India’s internal affairs are increasingly witnessing an interventionist American nexus. Even as the Supreme Court asks the Union Government to justify giving so-called ‘Dalit Christians’ a share in the quota for Scheduled Castes, it may be instructive to see how US policy has inveigled itself into our domestic discourse, while maintaining severe pressure upon its own Hindu citizens of Indian origin.
The manner in which these issues play out is enlightening. Harvard professor Michael Witzel’s supporters in the California textbook battle include two evangelical bodies: Dalit Freedom Network and Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA. DFN president Joseph D’Souza also heads the All-India Christian Council; he appealed to a US Congressional Committee to get ‘Scheduled Caste’ status for India’s ‘Dalit’ Christians.
This utilisation of converts by overseas co-religionists for covert agendas fuels Hindu anger against conversions. The DFN’s mission is to partner Dalits in their “quest for religious freedom” (obviously these are non-Hindu Dalits), and includes upholding the “legacy of Mother Teresa who showed god’s love in word and deed… and to follow the command of Jesus Christ who called us to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’.” Its board of directors includes only two Indians, both Christians: Mr Joseph D’Souza and Mr Kumar Swamy. The rest are white Americans, namely, Ms Melody Divine, a former adviser to anti-Hindu Arizona Congressman Trent Franks; Mr Peter Dance; Mr Bob Beltz, Ms Nanci Ricks, Mr Richard Sweeney, Mr Cliff Young, Mr Ken Heulitt and Mr Gene Kissinger (chairman).
The DSF-USA is run by the Rector of St Alban’s Church, Oakland, New Jersey. It works closely with Christian Aid, which sent a fax to the California State Board of Education (SBE) from the Church premises, but tries to conceal the fact that it is a proselytising group. Mr Lars Martin Fosse, a signatory of Prof Witzel’s letter to the SBE, appealed to Mr John Dayal of the All-India Christian Council for assistance in their fight with the Hindu community that is demanding proper representation of its faith in American textbooks. Sure enough, DFN and DSF-USA jumped into the fray.
California Parents for the Equalisation of Educational Materials (CAPEEM), which is challenging Prof Witzel’s role as content-review expert in the history-social science textbook review and adoption process, has discovered his deep involvement with evangelical groups like DFN, which can be proven through a trail of e-mails. Prof Witzel was active in erasing information about DFN’s missionary nature on the free Internet encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. DFN director Nanci Ricks said she did not want the agency to be known as a ‘missions’ organisation.
CAPEEM learnt Prof Witzel advised DFN how to intervene in the public hearing on the textbook adoption process in California. Here DFN directors misrepresented themselves as a group of Dalits by suppressing their Christian identity. Prof Shiva G Bajpai, the independent expert engaged by the California SBE to debate every Hindu edit/correction with Prof Witzel in a private meeting on January 6, 2006, found that Prof Witzel and his cohorts in the US and India did not want to rectify the depiction of India and Hindu dharma in textbooks.
As Witzel and his friends are firmly entrenched in American academia, few established scholars dared challenge their version of Indian history and culture. Prof Bajpai could wrestle more than 75 per cent of the desired changes solely on the basis of his professional acumen and status as the only historian of ancient India in California. Prof Bajpai now believes that winning the war against the demeaning portrayal of India and Hindu dharma necessitates the rise of a new class of academics sensitive to the mission of reclaiming agency over Hindu studies and early Indian history and culture. This also involves cracking the formidable nexus between the establishment academics and publishing industry and media, which has hitherto been virtually immune to criticism and reform.
America’s Hindu community has been dissatisfied with the final changes approved in 2006 as these have failed to rectify material errors about Hindu religion, culture and history. After inputs from myriad sources about Prof Witzel’s biases, CAPEEM approached the courts to subpoena him to place on record his letters/e-mail exchanges with textbook publishers about the (textbook revision) Adoption Process; with the California Board; with Stanley Wolpert, James Heitzman, Shiva Bajpai, or Steve Farmer about the adoption process; postings to the Indo-Eurasian Research List; exchanges with third parties (like DFN) about the adoption process; exchanges with racial purist Roger Pearson or anyone associated with the Journal of Indo-European Studies; exchanges with Arun Vajpayee (the mysterious ‘student’ who asked Prof Witzel to stop the acceptance of changes in the textbooks); communications passing on edits/revisions of Hindu groups; transmitting textbooks (or portions) revised as part of the adoption process; exchanges with Harvard University regarding the adoption process; communications about the purpose of the Indo-Eurasian Research List; and so on.
CAPEEM believes Prof Witzel’s conduct during the adoption process is central to its case as he (and others) were ‘hostile’ academic advisers and engaged in secret manoeuvres. A full disclosure of the records sought could reveal procedural improprieties by them. While the California Department of Education (CDE) barred Prof Bajpai from any contact with publishers, Prof Witzel enjoyed this freedom.
His exchanges with DFN are relevant to show anti-Hindu bias as many of its key figures are unabashedly antagonistic towards Hindu dharma. Prof Kancha Ilaiah, who signed a DFN letter to the CDE, claims he “hate(s) Hinduism” and calls it “a cult of worshipping certain violent figures… Hinduism is basically a spiritual fascist cult”. Prof Witzel’s exchanges with Roger Pearson, in whose journal his article was published, and certain Internet postings also establish deep prejudice.
The flip side of the California debate is a misconceived effort to associate American perceptions of India with the fabulous wealth of the Indian-American community, which is “buying protection” in its adopted land through bankrolling candidates for congressional and presidential elections; and the desire of corporate America to invest in India’s blooming economy. This could be the thin edge of the wedge. Any attempt to accord primacy to secular education and employment (Mammon) is counter to the Hindu ethos wherein the hierarchy of values (varnas) ranks mercantile and wealth-generating groups (Vaishya varna) as third, well after spiritual preceptors (Brahmin) and those who uphold the power of the state (Kshatriya).
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Re: Taslima Nasreen
Where are Arundhati Roy, Romilla Thappar, Teesta Setalvad, Ram Puniyani, Kuldip Nayyar, Dinesh D’Souza, Praful Bidwai, Biju Matthew, John Dayal …human rights advocates? And how about “mother of all human rights advocates”: Sonia Gandhi? Why is she quiet? Is she thinking about words to say which can be called “politically correct”? And what happened to “TEHELKA” ??
These so-called advocates speak only to degrade Hindus? Why don’t they speak against these Muslim fundamentalists who want to behead Taslima? All of these so-called human rights advocates seem to be advocates of anti-Hinduism. When it comes to speak against Muslims or Christians, they are mute.
They wanted movie Parzania and M.F. Hussain’s paintings to be shown because it is against freedom of expression to ban these. Then why they wanted to ban DaVinci Code and Danish comics of Muhammad. Is that not against freedom of expression too? Why they have these double standards? Who are they trying to fool?
Also read: Secularism
The attack on exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has exposed deep-rooted hypocrisy with regard to fundamentalist protests against creative freedom in India.
Political condemnation has been not as vocal against the Muslim political party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (MIM) attack on Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen.
Though she stays in exile from her country in Kolkata, even the Left government had banned one of her books.
Fundamentalism at its worst, ironically elected representatives of India’s democracy saying they may be MLAs but are Muslims first.
Three months ago a fine arts student in Baroda was jailed and his works vandalized by Sangh Parivar activists for painting what they saw as blasphemous images of Hindu deities.
But here’s the difference, the Baroda incident led a nation wide outpouring of outrage at this moral policing by Hindu fundamentalists, as busloads of human rights activists and celebrities converged at the MS University in Baroda to support the student.
In Taslima’s case the activists are either yet to mobilise support for the beleaguered writer and protest against similar attempts at censorship by Muslim activists or don’t feel as strongly as they did for the Baroda student.
A day after the MIM an ally of the UPA has been brazenly unapologetic about its attack and the MLAs have been let out on bail in what seems to be tacit support of the state government.
The Congress has been guarded in its reaction uncertain about how strongly they should condemn the act.
”Writers have other subjects to write. Why just religion?” asked Ghulam Nabi Azad, Chief Minister, Jammu & Kashmir.
And the Samajwadi party has gone a step further saying the MLAs were right, not surprising in a party where a minister announced a Rs 50 crore fatwa against a Danish cartoonist for allegedly blasphemous cartoons of Prophet Mohammed.
”I will ask the government to get her visa revoked. She should be thrown out of the country,” said Shahid Aqla, Samajwadi Party.
Many would see this as political doublespeak on issues of freedom of speech and expression but perhaps no one understands the need to clamp down on Muslim radicals better than the Muslim community itself.
”Those who think that their action is justified because she vilified Islam have actually done more harm,” said Shabana Azmi, actor.
Action against perpetrators of such attacks would perhaps set the record straight about secularism, not just lip service to it.