Reproduced in public interest from original source:
Hindustan Times (New Delhi), Friday, May 2, 2003
The new McCarthyism
by Praful Bidwai
The chickens are coming home to roost. The barrage of campaigns unleashed over the years by the Sangh parivar ó against pluralism, secularism and humanism, and for Hindu-supremacism, hyper-nationalism and extremist intolerance ó is reaching fruition in a variety of forms and institutions. Thus, unadulterated hate-speech directed at the religious-ethnic minorities has become routine within our public discourse. Vile attacks by chosen pro-Hindutva audiences on secularists and liberals are part of the gladiatorial entertainment fare regularly dished out by television channels.
Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal have rapidly expanding clienteles simply because they never cease to shock ó or hog publicity.
Anyone who questions mindless militarism and the BJPís obsession with mass-destruction weapons, or rationally argues for India-Pakistan reconciliation, is liable to be branded a traitor. Saffronised textbooks peddling lies or whitewashing terrible truths about, say, casteism, or the persecution of Buddhists, are officially endorsed, indeed thrust upon a protesting public.
Distinguished scholars of high integrity are maligned and attacked, never debated, because they disagree with the Hindutva line. Journalists of liberal-secular persuasion are liable to attract the most vicious of e-mails and even face exclusion, especially from the electronic media.
Speaking for myself, I receive between 30 and 250 mails a week for each syndicated column I write. More than four-fifths are downright abusive and defamatory. The abusive bilge doesnít come at the conclusion of an argument. The mails start and end with calumny and four-letter words.
Significantly, about 90 per cent of such abusers are North American NRIs, remarkable for their ëlong-distanceí or ëGreen Cardí hypernationalism. NRIs have emerged as a major instrument of communalism and torchbearers of intolerance.
Their latest victim is the illustrious scholar and one of the most distinguished historians of Ancient India, Professor Romila Thapar whose accomplishments are rivalled by few others. Thapar has authored many seminal works, including classics like Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, A History of India (Penguin 1966, revised, expanded and just published as Early India), Ancient Indian Social History and Cultural Pasts, besides the more recent Sakuntala, Interpreting Early India and History and Beyond.
Thapar, one of Indiaís best-known academics around the world, has taught at a host of universities, including Oxford, Cornell, London and Paris, besides JNU. She has received honorary doctorates from Paris, Oxford, Chicago and Kolkata. She was recently appointed to the Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at the US Library of Congress.
This last appointment triggered what must be one of the most vicious and bigoted attacks ever launched on a scholar anywhere, in the form of an online petition, which now has 1,543 signatories, most of them NRIs. The petition would deserve some scholarly attention if it were drafted and signed by people who have at least read and are minimally aware of Thaparís work. Alas, it isnít.
It accuses Thapar of being an ignorant, yet ìavowed antagonist of Indiaís Hindu civilisationî, who wants to discredit India in the same way as the ìEuropeans discredited the American Indiansí land claimsÖî It says she ìrepresents a completely Euro-centric worldviewî and ìdisavows that India ever had a historyî!
This is breathtakingly ludicrous. Thapar has spent a lifetime arguing against ëOrientalistí western and Euro-centric interpretations of history which hold that ancient India lacked a sense of history and that pre-colonial Indian society was ëstaticí and ëstagnantí.
Thapar is devoted to the study of Indiaís civilisation with all its plurality of texts and multiplicity of traditions ó secular and religious, metaphysical and scientific. How she could be an ëantagonistí of ëIndian civilisationí defies comprehension except within an illiterate, philistine, and communal framework which holds that all ëIndian civilisationí was ëHinduí, even when it had Jain, Buddhist, animist and agnostic traditions.
Even worse, the petition says, Thapar is engaged in a ìwar of cultural genocideî, and the result of her research, ëHistorical Consciousness in Early Indiaí, is ìa foregone conclusion. She will of course attempt to show that Early India had no historical consciousnessî! In reality, some of Thaparís most exciting work (e.g. Time as a Metaphor for History) attempts to refute the Euro-centric notion that Indians only had a cyclical concept of time, and to establish that there were a variety of forms of historical consciousness in India.
The petitionís crux is about not ëwastingí ìour American resources onî a Marxist. This is also the thrust of a huge number of comments accompanying the petition. This is pure McCarthyism, the most shameful witch-hunt in 20th century America against anyone suspected to be a Communist, carried out by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Indeed, thatís the spirit in which most of these vicious comments are made, including: ìShe is a pinko and a fake historianÖî ìThis Thapar woman will be a Trojan Horse for Islamic terrorists in the US.î
ìIt is disappointing that the US that once opposed Communism is now in cahoots with one of its practitioners.î ìThis stupid lady should be stripped of her citizenship.î ìKick her out. Kick should be of such a force that she remains dead on the ground.î
Even Praveen Togadia (might he be the one-and-only?) has added his venom: ìBan Marxist Scholars from the USAÖ After all, the American communist party was banned.î
What takes the cake is the following: ìFidel Castro would have been a better choice (for the Kluge Chair). At least he is not a venom-spitting anti-Hindu. I am worried about the future of USA. The Indian communists have already infiltrated into all the American universities. And now the Library of Congress. McCarthy, where are you?î
Further comment is unnecessary.
Return to New collection at South Asia Citizens Web
Return to South Asia Citizens Web