Lawyer and author J Sai Deepak is back with the book of his India that is Bharat Quadrology. I had reviewed his first book India that is Bharat almost a year back – you can find my review here.
J Sai Deepak’s second book dissects the time from the fall of the Mughal empire to the Khilafat movement relying heavily on the tools developed in the first book and a vast number of primary sources. The author also investigates the trail of the Islamic doctrine consolidated during the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri (compiled on orders of Aurangzeb) back to the 13th century Islamic scholar Taymiyyah and Syed Ahmad Sirhindi (a contemporary of Mughal Emperor Akbar).
The two figures covered in detail among the post Mughal Ulema are Shah Wahiullah Dehlawi and Syed Ahmad Baraelvi – the two giants who have shaped the Islamic revivalism in the 18th century. The establishment of Wahhabi power center in Northwest of Punjab, establishment of the various schools of Islam in North India – Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Ali-garh and the British crackdown of Wahhabism are all discussed in sufficient detail before jumping off to Syed Ahmad Khan and the modern genesis of the two-nation theory. The author then covers all the important events from the Partition of Bengal to the Khilafat movement – relying heavily on primary sources. The book ends with a summary of the Khilafat riots – especially the Mopla massacre.
My 2 Annas:
It took me 3 weeks to complete the first section of the book. I completed the rest of the book in 2 days. I think this statement itself is a review in a nutshell. If I had to give a one phrase review for book 1 it would be “Overstated yet immensely Consequential“, if I have to do the same for book 2 it would be “About time or Oh My Gods“. This is not to say I don’t have disagreements with the book – especially some of author’s conclusions, but the overwhelming thrust of the book is something I strongly agree with.
Firstly, the book busts all the popular notions of two-nation theory and it being solely a creation of the British. The author effectively traces the modern origins of the two-nation theory to Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement at the very least. The book also covers some of the lesser-known events from the 19th century – the Wahhabi movement and the conflict in the Northwestern frontier province. The book makes it abundantly clear that Islamic revivalism was less a reaction to Colonialism and more a reaction to Hindu and Sikh resurgence. The fact that both the British and Muslims saw each other as closer religiously and hence more acceptable/worthy instead of the “Hindu” is driven through via a vast number of primary sources.
The common trope among the secular (even Hindutva discourse) about the Syncretic nature of Sufis is addressed (though I felt the author didn’t fully go into this question).
Pan-Islamism and its proponents – especially Al-Afghani are also covered in the book.
Secondly, the book also goes into origins and progress of “Moderate Nationalism” under Indian National Congress right up to the ascendency of the “Mahatma”. I had expected the author to be slightly unfair to the Indian National congress and especially the role of Gandhiji but to my surprise he hasn’t. Though some conclusions may seem a tad unfair at times but because the author relies heavily on primary references the “judgement” is moderated. Most importantly the support of Khilafat which is put firmly on the shoulders of Gandhiji in Hindutva circles, is clearly shown to be a mainstream view of Indian National Congress years before ascendency of Gandhiji, absolving Gandhiji of some of the blame.
The inability of the “Indian nationalism led by Hindus” in dealing the Islamic exceptionalism both before and during the period of “Hindu-Muslim” harmony is on display in the book. The author compares “Coloniality” of the Hindus to the “Rootedness” and “Intransigence” of Muslims for these defeats. Whereas there can be no doubt that Muslim “Intransigence” was important, I find the blame laid on “Coloniality” not watertight.
Take example of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kemal Pasha “Attaturk”. Both were modernizers who tried to jettison the past of their respective countries. What separated them both wasn’t any rootedness or lack of deracination – but a personal attribute, namely political ruthlessness, incidentally something Mohammad Ali Jinnah shared. Kemal Pasha not only broke the tradition of the Khalifa but also forced the Roman alphabet overnight on the Turks. Similarly, in India the two heads who had the most clear-eyed vision of the thread of Islamic exceptionalism were Dr Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar (both “Modernists”). I would instead put the blame on Hindu naivete which is an unfortunate byproduct of Hindu Pluralism – we simply never understood the other. Most of our ReConquistadors (with notable exceptions) did not pursue Reconversions.
Another thing I found mildly irritating in the book (continued from book one) – is the use of the term Middle eastern coloniality/consciousness. Ironically the term “Middle Eastern” itself reeks of its Western Colonial origins. I would have used the term Islamic or Arabic instead, but this is sematic disagreement which doesn’t matter much.
a Not so Gentle Reminder:
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“.
The disagreements with the author’s conclusions notwithstanding, the book is a not so Gentle Reminder for the India that is Bharat. In retrospect, the compromises Bharatiya nationalism offered, from accepting disproportionate Muslim representation to supporting the fanatical Khilafat movement, may have worked against the Indian civilization itself. While it may be unfair to excessively blame the Bharatiya leaders from the past, it’s imperative to call out those who are flirting with the same approach in the 21st century (incidentally my position a few years ago). Essentially the Hindu leadership made a Faustian bargain and sold their brains. Though Swatyantraveer Savarkar is almost absent from the book, he cast a long shadow in my mind while I read the book.
Another popular trope I felt the author could have busted was the trope that Islamic intransigence in India is largely the legacy of “it having been spread by the sword”. The Mopla carnage was undertaken by descendants of Arab traders who came without any major conflict. Maybe violent intransigence and exclusivity is a feature not a bug.
The book becomes unputdownable after the Lucknow Pact, as the Hindu-Muslim unity discussed here which didn’t even last a decade remains as relevant today as ever. The riots covered in the end of the book – especially the Mopla carnage is almost unbearable to read reminding the reader of Kashmir. The letter by Annie Beasant to Gandhiji stands out. The book also brings into focus some of the lesser-known riots like Kohat. Incidentally the trigger for the Kohat ethnic cleansing was blasphemy, a topic which continues to remain as relevant as ever.
As I write this review a century after Mopla Riots, raids are conducted on Popular Front of India members while the PFI supporters can call for Hartals with partial success in Malabar coast. If the first book was a red pill in a blue jacket (Akshay Alladi (@akshayalladi) / Twitter), this is a केसरी (Saffron) pill in a green jacket.
I have skipped over many topics from the book in this review for brevity, but I would urge the reader of this post to buy and read this book in its entirety and engage with the uncomfortable facts it lays down infront of us.
The book ends with the following quote
Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The above line becomes even more relevant especially give the way history is taught in India. I would end this review with a quote (in one of its many forms) most people reading this review would recognize.
Another Browncast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!
In this episode Maneesh and Gaurav chat with Jay and Omar Ali and they discuss North Indian politics and power struggles for a vast period from 700 CE to 1200 CE. We touch upon the origins of the Imperial Pratiharas and Palas and discuss the tripartrite struggle for domination of Kannauj between the 3 great kingdoms of Indian subcontinent while a storm brewed up in the west. We also talk about the earlier Arab invasions of Sindh and Punjab and the later Turkic invasions by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids which laid the foundation of Islamicate rule in India.
We will cover the Cultural changes of this period in another episode.
Another Map of the era
Some Links to stuff discussed in this episode:
Al Beruni, Kitab ul Hind https://www.academia.edu/45077160/Al_birunis_Kitab_Ul_hind
Al Baladhuri: Early Islamic Conquests. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338318331_Arab_Conquests_and_Early_Islamic_Historiography_The_Futuh_al-Buldan_of_al-Baladhuri
In this episode of the History series, we return to North India and talk about the Age of the Guptas. We touch upon the military genius of Samudragupta and various Gupta emperors, the emergence of Classical Hinduism and various forms of Art, Music, Science which consolidated during this era. The speakers of the episode are Gaurav Lele and Jay Vardhan and the discussion is moderated by Maneesh.
Sources and References: Books and Blogs Upinder Singh – Ancient India. Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India. Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions. Romila Thapar – Ancient History RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past Gupta Vakataka Age RC Majumdar
Live History India (Paid + unpaid) Early Hinduism — the epic stratification | by Gaurav Lele | Medium
PODCASTS: The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti
The rule of the imperial Guptas is generally considered as a Golden Age or Classical Age of Indian history. Generally arguments for “Golden Age” are rife with retrospective imposition or wishful thinking, but still nonetheless the Gupta Age still deserves to be recognized as an age of immense consequence.
Rome fell in the 5th century, a topic on which whole hundreds of careers have prospered over the centuries. On the other hand, the Imperial Guptas – their rise, their fall and their legacy all remain somewhat uncertain but that may be down to Indian history in general. While Rome as a empire existed from before common era, the rise of the Guptas was a much later event. But there would be some interesting parallels in which these two empires. Rome began becoming increasingly Christian during the 4–5 centuries CE. Guptas who were devoted to Bhagvata sect are also seen as the Great Hindu rulers of the subcontinent. One of the major reasons of the fall of Imperial Rome were the series of events triggered by invasions of violent Huns led by Attila the Hun. Similarly the Hunas who invaded subcontinent are said to be distantly related to the Europeans Huns (only distantly) — but essentially nomadic cavalrymen invaded both these empires and fall of these giant empires is in large part attributed to these Central Asian “Barbarians”/ Mlenchhas.
If we assume (as is the case according to most scholars) — that Indian armies were mainly infantry supplemented by elephantry and cavalry — the tactics used by Skandagupta and later indian rulers to defeat these Hunas must have been fascinating — interesting pop culture parallel would be the Dothraki versus the unsullied.
Integration of Classical Hinduism:
Hinduism as we define it today became something clearly recognizable during this time. One interesting way to look at Hinduism is using the metaphor Rajiv Malhotra uses — about Indra’s net — in terms of Software Hinduism is a open architecture software based on the Vedic traditions where different Apps and programs can be installed as long as they are compatible with open architecture. If we are to explain using that analogy — then the various Sampradayas and local deities cults slowly got integrated into the Vedic architecture. The devotional cults of Vishnu and Shiv and Devi clearly had some Vedic as well as non Vedic antecedents . The Bhagvata cult from North India may have had its origins in the Vedic period around the Vrishni Hero Krishna Devakiputra & others like Samkarshana, but by the time of Guptas the Bhagvata sect become something very different. The Puranas which were composed around these times played a key role in the linking of these various cults and deities into a somewhat coherent (yet extremely contradictory) mythology.
Apart from Vaisnava sect — various traditions of Shakta, Saivism and Tantra were also becoming popular. According to most scholars — Saivism was more popular at this time than Vaisnavism. Apart from the imperial Guptas, most other rulers of the time were devotees of Shiv. Whereas the Vaishnava traditions were more synchronized with Vedic traditions, some local, Tantra and Saiva traditions were not accepted in the mainstream Vedic religion. There are many stories of initial conflict of such local cults with Vedic traditions while these cults were slowly integrated into the Shrauta Vedic traditions. (Something I have touched previously in this piece – Hindu Integration: Brahmanas and Gramadevatas – Brown Pundits). The mechanisms of this integration are varied and complex — some deities become avatars of Vishnu — some become children of Shiv and some are added into the complex narratives of the Puranas. Kumārasaṃbhavam by Kalisada is also a fine example of the storytelling employed by composers while weaving this complex mesh of Hinduism.
Devi also becomes increasingly interwoven with other deities — as illustrated by the tale of Mahisasur Mardini from the Puranas. The Udaygiri cave complex is a fantastic example of one of the earliest manifestations of such rich stories and motifs and their interplay — Vishnu as Varaha, Shiv Mukhalingam, Mahisasur mardini, Skanda, Ganesh etc.
In a way traditions based on Vedic Yajna based practices which are more transactional began giving way to more devotional forms of worship. These include grand temples, Teertha Kshetras and Shakti Peeth. Small temples may have existed before — we cannot be sure as archeological record is sparse; but during these times ruler began to patronize rich temples complexes — like the Udaygiri caves, Pravareshwara temple complex – which were mediated by Brahamanas practicing Vedic traditions but focus began shifting on the devotional aspects on faith.
One of the interesting foreign accounts we have of this time is that of Fa-hien — a Buddhist monk from China — who writes about a somewhat Golden age — where crime and punishments are low and people are wealthy, where vegetarianism is a norm and people even abstain from garlic and onions. The important thing to glean out of this is the fact that practices like Vegetarianism were becoming widespread around these times — something that has been linked heavily with Vaisnavism as well as Sramana traditions — especially Jainism. This era was also the time when the Mahabodhi temple, Nalanda university were constructed, so Buddhism was also in fashion as was Jainism — though Jainism seems to be more dominant in the west and south.
Architecture and Art:
The oldest Hindu temples clearly go back to pre Gupta times but the recognizable Hindu temple forms also took shape during these times. Early temples used to be short constructions made of mainly wood — around 10–10 feet square. Temples with their distinctive “Shikhar” began becoming constructed around this time.
In Cave architecture , apart from the Udaygiri and Elephanta caves (which are not firmly dated) — cave architecture seems to have been predominantly Buddhist — as attested in the fantastic Ajanta caves. Even though some of the early caves of Ajanta cave complex go back to the Satavahanas — like the Karla and Bhaja caves, the more spectacular cave art — both paintings and sculpture goes back to the age of the Golden age of the Vakatakas – around the end of 5th century.
In the times of the Kusanas the art form known as Gandhara sculptor developed (with influence from Greeks), during the Gupta period, the Mathura & Sarnath schools continued to innovate to new heights. The Sarnath Buddhas are considered as one of the greatest art produced in India. Among some other famous sculptures of this times are the terracotta of personified Yamuna and Ganga from Ahhichattra . Yamuna-Ganga figures along with the royal standard Garuda denote the Gupta and their patronage as the Gupta originated from the region of Prayaag.
The Natyasastra which is dated to the first and second centuries CE also deserves a mention while talking about the classical age of India. One of the central concepts of Natyasastra is Rasa — Rasa is what the audience is supposed to feel as an effect of the performance. Rasas and not emotions but they map on to emotions — like Shringara Rasa with love, Vira Rasa with energy — Rasa is not the feeling or emotion but Reaction— which i have to say is a very sophisticated way of looking at it. Audience was not supposed to be a passive observer, but a highly trained and sophisticated participant in the process of Drama. The Natyasastra also prescribes that death, love making, bathing, eating should never be shown on stage and dramas should always end on a positive note — unlike famous Greek tragedies.
Fa-hien also talks about buildings which acted as hospitals existing in north India. The Sushruta Samhita which probably goes back to the late Vedic or early Mahajanpada period, but the Caraka samhita which has many layers was probably work in progress till the Gupta era. The Bower manuscript which is dated to 5–6th century CE gives a fascinating peek into the developments of Ayurveda. It refers to passages from or commentaries on the Caraka Samhita. The text also refers to Sushruta as the one who originally got this knowledge from the king of Kashi.
Legacy of invaders, Indian Kingship and religions:
By and large Indian kings right from the times of Bimbisara, rarely persecuted religions sects even if they were personally devoted to some competing sect. This made good pragmatic political sense — this is the argument made by a section of scholars while looking back at these policies of religious pluralism. Many of the ruling elites after the times of the Mauryas like Hunas during this age — were “foreigners”/ Mlencchas — like most steppe warriors of these Hunas must have mostly practiced some form of Iranic religion like the earlier Sakas and Kusanas or Shamanism like the later Mongols. But inspite of what we noted earlier — about Mihirakula being among the few ancient Indian rulers to resort to religious (anti religious) zealotry — the Hunas went native quite soon. These streams of invaders who came to shape the subcontinent from the time of the Buddha to the fall of Gupta empire — Persians, Macedonians, Bactrian Greeks, Sakas, Kusanas, Hunas — we find that all these identities melted into the Melting pot of India. Indian religions — especially Hinduism and Buddhism in large part absorbed, reshaped and restyled the faith systems of the invaders. From between a few generations to few centuries all these invaders “went native” — so in a way what became Classical Hinduism was shaped by these invaders. This integration of the “invaders” would stop in the coming centuries.
Here is a quote from Upinder Singh — History of ancient and earlier medieval india.
What makes an Indian? Is it the passport? The genetics? The culture? The religion? The food? The fashion? All of the above? It’s a question that’s been hotly debated amongst the citizens of the Indian Republic since the bloody partition and independence of 1947. Praise of India’s diversity finds purchasing power both inside and outside its borders, but this diversity does come at a cost. Between religion, caste, ethnicity, language, and so many other identities, India at times seems to tear from its seams. Harbingers of hatred need no excuse to dig into the annals of history finding division and discord that can be applied today. One proposed division takes us to the time of India’s infancy. From the southern tip of the grand Indian peninsula came an ideology that posited that Dravidians, a speculative group of people who speak Dravidian languages, as the original inhabitants of the subcontinent. The patriarch of this ideology, EV Ramaswamy, known as Periyar amongst his faithful, spewed venom and violence against the “invader” north Indians and their Brahmin patriarchs and progeny.
But how accurate is this notion? Was there an idyllic, secular, and rational society prior to when the first horse hooves of the steppe stampeded into India? Did these “Aryans” bring a foreign religion called Hinduism into India as well and impose it on the Dravidians who followed a now lost faith? Half truths at least; full falsehoods at most.
Societies are stories. They are the fallout of generations of narrations about our past and who we are. Jawaharlal Nehru, freedom fighter and India’s first Prime Minister, sought to weave an “Idea of India” that was a composite tapestry of Hindu and Muslim fabrics. That tapestry has been torn to shreds for several decades now. Instead, it has been Hindutva that has supplanted the Nehruvian sacrament as the sacred fire of the yajna of yore engulfs Indians politics and a common Indian identity built on Dharma gains popularity.
But not all bow to the ritual of these ancients.
Politics Is War
There are few places where historical invasions animate the populace more than India. While much of this headspace is focused on more recent Islamic invasions of the medieval era as well as British imperialism of the colonial era, in some pockets of India, headaches originate from invasions in a time where history wasn’t even recorded in India. A missing memory of the subcontinent.
These battles are highlighted in the deep south of India, Tamil Nadu and lately have entered elite academic debates on caste. The conflict in Tamil Nadu is over the ancient peopling of India with an onus on the enigmatic Aryans. But this piece is not going to exclusively focus on the migration of the Aryans into India; there are many that do. What we will examine are the many migrations into and within India as well as the present political consequences. But first, let’s establish some quick background.
The aboriginal Indian, whose genes run through the blood of nearly everyone from the Indian subcontinent, descended into the subcontinent around 50,000-70,000 years ago. This population would become known as AASI – Ancient Ancestral South Indian.
The Iranian hunter-gatherer would enter India around 10,000 years ago and mix with aboriginals to form the Indians who gave rise to the Indus Saraswati Civilization.
The steppe component entered India most probably in waves after 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE. They are usually the big hubbub as they are posited to be the legendary Aryans, but more on this later.
The Austronesian component would enter from southeast Asia at a similar time of 2000 BCE to 1000 BCE.
There are other migrations into and outflows from the subcontinent as well, but for now let’s call the aforementioned out as the prominent ones we know of today. Feel free to dive into the 2 pieces I mentioned prior. I highly recommend them as they are treasure troves of information.
One of the most potent lines of rhetoric that stems from Hindutva discourse is that it is fundamentally an indigenous rights movement. “Indigenous rights” – that phrase is a sacred cow today. Conjuring the bloody European campaign of terror that walked in lock step with colonialism, those who were crushed under the European heel are today demanding their reparations and retribution. In Western discourse, you cannot dare to cross these lines of persuasion. Indigeneity evokes powerful emotions and a primordial attachment to the land, where the spirits of ancestors connect to the soil itself.
But where Hindutva’s call of indigeneity faces hurtles is the proposed ancient migrations into India. Keep in mind that migrations have occurred across the world, yet this notion of indigeneity is only challenged in India. The nomadic Mexica people would clear out the valley of Mexico before they established Tenochtitlan and became the Aztecs. A substantial genetic portion and culture of the ancestors of the emblematic Greeks, Romans, hell, so many Europeans come from the steppe in the model we are discussing. The ancient Egyptians did not speak Arabic nor had a 1 to 1 genetic makeup to modern Egyptians. The massive Bantu expansion across Sub-Saharan Africa was not a Mandelan march of peace. Yet it is only in India that this standard of indigeneity is upheld. Indra, who rides an Indian elephant and blesses the agricultural Indian with rain for their crops, is a steppe central Asian god; but Zeus and Thor are decidedly Greek and Nordic. I think you see the double standard here.
While much attention and ire surrounds the entry of the Aryans into India, little is sounded around the Dravidians. And therein lies the hypocrisy. Politics flows from emotion first, then logic.
As we established prior, the Indian population is a mixture of 3 large waves or migrations. This 2nd migration consists of a group that was related to, but distinct from, Iranian agriculturalists in the Zagros mountains. In the shadow of the Zagros is where the people of Elam flourished. From around 3200-540 BCE, the Elamites formed the eastern frontier of the Fertile Crescent. The Elamites worshipped a menagerie of gods, many of whom they shared with Akkadian Mesopotamians, and spoke a purported language isolate; but some believe it had a cognate. The proposed cousin is to the east, in the Indus Saraswati Civilization; a civilization that the Elamites traded with frequently. The proposition is that the ancestors of the Zagros farmers of Elam kept moving east and mingled with the AASI Indians eventually forming the base population for the Indus Saraswati peoples (and much of the genetic makeup of modern Indians themselves). Ironically, this means there was an earlier set of Indo-Iranians prior to the Indo-European speaking Indo-Iranians. History indeed loves to rhyme and repeat!
The common characterization of these Vedic peoples is that they came into India and wiped out the natives, completely destroying their culture and bringing their traditions as the new centerpiece of Indian civilization. But this is not true either. With climate and geological changes, the Indus Saraswati civilization waned eventually collapsing prior to the entry of the steppe people. These steppe people would come into India and indeed would conquer, but they would then be integrated completely. They came, they saw, they conquered, and then they were swallowed.
The people who wrote the Vedas were in love and reverent to the land of India. The rivers, mountains, plains, forests, even the literal dirt itself was holy to them. Their gods were flanked with Indian flora and fauna. They delved into philosophies and rituals alien to the wider world. They were a profoundly unique people who would not be who they were if they did not live and die in India.
Over time, many of the gods who found the most praise in the Vedas, the lords of the elements such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, etc…, would give way to other divinities who would eclipse them in prominence. Vishnu’s greatness could be gleaned throughout the early Vedic verses as he was frequently paired with Indra, Surya, Agni, and light itself. He was referenced as the guardian of the highest home, where a soul that has broken the cycle of reincarnation resides. The dawn of Vishnu and Shiva would arrive with the transition to the Puranas and Itihasa epics. In the Yajurveda, Narayana, a popular epithet for Vishnu, is mentioned as the supreme being. The icon of the Pashupati seal of the Indus, Shiva, known as Rudra in the Vedas also makes frequent appearances as a lord of storms and destruction. Adorned with a cobra for a necklace, his home in the Himalayas, the sacred Ganga river springing from his matted locks, and donning leopard skin, Shiva’s iconic Indian brand radiates his local roots.
Krishna, Vishnu’s incarnation, watched as his adoptive father, Nand, prepared to pray to Indra to bless them with rain. The young Krishna would chide his father for fearfully worshipping a god who had grown jealous and arrogant with power. He instead told his father and the villagers to pray to the mountain Govardhan and revere their cattle for those were the true guaranteers of their agricultural success. An incensed Indra would send a terrible torrent on Krishna’s home, Braj, flooding the land. The legend climaxes with Krishna lifting Govardhan with his finger, protecting Braj from the storm, and humbling Indra into obeisance. Perhaps this represents the transition of which god(s) curried the most favor with the ancient Indians. Perhaps not, but it is a convenient tale.
So ironic this is, as much of India owes itself to Tamil Nadu. From the wise Vedanta philosopher, Ramanuja, whose ideas catapulted the Bhakti movement across all of India to the great Chola emperors (who funny enough referred to themselves as Aryans) who carried the Tamil crown across the subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Tamil Nadu functioned as the incubator and refuge of a Hinduism ravaged in the north during medieval invasions. Scores of Tamil scientists, especially the former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, would push Indian technology and capability forward making the lives of all Indians better. Yet today, it is Periyar’s ideology that dominates the Tamil political sphere.
One of the more disturbing parts about the effect of such simplistic takes on ancient Indian migrations is a niche form of genetic supremacy that is developing. While some embellish the stature of their steppe DNA, others claim themselves as the true aboriginal of the land due to their large proportion of AASI lineage. They go so far as even asking for reparations based on this poppycock of logic. While there is some correlation between mixes of steppe, IVC, and AASI lineages around caste, it is an imperfect and a diverse amount that is in the end, a mixture. All Indians are an amalgamation of these people to various degrees. There is almost no pure steppe, IVC, or AASI person in the subcontinent (the Andaman Nicobar people may be sole exception on the AASI front). The movement towards heightened caste consciousness combined with the advocation of an almost racial element to caste could be potentially disastrous for India.
India’s history is one of syncretism and synchronization. Multiple identities, ideas, and itihasas were welded together by the Vedic verses millennia ago. Both the Brahmins and Śramanas or priests and ascetics traversed the Indian expanse and spread the message of Dharma. Still, they all agreed on the inherent divinity and sacredness of the subcontinent, of Bhārata. That is what distinguishes these people, these ideas, and these philosophies from the rest of the world. Indeed, as one delves into the story of India, a story that encapsulates much of human history and audacity of both thought and action, one attains the truth in the Mahabharata’s triumphant epilogue:
Earlier this month I was part of a podcast discussion about AIT and its counter (OIT?) with Razib, Mukunda, Kushal Mehra, and a Carvaka regular Kartik Mohan. It was a good discussion though I doubt if it would come out as a great podcast.
Personally, I have gone down the AIT/OIT rabbit hole enough last few years to want a long break from these discussions. However, before I take the break, I would like to summarize my current position which would also act as my notes for the podcast. For my position on this topic a year ago please find the following blogpost – From OIT to AIT
I firmly believe that ancient genetics is the strongest method for unraveling the mysteries of prehistory. For pre-modern societies, I do not believe there were any mechanisms of the spread of primary languages without mass movements of people. Language is a meme but unlike religions, it has complex mechanisms of spread that take years and requires (in most cases) familial teaching. If we take examples of memetic spread in recorded history – be it the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia or Buddhism in East Asia(via trade, etc) both happened without fundamental alterations in the primary language of the recipient regions. So in essence I do not find the model of primary language shift through mechanisms of trade or other N mechanisms posited as feasible.
As Razib pointed out in the podcast – everywhere on the earth where Indo-European languages were spoken as primary languages in pre-modern times, the Steppe genetic signal is present in substantial amounts. I do not think any other explanation other than some form of Steppe hypothesis can explain this data. Of course, PIE homeland (including Hittite) could be in the Steppe or it could be elsewhere. I believe what we can firmly state is not where PIE originated, but where PIE developed and was spread out of.
If we want to look at a potential model of IA spread into India from the historic record we can take a look at the British isles. The languages are nicely split in the east-west direction along Germanic/Celtic lines similar to the North-South split of Aryan and Dravidian languages in India. Not only that only around 38% ancestry of Britain is Anglo Saxon with an east-west gradient.
Critics of OIT like to attack particulars of the 2007 Anthony book as new evidence is unearthed as if any dissonance in Anthony/Mallory model is a slamdunk against the Steppe hypothesis. Personally, I have no strong positions on the details of the Steppe hypothesis as argued by Anthony and Mallory. The evidence of horseback riding for the Sredny Stog or even the Yamnaya is circumstantial at best (I believe some form of horseback riding as a tool of herding by young shepherds might have been a possibility), so we cannot firmly assume that horseback riding was the reason for the massive demographic changes brought about by the Steppe men. This might have mattered before the ancient DNA revolution, but now we know the genes of the steppe pastoralists spread, maybe because of the horseback riding or maybe just due to the benefits of horse husbandry or some other reasons. We know massive demographic and (probably) linguistic changes occurred from the Steppes, the “how” question might eventually get solved (or it might not) – but that doesn’t poke holes in the larger “Steppe hypothesis” built on top of Archaeogenetics.
This doesn’t mean that any other mechanism of IE spread cannot work with the available data but it has to go beyond the tenuous mechanisms like trade-aided language spread. Even the Elite migration hypothesis (minus demographic changes) doesn’t seem to work as well as we assumed before the ancient DNA. The Hittite and Mitanni IE elites did not cause any substantial demographic changes nor did they cause any long-term linguistic alterations in the middle eastern region. Closer to home, Indians have had elite rules who spoke Greek, Iranian languages, Turkic languages, and lastly English. These massive elite dominations for centuries have only resulted in superstrates and languages like Urdu (I am not sure if we call it a creole). By the end of an efficient British Raj, not even 1% of Indians spoke English as a primary language. Thus anyone who tries to explain away IA spread out of India has to account for the 20-30% paternal ancestry (50% Y chromosomes) which seems to have changed in the other direction. This paternal ancestry matters a lot as we know the ancient Aryas were patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrifocal.
Also, it is often overlooked that AIT is just one node of the larger PIE – Steppe hypothesis. Even if details of AIT are contested how much does that matter to the PIE question? Also even if PIE shifts out of Pontic Steppe into Iran or Anatolia it would still be against any model for OIT and in favor of some form of AIT.
As I tried pointing out in the podcast, I see a lot of issues with Talageri and other OIT (anti-AIT scenarios) – I have not read Talageri’s books yet but have read his blog posts and interpretation of RV and listened to his podcasts on Carvaka. My points against those interpretations are
The east to west movement of the Bharatas based on the mandalas 6-3-7 seems to hold on to some very tenuous points from the RV (eg: 2-3 references to Ganga). This reasoning might appear possible (not probable) but has zero archeological records to support it – especially for the timelines Talageri argues for (3000 BCE). Before 2000 BCE we have no archaeological data from the Gangetic plains to buttress these extraordinary claims.
The lack of references to rice in RV is also inconsistent with the Gangetic origins of Aryas.
The whole Asva/Ratha argument in Talageri model old RV as other equids/carts doesn’t seem to work in my preliminary reading of the RV. While the point made by Talageri “that all references to Asva/Ratha need not mean Horse/Chariot” is a correct one; the opposite isn’t automatically true => All references to Asva/Ratha need not be non Horse/non Chariot references. On the contrary, reading the RV I felt reading those references as horse/chariots make more sense (maybe it’s my priors). Interested readers can read through RV 3.43 3.45 6.29 6.44 6.45 7.18 7.19 and see for themselves if the references to Asva/Ratha appear to be for Horse/chariots or for Cart/Donkeys. (especially the Dasrajna hymns).
Whatever inferences I take from RV, I find it difficult to impose them on whatever we know of the IVC. This doesn’t automatically rule out the possibility of Arya poets living on the peripheries of IVC and composing RV but makes it unlikely IMO.
However to conclusively deny these assertions one would have to do a meta-analysis of RV, if ever I get down this rabbit hole in the future I might do it myself. However in the meantime, one can look at this.
Needless to say, such interpretations will remain “circumstantial” be they in support of the AIT or OIT. After all, RV only captures a thread of the ancient Indian past while the others may be completely lost.
Personally, I would be open to alternative scenarios to explain the IA spread into India, like IA migration during the IVC (before the Sintastha) while migrations downstream of Sintastha which are attested via Genetics being responsible for the consolidation of Aryas as Kshatriya/Brahmana elites of the Vedic age. But these are extraordinary scenarios and they would require at least some robust objective pieces of evidence like
Steppe signal from before 2000 BCE.
Chariots or other classical IE motifs before 2000 BCE.
Or deciphering of IVC script (or any other script from ancient India) to a Sanskrit-like language.
Outside the world of religion and mathematics, there is no absolute certainty. As a result outlier individuals from academic disciplines will continue to have non-conformist takes (like Kazanas for example). Such takes over the decades will continue to be used to create elaborate theories, be it using linguistics, genetics, and something else and they will continue getting traction in some groups (European pagans, Serb nationalists, Indian nationalists). The solutions to the PIE question are models, some more parsimonious; some tenuous, others ridiculous. There is certainly enough circumstantial data to spin wild theories putting the homeland from Iberia (initial bell beakers) to Gangetic plains (OIT), but none of these theories is the best fit for the data we have today. Maybe with newer data, some better candidates can emerge (though I doubt it). But going by the academic consensus from 3 fields -> Genetics, Linguistics, and Archaeology some model of the Steppe hypothesis is the best fit for the Indo-European question.
But for all, we know someone can still spin a theory based on some evidence that puts the PIE homeland in the sunken Atlantis.
I have had enough of the AIT/OIT debate and I will be avoiding this topic in the future. It has become a political and emotional topic and there is only so much that there can be no conclusion as what people assume to be at stake isn’t merely an academic question like Pre-Clovis peopling of the Americas.
Episode 3 of The History of the Indian Sub-continent series takes us to the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC). Our panel journeys from the banks of the Oxus River to the Deccan plateau. We connect the genetic and archaeological dots, speculate about people whose scripts we are yet to decipher, talk about what they did for a living, their towns, and what are the missing blocks in our understanding of that age. The Dancing girl from Harappa makes an appearance as do textiles and we ask if the great bath of Mohenjo Daro was really the great bath or was it something else. Joining Maneesh Taneja in this conversation are Razib Khan, Gaurav Lele, Mukunda Raghvan, and Shrikantha Krishnamacharya.
You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!
This blog post may serve as episode nodes for some points discussed in episode 3 of the History podcast- All about IVC.
Origins of early Harappan urbanization and further integration:
We know from Mesopotamia that civilization over there did not arise in the agriculture-friendly geographies which had basic irrigation in the fertile crescent but it rose in the deep marshy south around Eridu (Ubaid period). We can think of similar models to explain the emergence of Harrapan urbanization.
Sarasvati was an active glacier-fed river in the Pleistocene (pre 10000BCE) and not the Holocene(post 10000 BCE). Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilization suggest a slight decline in monsoons by 3000BCE (Piora oscillation?) before the accelerated decline after the 4.2 kiloyear event. Hence it seems unlikely that the period of integration was aided by to conducive climate – rather as in the case of South Mesopotamia, it seems to be a response to the vagaries of climate, especially in the non-glacial-fed Sarasvati channel.
Social Structures in IVC:
The article Killing the priest-king addresses some of the issues with visible social structures (or lack thereof) in the IVC. The kinship/occupation-based heterarchy is a cool model to explain some of the things we witness in IVC. Also, a model like the Gana-Sanghas (Proto Kshatriya republics) known from the eastern Mahajanapadas around 600 BCE seems to be a good model to explain the lack of centralized authority. Given what we know about the existence of efficient trade-in IVC, a trade oligarchy of merchant guilds would also fit the model.
Anthropologist Irawati Karve in her book “Hindu society” was one of the earliest to claim that the Jati system was a pre-Aryan reality upon which the abstraction of the Aryan Varna system was imposed. The hundreds of excavated IVC villages point to sophisticated trade/occupational specialization. If both the sexes work in their ancestral trades per se, it would naturally result in tribal endogamy as it makes occupational sense. Maybe we can also entertain the idea of some sort of Jati-Kinship-based social structure in IVC. I have explored this issue in more detail in the following blogpost – Early Hinduism — the epic stratification
Mechanisms of Indo-Aryan spread out of Sintasta and the Mitanni:
We know both from genetics and linguistics that the impact of proto-Indo-Aryans on Anatolia during the centuries of Mitanni dominance is extremely limited (thought superstrate is preserved). So if Indo-Aryan “Maryannu” elites could impose themselves on complex Anatolian civilizations, it is also very reasonable to extrapolate that such warriors could impose themselves on the BMAC or the remnants of collapsed IVC. A good proxy could be the later Indo Iranian – “Sakas” who were treated as mercenaries and warriors by the kingdoms of Central Asia, Iran, after 400 BCE.
Chapter 16 of Anthony’s – Horse, the wheel, and the language compiles a sound foundation (of trade, warrior bands, and kingdoms) for which such models make sense.
Agriculture and the AASI:
Shinde et al 2019 made it clear that agriculture developed in the Indus valley without demographic impact from the west (in the Holocene). However, the Neolithic tool kit from IVC is clearly derived from the Fertile Crescent tool kit with substantial local supplements like Zebu domestication, rice, cotton, and legume cultivation (possibly local domestication of barley ?).
Given that rice was cultivated in IVC and the earliest rice cultivation (date is still contested) is from Lahuradeva and Koldihwa in Uttar Pradesh, it is reasonable to assume agriculture also began somewhere in the east and expanded westward potentially meeting with Agricultural expansions from Mehrgarh->Bhiranna. Also recent findings in Bhirrana that point to earlier cultivation (yet contested) than Mehrgarh. In essence, the simplistic model of Agriculture beginning in Mehrgarh and leading onto IVC can be questioned.
Another circumstantial evidence that points to such dynamics is the mixing ratios of Indus periphery-related ancestry and AASI in IVC (6:1 to 3:2) as well as the overall high proportion of AASI in the country. It is fair to say that after Indus periphery-related ancestry, the AHG related ancestry is the second contributor to Indians broadly. Broadly in recent discussions about genetics, the AASI are considered as “hunter-gatherers”. In my opinion, this claim is highly unsubstantiated. In general, we know from Europe that when farmers mix with Hunter gathers, the farmer’s ancestry tends to dominate overwhelmingly (though it did make some come back centuries later). That doesn’t seem to be the case in India (if we assume AASI are hunter-gathers). Thus it is fair to assume that these eastern sites were initially settled primarily by the AASI and they had developed some form of cultivation in those regions (maybe cut and dash agriculture). But unless we get some ancient DNA from the east, it’s speculative at the best.
Also, the proxy ASI – which consisted of the majority AASI may be attested in the Neolithic sites from Deccan around 3rd-4th millennium BCE onwards in agro-pastoral cultures of the south (Ash mound culture, etc). Of course, before Iron Age, most of the country outside the Indo Gangetic plain would not have supported high population densities or complex societies but implying that these communities were “Hunter-gatherers” as done regularly in these topics is unsubstantiated in absence of evidence.
The religion of IVC:
Among academia, there is a tendency to dismiss attempts to link motifs of IVC to Vedic culture. Asko Parpola and Mahadevan have written extensively about it, but their work tends to be dismissed by Indologists like Michael Witzel and co. Though I am an admirer of Witzel’s methods on Vedic texts in general I do not agree with his dismissals of these works. While these works are highly speculative, they are not unfounded IMO.
Professor Dandekar of BORI had written extensively about this. In his essay titled “Proto-Historic Hinduism”, Dandekar makes many claims about Harrapan origins of Shiva. While as some scholars have pointed out, Shiva is clearly a form of Vedic Rudra who has many Indo-European parallels. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t any Harappan projection on classical Hindu Shiva. Of the various claims made by Prof Dandekar, the one about Shiva’s ithyphallic nature which matches with the seal cannot be dismissed easily. The Gundesrup cauldron and other parallels are drawn to dismiss linking the Pasupati seal with Shiva are irrelevant as the claim isn’t that the figure denoted in Pasupati seat led exclusively classical Hindu Shiva, but that it may have contributed certain aspects which differentiate Rudra from Shiva.
Anyways but this topic is extremely speculative and any claims about religions at IVC are tenuous at best.
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, Apple, Spotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!
We start a series of podcasts on the history of the Indian sub-continent. The series, in the spirit of all things Brown Pundits, will have unconventional yet authoritative voices. The aim of the series is to have a point of view(s) unencumbered by the baggage of ideology. We will shed light on the obscure aspects and cover the more popular narratives without the pressures of political correctness.
The publication of each episode will be accompanied by a list of books and references that the speakers have quoted in the episode.
In the first episode, Maneesh Taneja is in conversation with Dr. Omar Ali, Shrikanth Krishnamachary, and Gaurav Lele. We take 30,000 feet view of the history of the sub-continent. Our panel talks about, among other things, the early Indians, what holds 3000 years of uninterrupted civilization together, the origins of popular Indian dishes namely Idli & Dosa, and discover the links between Bharat Muni’s Natya Shastra and Dev Anand.
We look forward to your comments and hope you will point out errors and seek attribution, if we have missed any, from our speakers. Let the love and brickbats flow…
Dr Omar Ali (Twitter handle- @omarali50), Shrikanth Krishnamachary (Twitter handle- @shrikanth_krish) and Gaurav Lele (Twitter handle- @gaurav_lele) in conversation with Maneesh Taneja (Twitter handle- @maneesht).
The early 2010s saw the internet (particularly youtube) filled with “Takedown” videos of famous public intellectuals and debaters of the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro. These figures typically have a contrarian take, rhetoric flourishes, exuberant confidence, and sometimes even persuasive arguments. As Youtube and Takedown videos become popular in India, one individual has made more waves than most others — J Sai Deepak – a lawyer cum debater.
India that is Bharat was published 4 months ago and has created quite a buzz — which isn’t restricted to social media. The book is a bestseller on Amazon with 1584 ratings with an average of 4.8. Even on the conservative Goodreads, the book is rated at 4.55 after 167 ratings. I decided to review this book in detail after a few recommendations, especially as I feel people to the liberal side of me in the Hindutva — Liberal Overton will not give this book the honest assessment it deserves.
India that is Bharat is book 1 of a trilogy that seeks to set the foundation for the arguments J Sai Deepak is going to put forth in volumes 2 and 3. The basic premise of the argument (i am paraphrasing) is that events from the 15th century to 19th century Europe that shook the world led to universal definitions of concepts like “Modernity”, “Secularism”, “Equality” and “Rationality”. The author claims that these definitions were fundamentally shaped by the Protestant reformation and underlying Christian morality and are hence “Christian”. In addition, these values went hand in hand with the 18th and 19th-century colonization of Bharat, the legacy of which is still ubiquitous in India. For someone who is even superficially well-read on these topics and has an open mind — this claim is not unsupported (though one could argue on the fine details). The clarity of thought of the author is at display in every word of the book. The book is not a scholarly exercise but a precise multi-utility instrument at the disposal of the ever-growing Indic consciousness movement.
Having accepted this basic premise, the 4 “schools” thought to address it are — Modern, Post-Modern, Postcolonial, and Decolonial, of which the author clearly favors “Decolonial school” as it addresses the “Protestant” elephant in the post-colonial nation-states — Coloniality. The book is divided into three sections, Coloniality, Civilization, and Constitution; each of which is expanded using primary references juxtaposed with the author’s insights. The references give the narrative authenticity but those need analysis and extrapolation which the author goes on to provide with surgical precision with a clear end-goal. In most cases, the analysis of the primary references is convincing and solid (though there are some glaring misses — will expand on them later). The extrapolation from even the most solid inferences is however hit and miss. Like the author, I would also attempt to break my review into three neat sections — the Good, the Bad, and the Overstated.
The immense work put into building this narrative doesn’t escape the reader’s attention. Especially the argument put forth in the final chapter — “the standard of civilization” is a compelling one and doesn’t often get recognized in the public international discourse. A lot of the issues from that very framework continue to haunt countries like India under the veil of international consensus. The author also does a good job of convincing the reader that seeing India as a “civilizational state” is wishful thinking at best. The author also convincingly brings the various points of divergence between India/Dharmic and Christian/Protestant thinking. It is undeniable that this divergence brought about both the direct and indirect stereotyping of “Hindoos” and their “traditions”, the legacy of which the Hindus of the 21st century have to countenance. Eg: The academic mainstream thought of viewing the Sramana traditions (and to a lesser extent Sikhism), primarily as revolts against Brahmanical orthodoxy (of Varna)— similar to the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic church. Also, the Essential practices test applied to Hindu Sampradayas with emphasis on the written word.
Another interesting point brought forth by the author is the difference in attitudes towards non Humans (nature in general) between the Abrahamic faiths and Indic faiths. What the author didn’t touch upon, but could have added is the attitudes towards Darwinian evolution are also in great divergence in these two OETs (onto etymologies) of Western and Eastern faiths. If a man is a part of nature, evolution is easier to digest. Sadly this harmony with nature which takes the form of worship of nature is seen as a joke in the Abrahamic OET. (Though I do not concur with the author in fullness that a lot of current problems with environmentalism come out of this universalism).
In general, the primary references in the book are well researched and the inferences drawn from them are robust and provide a solid foundation for an interested reader to extrapolate. Constituent assembly debates, House of common debates are presented tersely enough to get a moderately deep understanding of the discussions at hand.
However, the biggest positive contribution of the book is that it recognizes “Coloniality” as an impediment to the realization of Indian(particularly Bharatiya) potential. The continued and blind aping of the west — be in food habits, dress codes, language policy all prevent the confidence of the native from growing. Good communication is often correlated with good English in most fields where the institutional imprint is high (from the Tech industry to journalism). I can tell this from first-hand experience that the country has lost thousands (maybe lacs) of brilliant and honest minds, who are not “Modern” in their outlook, do not get the necessary support from society in general and institutions in particular. Nowhere is this more self-evident than in the Supreme court and English media journalism. Mediocre yet articulate English-speaking elites have suppressed the talents from the subaltern sections of the society from rising up.
Having said the above, I have profound problems with a lot of narratives in the book. My primary problems (as well as support) with the narrative are illustrated below
Below are a few of the numerous examples in the book which signify the fallacies of the narrative.
In a robust argument about Colonial ethnic cleansing/genocide of Native Americans, the author lets slip the following UNREFERENCED line — which is not just an exaggeration but an objectively falsifiable statement.
In some cases diseases, such as smallpox and the plague, were introduced with the knowledge that the indigenous community was not immune to them.
Kindle location 1054
2. The author addresses the Christian/Colonial framing of the Jati-Varna system by quoting the works of Nicolas Dirks’ among others. While the Colonial reading of Jati-Varna which became the modern Caste System is refuted; the alternative hypothesis for the reality of the Jati-Varna system is missing. The author also completely avoids the recent genetic studies which point to unique endogamy among Indian Jatis which has poked a lot of holes in Nicolas Dirks’s hypothesis.
3. In general the references to and inspiration from Greco Roman culture in Enlightenment are largely omitted while its Protestant roots are overemphasized.
It abounds with works of imagination not inferior to the noblest which Greece has bequeathed to us
A lot of the modern concepts which gained traction in the Enlightenment were clearly of Greco-Roman (or even Indian, Persian) origins. While these may be denied by a section of Christian thinkers in the past (and even so today) — that is not true for the mainstream Western scholarship.
4. It would be fair to assert that the nuance of piecemeal and incremental progress (which incidentally the author might support as a legit way of native reform) has been put through the post-modern lens. Eg: The takedown of Emmanual Kant and his Christian worldview which encompassed racism.
There are some more examples that illustrate my broader point, but I will not add all of them here. (Maybe I can publish my detailed notes somewhere else if needed). In addition to these specific issues, the major incoherent argument made is the insistence of viewing “Modern” concepts of “Equality”, “Liberty”, “Rationality”, “Reason” as at least quasi Protestant. The natural consequence of this is the call for being “Vary” of these concepts themselves – not just their imposition by Coloniality.
This assertion of erroneous as looking at Englightenment primarily a consequence of Protestant Reformation is tenuous at best. But more importantly, history is rife with Concepts/“Memes” which come out of an OET per se and over time lose connection to the OET itself (to view those concepts from the lens of their germination). The savior/messiah concept seems to have made an impression on Indic faiths from Judeo-Christian OET leading to “Maitreya the messiah” (on may also claim that Hindu Kalki is also a result of that but I am not confident about it). This clearly happened without “Coloniality” as Rome only became a Chrisitan empire later. The same is true for the Crystallization of Islamic orthodoxy which not only drew upon concepts of Totalitarian Assyria but also learning mechanisms of Turanian Buddhism (Buddhist influence of Madrassas).
Ironically the template used by the author to claim that modernity and rationality are Christian (Protestant) is exactly the template used by post-modernists (and now Woke) to classify modernity, science, and rationality instruments of White supremacy. This is also the exact same mechanism used by Leftist scholars and Ambedkarites to dismiss or oppose aspects of Hindu culture under the guise of attacking “Brahminism”.
This is a plain double standard disguised as moral relativism.
Another major umbrage I take to the narrative (at least in the first book) feeds into a post-modern and moral relativist framework for contemporary issues. It is one thing to view the past through moral relativism, but completely different to view and judge different groups in the society using different standards. Concepts of community rights and standards become imperative in such a framework and the author makes it crystal clear in the following passage
Kindle Location 3448-3455
While it would be incorrect to claim that the author’s narrative is attacking individual rights, it is clear “if individual rights are adversely affecting interests of a group then the individual right must be traded off against the greater good”. To bolster this position one might take the example of Sabrimala but let’s take a slightly different and problematic example. Will an individual who stands to inherit immense ancestral wealth lose it because of an unapproved marriage or a lifestyle decision? Will the group interest (endogamy/tradition) trump individual rights? More importantly, how is “group interest” defined? In this framework is Jati endogamy as a tool of preserving ancestral traditions a valid “Group interest” which trumps individual rights (related to property specifically). I am not suggesting that this framework wouldn’t allow individuals to legally marry outside group, but the costs associated with such an activity could be legally recognized. Will the provision in Article 35A for Kashmiri women to lose state domicile be defensible under this framework of Preference for “Group interests” over individual rights?
The author spends the first section of the book linking Coloniality to Protestant reformation and its ramifications. While the link between the two is undeniable, the emphasis laid on Christian roots of Western civilization, Coloniality, and to an extend Enlightenment is strongly contestable. It is not about whitewashing history but acknowledging how other factors play an important and even at times decisive role in the changes that took place after the fifteenth century. This omission would lead an ignorant reader to put the onus of the New world order emphatically on Protestant reformation and its repercussions while ignoring the other factors.
The author almost spends an entire chapter (10) bolstering the idea that British Secularism (or somewhat even-handed treatment of faiths) is a result of pragmatic and mercantile self-interests and not secular enlightenment principles. This is a classic strawman, for even Anglophiles do agree that the British outlook towards religions in India was due to a pragmatic and mercantile attitude; of first the Company and then the Crown. Quotations from conservative members of an Anglican monarchy (not a secular republic unlike France) and Bishops are used to convey the idea that the British Crown and its parliament were Christian and not secular. While the British Anglican church is always seen as somewhat benign compared to other Protestant denominations, the claim that they are seen as secular/idealist in outlook isn’t true for even the 20th century — let alone 19th century (which the book claims to refute).
This line of argument takes the form of overstatements like “Christian character of Government of India” and “legislative bodies acted with the political theology of Christianity”, “Christianisation of morality” and a lot more with immense emphasis on the Christian side of British coloniality. But if this efficient and well-oiled state machinery secondary or even tertiary plans of proselytization, wouldn’t have managed to convert more than 1% of the mainland Hindu population? (most Christians at the time of Independence resided in Goa, Kerala, and Northeast).
Overall it is fair to say that the author doesn’t confront the plurality of viewpoints on the topic he is addressing. The rhetorical tools which the author deploys in the audiovisual medium are somewhat blunted in the written word, and this also is a weakness of the book. He makes a persuasive case for Decoloniality despite these flaws, but the argument is far from water-tight. (though clearly, a majority of readers would disagree). Every now and then amidst robust points, the author also displays his tendency for hyperbole like calling retention of Hindu identity of the geography of the majority a paper identity. Not only that, but the author also uses postmodernist (“woke terms”) like “politico-epistemic violence of modernity” which is a red flag for whoever is following the debates around these issues in the West.
The book comes out as a precise instrument and not as an inquiry — which is both its strength and its biggest weakness. To date, I have not come across one legitimate critique of the book, either on GoodReads or Amazon or any digital or non-digital publications. The reason for this is clear though, one side of the ideological spectrum treats the author and his arguments as a pariah or upstart — either too extreme or too mediocre for attention. On the flip side, the other side has and will continue to treat this work as “Groundbreaking”, “Red-pilling” or “even personification of perfection” which seems a stretch even with concessions – especially coming from people who are vastly well-read and more of an intellectual bend than myself. I would argue the people on all sides of the political spectrum taking these positions are either dishonest, myopic, or incompetent. Or maybe it’s that they’re blown away (or repelled) by the personality and rhetoric prowess of the author.
While the readers of this post wouldn’t necessarily agree with all the criticisms I have made above, at least some of the criticisms ought to stick.
Having said that, the book was very important and consequential, especially due to the ingrained coloniality in our institutions and minds (especially the courts). For all its faults, the core argument of the book — that India still has a considerable colonial hangover and needs to shed it to become Bharat — stands solidly by the end of the book. The author has also inspired and convinced me to become more Bharatiya despite my profound disagreements with the book. For context: On identifying with the label “Liberal” over “Conservative”. My position on the liberal/conservative scale has shifted slightly to the conservative side due to my engagements with the author’s (and many other) viewpoints in general and this book, in particular. This book can also be seen as part of the famous Tilak vs Agarkar/Ranade debates that have shaped the Marathi society for the last 100 years. One could say that the intellectual and state pendulum has swung more in Agarkar’s favor and this book is an attempt to wrestle it back towards Tilak.
Given the popularity of the book and the author, the cliche saying “Love it, Hate it but you can’t ignore it” is perfect, to sum up the book in particular and the Decoloniality movement in general. It is definitely a must-read for all interested in public discourse about India that is Bharat.
There may be some errors in my original criticism – especially Point 1 of section the “Bad” which can be worded better. My criticism was about allegation of “with the knowledge that the indigenous community was not immune to them” which was not supported by the author by references. That narrow point stands it is unreferenced but pointed criticism around it I made is wrong.
I was unaware of the scholarship which points that early Europeans may have some awareness of the way immunity works and how the it played in way of accelerating their colonization.