people (around 10). These people had no political backing from any party. Karnataka anyway is ruled by a Congress alliance. The police came and handled the issue. Some arrests were also made.

    But this small incident gave India’s media fodder to start creating a narrative where bigoted Hindus had started turning in on themselves since taking on Pakistan is difficult. Such breast-beating by nominally Hindu liberals who are quick to find fault within Hindu society and blame Hindutva, RSS, BJP etc smacks either of bad faith or delusion or sheer dumbness.

    Much as we see the faults in the Indian right wing, the leftists are no paragons of intellectual probity either. Its more disappointing since they are the ones with the education and the degrees. Why are they so foolish and so immoral that in order to gain their preferred political outcome they can start doing propaganda at a Goebbelsian level.

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  4. This article hasn’t aged well BTW. It was written before India’s Balakot air strikes. Since then so much has happened. India struck Balakot. India and Pakistan each lost a plane in the ensuing Pakistan counter-attack.

    A precedent has been set that Pakistani terror attacks in India will no longer be risk-free for Pakistan proper and military retaliation by India will be certainly follow.

    I personally think India should have retaliated to Pakitani airforce trying to bomb Indian military targets and we have fallen short tactically. But in terms of shifting the strategic balance, I think credit has to go to Modi and the current Indian govt.

    This would have been impossible for the Congress which is full of idle, corrupt dynasts who just want to keep themselves in power and now have actively aligned themselves to the very far left in the political discourse.

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    1. There is zero evidence that India hit anything in Balakot. Internationally everyone agrees that India was either so incompetent they missed their target, or (more likely), they were afraid to spark a major confrontation with Pakistan, so intentionally struck an empty area to show Pakistan it *could* conduct such strikes if it really wanted to.

      The problem is Pakistan was able to retaliate (conduct a strike on an empty area in India), while also downing a pursuing Indian fighter. Again, there is no evidence that a Pakistani jet was shot down. Nobody is entertaining these myths other than the India-media (which has been internationally shamed during this incident due to their non-stop fake news).

      The balance hasn’t at all been shifted, and the entire episode has been seen internationally as a win for Pakistan. India was not able to establish that it could respond to terror attacks by striking Pakistan, as it was unable, to deter a similar retributive strike from Pak. This, plus the international pressure to broker a ceasefire after Pak’s strike, shows that India’s initial strike in response to the terror-attack was not seen as defensive/retributive, but a first-strike, which Pakistan was allowed/able to equally respond to, before deescalating.

      Nothing has changed.

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      1. @Indthings:
        Completely agree with you regarding the hysterical Indian media. Modi and his followers’ one demonstrable achievement is the bringing down of Indian media’s international standing several notches down. Indian media now resembles Pak media in late 2000s in its uncritical and “nationalist” fervor.

        That said, I think Balakot has been a strategic win for India. The maneuvering space beneath the nuclear umbrella in which India can operate without risking nuclear escalation to strike at terrorist camps has been undoubtedly expanded. (Pakistan can too, if it can credibly demonstrate to the international community existence of terrorist camps in India.)

        What is more ambiguous is if it was the huge PR win Modi was hoping for going into the elections, because of the optics of a downed IAF pilot in Pakistan custody. But that does not negate the former. The confusion arises IMHO because a lot of people on both sides are conflating Modi=Indian security interests.

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        1. “Pakistan can too, if it can credibly demonstrate to the international community existence of terrorist camps in India.”

          Well Pakistanis have argued that RSS is a terrorist organization ( a theory which has lot of takers in Indian side too) which carries out attack on muslims (and by extension “Pakistani people”), so…… 😛

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        2. “The maneuvering space beneath the nuclear umbrella in which India can operate without risking nuclear escalation to strike at terrorist camps has been undoubtedly expanded.”

          It hasn’t expanded at all. Pakistani and Indian officials, contrary to popular opinion, have frequent communication about the escalation ladder in such situations, and its understood that Pakistan would never use nuclear weapons unless its territorial integrity was threatened.

          And by threatened, it means threatened in such a way that nuclear weapons were Pak’s only means to neutralize such a threat. So an Indian raid into Pak-territory would never qualify, as Pak is able to use traditional means to repulse/respond in kind to such an attack. What Pak has in mind are total war scenarios, (like 1971), where its traditional military is overwhelmed and nukes are the only option to prevent loss of territory or sovereignty.

          India has known this. What they wanted out of this conflict was to show that they are so militarily superior to Pakistan, that they can threaten its territory/sovereignty not just with total war, but simple air-strikes (like Israel in Syria), where they can do damage, not take any casualties, and repulse any attempted response.

          This would basically cow Pakistan into removing terror-camps in their country, as it can’t tolerate continued attacks, and they likely would not use (or be allowed by the world) nukes to respond to such minor strikes. In short, it would be a humiliating defeat for Pakistan.

          This all fell through however, when Pakistan was able to use traditional means to equally respond to India (strikes in India without casualties), and prevent further attacks by India both via traditional military and diplomatic deterrence.

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          1. You seem to be expressing a lot of triumphalism at the fact (or opinion) that Pakistan can continue to allow terrorist groups to operate freely within its borders without fear of serious retaliation by India.

            It’s not like India is trying to strike into a neighboring country for fun. It’s basically trying to figure out how best to mitigate the problem of having a criminal (or criminally incompetent) regime across the border without escalating a full-blown nuclear war, which would literally destroy our civilization.

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          2. @Indthings:
            I am not a strategist, but not sure how accurate you are here. Still think the attack into Pakistan territory under the nuclear umbrella was precedent-setting and strategically significant, because if not, the international headlines would not all be highlighting this specific fact. It significantly raises Pakistan’s costs for the next terrorist attack that have any real or nominal links to the country.

            Pakistan knows this, and more importantly Pakistan and its proxies know that Indian strategic planners have limited maneuverability at time of the next Parliament or Mumbai attack post-Balakot, than previously. Balakot has effectively shifted the rational-actor-expectation and nuclear-escalation-anxiety from India on to Pakistan. This is the major strategic achievement of Balakot from Indian POV IMHO.

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          3. Lol. This is all meaningless conjecture since public evidence from neither side is convincing enough.

            But both Indian and Pak military establishment know what has happened. It will be reflected in their future actions. Wait for that.

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          4. Numinous,

            I am totally fine with Pakistan providing support to Kashmiris fighting to liberate their homeland from brutal Indian occupation (much like I think Indian insurgency against British colonization was heroic). Obviously I condemn any attacks on civilians, but yes, the Kashmiri struggle is a just one, and its commendable that Pakistan supports them.

            Parallel Universe,

            Yes I was being a bit dramatic when I said “nothing” had changed, but I think the dynamic actually puts more pressure on India than Pakistan. Following any future attacks, India will essentially be forced to respond in some way to maintain this new precedent they’ve established (or risk humiliation). This basically means Pakistan has India on a leash, and can dictate its actions.

            I also think the Indian appetite for such ventures will vanish when they realize India can’t accomplish anything from these standoffs. India will never be so militarily advanced that they can just strike Pakistan with impunity, and their much larger volume of forces can never be utilized as such a total war scenario will trigger nuclear responses.

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          5. “It hasn’t expanded at all. Pakistani and Indian officials, contrary to popular opinion, have frequent communication about the escalation ladder in such situations, and its understood that Pakistan would never use nuclear weapons unless its territorial integrity was threatened.”

            You’re making stuff up. Please provide sources (even statements in the media by Pakistani officials) to back any of your statements. What you’ve stated above is in contradiction to multiple public statements by Pakistani military officials betraying or outright declaring their trigger happiness to use nuclear weapons (whether its credible or not), in stark contrast to Indian military officials and civilian leaders, and a declared (and operational)* no first use policy. Acting like the crazy guy on the block has strategic advantages, so it’s not unreasonable for Pakistani military officialdom to hint or outright say that they’re not shy to use them tactically.

            * Like keeping warheads unmated and physically separated from their delivery systems (as in, kept in separate installations). The currently operational nuclear triad is enough to ensure a devastating response that should be credible deterrent enough.

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          6. I’m also going to need to see proof on your claim about nuclear escalation.

            Anyways, I think you’re confusing tactical details with the strategic picture. Good on Pakistan for its post-Balakot strike, but the fact remains that Pakistan can’t sustain a conventional confrontation with India for long.

            Also, in all honesty, I think you have a bee in your bonnet about India. Writing after Pulwama, MacDonald (an India Hand who is definitely not a BJP fan) states:

            “Pakistan, as currently constituted, is far more damaging to the cause of peace [in Kashmir] than India.”

            Of course, India will have to reform its approach to Kashmir as well. But that’s contingent on Pakistan’s de-escalation. In other words, this matter is much more complex than the evil, brutal Indians oppressing the peaceful, innocent Kashmiris.

            Also, this paragraph doesn’t make sense:

            “India will never be so militarily advanced that they can just strike Pakistan with impunity, and their much larger volume of forces can never be utilized as such a total war scenario will trigger nuclear responses.”

            It’s entirely possible to score conventional wins without seriously threatening Pakistani territorial integrity, so I’m not sure why you think there would be a nuclear response necessarily.

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        3. Tactical and PR win for Pakistan (for whatever the latter is worth…Madan doesn’t think it’s worth much at all. I agree with her. The former is worth practically nothing.)

          Strategically, it’s more interesting. A conventional air war would obviously favor India, without having a scope that would trigger a spooked nuclear strike. But all of that is contingent on India having the wherewithal to pursue this path.

          In other words, if the Indian military remains an army-based pension farm, with corruption and indolence as its bywords, then nothing is going to change.

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          1. I agree. While the politicians and the bureaucrats should get the majority of the blame for the current state of Indian armed forces, a lot of blame should fall on the serving officers themselves.

            The army-officers are content to be in the world of the British Raj with armies of soldiers serving them as orderlies and enjoying the perks and privileges of being an officer (access to golf courses, clubs etc). They don’t want to move to a less manpower heavy, technically equipped army which would be able to cause tremendous harm to the enemy in a short time.

            For example why do modern armies need two layers of hierarchies with Officers and NCOs/Other ranks? This way of doing things is a legacy of European Feudalism when officers could only come from the Upper Classes. Modern armies should have a single hierarchy and all soldiers should be technically proficient. Promotion should be based on leadership ability and combat proficiency.

            The Indian airforce just does not know how to buy fighter aircraft. Instead of getting good-enough aircraft in large numbers and a few cutting edge aircraft, in the last 20 years they have chosen the most expensive toy out there in the market and what with long drawn negotiations by Indian Babus, IAF has got neither quality nor quantity. IAF also wants tactical stuff like attack helicopters and they are getting some Apaches. Attack helicopters should be owned by the Army since they have to fight closely with ground troops. In the Kargil war there was a big tussle between the Indian army and the airforce where the army wanted attack helicopters deployed against the Paki positions and the air-force was not agreeable since they felt risking costly equipment for small gains did not make sense. IAF should stop frittering away their already small resources and concentrate on getting stuff they actually need.

            The Indian Army and the IAF have also been pretty hostile to indigenization of equipment since it would end the foreign trips the officers enjoy.

            The Navy seems to be a lot better IMO. It has consistently supported indigenization and with the result that many ships and submarines are now being built locally. I don’t know enough about Naval warfare to judge them however.

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  5. India issue is just not that its a “wounded” civilization, but its more like half -“wounded” civilization. The South and East dont see it in that way, because they are reconciled mostly with their defeat/ never saw it as a defeat in the first place.

    One of the most ironic aspect in chapter of the book that its tries to capture “Defeat” through Vijayanagar empire, whose own inheritors (South Indians) never see it as a defeat themselves (or wounded for that matter). Its like someone goes to Karachi and invoke Raja Dahir to show wounded-ness. Or going to Bengal and invoke Pratapditya or something. Just like N-Indians have their own view about wounded-ness so do South/East have a different view on events altogether.

    Sometimes i feel its better to be THE conquered civilization (Turkey,Pakistan, Egypt) rather than the wounded one. The conquered one at least has one narrative , not this eternal wars b/w “wounded” vs “completely fine” narrative.

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    1. Dude, i really don’t think bengal and Tamil Nadu are all that different from bihar and UP in terms of actual society and what people think. I can find you scores of Hindutvadis from each of those places. The Hindu consciousness still pervades both those places. You seem to be reading too much into the Immediate, tactical caste politics and the intellectual justifications certain people come up with for their support.

      Its true that North India was more directly oppressed by Islamic rulers for a longer time and hence no grand old temples in the North etc but the South and the Bengal did not get away lighty either. Many Bengalis are ardent Hindutva-vadis and tamil obc politicians still do all hindu rituals officiated by brahmins however much they profess their disdain for hinduism.

      The OBCfication of BJP under Modi-shah will make bjp difficult to resist in bengal and the south. Already in bengal bjp is the second largest political party. Tamil nadu may hold on for a time but karnataka is decidedly hindutva-vadi and certain areas in kerala and andhra may follow as well.

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      1. I would argue the opposite that the Hindu “unity” which you see is mostly a temporary phenomena in the long walk of history and India will revert back to its old mean of caste/patronage politics (if you haven’t noticed its happening already).
        Granted either side (left/liberals vs Hindutvadis ) now have more depth in their ranks and one side can no longer overwhelm the other, like it happened in the past.

        On South/Bengal vs North “consciousness” lets just agree to disagree, i will revise my position once i see actual results on the ground.

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        1. The resolution to the difference of opinion between you both is that the South is deeply religiously Hindu (more so than north), but the antagonistic Hindutva has much less organic traction there (exception being certain sub-groups, that are more connected to the northern mainstream).

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          1. “The resolution to the difference of opinion between you both is that the South is deeply religiously Hindu (more so than north)”

            😂😂😂

            Yeah i guess desi muslims must also feel that somehow they are more “muslim” than Arabs

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    2. Look at the insurgencies the Indian state has had to fight. The North-east people were animists and now Christian without much historical connect with India proper. The Punjab problem was a radical Sikh insurgency and the Kashmir issue is a radical Islamic one.

      The Indian state has never had to fight an insurgency in a Hindu majority state. Bengal and Tamil Nadu may yet succumb to Hindutva if BJP plays its cards right. What it needs are good local leaders in both places like Manohar Parrikar in Goa who made BJP a force in Goa in the 90s or Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam who has built up BJP in Assam recently. Also what will help are miss-steps by so called secular leader like Mamta Bannerji’s courting of radical mullahs or Kerala communists unnecessary and contrived interference in sabarimala.

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      1. Janamejaya, my understanding is that the North-east was organized by the Pakistani Army ISI. There is no love lost in the North east for Rohingya.

        The British decided to make Burma, Nepal, Sikhim and Bhutan independent at the last minute. What if Burma had been added to India at the last minute? How would history have proceeded?

        Two historical what ifs:
        —what if Rakhine State joined Pakistan while the rest of Burma joined India?
        —what if the Rakhine State and the rest of Burma joined India?

        I am surprised the fact that so many do not realize that the Rohingya conflict and the de facto Pakistan/Afghan conflict are unfinished business from partition.

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    3. @Saurav:
      I think Rohit and you are using “wounded” in different senses here.

      Agree with the VijayaNagar part. My own opinion is that Naipaul, as brilliant as he was, cannot be considered a credible commentator on India. His interpretations are always (understandably) filtered through the romance of a looming yet inaccessible India from his childhood, which clearly did not meet expectations when he finally encountered it. My amateurish psychoanalysis is that it is that pain of crushed expectations he projects on to the reality of India and its civilization.

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      1. “My amateurish psychoanalysis is that it is that pain of crushed expectations he projects on to the reality of India and its civilization.”

        I dont think we need to go that far. My view is had Naipaul been a S-India/Bengali origin guy he would have looked the whole “wounded” civilization thing differently. But what Naipaul speaks is actually a running theme in N-India( not just U-Caste as its made out to be ), so i am not surprised, he just articulated and gave a name to what N-Indians feel.

        On me using “wounded” differently to Rohit, i dont think so . Cut down on all this clutter and its essentially referring to civilization divide b/w N-Indian Hindus and Muslims (of Pakistan and India). You understand that, i understand that, everyone understands that, that what matters. Rohit just expressed it in better words (that’s why he is a writer , i am just a commentator) 😂 😂 😂

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        1. Hello Sauravji,

          Is it possible that the civilisational-woundedness feeling of north Indian Hindus will reduce if the material wealth of north India increases in huge amounts in the future (as it has started to happen) and it regains its old glory back and this time under a general (or more intensified to suit the needs of Hindus) Hindu domination (because Republic of India is certainly not like the Mughal Empire or Delhi sultanates or whatever)? And also, do north Indian Hindus also have this feeling of woundedness with reference to the colonial British people too? If not, why not? If yes, what’s the intensity of hurt felt in this case compared to that associated with earlier Islamic invasions?

          Majorly I am curious about the above. I sincerely apologise for any inconvenience I have caused you.

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          1. @Santosh:
            Very interesting angle to look at the issue from- hadn’t thought of this.

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          2. Perhaps Sauravji mentioned a partial answer somewhere before (I am not sure but I think it is very probable). The British-associated hurt may not be that high because there were never a lot of British people and Anglo-Indians and Christians at any time in India and their major impacts are all on abstract levels? But also, the Muslims may be causing more hurt for north Indian Hindus because they are the largest minority?

            Another interesting question (interesting from my point of view lol), I am requesting not only Sauravji but also others, is what would happen if most Muslims suddenly become as liberal as Scandinavians or something (edit: also, importantly, developing more intense devotion towards India as a civilisational entity), overnight (which is not possible lol). That is to say, how much of the angst is about the somewhat slower liberalisation of Muslims in the modern day (not that Hindus are becoming super-liberal; if anything, that liberalisation process always has to be kinda top-down imposition (and if the higher echelons continue doing that, there may be increased destabilization issues faced by the Republic as well) on all Indians in India because India is not naturally liberal (as the world itself is, in general, perhaps)) and how much is it about the destruction faced by north India in the past in the hands of Islamic invaders? Again, these might all be very fundamental questions having answers in first-year textbooks or something lol. I’m just bored; that’s why I am writing all this nonsense ultimately haha.

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          3. Maybe the continued existence of Pakistan in the future will also ensure north Indian Hindus always remain hurt even if the material wealth aspect changes? And yes lol, I think people should pay more attention to what Sauravji says. He is the most brilliant commentator on this site. His characterisations of south India (I don’t know about Bengal) are so damn accurate, I can’t even. South Indians (excepting perhaps the people of Karnataka) are generally less patriotic and also not very anti-Pakistani in attitudes perhaps because we are very opportunistic, selfish and kinda uncivilised at our core, with a strong amount of amnesia about the past.

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          4. Sorry for all my totally unnecessary comments above lol. I will search and find Sauravji’s previous comments that maybe talking about all my doubts.

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          5. “Is it possible that the civilisational-woundedness feeling of north Indian Hindus will reduce if the material wealth of north India increases in huge amounts in the future”

            I am not sure man, frankly even though it seems logical but i have seen evidence for both. Has Gujrat, Maharastra economic prosperity reduced the animosity? Look at Pakistani Punjab its simultaneously the richest and hostile state to India. These thing overcome monetary wealth. I could argue sometimes it can even excarbate the hostility , since more urban (rich) spaces have more riots since either community has less to lose than in rural (poorer) areas where they depend on co-exitance for day to day stuff.

            “The British-associated hurt may not be that high because there were never a lot of British people and Anglo-Indians and Christians at any time in India and their major impacts are all on abstract levels?”

            Yeah that’s true. That; one major difference b/w anti british and anti muslim hate. Also to add to the fact that no one (community) hands is really clean wrt to collaboration with the brits so no one can accuse the other.

            On the whole Patriot games of North -South, lets not play that. Its a bullshit parameter and I am closer to the right (than the left) and saying this.

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          6. Hello Sauravji, do you use terms other than patriotism to represent the concept that you refer to when talking about south Indians in your comments? Like their complete lack of historical memory (or possessing only a very short memory) and indifference towards events of the past. I agree it may not be lack of patriotism though the actual thing might also be causing somewhat lower patriotism in south Indians.

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          7. Lol please don’t reply Sauravji. (Not that you are considering to reply lol). I have to end this debacle right now or I will have to die a slow death of awkwardness and cringeworthiness for some 6-7 hours to come lol.

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          8. @Santosh

            I use words like Patriots and Traitors very rarely . This are too strong too be bandied around. I feel as a N-Indian , S-Indians are just fine , not less or more patriotic or whatever.
            Dont know if there are any substitute . And please stop doing this “ji-ji” thing. LOL

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        2. @Saurav:
          Believe the author is referring to a second round of wounding of India- obviously with an allusion to the first round, since he refers to Naipaul- by “nihilistic nationalists” (an interesting and somewhat meaningful term I must agree).

          To quote him:
          “It maybe couched in the braggadocio of sneering twitter insults and memes recalling 1971, but no one should confuse it for what it really is: utter and complete surrender. Unable to punish the external perpetrators, its sullen frustration has turned inwards: manufacturing villains where none exist.”

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          1. My bad, i was thinking on the lines of what Naipaul meant originally by “Wounded civilization” argument.

            But i would just add that the whole “.Unable to punish the external perpetrators, its sullen frustration has turned inwards: manufacturing villains where none exist” is not just a “Wounded civilization” thing. We find this in a lot of different countries in different times (Post WW1 Germany, Ottomans vis-v Armenians, Arab countries after its defeat to Israel). So its not a unique thing about India.

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  6. Naipaul’s notion of a ‘wounded civilization’ is not about oppression or offended egos. What he refers to – IMO, of course – are the interrupted traditions of learning (international universities, math, astronomy, literature), architecture etc.

    Some of these were replaced but some were lost.

    2+
    1. I thought Naipaul was getting at something more basic: that Indians seemed to have no (or lost the) capacity for thinking, reflection, introspection, self-evaluation, etc. These are foundational attributes to build any system of learning on.

      In his second book about India, he was also quite clear on what he thought the source of the “wound” was: the Islamic invasions, and many centuries of Muslim rule over a Hindu people.

      2+
  7. “that Indians seemed to have no (or lost the) capacity for thinking, reflection, introspection, self-evaluation, ”

    To me even though what he articulates as post “muslim world order” in India is accurate, to me Naipaul understanding of “Hindu India” has always been problematic. We were not the world beaters as we think we were. Thats where @Parallel Universe comment on his understanding of “romance of a looming yet inaccessible India from his childhood” comes into place. ” Naipaul was trying to find that “Hindu” India of stories of his parents. Instead the India he encountered (according to him) was this “muslim devastated” India.

    Its not very different from Hasan minhaj might think today’s India is “British devastated” India. Both views are not wrong but incomplete.

    We all have our favorite villains. It is almost always never our tribe,community,ethnicity (or else how will we romanticize sub-nationalism, while saying fuck nationalism) , its always the “other”

    2+
  8. India is a wounded civilization in the same manner as the world of Islam is one.

    The fact is there is always an ebb & flow, rise and fall in the long histories of civilization. Most civilisations co-eval with the Indian civilization are long dead. Indian civilization in the last 1000 years has had its greatest and longest period of decline and its only slowly now trying to find its feet again and come to terms with its potential.

    The fall itself, against the invaders using the banner of Islam, was majorly self-inflicted.

    If Alberuni is to be believed, and I find no reason not to on this point, the Indians in his time i.e. in the immediate aftermath of some devastating raids by Mahmud of Ghazni, were still quite haughty and arrogant and believed that there was no country greater than theirs. At the same time there were already signs of decadence such as Indians not being able to give a proper account of their history to Alberuni and also being very pathetic in making new copies of their old and important manuscripts, whereby the accuracy of the original was being lost.

    After this 1st major wound, Indians did not learn and therefore allowed the Islamic Turko-Mongol & Afghan tribes to rule over them for many centuries subsequently.

    The nature of a wound does not totally determine the nature of a society or civilization. While it is true that the lack of self-confidence of Indians in their own civilization is majorly because of centuries of foreign domination under alien cultures, one can see that there is today an effort to come out of this stupor and aim for its ancient high position. This attempt seems to have been lacking in the earlier centuries when the Islamic sceptre was an ever present dominating influence.

    So the question is how does one make use of this golden opportunity ? Grab it with both hands or let it fritter away ? There is a test in this for the Indian civilization. Does it still have the fortitude & resilience to recognise & grab this opportunity ?

    Certainly there are people who recognise the challenges and who are also trying to meet and overcome them. But there is a large group which is too individualistic and self-centred. It does not work towards bringing the larger Hindu community together and work as a united potent force. It is this group that often sees the Islamic other, it’s visibly alien way of life and it’s unity on occasion of Islamic prayers & festivals and loathes it. But being unable to do anything about it also fears it. This is the manifestation of the ‘wound’.

    But any right minded Hindu cannot afford to live in fear. The Islamic world itself is in a state of decadence and there is not a single Islamic political entity that can manage to militarily stand up to India. And if the current economic trajectory continues this differential is only going to widen. Nor are the Islamic countries, except Pakistan, adversarial to Indian civilizational interests, or atleast are not powerful enough to pose as an adversary. The subcontinental Muslim also does not see himself as an Arab or a Persian or a Central Asian, except for some lunatics in Pakistan and North India. He is also aware that while he is different from the Hindu he is nevertheless from this same land. So once India starts becoming an economic and cultural powerhouse, the South Asian Muslims will proudly claim their subcontinental roots.

    In the meantime, the Hindus have to come together and unite. There are already several religious Hindu groups such as the Swaminarayan group, ISKCON, the Isha foundation, Art of Living, Swami Ramdev etc, who individually have a large devoted following. These can be brought together and made to work towards building a common civilizational and religious consciousness among the Hindus. If this is achieved, the signs of the ‘wounds’ will eventually disappear. There is really no reason to waste one’s time in pontificating how bad the Muslim rule was or how ‘evil’ Islam is or how the British ruined India. That is a lesson in history to learn from. But perpetually playing the victim is a sign of decadence and we can ill-afford to live with such a mentality.

    8+
  9. I recently finished reading Aatish Taseer’s The Twice Born, and I highly recommend it those interested in the Hindu response to modernity. His lucid prose aside, I find him to be very sensitive and sympathetic to the Hindu way of life and how it is under siege in today’s world.

    India is indeed a wounded civilisation, this is plain for all to see. Centuries of Muslim and British rule have left it adrift. The Hindu right today is fighting against the twin, largely imagined forces of Islam and western culture.

    The wound manifested itself as a diffidence and an inward looking fatalism in the generations of our fathers and grandfathers – their worldview was shaped by India’s place in the world as a newly independent, third world nation struggling to stay afloat. They would massage this hurt by turning to literature, ghazals, classical music, the stuff that gave them solace. They were secure in their indian-ness, whatever it may have been at the time.

    Post liberalisation, and with the internet thrown in, today’s Indian youth are confused. Not fully westernised, and holding on to a husk of what they think is indian-ness but is actually sectarian chauvinism. I guess this would describe the folk that attacked the bakery in Bangalore. Eroded from one side by pesudo-scientific claims of those who want to project imagined greatness onto ancient India and on the other by claims of victimhood of a thousand year atrocity, where exactly is Hindu culture today? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine

    3+
    1. Siddharth, I don’t understand your perspective.

      Many of the schools in Buddha Darshana, Jain Darshana, Sikh Darshana, Bon, Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Purna Mimaamsa, Parsi (the vast majority of living Parsis are in India so it has become a de facto Bharatiya religion), Bahai (again become de facto pan Arya SAARC religion since most adherents live in SAARC), Sufi Sunni, Irfan Sufi Shia, Bharatiya Christian and many other streams are living and thriving.

      The large majority of people are not very religious or spiritual. But for those on the path, there has never been a better time than now.

      This is slightly different from India the country. India the country is also generally rising and booming. But faces a major threat from post modernism structural marxism. But then so does every other country.

      All muslims and nonmuslims face a similar shared threat from Jihadi Islamism. India is not different from other countries in this either.

      India also confronts a series of other major challenges in competence, capacity, merit, physical health (bahu balam), mental health (chitta shuddhi), intelligence (buddhi); which India is gradually working through.

      “pesudo-scientific claims of those who want to project imagined greatness onto ancient India”

      Many of these claims of ancient science and technology are true. There is no imagined greatness. There was actual greatness. At some point hope to write a series connecting Sanathana Dharma/Bon/Toaism with neuroscience. And to have podcasts on this.

      “and holding on to a husk of what they think is indian-ness but is actually sectarian chauvinism”

      This is not the problem. The issue is that most Indians lack competence, capacity, merit, physical health, mental health, intelligence and yet pretend to be in possession of these traits (versus focusing on actually acquiring them through effort). Many Indians speak without a deep understanding of their own ancient traditions or technologies. Most who opine have not even bothered to study ancient texts, let alone practice meditation or devotion or jnaana or service.

      4+
      1. Agree with many your points.

        There was actual greatness in India’s past, no doubt about that. Many of the discoveries of what people call the age of Muslim science actually originated in India – the numeric system, algebra, astronomy, etc. Ancient Indians were probably the first to recognise that animals have a conscious mind and worthy of protection
        https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/03/what-the-crow-knows/580726/

        But the projections of pseudo-scientific nonsense is doing a great deal of disservice to the ancients, as well as undermining the scientific temper of a modern nation that wants to be taken seriously on the world stage. More than anything, it’s the hallmark of a broken ego, one that is not secure in it’s past and future.

        India faces the threat of Islamic extremism like all nations, but Indian muslims have been largely peaceful and well integrated. Drumming up hatred of the muslim next door is absolutely not the way to go about things.

        The Hindu right as it currently stands has been largely silent or half hearted towards the issues that REALLY matter to most Hindus in the country – freeing the temples of state control, allowing Hindus to create and run educational institutions with state aid, and ending caste based violence once and for all that has given rise to outfits such as the Bhim Army.

        Token gestures such as the Ram Mandir issue or Love Jihad, etc. to win votes is going to be counterproductive and only detract from the real issues.

        2+
    2. I’m going to propose a deliberately provocative counterpoint here: in the long arc of history, India is not wounded at all, but a civilizational exemplar of strength and adaptability. To see it otherwise is not taking the long view.

      Alexander the great, Ghenghis Khan (both of whom managed to subjugate other world powers at the time) never managed to get past the Indus river. India is a huge diamond shaped gap in the minds of those who dreamed of a caliphate that stretched from the Atlantic to the sea of Java, a fate that the Persians for all their splendor could not avoid. It is estimated to have had the highest GDP in the world (according to various economic historians) throughout most of recorded history (except for a brief period between the 14’th and 15’th centuries when it was China) until the twin stroke of the arrival of the British, and the industrial revolution resulting in productivity in the west skyrocketing.

      Indeed, civilizations rise and fall. Not many rise, fall, rise, fall and then rise again. I think there’s a strong case to be made that India is on an upward arc again, and what we’re seeing are the death spasms of a mentality of generations of people who are culturally conditioned to dream, but whose self conceptions are plagued with a deficit of self-esteem (injured masculinity everywhere), frustration and self loathing from living a mundane existence that is quite distant from where their inner worlds say they should be (Sudhir Kakar has much to say about this).

      Watch what two to three generations of relative economic well being will bring. Most of what we’re debating here will probably seem as distant and ridiculous to future commentators as the proposition to a medieval Baghdadi that a bunch of toothless peasants on an island north of Gaul will eventually export their language all across the world and create the biggest empire the world had ever seen, just so a bunch of Hindis can argue just what a number they did on them in their tongue.

      3+
  10. By what objective criteria is this ‘wounded civilization’ starting point arrived at ?

    Are levels of violence in India (criminal or inter-ethnic) higher than the average of its income peer group ?

    Are illiberal laws that restrict the rights of specific communities to freely practice their religion being passed ?

    Is there a profound lack of economic, cultural and scientific output from India ?

    The answer to all these questions is a resounding NO.

    Inter-ethnic harmony (whether on religious or linguistic grounds) is higher in India than even the countries in income groups ahead of it. If you want to dispute this, please present statistical evidence, not anecdotes from media.

    India’s industrial economy is among the five largest in the world, only behind China, US, Germany and Japan. Cultural output is possibly the highest in the world. Scientific output of acceptable quality is among the top 5, and of very high quality (see Nature league tables) is nearly in the top 10 among the world.

    Again, if you dispute this please present arguments grounded in data and analysis, rather than impressions and beliefs. Some op-ed written by a professor somewhere is not enough.

    I think that a lot of this ‘wounded civilization’ and ‘India is crisis’ rhetoric comes from NRIs, in major part because they need to continually justify their migration to themselves.

    (Please no responses from Kabir and IndThings.)

    3+
    1. @Vikram:
      “Inter-ethnic harmony (whether on religious or linguistic grounds) is higher in India than even the countries in income groups ahead of it.”

      Nope. India is right on top of social/ religious hostilities, higher or statistical tie with Pakistan! (The natural reaction to this I have seen is to dispute the data or organization.)

      https://www.pewforum.org/2015/02/26/restrictions-and-hostilities-in-the-most-populous-countries-2013/

      1+
      1. I said I wanted objective criteria, not surveys and impressions, no matter how well known the organization or how pretty the pictures they produce.

        Apparently, Philippines with three times India’s murder rate has far more social harmony ?

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  11. If there is a set of complaints I have with India, it would be as follows:

    1) Remove anti-defection law now.

    2) Remove all restrictions on free speech. Let FM radio broadcast news.

    3) States need to have far more decision making powers. States themselves need to provide Constitutional status to cities and local governance bodies, and ensure a genuine distribution of administrative and political power.

    4) We need to inculcate a better literary environment, although this is happening on its own. I am not a fan of the fact that a generation of Indians is growing up immersed totally in Harry Potter, LOTR and GoT. This is understandable, but the problem can be addressed and perhaps is being addressed.

    1+
    1. Most of India doesn’t have a literary culture. The kids who read Harry Potter and the likes would be in the top 3-4% of the population.

      My cook’s daughters are about 12 and 7. They can speak Bengali, Kannada, Hindi and to some extent English. But they did not have any conception of reading as a non-academic activity till I told them about it.

      I give them books from time to time (illustrated Ramayana, Harry Potter etc.) but they do not really read them. They might pick it up once in a while when I try to quiz them but go back to their smartphones very quickly.

      I feel that the smartphone revolution is going to ensure that India doesn’t develop a literary culture 😛
      (Although it might give a fillip to literacy, general knowledge etc. You might be interested in checking out Google’s new ‘Bolo’ app)

      0
  12. @Siddharth:

    Great points- uncommon to see such nuanced take that doesn’t fall into one or the other camp.

    0
  13. I once read an interesting anecdote in the memoirs of a late Hindi movie actor. (I guess it was Balraj Sahni, but my memory might be hazy. Anyway, I will just assume it was Sahni).

    He writes that once during the days of British India he was travelling by car to Simla. Somewhere in the hills the road got blocked due to landslide. A construction crew employed by the government started working to clear the road. In the meantime a long queue of parked vehicles formed waiting for the road to open. Waiting travelers collected in groups and started cursing the British government for keeping India’s roads broken, and in general blaming British for everything that was wrong with India.

    After a couple of hours, the maintenance crew cleared the road, announced the road as open, and left. But now a strange problem appeared. Nobody wanted to go first on the road just opened lest there might still be danger ahead. So everyone sat in their vehicles waiting for someone else to go first.

    After a few more minutes, an Englishman appeared in a car on the scene. Not understanding why a long line of vehicles was parked on a seemingly clear road, he asked Balraj Sahni who was standing nearby. Sahni explained him the whole scenario. On hearing the whole story, the Englishman gave a hearty laugh, honked his horn, and drove full speed ahead on the open road. Once he drove on, everybody followed him in their cars and trucks without any further hesitation.

    Sahni wrote that that day he saw firsthand what was the difference between a free man and a subjugated man. A subjugated man loses his capacity to think independently. He loses initiative. He loses the capacity to lead. He looks around for someone else to lead him.

    The reason for my narrating this anecdote is that I feel even after 7 decades of independence, somehow India still remains a follower nation. We still look to West for approval. So in that sense, I do believe India is a wounded civilization.

    1+

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