fluid, quietly mighty! In many ways, the waters of the Brahmaputra encapsulate
the North-East. We saw them only late October, after their summer fury had
abated yet the great river's beauty still fills our eyes. Cutting open the
Himalayas, bringing life and fertility to this huge valley, and providing a
gateway to the rest of India, how hard it has worked through the ages.
its banks stands the Vivekananda Kendra Institute of Culture, our first halt in
Guwahati. Buzzing with activity, among other things it conducts considerable
research and documentation on the North-East's ancient cultures and traditions.
I had the honour of delivering there the Bhubaneswar Bharthakur Memorial
Lecture, on the theme of The Invasion That Never Was;
with the help of slides I presented recent archaeological and cultural evidence
to show the falsity of the divisive nineteenth-century Aryan invasion theory --
a theory which, as we discovered a few days later, is still much misused in the
North-East in order to convince tribals that they have no connection with Indian
"Aryan" culture, no identity of their own, and would therefore be
better off embracing Christianity.
and others who have recourse to such perverse arguments really belong to the
colonial dark ages -- for massive evidence from archaeology, anthropology and
other sciences, piling up in recent decades, has thoroughly disproved the theory
of an Aryan invasion of India. It simply never took place, nor was there ever
any Aryan race or any Dravidian race. It is time these crude and unscientific
distortions of India's past are laid to rest forever; they have done enough harm
to the Indian people as it is. Do we really have to blindly perpetuate colonial
myths in this 'scientific era'?
was also the topic of a talk and slideshow I gave at the Indian Institute of
Technology, Guwahati, about India's scientific heritage, highlighting some of
the early -- and pioneering -- developments in mathematics and astronomy in
in the city, this was followed by a well-attended public lecture organized by
the Bharat Vikas Parishad, on the theme 'Is Indian Culture Obsolete?' Focusing
on some essential roots of Indian culture, I explained why, in my view, the
answer to this question can only be in the negative, and why India still has
much to contribute to the world - perhaps even more today than in the past.
next day took us to the Kamakhya temple with its impressive underground garbha
griha. We also enjoyed the sweeping view of the city from atop the Nilachal
Hill, near the quiet Bhubaneswari shrine. After a flight to Dibrugarh, we left
eastern Assam through Marguerita, braving the roads with a four-wheel drive jeep
and an expert driver -- but "road" is too noble a term for these
endless series of bottomless potholes and gaping mudpits, eloquent and
back-breaking testimonies of State neglect. It was a relief to enter Arunachal
Pradesh, where we remained at foothill level for a few days, during a teachers'
orientation camp organized by the Vivekananda Kendra. This spiritually-oriented
service organization based at Kanyakumari is well known in Assam and Arunachal
for its 25 excellent schools and numerous balwadis.
and culture were the central themes of the five-day camp -- and so the many
distortions Indian history remains burdened with, from Harappan to colonial
times. Again we touched on the discarded yet still widespread Aryan invasion
theory, the many features of the Harappan civilizations that have survived to
this day, the grossly unscientific race concept (still in vogue with our
professional division-walas), the essential continuity of Indian
civilization, also how the organic, polymorphic, assimilative, integrating
entity called "Indian culture" succeeded in cementing the
subcontinent, giving to, but also taking from, regional and tribal sub-cultures,
without ever imposing itself on anyone....
talked of science and technology, ecological heritage, the caste system, India's
considerable and always peaceful contributions to world culture, but also how to
make the teaching of history more living and relevant to a student. India has so
much rich history -- tragedies but also achievements, wars but also peaceful
expansions, advances in art, science, literature -- yet few countries have been
so clumsy in projecting their heritage to their younger generations. A look at
the drab and sad textbooks in use in various parts of the country is enough to
put one off learning history, not to speak of the heavy ideological biases they
often inflict on Indian students; Marxist
historians have long been past masters at this game, which is why they are so loud
against any attempt to alter their misrepresentations and provide a fair,
ungilded, and unmuddied perspective of Indian civilization.
few public programmes -- at Kharsang, Jairampur, Marguerita and Changlang --
brought into sharp focus some of those misrepresentations, together with the
racial biases introduced by colonial scholars. Often, following my positive
projection of Indian culture -- which evoked surprise, so deep the habit of
self-denigration has gone -- there would be the usual objections: but look at
the perverse caste system, look at the imposition of Aryan culture on the
Dravidians, on the tribals, note how this region never had any links with India,
was always separate culturally, linguistically, racially, see how Hinduism is
now trying to convert the tribals....
was not too hard to guess that most of the questioners were devout Christians or
recent converts. Nor was it hard to show the incurable ignorance all such
statements were founded on. For instance, the fact that the North-East,
repeatedly mentioned in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, in
Kautilya or Kalidasa, and of course in several Puranas, was always
regarded as just one of the regions of Bharat, a fact confirmed by the existence
of tribal versions of the Epics, also by archaeological finds from the 4th
Century AD onward of established Hindu and Buddhist settlements (I am sure that
more systematic excavations would push those dates further back). Or again the
falsity of the racial concept and the non-existence of any so-called Aryan or
so-called Dravidian race. Finally, the inherently non-aggressive nature of
Hinduism, in contrast to the inherently aggressive nature of Christianity
(recall the Pope's call for "a great harvest of faith from Asia"
during his state visit to India; can we imagine a swami visiting the Vatican and
calling for Christians to convert to Hinduism?).
when my questioners, subtly or not so subtly, tried to paint Hinduism in a bad
light, they found the spotlight on Christianity rather uncomfortable, especially
when I pointed out that not a single pre-Christian culture or religion of
ancient Europe was allowed to live, or that Christianity's essentially
non-rational, unverifiable, dogmatic foundation was the cause for its virtual
disappearance from the West, where more and more people are now turning to yoga,
meditation (as in America), or (as in France) to Buddhism. Such debates have of
course been taking place all over India, but it is distressing to see how they
stick to obsolete theories, discarded misconceptions, and unjustifiable
strategies of systematic conversion and division of society.
last point was brought to us in sharp focus during our interactions with a few
tribals of Arunachal, who voiced the same distress at the methods used to secure
conversions to Christianity: not only monetary allurements, but psychological
pressure on the sick, promises of cure upon conversion, pressures to rope in the
rest of the family when the promises don't materialize, and finally to throw out
of the family those who continue to "worship Satan". In fact some
missionaries and Christian educational institutions openly refer to tribals,
Hindus, and Buddhists as Satan ka bachcha [children of Satan] while Christians
are Ishwar ka bachcha [children of God]. We heard several heart-rending tales of
teenage boys or girls having been thus expelled from their families when they
refused to convert, accused by their own parents of being "Satan".
Converted families are then instructed not to have contacts with the
non-Christians, as a result of which they refuse to take part in traditional
harvests and other aspects of the community's collective life; the centuries-old
harmonious working of the community suddenly becomes divided, and indeed
division is a great way to secure conversions: "divide and convert",
until you can "divide and rule".
ultimate step is already visible in the militant movements of the North-East,
most of which are rooted in Christian ideology. Witness the conversions the
militants secure at gunpoint in remote villages at night, a fact asserted to us
repeatedly. I remembered a Don Bosco father in Tamil Nadu telling me a few years
ago how "tribes have no future within the Indian Union" and explaining
why he was exhorting them "to take up guns". It all fell into place.
real tragedy is perhaps not the devious methods used by Baptists or Catholics
alike -- for, after all, the whole of Christian history is full of them and
tainted in deep red. Rather it is the failure of the government to fulfil its
primary duty of protecting from aggression peace-loving citizens and endangered
communities and cultures. And the failure of educated Indians ("miseducated"
would be more correct) to ably project the specific values of Indian culture,
such as the oneness of humanity, the essential divinity of man, or the complete
spiritual freedom to choose one's path towards the manifestation of that
divinity -- values that are conspicuously absent from Abrahamic religions
(notwithstanding the hollow slogan that "all religions preach the same
truths": unfortunately they don't). Surely, one may be critical of a few
aspects of Hinduism or Indian traditions; but to throw away a gem because some
mud has stained it is plain ignorance.
flight from Dibrugarh to Guwahati followed the Brahmaputra, whose hundred
branches meandered lazily around countless islets. The Himalayas glistened to
the north, a perfect line of white peaks hovering over the clouds and kissed by
the setting sun. Yes, that which has its roots beyond time cannot die. That
which has countless forms will always be reborn.
French-born Michel Danino has been settled in Tamil Nadu for 25 years; he
has given many lectures in India and is co-author of The Invasion That
Never Was. He is also the convener of the International Forum for India's