Friday, February 28, 2014

Quick notes: Peak car, Indus drought...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Indian Contribution to World Mathematics'

    From: George Gheverghese Joseph (
    Keynote lecture on 'Indian Contribution to World Mathematics' by George 
    Gheverghese Joseph, University of Manchester.
    Place: Press Club Hall, Thiruvananthapuram
    Date: 1 March 2014 (Saturday)
    Time: 11am
    Organised by Sangama Grama Madhava Ganitha Kendram (Iringalakuda, Thrissur) 
    as part of the National Science Day Celebrations. Dr V.P.N. Nambuthiri, 
    Emeritus Professor of Photonics, CUSAT and Dr V.B. Panicker, scholar of 
    Indian mathematics and former Principal of Palakkad NSS Engineering College 
    will also be present.
    We request you and your institution to come forward and participate in the 
    Sangama Grama Madhava Ganitha Kendram is a non-government forum of maths 
    loving people inspired by great contributions of Indian mathematicians, 
    especially the Kerala School (from 14th century mathematician–astronomer 
    Madhavan of Sangama Gramam, near Iringalakuda in Thrissur District of 
    Kerala). The main objective of this voluntary work is to bring the 
    contribution of Indian mathematicians to the new generation. Workshops, 
    lectures, camps and quiz programmes are conducted for students on vedic 
    mathematics and Indian contribution. On National Mathematics Day, an 
    eminent Indian mathematician is felicitated with Madhava Ganitha Puraskara.

see also

Restoring India’s calculus crown

Ananthakrishnan G.
A digital image of Madhava drawn up by the Madhava Ganitha Kendram, a voluntary association working to revive his works, with inputs provided by descendants of the mathematician-astronomer

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb. 24: George Gheverghese Joseph is on a mission to reclaim India’s pride of place in the world of mathematics. An emeritus professor at Manchester University in the UK, his book, The Crest of the Peacock; Non-European roots of Mathematics, has challenged the status quo and persuaded the West to acknowledge that a 15th century Kerala mathematician-astronomer named Madhava (Madhavan, in local dialect) had worked on the fundamentals of calculus — a vital tool for measuring time, making almanacs and finding directions at sea — almost two centuries before Sir Isaac Newton and his German counterpart Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz were credited as its founders.

Kerala-born Joseph has some reasons to conclude that the southern Indian state may have served as a conduit for the transmission of Indian mathematics to Europe through Jesuit priests, though the evidence available is more circumstantial.

Joseph played an important role in purging the South African mathematics curriculum of its racial overtones post-apartheid but rues that the “colonial mindset” that “denigrated native contributions” and “politics” had clouded India’s efforts to honour its heritage.

The Telegraph caught up with Joseph at his holiday home near the Kovalam beach resort here. Excerpts from the interview:

Question: How did the West react to the conclusions in your first book, The Crest of the Peacock; Non-European roots of Mathematics?

Joseph: The perception of the West was a very pleasant surprise. I did not expect so many people to be so receptive to ideas. I think the reason they had not touched upon it earlier is because they did not have the information. The book received over hundred reviews by all sorts of groups. Not just maths educators, even activists reviewed it. What particularly moved me was the extent to which African Americans and Blacks took up some of the things in it after they realised they had a very rich history. For instance, the earliest mathematical artefact is available right in the middle of Africa, but nobody knows. It’s called the Ishango bone which is a type of lunar calendar and dates back to 22,000 BC, much earlier than anything of that sort found anywhere in the world.

There were a few critics, but nobody took me on on the maths in it. It was mostly the interpretation. There was criticism that I was devaluing Newton, Leibniz and the Greeks. But all I was saying was that there is that part of history which has been ignored and we need to reflect on. And also, how some of the ideas travelled to the West to, in fact, create the scientific revolution.

George Gheverghese Joseph

People who disappointed me were the Indians. Part of colonisation involves a form of brainwashing where you end up defending something because you think you have invested time and emotion in it. I was awarded a Royal Society Visiting Fellowship to deliver a series of lectures in Indian universities. But a number of those I met didn’t either want to know or were very critical. Subsequently, I also noticed that academics has been highly politicised in the country. So I suddenly find my views and conclusions either being approved by the Right who say, look here is a book that shows India is great, or being criticised by the Left, who claim that the book panders to the other side and contains not much of material analysis.

Q: What spurred your interest in Madhava?

Joseph: I always felt that from the little I knew, the mathematical tradition outside the European tradition was neglected. Even in Africa where I taught for a long time, children would ask me if there was any African link to the evolution of the subject and all I could point out to them were some Egyptian connections. But then the children would say Egypt is not Africa.

Later, when I became interested in the work of the legendary Srinivas Ramanujan and had gone to Cambridge in this connection, I met an eminent Newton scholar, Tom Whiteside. He asked me if I had come across the Kerala school of mathematics. I said no. He then referred me to a footnote by him of an earlier Indian researcher who had with his collaborators written extensively on the work done in Kerala on the infinite series. Whiteside suggested that I explore it further and that’s how I discovered the work of Madhava and his disciples.

Q: What exactly was Madhava’s contribution to mathematics?

Joseph: His works laid the foundations of the Kerala school of mathematics which flourished between AD 1,300 and 1,700. But he was only part of the wider Indian school founded by Aryabhata who wrote the masterpiece Aryabhateeyam in AD 499. There are still differences over Aryabhata’s birthplace, whether it was in the north or the south of the country. Madhava’s contribution was his work on the infinite series. Though Newton and Leibniz are credited with the discovery of calculus, the fact is one of its critical strands had been developed in Kerala more than two centuries before that. The West has now recognised this and accordingly renamed certain results relating to the trigonometric series, previously known as the Newton, Gregory and Leibniz series, as the Madhava-Newton, Madhava-Gregory and the Madhava-Leibniz series, respectively.

The irony is that we still don’t know much about Madhava, the man himself. An eminent mathematician from Oxford, Marcus Du Sautoy, recently made a series of television programmes on the history of mathematics. I was consulted on those programmes relating to the history of Indian mathematics, including the remarkable work in Kerala. He was particularly interested in finding the physical location of Madhava and his main disciples to add some footage of film. When he asked me I was clueless and somewhat embarrassed. But now I’m told that he hailed from Sangamagrama, a medieval town in present-day Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district. It is a shame that there is no memorial plaque at the place which would certainly attract maths tourists.

Q: How do you suggest the knowledge from Indian shores reached Europe?

Joseph: That was the subject of my third book, A passage to infinity — Medieval Indian Mathematics from Kerala and its Impact. I had undertaken a project on the topic and what I concluded was that a lot of the knowledge may have reached Europe through the Jesuit priests. We looked at a lot of archives in Rome and Lisbon, mostly Europe. There was no direct documentary evidence to prove this, but this may be because the documents may have been destroyed. A lot of Jesuit papers were destroyed by the Catholic Church at one stage and also there was an earthquake in Lisbon. However, there is strong circumstantial evidence as these priests were sent out with the brief that they should find new ideas on stellar astronomy, how to use the stars for calculations, how they would be of use for navigation. And India, as we know, was at that time much advanced in these areas through works of people like Aryabhata and Bhaskara. These priests used to move around in the court circles in Kochi whose royal family too boasted of astronomers like Sankararaman.

Q: Has India been fair to its mathematicians?

Joseph: The question to ask is if India would have recognised the work of Ramanujan, a failed college student from a relatively poor background, if he had remained in India.

Q: How did you get involved with the curriculum revision committee in Africa?

Joseph: Our family had moved to Kenya from Kerala when I was nine years old and I had my schooling there before we shifted to the UK. In Africa, I realised that the curriculum was much affected by racial bias. For instance, Black students were not expected to learn calculus because the apartheid government felt it was too abstract for them. Just before Nelson Mandela became President, a group of us were invited, including me, to help in the reform of the school and university curriculum.

Q: What ails maths education in India?

Joseph: Firstly, there is too much stress on examinations, that the exam becomes the end in itself and knowing the subject is not so important. Secondly, there is limited opportunity for people to do a PhD in maths (and, even worse, history of mathematics) which is why even the best minds opt for an MBA or move to the IT field. Thirdly, there is not much of an inspiration coming from the teachers because they are dealing with large classes and, in a number of cases, engaged in tutorial work after work. Also, the system of teaching is too didactic — that there is only one right answer and only one right way of doing a problem.

sent from samsung galaxy note, so please excuse brevity

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MahaShivRatri greetings to all Hindu brothers

#Hindu #Unity
Om Kranti, Kranti, Krantihih!!!

May The Lord of destruction obliterate all enemies of the Hindu nation.

Fwd: Savarkar, the Litterateur

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Team <>
Date: Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 12:40 AM
Subject: Savarkar, the Litterateur

Today, 26 February 2014 is the atmarpan divas of Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. On this occasion, we pay our tributes to this epoch-maker.

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Today, 26 February 2014 is the atmarpan divas of Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. On this occasion, we pay our tributes to this epoch-maker.
Circumstances forced Savarkar to take up the path of armed revolution. One is tempted to ask- what if Savarkar had been born in a free nation? Perhaps he would have become a still greater litterateur. We take a overview of his qualities as a writer par excellence.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is undoubtedly one of India's foremost freedom fighters, a patriot who honed all of his many exceptional natural talents to better serve his country and his people. One such was his talent for writing.
How often have we heard the phrase "the pen is mightier than the sword"? And Savarkar wielded a very mighty pen, indeed. The word "pen" is being used loosely here, for Savarkar composed and wrote even when no writing materials were available to him. In the dark days of incarceration in the Cellular Jail, he scratched his poems and other works on the walls with thorns and nails and committed more than 10,000 lines to memory.

An extraordinary writer, Savarkar could turn his hand at every form of writing; he was a biographer, historian, novelist, dramatist, poet, and journalist. Despite the fact he had to live in the shadow of imminent governmental transgressions—both before and after independence—many times with serious repercussions on his life, he wrote and published his works fearlessly. The Savarkarian stamp of dashing and daring is firmly impressed, not just upon the content of many of his books, but also upon their history from conception to publishing. One of Savarkar's precious books—the History of the Sikhs—is lost to us. One of the manuscripts had to be discarded into the ocean for safety's sake, one is perhaps in the legacy of Madame Cama's paperwork, and the last one rattling around—hopefully—in the voluminous archives of the British Royal Mail or the British Secret Files. It is our dearest hope that this manuscript might surface in a miraculous way.

Savarkar also made a great contribution to purification of language and script, including coining and popularizing several words that are now commonly used in Marathi. His literary contributions and innovations are many, too many to enumerate in a limited number of words here. We shall touch upon only a few.

Savarkar was a poet par excellence. Savarkar's poetry is his heart and soul.

"तुजसाठिं मरण तें जनन

तुजविण जनन ते मरण"

"Life is to die for You,

Death is to live without You,"

These lines from Savarkar's Jayostute embody his unparalleled devotion to free his beloved country. In the last verse, one can palpably feel Savarkar's pain:

स्वतंत्रते I ह्या सुवर्णभूमीत कमती काय तुला?

कोहिनूरचे पुष्प रोज घे ताजें वेणीला

ही सकल-श्री-संयुता I आमची माता भारती असतां

कां तुवां ढकलुनी दिधली

पूर्वीची ममता सरली

परक्यांची दासी झाली

जीव तळमळे, कां तूं त्यजिले उत्तर ह्याचें दे

स्वतंत्रते भगवती I त्वामहं यशोयुतां वंदे II धृ II

O Freedom! What did you lack in this Golden Land?

Each day find a fresh Kohinoor bloom for your strands!

Of bountiful wealth is our very own Bharat motherland,

So why, oh why, did you push her away?

Why did your Motherly love of old wither away?

Over her strangers now hold sway!

Anguished is my soul!

Why, oh why, did you abandon her so, answer me, I pray!

We salute you, Goddess of Freedom, O Victorious One!

Savarkar's opening lines from his poem Atmabal symbolize his life. Though many attempts have been made to obliterate him and his memory, he still, and always will, prevails:

अनादि मी अनंत मी, अवध्य मी भला,

मारिल रिपु जगतिं असा कवण जन्माला II धृ II

Without beginning nor end am I, inviolable am I.

Vanquish me? In this world no such enemy is born!

In the lines from his poem Aik Bhavishyala one finds Savarkar's ultimate goal. Referring to the Hindus, he says:

सिंहासनि स्थापु देव I प्राणांची देवघेव II

आपुलिया अस्तित्वा II लावुनी पणाला II ४

होउनिया मुक्त स्वता I करील मुक्त ती जगता II

ममतेच्या समतेच्या I सुजन रक्षणाला II भव्य II ५

With God as their inspiration, offering their lives,

Staking their very existence, none turning tail!

For Love and Equality, the protection of the good,

Attaining freedom, free the world they shall! Hail!

In Ja Jhunja, his anguish at the plight of Mother India and the apathy in her sons brings tears to the eyes:

मग मुकुट आपला कोणीं I फोडिला

हिंदूंचा झेंडा कोणीं I तोडिला

आशेचा अंकुर कोणीं I मोडिला

हें चिंतुनि चिंतुनि क्रुद्ध आंसावें जळतीं

दिनरात्रीं डोळ्यांतुनि कां न रे गळती ?

Who dared our crown shatter?

Who dared the Hindu flag tatter?

Who dared our burgeoning hopes batter?

Dwell! Where are the hot, raging tears, aye,

Spilling from your eyes night and day! Fie!

Savarkar ever had his finger on the pulse of the need of the hour and tailored his works accordingly. One of the very first things he did upon setting off on the path of the freedom struggle is to compose ballads extolling the deeds of India's heroes, especially Shivaji. He and his Mitra Mela group would take to the streets singing these songs. At a time when Indian minds were subjugated into a slave status, stripped of pride in their national heritage, Savarkar fired the imagination of the people with his songs and stirred patriotism in Indian hearts. So much so, that on one occasion around 1905, at the Shivaji festival held in Raigad, when they were invited to sing these ballads, the enraptured audience joined them enthusiastically. The chief guest, Daji Khare, fearing that the British wrath would crash upon his head for this "unconstitutional"—as he put it—activity, took to his heels and the function carried on without him!

Savarkar's Indian War of Independence, 1857, is a landmark in Indian history. Not only did it raise forever the 1857 rebellion of the soldiers up from the ignominious distinction of being called the "Sepoy Mutiny," it recognized all the forgotten heroes and their contribution to the freedom struggle. After intensive research, he presented the facts in a unique manner, emphasizing the unity with which Hindus and Muslims fought to overthrow their common enemy, the British. It has played a remarkable role in stirring many an Indian into patriotism and throwing in their lot into the freedom struggle. Fearing just this, the British banned the book in India before publication—something unheard of!—and in Britain soon after it was published. The ban notwithstanding, it was published over and over and even translated into other languages. The whole saga of how the book was published makes a fascinating read (the account is available in the preamble before the book.) Amazingly enough, a few precious copies of the 1909 first edition of this book are still extant today, including six copies in various libraries of the U.S.

In 1923, his book Hindutva (written in 1920-21 in the Cellular Jail) was published under the pseudonym Maratha while he was still incarcerated on the Indian mainland. It is still hailed as a byword on Hindutva. With the changing political scene in India—the Khilafat Movement and the Indian Freedom Movement being attached to it, as well as Hindu-Muslim unity being laid down a condition before independence could be sought—that followed right after WWI, Savarkar considered it imperative that there be a clear understanding of what is Hindutva, and his book unambiguously details the essentials of it. His definition of the term Hindu caused Swami Shraddhanand to exclaim, "It must have been one of those Vedic dawns indeed which inspired our seers with new truths that revealed to the author of Hindutva this mantra, this definition of Hindutva."

Savarkar's Majhi Janmathep, Part I, (My Transportation for Life) was first published as a series in the newspaper Kesari in 1925-26; Part II was published in the Shraddhanjali from January 20, 1927. By May 1927 the book was published in its entirety. Within three years it was ready for a second edition. Soon a Gujarati edition was published but was immediately brought under the notice of the Government and banned. Copies were still secretly published and sold, even in Kannada and English. This book, too, has inspired many. It is an honest record of Savarkar's incarceration in India, particularly in the Cellular Jail. Despite the fact it is written with humor and without the slightest indulgence in pathos, it is a heartrending account. It also reveals all of the traits that make Savarkar such an extraordinary man; in there you will meet Savarkar of the iron will; Savarkar: the Karmayogi; Savarkar: the devoted Son of Mother India; Savarkar: the Leader, the diplomat, the humanist, the rationalist, the philosopher, and much more. He has also written about the experiences suffered by others. In the case of many freedom fighters who suffered in the Cellular Jail, this is the only record of their patriotism and sacrifice for India.

Throughout, Savarkar has shown a keen awareness of recording his words and events as they happen, a preserving of an accurate historical record. He knew how very important this was for posterity. History, alas, is vulnerable in the hands of those in power; this is especially so in the case of India where many distortions in history are being promoted and large chunks of it are deleted. All his life, having written profusely on the subjects dearest to his heart, in 1965 Maharashtra Prantik Hindu Sabha published the Samagra Savarkar Vangmay, his "Collected Works". These are now available in Hindi and English (at least most of the Works.)

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Quick notes: Calculus crown, Parallel judicial system...
  • Restoring India’s calculus crown : Madhava's work effectively laid the foundations for the later development of calculus and analysis, and either he or his disciples developed an early form of integration for simple functions. Some historians have suggested that Madhava's work, through the writings of the Kerala School, may have been transmitted to Europe via Jesuit missionaries and traders who were active around the ancient port of Cochin (Kochi) at the time, and may have had an influence on later European developments in calculus. PDF link to the book.

  • Kaangress supports parallel Muslim judicial system. It might divide the country again, so what?

  • Time for his retirement: Rajnath Singh talks of apology to Muslims.

  • Los Angeles synchronizes traffic lights (dated news): East Liberty part of Pittsburgh also showed great improvement, cutting travel times and emissions. So ,what is stopping my town from doing this? :(

  • BBM for Windows Phone: Blackberry creating a lot of buzz after WhatsApp deal. BBM for Android.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fwd: selected 10 lies of Teesta from her IITM hate speech

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: arun
Date: Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 11:29 AM
Subject: selected 10 lies of Teesta from her IITM hate speech

Reposted a comment in the vijayvaani article, along with twisted map of India - Pakistan that Teesta had on her NGO web page and that was exposed about 12 years back

sent from samsung galaxy note, so please excuse brevity

Fwd: "Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of defamation" - Monika Arora, legal counsel for SBAC against Penguin India

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: sri venkat
Date: Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 9:28 AM
Subject: "Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of defamation" - Monika Arora, legal counsel for SBAC against Penguin India

“Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of defamation” – Monika Arora, legal counsel for SBAC against 
Penguin India
Anuj Agrawal On February 18, 2014

Monika Arora 
“It may be news for you and everyone else but for us it was a simple case,” Monika Arora says with an almost bemused smile, “I simply cannot understand why there is such a big hue and cry.” It is roughly a week after news first broke of Penguin India’s agreement to withdraw copies of Wendy Doniger’s book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” and Arora seems genuinely surprised at the volume of attention this story was given, both by the national as well as the international media.

Arora was the legal counsel for the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee (SBAC), the organisation that had first approached courts in 2010, following the publication of Doniger’s book. The SBAC had claimed that portions of the book were defamatory, untrue and insulted the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs. The relief sought by the SBAC was the deletion of those portions of the book that were untrue and defamatory.

Four years later, while the trial was at the stage of cross-examination, Penguin India agreed to completely withdraw the book from the Indian market, something that Arora and the SBAC had never asked for. Once this agreement was made public, it evoked some strong reactions, with Penguin author Arundathi Roy writing an open letter asking Penguin to identify what “terrified” the publisher.

“The problem is that Hindu bashing sells,” says Arora, the measured pace of her words belying her apparent irritation. She minces no words when it comes to the likes of Roy, claiming that “leftist intellectuals” are prone to mistake “Hindu bashing” for secularism. “Had a similar book been written about any other religion,” she says, “I wonder if these intellectuals would have supported it.” As for worries that this spoke poorly of India’s committment to the freedom of expression, Arora counters it with the argument that freedom of expression does not include the freedom of defamation.

“Doniger has a history of defaming Hindus,” says Arora, “and the book is filled with factual errors but just because she is white, we don’t question these things.” Some of the errors that SBAC had sought to remove from the book include the statement that Rani Jhansi was loyal to the British, that Mahatma Gandhi advised people to eat beef, and that the shiv lingam was a representation of the erect male sexual organ. And it is at this point that Arora appears to become truly upset, “Doniger’s book is nothing but porn.”

It was not only Arundathi Roy who chose to issue a public statement on this issue. Wendy Doniger also made a public statement, stating that the real culprits were neither the SBAC nor Penguin India but rather the Indian law that, “that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher”

And it is with this particular contention that Arora has a problem with.

“This law has existed since way before 2009,” she says in reference to Section 295A, “it certainly didn’t deter international publishers then so why is it suddenly being raised now?”

“Rule of law mandates that no one should be above the law,” she adds, “and if this is what [S.295A] states than what is all this hue and cry for?”

Another aspect that Arora has taken a strong exception to is the manner in which her clients have been portrayed. “My clients have been called fascists, Modi-supporters and this is ridiculous!” she says, “I mean just because you talk about Hindusim doesn’t automatically mean you belong to a certain political camp!” Worse, as per Arora, her clients were educated, law-abiding citizens. “One of them is a former Ambassador, another an academician, the third a historian,” and her voice appears to be tinged with pain, “they are not some illiterates who retaliate with violence.”

Arora has had a fairly interesting career of her own. As a student, she was the Secretary (and later the President) of the Delhi University Students Union. “This gave me the confidence to speak I suppose,” she says about her student days, “there were times when I was addressing an audience of lakhs.” It may have been this stint that pushed her towards law, and she took up the law degree from Delhi University.

More than a decade into the profession, she seems to have found her passion. “Law allows you to get relief for any person wronged by law,” she says, “and that is what is so fascinating about law.” Over the years, she has appeared in a number of public interest litigations, including litigations against the Delhi Bar Council, Delhi University and the Delhi government.  “Anything of public interest,” she says, “inspires me to work.”

sent from samsung galaxy note, so please excuse brevity

Fwd: NEW POST: L'affaire Doniger: Untangling the Knot - Jakob De Roover

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Swami Devananda Saraswati
Date: Sat, Feb 22, 2014 at 6:26 AM
Subject: NEW POST: L'affaire Doniger: Untangling the Knot - Jakob De Roover


L'affaire Doniger: Untangling the Knot – Jakob De Roover

Posted on February 21, 2014 

Dr Jakob De Roover

The controversy about Penguin India's decision to withdraw and pulp Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History brings to the surface issues likely to trouble scholars of India for years to come. First, the obvious: the banning of any book violates academic or intellectual freedom. Rightly so, this leads to moral indignation among the intelligentsia of India and the West. Our ancestors fought for this freedom, sometimes sacrificing their lives. Not to protect it amounts to betraying their legacy. 

Yet, in this case, the rhetoric is predictable and somewhat stale: 

Another bunch of Hindutva fanatics have succeeded in having a book by a respected academic banned because they feel offended by its contents. They have not understood the book, give ridiculous reasons, and threaten publisher and author with dire consequences if the book is not withdrawn. The Indian judiciary is caving in to religious fanaticism and practically abolishing freedom of speech in India.

This ready-made reaction may sound cogent but it covers up major questions: What brings Hindu organizations to filing petitions that make them the butt of ridicule and contempt? Whence the frustration among so many Indians about the way their culture is depicted? Why is this battle not fought out in the free intellectual debate so typical of India in the past?

So many strands are entangled in this knotty affair that it is no longer clear what is at stake. To move ahead we first need to untangle the knot, but this requires that we take unexpected perspectives and question entrenched convictions. Drawing on the work of S.N. Balagangadhara, this piece hopes to give one such perspective. – Dr Jakob De Roover

Imagine you are born in the 1950s as a Hindu boy with intellectual inclinations. As you grow up, your mother takes you to the temple and shows you how to do puja. Your grandparents tell you stories about Bhima's strength, Krishna's appetite, Durvasa's temper…. Perhaps you rejoice when Rama rescues Sita, feel afraid when Kali fights demons, or cry when Drona demands Ekalavya's thumb as gurudakshina. Your father is indifferent to most of this stuff, but then he is very moody so you prefer to stay away from him in any case.

In school, you are taught about the history of India. You learn that Hinduism grew out of the Brahmanism imported during the Aryan invasion. The caste system is a fourfold hierarchy imposed by the Brahmin priesthood, so you are told, and untouchability is the bane of Hindu society. Caste discrimination needs to be eradicated, as Gandhi said, while the scientific temper should displace superstitious tradition, as Nehru taught.

Your teachers present this account as the truth, along with Newton's physics and Darwin's evolutionary theory. You feel bad about your "backward religion" and ashamed about "the massive injustice of caste." For some time, as a student, you also mouth this story in the name of progress and social justice. Yet you feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. You sense that it misrepresents you and your traditions—it distorts your practices, your people, and your experience, but you don't know what to do about it.

What is the problem? Well, the current discourse on Indian culture and society is deeply flawed, even though it dominates the educational system and the media. This story about "Hindu religion" and "the caste system" started out as an attempt by European minds to make sense of their experience of India. Missionaries, travellers, and colonial officials collected their observations; Orientalists and other scholars ordered these into a coherent image of India. In the process, they drew on a set of commonplaces widespread in European societies, which all too often reflected a Christian critique of false religion.

The resulting story transforms India into a deficient culture: 

India has its dominant religion, Hinduism, created by cunning Brahmin priests; this religion sanctions social injustice in the form of a fixed caste hierarchy; instead of freedom and equality, it represents inequality and social constraint; it is basically immoral.

With some internal variation, this story is presented as a truthful description of Indian culture. Contemporary authors use different conceptual vocabularies to explain or interpret "Hinduism" and "caste," from Marx and Freud to Foucault andŽižek. But the so-called "facts" they seek to explain are already claims of the Orientalist discourse, structured around theological ideas in secular guise. In fact, they are nothing more than reflections of how Europeans experienced India. No wonder then that the story does not make sense to those who do not share this experience.

Back to the 1970s now: you are studying hard, for your parents want you to become an engineer. Yet you are more interested in history and the social sciences. You want to make sense of your unease with the dominant story about Indian culture. So you turn to the works of eminent professors at elite universities from the Ivy League to JNU. What do you find? They repeat the same story, in a jargon that makes it even more opaque. You become more frustrated. Everywhere you turn, people just reproduce the same story about Hinduism and caste as the worst thing that ever happened to humanity: politicians, activists, teachers, professors, newspapers, television shows…. They may add some qualifications but to no avail. After spending a few years in America, you return to India, get married, and have two kids. They come home from school with questions about "the wrongs of Hinduism and the caste system." You don't know what to tell them. Your frustration and anger rise to boiling point. You feel betrayed by the intellectual classes.

What are the options of Indians going through similar experiences? They cannot challenge the story about Hinduism and caste intellectually for they do not possess the tools to do so. They are neither scholars nor social scientists so they cannot be expected to grasp the conceptual foundations of the dominant story, let alone develop an alternative. Maximally, they can condemn it as "racist" or "imperialist." Even there, they are ambiguous. They feel that the West is ahead of India in so many ways. In their society, corruption is the rule and the caste system refuses to go away, but then most people around them nevertheless appear to be good men and women. How to make sense of this? There are no thinkers able to help them solve these problems.

When you turn 45, your children leave home. One fine day a colleague tells you he is with the RSS and hands you some literature. Here is an outlet for venting your anger and frustration, the rhetoric of Hindu nationalism: 

"Be a patriotic Indian; the Hindu nation is great; caste is only a blot on its glory; Indian intellectuals are communists engaged in an anti-Indian conspiracy; and foreign scholars must be out to divide the country." 

This rhetoric does not give you any enlightenment or insights into your traditions; actually, it feels quite shallow. But it at least gives some relief and puts an end to the blame and insult heaped onto your traditions. With some fellow warriors you decide that the mis-education of India should stop. What is the next step?

At this point, there are ready-made traps. First, it is difficult not to notice how those in power in India decide what gets written in the textbooks. Under British rule, it was the classical Orientalist account. Mrs Gandhi allowed the Marxists to take control of the relevant government bodies (they could acquire only "soft power" there, after all) and reject Indian culture as a particularly backward instance of false consciousness. For decades now, secularists have set the agenda and funded research projects and centres for "humiliation and exclusion studies." Once the BJP comes to power, why not rewrite the textbooks and run educational bodies according to Hindutva tastes?

Second, there are examples of successful attempts at having books banned in the name of religion. Rushdie's Satanic Verses is the cause célèbre. The relevant section of the Indian Penal Code crystallized in the context of early 20th-century controversies about texts that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad. At the time, some jurists argued that non-Muslims could not be expected to endorse the special status given by Muslims to Muhammad as the messenger of God. That would indirectly force all citizens to accept Islam as true religion. Yet it was precisely there that Muslim litigants succeeded. If one group could use the law to indirectly compel all citizens to accept its claims concerning its holy book, religious doctrines and divine prophet, why not follow the same route?

Third, American scholars of religion came in handy for once. They had identified some questions they considered central to religious studies: What is the relation between insider and outsider perspectives? Who has the right to speak for a religion, the believer or the scholar? Originally, these were questions essential to a religion like Christianity, where accepting God's revelation is the precondition of grasping its message. Yet the potential answers turned out to be useful to others: "Only Hindus should speak for Hinduism and scholarship can be allowed only in so far as it respects the believer's perspective."

What gives Hindu nationalists the capacity to conform so easily to these models? This is because they generally reproduce the Orientalist story about Hinduism, just adding another value judgement. They may believe they are fighting the secularists; in fact, they are also prisoners of what Balagangadhara has called "colonial consciousness." That is, the Western discourse about India functions as the descriptive framework through which Hindu nationalists understand themselves and their culture. They also accept that this culture is constituted by a religion with its own sacred scriptures, gods, revelations, and doctrines. Within this framework, they can then easily mimic Islamic and Christian concerns about blasphemy and offence. Add the 19th-century Victorian prudishness adopted by the Indian middle class and you get prominent strands of the Doniger affair.

Consider the petition by Dinanath Batra and the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. Doniger's suggestion that the Ramayana is a work of fiction written by human authors—a claim that would hardly create a stir in most Indians—is now transformed into a violation of the sacred scriptures of Hinduism. The petition claims that the cover of the book is offensive because "Lord Krishna is shown sitting on buttocks of a naked woman surrounded by other naked women" and that Doniger's approach is that "of a woman hungry of sex." It expresses shock at her claim that some Sanskrit texts reflect the "glorious sexual openness and insight" of the era in which they were written. To anyone familiar with the harm caused by Christian attitudes towards sex-as-sin, this would count as a reason to be proud of Indian culture. Yet the grips of Victorian morality have made these Hindus ashamed of a beautiful dimension of their traditions. 

In the meantime, our middle-aged gentleman's daughter has gone into the humanities and her excellent results give her entry to a PhD programme in religious studies at an Ivy League university. After some months, she begins to feel disappointed by the shallowness of the teaching and research. When compared to, say, the study of Buddhism, where a variety of perspectives flourish, Hinduism studies appears to be in a state of theoretical poverty. Refusing to take on the role of the native informant, she begins to voice her disagreement with her teachers. This is not appreciated and she soon learns that she has been branded "Hindutva."

Around the same time, she detects a series of factual howlers and flawed translations in the works of eminent American scholars of Hinduism. When she points these out, several of her professors turn cold towards her. She is no longer invited to reading groups and is avoided at the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion. In response, this budding researcher begins to engage in self-censorship and looks for comfort among NRI families living nearby. Her dissertation, considered groundbreaking by some international colleagues, gets hardly any response from her supervisors. Looking for a job, the difficulties grow: she needs references from her professors but whom can she ask? She applies to some excellent universities but is never shortlisted. Confidentially, a senior colleague tells her that her reputation as a Hindutva sympathiser precedes her. Eventually, she gets a tenure-track position at some university in small-town Virginia, where she feels so isolated and miserable that she decides to return to India.

Intellectual freedom can be curbed in many ways. The current academic discourse on Indian culture is as dogmatic as its advocates are intolerant of alternative paradigms. They trivialize genuine critique by reducing this to some variety of "Hindu nationalism" or "romantic revivalism." All too often ad hominem considerations (about the presumed ideological sympathies of an author) override cognitive assessment. Thus, alternative voices in the academic study of Indian culture are actively marginalized. This modus operandi constitutes one of the causes behind the growing hostility towards the doyens of Hinduism studies.

Again this strand surfaces in the Doniger affair. When critics pointed out factual blunders from the pages of The Hindus, this appears to have been happily ignored by Doniger and her publisher. She is known for her dismissal of all opposition to her work as tantrums of the Hindutva brigade. The debates on online forums like (a blog run by "progressive" South Asian intellectuals) smack of contempt for the "Hindu fanatics," "fundamentalists" or "fascists" (read Arundathi Roy's open letter to Penguin). More importantly, they show a refusal to examine the possibility that books by Doniger and other "eminent" scholars might be problematic because of purely cognitive reasons.

For instance, the petition charges Doniger with an agenda of Christian proselytizing hidden behind the "tales of sex and violence" she tells about Hinduism. This generates ridicule: Doniger is Jewish and she is a philologist not a missionary. Indeed, this point appears ludicrous and lacks credibility when put so crudely. As said, it also reflects the Victorian prudishness to which some social layers have succumbed. Yet, it pays off to try and understand this issue from a cognitive point of view.

A major problem of early Christianity in the Roman Empire was how to distinguish true Christians from pagan idolaters. Originally, martyrdom had been a helpful criterion but, once Christianity became dominant, the persecution ended and there were no more martyrs to be found. The distinction between true and false religion could not limit itself to specific religious acts. Those who followed the true God should also be demarcated from the followers of false gods by their everyday behaviour. Sex became a central criterion here. Christians were characterized in terms of chastity as opposed to pagan debauchery. (If you wish to see how this image of Greco-Roman paganism lives on in America, watch an episode of the television series Spartacus.)

From then on, Christians believed they could recognize false religion and its followers in terms of lewd sexual practices. Early travel reports sent from India to Europe, like those of the Italian traveller Ludovico di Varthema, confirmed this image of pagan idolatry: "Brahmin priests" and "superstitious believers" engaged in a variety of  "obscene" practices from deflowering virgins in various ways to swapping wives for a night or two. Conversion to Christianity would entail conversion to chastity.

Reinforced by Victorian obsessions, this style of representing Indian religion reached its climax in the late 19th century. Hinduism was said to be the prime instance of "sex worship" and "phallicism," notions popular at the time for explaining the origin of religion. Take a work by Hargrave Jennings—cleric, freemason, amateur of comparative religion—imaginatively titled Phallic Miscellanies; Facts and Phases of Ancient and Modern Sex Worship, As Illustrated Chiefly in the Religions of India (1891). The opening sentence goes thus: "India, beyond all countries on the face of the earth, is pre-eminently the home of the worship of the Phallus—the Linga puja; it has been so for ages and remains so still. This adoration is said to be one of the chief, if not the leading dogma of the Hindu religion…." It goes on to explain that "according to the Hindus, the Linga is God and God is the Linga; the fecundator, the generator, the creator in fact." In other words, the Hindus view the phallus as their divine Creator and its worship is their dogma. This is one of a series of works from this period, expressing both fascination and disgust.

This focus on sex remained central to the popular image of Indian religion in the Western world. In her infamous Mother India (1927), the American Katherine Mayowrites that the Hindu infant that survives the birth-strain, "a feeble creature at best, bankrupt in bone-stuff and vitality, often venereally poisoned, always predisposed to any malady that may be afloat," is raised by a mother guided by primitive superstitions. "Because of her place in the social system, child-bearing and matters of procreation are the woman's one interest in life, her one subject of conversation, be her caste high or low. Therefore, the child growing up in the home learns, from earliest grasp of word and act, to dwell upon sex relations". From there, Mayo turns to a reflection on the obsession for "the male generative organ" in Hindu religion. Among the consequences are child marriage and other immoral practices: "Little in the popular Hindu code suggests self-restraint in any direction, least of all in sex relations".

In short, the connection established between Hinduism and sexuality was based in a Christian frame that served to distinguish pagan idolaters from true believers. Wendy Doniger's work builds on this tradition. Like some of her predecessors, she appreciates the sexual freedom involved, but then she also tends to stress two aspects: sex and caste. This is not a coincidence, for these always counted as two major properties allowing Western audiences to appreciate the supposed inferiority of Hinduism. In other words, the sense that the current depiction of Indian traditions in terms of caste and sex is connected to earlier Christian critiques of false religion cannot be dismissed so easily.

Does this mean that researchers should give in to the campaigns of holier-than-thou bigots? Does it justify the banning or withdrawal of books? Not at all! First, who will decide what counts as true knowledge and what as salacious or gratuitous insult? In the US, evangelicals would like to remove Darwin's Origin of Species from schools because they consider it unscientific and offensive. If it continues to follow its current route, the Indian judiciary may well end up banning a variety of such books. Second, book bans fail to have any fundamental effect on the kind of work produced about India. The epitome of the "sex and caste" genre,Arthur MilesThe Land of the Lingam (1937), was banned many decades ago. Even though political correctness altered the language use and removed explicit mockery, many works continue to represent Hinduism along similar lines. Third, the Kama Sutra and the Koka Shastra, the temples of Khajuraho and Konarak, Tantric traditions and the Indian science of erotics are all fascinating phenomena, which need to be studied and understood. But we have an equal responsibility to make sense of the concerns of Indians horrified by the currently dominant depiction of their traditions. All this research should happen in complete freedom or it shall not happen at all.

The dispute about Doniger's book is a product of all these forces, including the peculiarities of the Indian Penal Code (better left to legal experts). What is the way out? How can we untangle the knot?

To cope with complex cases like these, the first step should take the form of scientific research. The disagreement with the work of Doniger and other scholars can be expressed in a reasonable manner. The theoretical poverty and shoddy way of dealing with facts and translations exhibited by such works can be challenged on cognitive grounds. This is the only way to alleviate the frustration of our Hindu gentleman (a grandfather by now) and to illuminate the intellectual concerns of his daughter. In any case, we need to appreciate how the current story about Hinduism and caste continues to reproduce ideas derived from Christianity and its conceptual frameworks. As long as we keep selling the experience that one form of life (Western culture) has had of another (Indian culture) as God-given truth, the current conflict will not abate and our understanding of India will not progress.

But the same goes for using the Indian Penal Code to have books banned. Inevitably, this has chilling effects on the search for knowledge, at a time when India needs free research more than ever to save it from catastrophe. As is always the case, scientific research will bring about unexpected and unorthodox results. At any point, some or another group may feel offended by these, but this should never prevent us from continuing to pursue truth.

Unfortunately, the Indian government and judiciary have taken the route of succumbing to "offence" and "atrocity" claims by all kinds of communities. Given the political situation, this is unlikely to change any time soon. We can express moral outrage today. But tomorrow the challenge is to develop hypotheses that make sense of the current developments in India, including the violent rejection of the dominant representations of Indian culture. These need to show the way to new solutions so that an end may be brought to the banning and destruction of books in a culture that was always known for its intellectual freedom. – Outlook, 18 February 2014

» Dr Jakob De Roover is a researcher at the India Platform, Ghent University, Belgium. His research concerns the cultural differences between Europe and India, particularly in the domain of politics and questions of secularism and tolerance.

sent from samsung galaxy note, so please excuse brevity