The following is the complete text of my email interview with Rajiv Malhotra, co-author of the groundbreaking new book, Breaking India by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan. Comments, criticism welcome as always.
Sandeep: What prompted and/or inspired you to write a book like Breaking India, so vast and ambitious in scope knowing the kind of research and hurdles it potentially involved?
Rajiv Malhotra: For years I had studied the various components that came together in this book’s thesis – such as the whole Aryan issue, the postcolonial critique of how the colonial rulers shaped Indian minds, contemporary missionary activities and related controversies, the role of what I refer to as the new Indian sepoys (i.e. disenchanted and cynical Indian intellectuals keen to impress their western sponsors), etc. In fact, I have written separately on each of these themes for over a decade. What galvanized my interest specific to this book was my sudden discovery of the Afro-Dalit Project, which is described in the book and which is the source of the map of a broken India used on the cover. My research into the forces behind projects of this kind turned into a very large enterprise, and it started to link these various threads that had been previously seen as isolated.
Sandeep: As someone who has keenly followed your writings for more than 10 years, first on Sulekha and then on various other web sites and media, "Breaking India” is kind of different—although related—from your earlier writings, which were mostly focused on American/Western constructs of Indology?
Rajiv Malhotra: As I just explained above, my previous work did touch upon some of the specific components of this book, but when they are all put together as in the book, the impact is far greater. So it suddenly looks very different. These can no longer be seen as isolated sporadic happenings that are innocent or unimportant.
Sandeep: Among academic and scholarly circles, the AIT/AMT has pretty much been discredited (even the BBC on its website has more or less accepted these findings), yet that doesn’t seem to deter a whole array of scholars who insist on perpetuating it. One reason could be that their careers depend on keep it afloat. Yet, for some reason, I personally find an inexplicable disconnect. Could you shed more light on this phenomenon? I’m sure it’s not just a case of resistance to new findings/knowledge.
Rajiv Malhotra: I disagree that AIT/AMT is discredited in academic/scholarly circles. It’s alive and well in the mainstream institutions of school textbooks and colleges, encyclopedias, journals and conferences, both in India and the west. In fact, its opponents are a small community who are not in positions of authority in the institutions of knowledge production and distribution. AIT/AMT is the dominant discourse, what may be called the hegemonic discourse. Trivializing its power today has become the wishful thinking of its opponents who need to declare victory for morale-boosting purposes.
This is despite the fact that empirical data supporting it is completely wanting. Particularly in the field of population genetics based on Y-Chromosomal markers, studies have repeatedly spoken against such a scenario. In modern molecular genetics, there has been a consistent rejection of this scenario. The AIT/AMT scenario has proved to be a disaster for field archeologists, creating archeological delusions as in the case of Wheeler’s notorious goof-up of ‘the massacre at Mohenjo-Daro,’ which later was proved to be wrong by George Dales. What were seen as discontinuities due to limited samples and explained as proofs of an Aryan intrusion, are today explained by archeologists as the results of the dynamics of internal cultural evolution.
Yet, take any Western or Indian text book on Hinduism or ancient India, you will find AIT/AMT presented as the genesis of Vedas. A whole generation of scholars in various fields like sociology, anthropology, folk-studies, religious studies etc. has been raised on the false premises of AIT/AMT.
Due to the colonized minds of many Indian elites, there is a deep inferiority complex. Hence there is the implicit assumption prevalent that even a Western non-specialist is a better authority than an Indian specialist on the subject. For example, Martha Nussbaum, professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, makes a pronouncement that ‘older dates to Rig Veda that place it as early as 3,000 BCE are a ploy by Hindu Right to establish Vedic-Harappan identity’. But an Indian historian, Prof. Upinder Singh, daughter of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, says, “Dates falling within the late third millennium BCE or the early second millennium BCE (calculated on the grounds of philology and/or astronomical references) cannot be ruled out.”
Breaking India explains in detail that a great deal of separatism in India is rooted in AIT/AMT. The modern south Indian political identity and vote banking has been driven on such assumptions. The Church has appropriated these fragments and is trying to unify them under the roof of Christianity by fabricating the history of Tamils and others in a pro-Christian manner. Thus this is not only an academic issue but has a political base.
One of the major contributions of this book is that its focus on the Dravidian side of the Aryan/Dravidian pair allows it to shed light on the contemporary politics and missionary activities and how and why they sustain this theory. Critics must focus on attacking the Dravidian theory rather than the Aryan theory, and one cannot sustain without the other. It is Dravidianism that is causing devastation to India’s unity and it is very deeply entrenched across Tamil Nadu. How can you say that AIT/AMT is dead when the Dravidian mirror image thrives? My book wants to shift the gaze towards Dravidianism as the lifeline for AIT/AMT today.
Sandeep: Several proponents–the early ones especially–relied heavily on linguistics to prove the validity of AIT. In my studies, I came across a work entitled "Tathya Darshana" (loosely, Light on Truth), which uses precisely linguistics to disprove AIT. As someone who has a working knowledge of Sanskrit, the work is convincing, both in light of logic and facts. For instance, the word "Aarya" is derived from "Arya" which simply means "a person who is engaged in cultivating land." In your research, what weight do you give to this linguistic element?
Rajiv Malhotra: Actually the book is already very large without restating the arguments for or against AIT/AMT which many other books have done. Rather it is about how these innocent looking academic theories are used to launch divisive social movements in colonized countries by the West. It shows how individual scholars are co-opted, sometimes ignorantly to become part of the machinations, and sometimes they intentionally sell their services. What we have shown is that linguistics has been definitely a tool in the hands of colonial Indologists to create racial categories in populations based on mere speculations. For example, we mention that Yale scholar Emeneau, along with Burrow and Boden (Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford), published ‘A Dravidian Etymological Dictionary’ followed by a supplement in 1968. With the revised 1984 second edition, it was declared the ‘indispensable guide, tool, and authority for every Dravidianist’.
Initially Emeneau was very confident of the Dravidian origin of the non-Sanskrit substratum in Vedic languages. However, later he publicly acknowledged that the Dravidian origins, which he and Barrow had ascribed to most of the Rig Vedic substratum of words, were, in reality, largely conjectures and not empirical facts. Emeneau conceded, ‘It is clear that not all of Burrow’s suggested borrowing from Dravidian will stand the test of his own principles.’ But such belated backtracking was too mild and too late, because by then the academic speculation about a Dravidian substratum had already become entrenched and assumed a life of its own. For example, Dravidian supremacist ideologue Devaneya Pavanar extended the analysis of Burrow and Emeneau and concluded that the ‘old or Lemurian Tamil was not only the parent of the Dravidian family of languages, but also the progenitor of the Indo-European form of speech’. We have documented many such instances in Breaking India. We draw a parallel with the Hutu-Tutsi divide in Rwanda, which ultimately resulted in one of the worst genocides in modern history; the racial categories had no factual roots but were started as western linguistic speculations.
As far as the term Arya throughout the cultural and social history of India including South India, the term has been used to denote the head of the family or a man of respect. For example, in Tamil Nadu the teachers, elders as well as the heads of the family, or any man of respect, are called Ayya, which is a variant of the term Arya. Even the progenitor of Dravidian movement, EVR the so-called Periyar, was called Ayya by his followers.
Sandeep: The very first chapter of your book is entitled "Superpower or Balkanized War Zone?" which is an interesting title. Several explanations have been provided trying to "define" India. A host of British scholars claimed very early that India was politically not one nation while the likes of Arun Shourie demonstrated (A Secular Agenda) that India was one nation united by the bond of common culture. Whatever today’s state of India, what does your research inform you? Is it a Balkanized war zone that has the makings of a superpower? If yes why? If no, why not?
Rajiv Malhotra: India is a war zone between the unity of its civilization and its fragments becoming increasingly prone to tensions, and the whole argument is to explain how and why these faultlines are being exploited.
If the state and polity are in phase with India’s civilizational soul then India is on its way to become a superpower. Every technological and social development then becomes a step in that direction. On the other hand, the forces that deepen the faultlines and fabricate new ones are having an opposite effect. Indeed, there are old, indigenous faultlines in Indian societies whose presence we acknowledge and which have to be rectified. The Dalit faultline is one example. Genuine grievances and injustices exist. There is no white-washing here. But we show how such existing faultlines are used by transnational forces to subvert India and label Indian civilization as hopeless and in need of being replaced by a superior imported variety. This can make Dalits believe that their liberation lies in toppling India’s civilization and nationhood. Suffice to say here that one of the great nation builders of modern India and a Dalit visionary, Dr. Ambedkar, did not subscribe to such views and stated that the quest for social justice should not run counter to national interest.
Unlike the Dalit faultline, the Dravidian faultline is a fabrication created for colonial and evangelical purposes, and is today sustained by narrow-minded politics, evangelism and secessionist forces. Such racism can lead to civil wars and genocides as in Rwanda and Sri Lanka. It is the inherent civilizational strength of India rather than the wisdom of our politicians that has saved us so far from such tragedies. But there are forces working overtime to create such a situation in India. For example, we have Kancha Illaiah who openly advocates civil war in India based on a hate ideology that resembles something straight from the propaganda pamphlets of a Nazi magazine. And we have a prestigious academic publishing house publishing him, and he is invited to United States to provide atrocity literature against India. This is the ground reality we wish to expose.
So in such a situation, India can either become a superpower or it can get balkanized giving rise to numerous civil wars and genocides. Breaking India aims to tilt the probability in favor of a strong India by raising the awareness of Indians on the evolving geopolitical Kurukshetra.
Sandeep: I understand you spent some 5 years researching this book. Could you share some insight into the whole process, methodology…anything, in a freewheeling sort of manner? Did you face any resistance from people you interviewed, etc…that sort of thing.
Rajiv Malhotra: The data on the western nexus was far easier to gather than expected, due to transparency laws and also because these groups are proud of their "human rights work" in India. It is just an immense amount of travel and hard work to put it together, connect the dots, and inquire into details to bring about consistency. What they cannot stand is being told that all this effort is causing harm, is selfish, etc. The Indian side is not so transparent and that is where the funds inflow gets murky and prone to corruption. One cannot easily walk into an establishment and ask direct questions. Nobody has done that and there is anger, arrogance and even hostility when one is too explicit on such data gathering. The politics of knowledge is vicious and many so-called intellectuals are outright dishonest. Rather than objectively researching such a syndrome they are cahoots with it. But most awkward of all are those hypocrite Indians who are widely exposed in the book, who serve as mercenaries for such nexuses. They are middlemen empowered by the mechanisms that are critiqued in Breaking India. Yet they face society as social workers, activists, media or scholars. The book names several dozens of such persons and organizations. It is very audacious in naming names and not hiding behind abstractions. This is why the book expects to be attacked by this lot.
Sandeep: Your book names a lot of famous and influential names, many of whom aren’t portrayed in a flattering light. Was the intent to merely provoke or was it an inevitable part of your narrative context?
Rajiv Malhotra: We want neither to provoke nor malign any individual. We have put out the hard facts including those facts that hurt. For too long, Indians have self-congratulated themselves about the breadth and depth of their knowledge by quoting William Jones or Max Muller. Many Tamil Saivaites feel as if they are indebted to G.U. Pope who translated Thiruvachagam to English. But they seldom know that the same G.U. Pope had denounced the principal saints of Tamil Saivism and had stated that Saivism harbors ‘the most deplorable superstitions anywhere to be found’. Many may feel uncomfortable that we have criticized Leela Samson, but we did not criticize her as an individual. We criticized her for twisting the spirit of the institution’s founder Rukmini Devi (Arundale). Rukmini Devi considers the Indian epics and classical dramas as having ‘very beautiful symbology.’ She wants the artist to ‘burn to ashes all thought which is dross and bring out the gold which is within’ just as ‘Siva burnt to ashes all that is physical’. But see how Leela Samson interprets the same Indian symbols. To her they are to be compared with Walt Disney’s characters, Batman and ‘the strange characters in Star Wars’. When we bring out these hard facts, it hurts those who do not want to see the truth. But it has to be told. As you have rightly said they are an inevitable part of our narrative context. We have also brought out many individuals in a positive light as well. For example, we have brought out the daring act of self-respect displayed by veteran singer Yesudas, walking out of a function when the minister refused to light the ceremonial lamp.
Sandeep: A recent review of Breaking India in the Outlook magazine pretty much trashed the book and the comments section has generated quite a rush of passionate responses. Of all mainstream reviews of the book I’ve read, the consistent theme seems to be one of negativity towards your book. I’ve read some positive reviews as well. What in your opinion is the general reception for your book?
Rajiv Malhotra: Outlook‘s is the only negative review we have seen in the mainstream press. I am sure more will come as the individuals and groups named in the book find out and get their friends in the press energized. That will merely serve to bring out more visibility for the data we present and allow more people to judge the facts for themselves. The sepoys will fight back for sure. And neither do we want the book to be ignored.
When we launched the book we made it clear that we have not spoken the last word on the subject and that we have initiated a debate. We want the intelligentsia of this country and the Diaspora to discuss and debate it with open minds. Generally we find, particularly with Tamil people, a very warm welcome. They have been always uncomfortable with certain aspects of the Dravidian polity. This book has explained clearly to them the factors behind this. Many Tamil scholars and intellectuals, from traditional scholars to modern thinkers, have expressed their endorsements. We are waiting for critical scholarly reviews of the book (unlike the Gita Ramaswamy variety that is so ridiculous that Mr. Vinod Mehta of Outlook ought to be ashamed of his low standards), from which we can learn, revise or enlarge the book in future editions. We have a vibrant online community of more than 1,000 scholars, students and activists who are discussing different aspects of the book, not always agreeing but arguing in the spirit of scholarship and learning. Readers of this interview too can join the discussions through our website: www.breakingindia.com.
Sandeep: You’ve dedicated two whole chapters to Abdul Nasser Madhani. Is there any specific reason for singling him out, while there are far more dangerous homegrown Jihadi outfits like SIMI (now banned but by no means inactive) that probably deserve wider and deeper coverage?
Rajiv Malhotra: Actually there are two sections in the last chapter (and not two chapters) that deal with Abdul Nasser Madhani. The book deals with Dravidian and Dalit faultlines and how Western interventions utilize them and deepen them. The subject matter of this volume is not jihad per se. Here we discuss Madhani and his outfit in the context of a curious phenomenon. We have named it the ‘Islamic slice of Pakistan’. We show how the Dravidian movement has colluded with Pan-Islamic secessionism even during pre-independence days and how these historic relations have helped nurture today a vast terror network across South India. In Kerala this is aided by vote bank politics. Also there has arisen a strange nexus within India between forces, which are antagonistic at the global level. For example we show how Dravidian, Marxist and so-called human rights NGOs joined hands to campaign for the release of Madhani who was the main accused in 1998 Coimbatore bomb blast that claimed 70 lives. The release of Madhani was projected as a victory of human rights in the 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was published by the US Department of State. Remember that this is a book about how forces inimical to Indian unity work in South India. Madhani and his outfits are undoubtedly a vital part of those forces and hence we have concentrated on him as an example of the nexus at work.
Sandeep: From reading your book, one gets an impression that the whole world is out to tear up India into pieces—from both the Right and Left in the US to parts of the US government to the Christian conversion lobby to the Dravidian "movement" to Islamists to the Western manipulators of Dalits to the NGOs to the Maoists. Your book does provide solid evidence to support these theses but I’m interested to know the exact gravity of the situation. Would you throw more light on this? Also, the possible solutions to stem this rot.
Rajiv Malhotra: When you go to a doctor for a stress test his job is to uncover risk factors that might be hidden, including those that the patient wants to deny. Businesses do stress tests on their plans – in fact, that such independent due diligence was something I routinely did for a major American MNC in the 1980s. Similar risk analyses are important for a nation-state to do. These are routinely being done by national security and foreign affairs scholars in India as in every country. However, they focus on only the external threats. Many such analysts have supported the book, and privately said that to include internal faultlines in their security analysis is "not encouraged".
We are not conjuring up a vision of ‘whole world is out to tear up India’. We mention that there are voices of ‘build up India’ as well, that are working for the unity and development of India. In any system there will be both centripetal forces (separatist) and centrifugal forces (unifying). Because the positive story of India is already well known, we decided to write a book on the centrifugal forces and their overseas allies, because this aspect has been neglected and is very controversial for most authors. This is a long overdue exercise, which the Indian intelligentsia should have taken up but did not because people do not want to face uncomfortable realities. Good news is always easy to sell making it less challenging to produce.
How bad is the situation? Since we wrote the book many events have happened that confirm our fears. For example The Week dated 24-Apr-2011 has published a cover story on a nexus between Maoists and Lashkar e Toiba. Furthermore, the Catholic Secular Forum has sent mass emails asking its members to support USCIRF and has sent a message that US-based Indian Christian organizations support USCIRF’s putting India on a watch list of countries alongside Yemen, North Korea, etc. that lack religious freedom. India Today has published an investigative report on how enormous transnational funding is fuelling evangelism in the border state of Punjab. We do not know to what extend our book could have triggered this sudden interest in media coverage of such issues.
This extraordinary situation needs extraordinary solutions. India must take responsibility and control to address its faultlines itself. Today, if there is a conflict between Dalit Hindus and non-Dalit Hindus, there are powerful mechanisms to give international publicity and exacerbate this conflict. But there are a lot of Dalit success stories where Dalits have advanced due to their own struggles and as a result of the affirmative action of the government. These stories never get encouraged by the international media. There are prominent temples employing Dalit priests; Dalit children winning state ranks and scholarships in Sanskrit; Dalit politicians and entrepreneurs thriving; Dalit social reformers and spiritual leaders who are venerated by all sections of society. But first we need to have widespread awareness of the problems we are facing. Breaking India is a crucial first step in that direction.
Sandeep: Lastly, you’ve been branded as a Hindutvawadi/Hindu fundamentalist in some circles—most notably, an attack on you in the Outlook magazine a few years ago by the Leftist, Vijay Prashad. Does this labeling bother you? Or do you have a response to such a characterization of you?
Rajiv Malhotra: A few years back, OutlookIndia.com carried my debate with Vijay Prashad, well-known leader of Indian communists in the US academy. I request readers to read it at: http://www.outlookindia.com/taghome3.aspx?tag=102635&name=Debate%3A+Rajiv+Malhotra++v%2Fs+Vijay+Prashad+ (Readers should read the debate in the chronological order beginning with my first post on January 15, 2004. The order presented in the Outlook archive is mixed up.)
Had Ms. Ramaswamy or Mr. Vinod Mehta read that, they would not have been able to make such nonsensical accusations. The reader of that debate will see where I stand on such topics as Hindutva, Hinduism, India, etc. In fact, Outlookindia.com imagined that Prashad would quickly score a knockout victory and hence it decided to make this debate a front page feature. But the outcome was entirely the opposite. Prasad stumbles, changes topics to get out of cornered positions. Then he simply runs away, claiming to be too busy all of a sudden.
The following year, an Indian student group at University of California, Berkeley, invited Prashad and me to hold a live debate at their campus. I accepted the invitation. Prashad dragged his feet and did not respond despite numerous reminders. When the organizers finally caught up with him and pinned him down to respond, he told that he would need to be paid a hefty sum of money to take leave of absence from his college in order to spend the time preparing to debate me. I was astonished! Here is the poster boy of Outlook needing a few months to prepare to debate me?