Monday, December 16, 2013

Aravindan Neelakandan: A McCarthy For Hindus (and Jeyamohan's silence)

What Wahhabism is to Islam and what Ku Klan is to Christianity, Aravindan Neelakandan's Hindutva is to Hinduism. American historian Richard Hofstadter alarmed by the rise of Barry Goldwater wrote "The paranoid style in American politics". Barry Goldwater and Narendra Modi are not dangerous in and of themselves but what made them dangerous, less with Goldwater and more with Modi, is what their followers saw in them, what their voters see as possible to accomplish in their victory. Modi does not scare me. For all practical purposes he might be a disappointment more to his followers than to his detractors. Unlike even the advent of the Vajpayee regime, the first real rule by a party espousing Hindutva, Modi's hoped for victory has brought out militant hinduism more into the open. Social media plays a crucial role in this propagation of hate. In 1998 Aravindan Neelakandan could only speak to a few friends and incite them. Today he has a forum. He is widely read and re-transmitted and hence has to be treated with more caution and, dare I say, respect. Brushing aside Neelakandan as purveyor of nonsense will be a mistake and the price will be too high.

Passages from Hofstadter bear quoting. Who is the 'paranoid', "The paranoid spokesman, sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization... he does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish". "The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will."

Tamil writer Jeyamohan has written a novel based on the Great Famine of Madras 1877. Jeyamohan has spun a tale based on history. Given the fact that he, self confessedly, is busy writing screenplays for many movies I do not expect him to do research in the class of Gore Vidal or Thomas Mann or Tolstoy. He has used a historical event as background to his philosophy of ethics (better put in Tamil as 'Aram'), its failure amongst people in a great cataclysmic event that killed close to 6 million. A holocaust. The novel, reviewers say, revolves around how Dalits were abandoned by upper caste Hindus. The colonial regime, a sympathetic Irishman and others populate the novel. The book was published by a Christian, a theology graduate, and a Hindu.

Aravindan Neelakandan, a staunch Hindutva writer, took umbrage at what he considered insufficient focus on the villainy of the church and a colonial regime that, in his opinion, was the handmaiden of Evangelical christianity which saw in the famine an opportunity to proselytize and 'harvest souls' for Christ. Neelakandan exemplifies the paranoid style with his constant harping of how Muslims and other minorities are molly coddled at the expense of Hindus. That minorities are molly coddled is open for debate but imagining that such coddling happens at the 'expense' of Hindus is beyond decent.

Neelakandan ripped the novel drawing, as usual, selectively, from many sources questioning effectively whether the novel can even be called a 'historical fiction'.

Both Islam and Christianity have committed their fair share of folly in the name of proselytization. That both religions are broadly recognized as 'organized religion' also distinguishes it from the 'seemingly' unorganized Hinduism. William Dalrymple in 'The Last Mughal' establishes that the proselytization zeal of some churches in British India was an important catalyst in breaking with earlier tradition of the British having largely peaceful, irreligious, relationship with Indians that was even marked by inter-marriages.

I am sure that churches saw in the famine an opportunity to make inroads into a deeply rigid society. What Neelakandan intentionally propagandizes is when he clubs the mistakes of the Viceroy Lytton and Richard Temple with the intemperate utterances of missionaries. Neelakandan is an astute student of Goebbels. While Neelakandan correctly and gleefully accuses Temple's policies of causing a holocaust he fails to mention the complex history of how Temple initiated those disastrous policies.

Richard Temple had performed admirably during the previous famine in 1874. He alleviated the suffering by importing millions of tons of rice from Burma. This information is from Mike Davis's 'Late Victorian holocausts'. Neelakandan cites the same book to establish that Lytton was a laissez-faire capitalist and a right wing Christian. Temple's 'extravagance' is frowned upon by his colonial masters. Eager to win another post Temple swung to an extreme espousing laissez faire capitalism at a time it was least needed.

Another blogger had pointed out earlier about the efforts of Buckingham in organizing relief efforts. The most authoritative narrative of the famine is by William Digby in 'The famine campaign in South India' (2 Volumes). Digby and physician W.R.Cornish battled Temple for better rations. Cornish drew upon his studies of prison dieting to argue for more rations. As much as there were missionaries waiting as vultures to harvest souls there were others who performed exemplary charity work. Digby actually commends Indians for a philanthropic spirit and even worries if Christianizing India would destroy that tradition. Interestingly Jeyamohan's novel is about how Indians abandoned fellow Indians.

Not satisfied with his vilification of Temple, Lytton and missionaries Neelakandan then very cynically tramples upon Christ himself. Only a twisted mind like that of Neelakandan can say that Christ supported imperialism. Taking the most beautiful parable in all of New Testament, the parable of Good Samaritan, Neelakandan twists it out shape alleging that Christ while seemingly appreciates the Samaritan he (Christ) argues that a Samaritan, lowly of birth, rises by only his deeds. The parable tells the exact opposite. Christ teaches that irrespective of how 'supposedly' high born a person is, if he does not have humanitarianism he is unworthy of being a neighbor. 'Love your neighbor as you would love yourself'.

Taking issue with Jeyamohan characterizing Jews as oppressed people in the time of Christ Neelakandan spews bile, "Christ, if one such existed, was certainly not from an oppressed community. Jews occupied high positions in the then regime". I've no issues with Neelakandan doubting the factual existence of Christ. But his absolute ignorance of Roman history and the state of Jews is appalling. Just like India the rest of the world had its own stratifications. Christianity, a Semitic religion, had its own iniquities and follies of intolerance. The Bible is a Semitic religious text compiled by human beings over centuries and it bears the imprints of human minds with all its brilliance and prejudices. But such nuances are inconveniences for purveyors of hate.

Christ's conversation with the Samaritan woman has tones of superciliousness seen through the prism of 21st century's political correctness. That the Jews considered themselves, like every other sect, a 'chosen people' is well known. To take part of the conversation and make Christ appear as a race bigot can be achieved only by Neelakandan. By his standards then Mahabharata and Ramayana, two epics I dearly love, are books filled with racist and sexist bigotry.

Seeing the Church become a bazaar Christ scolds the pharisees. He even calls the pharisees 'vipers'. Pharisees, historically, were a more egalitarian sect. Again, the Bible is not written by one person with an agenda. Hindutva brigade celebrates "Valmiki Jeyanthi" on a day they say Valmiki was born. When a mythical writer has a birthday assigned we can understand that they lack the intellectual nuance to appreciate Bible or as for that matter Mahabharatha too. Christ, even seen as a mythical character, is an iconoclast come to earth to resurrect his Father's church, to preach anew, to show a lost sheep the way to the shepherd. When somebody says, that by scolding Pharisees Christ shows support for the established interests that align with the Roman kingdom, then we can be sure that they lack even elementary powers to understand simple text.

William Digby was rewarded for his critical review of British policy. The colonial regime then put in place measures to combat famines. A policy that held good for the next half century plus until the Bengal famine of 1940's. Churchill was driven by pure race hatred, not hatred of religion, in not doing much to alleviate that famine. That the colonial regime saw people dying by the millions as a matter of shame to be corrected with better policy speaks volumes about the complexities of that era. It cannot and should not be straitjacketed into evangelical politics. That's a travesty of truth. Incidentally we know so much of not just this famine but others simply because it was the British themselves that maintained records. I'd love to see the Gujarat records concerning the riots.

The question that remains is "why?"Neelakandan knows only slander. Unfortunately his slanders are being propagated as 'criticisms'. I am appalled and really frightened how many, many Hindus imbibe these nonsenses and regurgitate them with no attempt to even disguise their hatred towards India's minorities. People openly talk of 'population exchange', 'threatened Hindu majority' etc. Subramanian Swamy told a throng of educated Indians in New Jersey that he does not need 'sathvik Hindu' but needs 'viraat Hindu'. To do what? Seeing Indians, now turned Americans, lustily cheer that speech I was left dumbfounded.

Talk to any Hindutva proponent for 5 minutes and the words 'pseudo-secularism', 'minority-appeasement' and 'vote-bank politics' will all tumble in sequence. There will be mention of 'Shah Bano case', 'uniform civil code' etc. Hindu women, especially of the lower castes, faces harassment every day yet the Hindutva brigade only worries about Muslim women getting alimony. Hindus unlike Muslims and Christians are the greatest beneficiaries of reservation system. In fact the reservation system discriminates against other religions. Though Muslims have large joint families it is Hindus who enjoy a tax deduction. Neelakandan and Jatayu talk of Quaid-e-Milleth but maintain studied silence on Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan. Ustad Bismillah Khan would play shehnai in front of a Hindu goddess. Show me one Carnatic musician who would sing at a Cathedral or a Dargah? The same Rajiv Gandhi who appeased reactionary Muslim clergy also appeased reactionary Hindus by opening Babri Masjid for shilanyas. Rajiv even roped in Arun Govil, he of the Lord Rama fame in Ramayana, to campaign, dressed as Rama, for Congress in order to defeat V.P.Singh. Taxpayer funded Doordarshan has only made TV serials out of Hindu, oh well Indian, epics. India's highest awards for a sports teacher is named after Dronacharya, the very example of how a teacher should not be.

Neelakandan's beef with Jeyamohan is that the novel, in his opinion, underplays the villainy of Christian missionaries and how much evangelical christians drove government policy. In a recent Tamil movie a Christian missionary would be shown as behaving callous and, of course, proselytizing indentured tea estate laborers. The movie was based on book where the real life character was the exact opposite. But since here the fictionalization made a villain out of the Christian doctor Neelakandan's friend Jatayu found it delicious use of a movie maker's creative independence.

Jeyamohan's attitude to Neelakandan is worthy of comment here. Jeyamohan who is on a spree, like Jhumpa Lahiri, to promote his novel. I've always observed with distaste how Jeyamohan publishes letters from fawning readers, including those who cheerfully say they have no experience of reading literature. In the absence of professional critics Jeyamohan will choose easy targets like Yuvakrishna, a blogger of no significance, and rubbish their criticism dismissively. With no disclaimer or rebuttal Jeyamohan gave a link to Neelakandan's column and that too with an excerpt discrediting the Christian publisher. Only those who read the column realized that the preface was actually an excerpt. Jeyamohan could simply have used quotes. When an avid reader of Jeyamohan asked about the discrediting of Alex he replied back saying "Aravindan Neelakandan is a purveyor of hate". Nothing beyond that.

Jeyamohan revels is disassembling criticisms aimed at him. He gave a free pass to Neelakandan. Jeyamohan often professes a love for the Bible though a distaste for Christianity as an organized religion. He also professes a love for Gandhi. But when Neelakandan dishes dirt Jeyamohan's pen falls silent. As one who literally crusades on behalf of all that he loves and propagates I've wondered at Jeyamohan's silence. I've come to the uncomfortable conclusion that Neelakandan is Jeyamohan's alter ego (or should I say 'evil twin'). Neelakandan says what Jeyamohan wishes he could say without justifying the label 'Hindutva writer'. Jeyamohan owes it to himself to unmask Neelakandan else posterity will assume that silence is, indeed, consent.

Senator Joseph McCarthy lent his name to the English dictionary, 'McCarthyism', to signify scaremongering and vilification. To Americans it was the threat of communism. To Indians it is the threat of minorities. After a shameful hearing a person asked McCarthy, and I echo his words to Neelakandan, 'at long last sir, have you no decency left'.

PS: A reader wrote to Jeyamohan citing William Digby's magisterial 2 volume report and its online resource. I am not sure of what historical sources Jeyamohan used, if any. I'll not be surprised if Jeyamohan had not come across Digby's report. Or maybe he did. If a writer used a major report as one of his principal sources then human instinct is to tell that reader "oh I did read that one". Maybe I could be wrong.


1. Neelakandan's blogs on the novel:

2. Jatayu relishing Bala's perversion of fact 
"நாவலை அப்படியே படமாக்க வேண்டும் என்பது இயக்குனர் பாலாவின் நோக்கம் அல்ல. இந்தப் படத்தின் திரைக்கதை ஒரு கூட்டுக் கலவை என்பதை முன்பே பார்த்தோம். ஆனால் “inspired by” என்று போட்டதற்காகவாவது நாவலை முழுவதுமாக சிதைக்காமல் இருந்திருக்கலாம் என்ற வாதத்தில் கொஞ்சம் நியாயம் இருக்கிறது. ஆனால் கொஞ்சம் நியாயம் தான்......படத்தில் காண்பிக்கப் பட்டது போன்ற “டாக்டர்”களும் அதிகம் பேர் இருந்தனர் என்பதற்கு வரலாற்றுச் சான்றுகள் உள்ளன. இரண்டாவது வகை ஆசாமிகளை மட்டுமே இந்தப் படத்தில் சித்தரிக்க வேண்டி வந்தது துரதிர்ஷ்டம்.. ஆனால் இதை சமன் செய்ய, நல்ல டாக்டர், கெட்ட டாக்டர் என்று இரண்டு பாத்திரங்களை உருவாக்கியிருந்தால் படம் சிடுக்காகி இருந்திருக்கும்."

3. Physician W.R. Cornish

4. William Digby

5. Richard Temple,_1st_Baronet

6. Reader's letter to Jeyamohan citing William Digby

7.Great Famine of 1876-78–78

8. Pharisees

9. Parable of the good Samaritan

10. Samaritans

11. Jesus and the Samaritan woman

12. Richard Hofstadter's 'The Paranoid Style in American Politics"

13. Letter from reader to Jeyamohan disturbed by the excerpt (இருபத்துநான்கு மணிநேரமும் கற்பை நிரூபித்துக்கொண்டிருப்பதுபற்றி…) . "இந்துத்துவ வெறுப்பைக் கக்கும் அரவிந்தன் நீலகண்டன் எழுதிய கட்டுரையில் இருந்து நான் மேற்கோள் காட்டிய வரிகள்."

13.India's Nero -Lytton (This blog is interesting for the exchange between the author and Neelakandan in the comments section.
ஏசுவுக்காக செய்தார்களா உண்மையான மனிதாபிமானத்தில் செய்தார்களா என்பதை விட ஏதாவது செய்தார்கள் என்பது தான் முக்கியம். மிஷனரிகள் பலர் எழுப்பிய குரல் தான் லண்டன் வரை கேட்டது. அவர்களது கடிதங்களும், புகைப்படங்களும் (மேலே உள்ள புகைப்படம் ஒரு சென்னை மிஷனரி எடுத்தது தான்). இந்த சொற்ப நிவாரணத்தை, இந்தியாவுக்கு கிடைக்கச் செய்ததில் மிஷனரி லாபியின் நச்சரிப்பு முக்கிய பங்கு வகித்தது.
அரசின் நிவாரணம் மட்டுமல்லாமல், தனியார் நன்கொடைகளை வசூலித்து வரவழைக்கவும் மிஷனரி கடிதங்கள் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டன. Madras Famine Relief Committee ல் கூட மிஷனரி ஆதிக்கம் இருந்ததாகத் தெரியவில்லை. வில்லியம் டிக்பி, டபுள்யூ. ஆர். கார்நிஷ் போன்றவர்கள் மிஷனரிகள் அல்லர். வேலை முகாம்கள் சென்னை மாகாண நிர்வாகத்தினாலேயே நடத்தப்பட்டதாகத் தெரிகிறது. லிட்டன் மிஷனரிகளின் கையாளாக இருந்தால் மிஷனரி பத்திரிக்கைகள் ஏன் அவரை வசைபாட வேண்டும்? பஞ்ச நிவாரணக் குழு உறுப்பினர் டிக்பியின் புத்தகம் இங்கு இருக்கிறது.
இதில் மிஷனரிகள் நிவாரணப் பணிகளைக் கட்டுப்படுத்தியதாக குறிப்பிடவில்லையே.
பஞ்சத்தின் கடுமையை மதமாற்றம் செய்ய மிஷனரிகள் பயன்படுத்தியிருப்பார்கள் என்பதில் சந்தேகமில்லை. ஆனால் விக்கிரக ஆராதனையாளர்க்ள் அனைவரும் செத்து மடியட்டும் என்று அவர்கள் எழுதியதாக எங்கும் இல்லை. அப்படி சாகவிட்டால் இந்தியாவை எப்படி ஏசுவுக்கு மாற்றுவது?


Rajasankar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shekar Raghavan said...

My friend, just to introduce myself, I am a Hindu, and that's it. I profess no allegiance to any "tva". This is just so that you are not tempted to tar me with the same brush as you paint Aravindan's face black with your completely arbitrary and ad-hominem attacks.
It is obvious that you are ignorant of Aravindan's writings that document the exertions of christian missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries to convert an open-hearted and in that sense, gullible population of the Tamil country. In the name of incultration, worthies like Constanzo Beschi and Robert de Nobili shamelessly used every technique of mis-representation, fraud and forgery to fool people into believing that christianity was nothing but an extension, an uber version of Hinduism. The missionaries in the late 19th C knew of the failure of every trick in the book to win converts, and it is in this backdrop that the missionaries viewed the famine as a 'God' sent opportunity to harvest the poor, black souls of South india.
This important historical background, and the continuing efforts of the missionaries to this day, are matters that Aravindan has researched extensively, and those that perhaps Jayamohan has not. Thus, Aravindan becomes the most eminently qualified person to bring to the table the long-frustrated hankering of the soul-harvesters and their brutal role in the continuation of the famine. Aravindan then brings to light Sir Richard Temple's rigid beleif in propagation of his faith in India.
Another vital point that Aravindan makes, that you ignore and Jayamohan fails to take into account, is that the efforts of the local philanthropists were thwarted by the Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877, which prohibited at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations to famine alleviation.
Aravindan also points out that in spite of mighty hand of the law, people of higher castes did try to help their starving brethren, but we see only glimpses of these activities as they have not been well-documented.
Alas, you get carried away in your demand for carnatic Kacheris in cathedrals and dargahs. If only they would acquiesce, I can personally find you at least 50 musicians to perform at the bascilica of san thome. Appar and Sambandar would be good sources of lyrics, for the great hymns were composed at the very place where you want the kacheri. As you are doubtlessly unaware, the great temple of Kapaleeshwara stood at the same location as the basilica, the ancient temple having been razed to the ground in a fit of, as you will have it, paranoia. In case you are tempted to slight this fact as "distinctly personal interpretation", you only need to convince yourself by reading the plaque put up by the ASI at the eastern entrance of the present-day Kapali temple.
Unversed as you are in the musical traditions of India, it is not surprising that you are oblivious of sufi singers like the brothers Premchand and Puranchand Wadali who perform routinely at muslim shrines in India and Pakistan. You also seem uninformed of muslim singers like Master Saleem who are invited at temples and 'jagrans' to perform devotional numbers.

Please be contrarian by all means, but it would do you well not to exhibit your utter ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Few old links for your reading pleasure :-)

Unknown said...

I read a few things written by Neela Kandan. I am not a Christian. But it seems that Hindutva people utterly hate muslims and christians. Every act of the British is branded as treacherous. They destroyed the great Indian education! They "stole" the great Indian technology! They looted the country! These Hindutva guys want us to accept the Sanskritan system of 4 classes in which most of us were catergorized as Sudras and rights robbed and be proud of this heritage. India is steadily marching (backwards that is).