Thursday, 22 November 2018

Now is the right time to reclaim the Indian intellectual

I wrote this article on the Indic though tradition for DailyO.
You can read a version of it below: 

A world-renown artist like Anish Kapoor says India is ruled by "Hindu-Taliban" and an academic like Irfan Habib thinks RSS is comparable to ISIS. The factiousness and monotone of these remarks makes one question the sincerity of our present intellectual scenario.
The most obvious yet inconspicuous truth about the academic and intellectual environment in India is that it has for years remained overshadowed by Western thinking while maintaining the façade of "independent" thought. Having accepted another's thought tradition as the benchmark we forgot that each country has its own unique knowledge and experience, in our case it was the Indic tradition.
Anish Kapoor and Irfan Habib are the products of an intellectual sphere with strong imprints of the Biritish and Marxist legacy. British bureaucrat Lord Macaulay designed a strategy to make it easy for the British to rule India. He advocated an education system which would produce Brown British to work as loyal clerks under the regime. The key to this was to make the "natives" disown everything Indian and covet everything that was British. We were made to see how flawed and redundant our traditions were and we were so grateful to learn the spelling of renaissance.

The post-Independence India could not rid itself of this mindset. Nehru-Indira governments gave ample space to Leftist-Marxist discourse and institutions like JNU churned out thousands of bureaucrats, academics, journalists and activists with "left-liberal" leaning. Over a period of time, the Left discourse elbowed out the Indic intellectual ecosystem which was shunned as regressive and backward.
Even today the course on Indian philosophy is not taught in JNU and the proposal for a centre on Sanskrit and Yoga studies is met with stern resistance.
It is this intellectual tradition that convinces people like Anish Kapoor and Irfan Habib that the Indian civilisation has forever been exploitative and hence the need to stitch up a new system with no Indic traces.
According to this line of thought Sanskrit is the road to conservatism and Brahmanical dominance. The theory of a terrible Brahmanical regime thus comes to be accepted as a fact and often dangled as a fearsome consequence of faith in the Indic system. No one, however, cares to question that if the theory holds water, how was it that the two greatest Indian epics were penned by Valmiki and Ved Vyas, both non-Brahmins. Does no one wonder if it is possible for an exploitative civilisation to organically survive for more than 5,000 years?
For Left-liberals, Indic is equivalent to right-wing, Hindu-centric, nationalist or Hindu-nationalist but actually it is more than that. Indic comprises anything that originates from this land, blossoms in this atmosphere and prospers in this geo-cultural territory. An Indic tradition can lead to assimilative points of view, nuanced solutions and the creation of truly "new".
Such an ecosystem can provide the adequate environment to discuss our civilisation background, its legacy and relevance as well as its lessons. Today, when religion is a major area of conflict, very few academic institutions conduct a comparative study of religions. This is because of an academic-intellectual environment that alienates and distances religions from each other. An Indic intellectual environment will provide the necessary insight and compassionate approach needed for such a study. Our ancient texts and writings of intellectuals like Coomaraswamy, Yadunath Sarkar and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay can provide the ammo to start this intellectual spark.
Respect for local heroes, beliefs and modernization of Indian traditions would be basic foundation of an Indic intellectual ecosystem. It would take inspiration from the past, think about the present and envision a prosperous future for all Indians. We cannot prosperous and develop with a borrowed narrative. We need to have our own story, conceptualised and narrated by our own people.
The creation of an "Indic" intellectual ecosystem does not entail wiping out the Left-Marxist system, but simply balancing it out. It is the responsibility of the academic and intellectual community to create a new "Indic" narrative that springs from intellectual rigour. Very few organisations have been making genuine efforts in this regard and India Foundation is one of them. To this effect it has been organising brainstorming sessions for several years.
The following week will see the India Ideas Conclave unfold in Goa with several academics presenting their views on different aspects of "Learnings from Civilization". This could be among the first major steps to revival of the Indic intellectual tradition.

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