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Sunday, 13 March 2016

American Progressives also typify others: Olmsted and Pollock

There are striking parallels between the seemingly progressive yet deeply prejudiced views of leftist American intellectuals of the 19th century and today.
by Kausik Gangopadhyay

Sene One: Mid Nineteenth Century 

Abolition of Slavery is a landmark event in American History. At the peak of American Civil war, President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery as a strategic move to win the war through the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). Planters in the Southern states of America used to justify slavery on the ground of supposed racial inferiority of the Negros and need of Slavery as an institution for the benefit of the Negros. But what was the role of progressive American intellectuals of that era regarding abolition of slavery?

The voice against slavery was gaining ground in the preceding decades. This may give the reader an impression that progressive intellectuals sympathetic to abolition of slavery believed in equality of all races, as opposed to those conservatives who supported slavery as the right institution for upliftment of blacks. Such an understanding, however, would be deeply flawed.

Frederick Law Olmsted was a versatile personality of that era. He was a farmer as well as a landscape architect, journalist, social critic and public administrator. He was commissioned by the New York Times editor in 1852 to prepare a series of articles about Slavery in the south. His famous book, The Cotton Republic (1861), was based on these articles which presented an all-encompassing picture of slavery. Eminent personalities of that era, including Karl Marx, were influenced by Olmsted's views. What were Olmsted's views exactly? He was firmly against slavery — not primarily because of exploitation of the slaves but mostly on account of the supposed inefficiency of the slaves who, in his understanding, accomplished one third to one half as much work as did “the commonest stupidest domestic drudges at the North.”

It is not Olmsted alone but other contemporary progressive intellectuals of the United States of the time such as Cassius Marcellus Clay and Hinton Rowan Helper had similar opinions, which formed the core of anti-Slavery argument of those times.

Do their arguments make sense? Absolutely Not. Eminent economic historians of the twentieth century—Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman—analysed American slavery in their book Time on the Cross (1974) for which Fogel was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in economic sciences. Their data-based work did dispel many popular false perceptions about slavery, in particular, the myth of Negro slovenliness. The Negros were definitely more hard working and more productive than free white labourers. 

Fogel and Engerman further explain,

 “The antislavery critics...conceived of blacks as members of an inferior race...Most expected that freed Negroes would have to be constrained in various ways if an “orderly” society was to be maintained.”

No wonder, “one of the biggest biological crisis of the nineteenth century” happened right after abolition of slavery when at least one quarter of the four million former slaves got sick or died between 1862 and 1870. (Jim Downs, Sick from freedom; 2012)

Scene two: Early Twenty-first century

 A large number of American academics probably do not recognise Indian civilisation anything worthy of cognisance. The present West—American society being certainly at the forefront—is the product of the European renaissance in the Middle ages, which awakened the scientific exploration and risk-taking ventures of the West. At the heart of this revolution, argues Peter L. Bernstein in his book Against the Gods (1998), lies the Hindu-Arabic number system developed by the Indian civilisation and passed over to the West by the Arabs.

 Sheldon Pollock is a scholar and a leading expert on Sanskrit. Pollock, a chaired professor in a reputed US university, is the editor of the Murty Classical Library of India, a project launched to translate many volumes of Indian classics into English. This shows identification of Pollock with the cause of Indian civilisation. Rajiv Malhotra's book, The Battle for Sanskrit (2016), summarises Pollock's views on Sanskrit and Indian culture. Pollock considers Sanskrit a Brahminical project and source of oppression in India. Sanskritic hegemony, Pollock feels, deprived India of all creativity. The Ramayana, according to him, is a socially irresponsible book.

 Sanskrit connotes to the language of the cultured people by etymology. But Sanskrit is not really an exception; in civilizational projects, languages often evolve from the high culture of society and their names are indicative of this feature. For example, Mandarin is the imperial lingua franca of China (the language of the bureaucrats); Hebrew and Turkish are two artificially revived languages of the twentieth century by the cultural elites of the respective nations. Nevertheless, two most prominent compositions of Sanskrit, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are both composed by authors belonging to the subaltern classes (left liberal terminology wise)—Valmiki was a highway robber and Vyasa illegitimate Child of a boat-woman. These epics form the heart and the soul of Indian culture. What can be better proof of the fact that Sanskrit integrated the masses of India?

 Pollock is—very crucially—factually wrong too. He considers circa 260 BC as the birth of writing in India, overlooking the extensive evidence of writing found in Harappan sites (second or third millennium BC). Moreover, days when Sanskrit was India's lingua franca, India was one of the most advanced country of the world in terms of science, technology and economic prosperity. It is quite naive to insinuate that Sanskrit is responsible for Indian inferiority (the claim of Sheldon Pollock).

Progressive Typification

 The world-views of two leading progressive scholars of two very different generations show a similar pattern. Indeed, two examples are, by no means, sufficient to make a complete evaluation of the American progressives. However, they may bust some myths about American Progressives and their world-view which is often projected as neutral to race and religion.

 A. Olmsted was for abolition of slavery but strongly believed in inferiority of the Negroes. Pollock is associated with promotion of Indian civilisation but strongly believes in inferiority of Indian civilisation.

 B. Olmsted was factually wrong and prejudiced to consider the slaves as slovenly; but he pretended to be objective. Pollock's worldview has also factual inconsistencies as explained above. He is supposedly objective; so it does invoke the question: does he nurture deep prejudices in his psyche?

 C. Olmsted wanted Negroes to be constrained in an orderly society; he could not imagine a complete equality of the races. Pollock wants to send Sanskrit to museum as a dead language. He is utterly against revival of Sanskrit. Parity of Indian civilisation to its western counterpart is an unacceptable idea for him.

 D. Though slavery was no progressive institution, slaves did survive as second class inhabitants in American society with receipt of almost 90% of payment made to the free workers (Fogel and Engerman, 1974). There was no systemic genocide by slave-owners. However abolition of slavery caused Negroes to perish in unprecedentedly large numbers during 1860s. Likewise, American conservatives are no friends of Indian culture. Indian cultural studies—while being dominated by western academic discourse—can survive without any state patronage from them. But it is difficult to conclude the same with Pollock as gatekeeper for Indian culture. Such a “friend” of Indian culture would probably end up being catastrophic.

Source: pragyata

Decoding Barkha Dutt’s open letter to Prime minister

There are a number of open letters as well as, their counter letters that have been written after JNU Row. Out of all the letters that have been written recently, only three are my favorites, which have been listed below:
  1. Open letter to Raj Deep – By Vivek Agnihotri
  2. Open letter to Rahul Gandhi – By Mrinaal Prem
  3. Open Letter to Barkha Dutt – By Vande Mataram
After I had seen numerous open letters, I realized that I am the only person that has not only, not written an open letter but has also not responded to any of the unlimited open letters available. It is probable that none of the letters was addressed to me, but normally those responding to such open letters are not exactly the people the letter was directed to, but third parties.
Today, many are writing open letters, as if they are sending a “whatsapp” forwarded joke message to the Prime Minister of country like India, which is known for its laid back bureaucracy and red-tapism. Since it costs them nothing, they write open letters and expect immediate responses to their open letters; possibly with the assumption that even if the prime minister does not respond to such open letters written, at least, he will send a smiley or a pictorial message as a rejoinder to their letter.
As a response to the open letters addressed to the Prime Minister of the nation with the population of 1.2billion people, third parties write counter open letters who somehow assume the role of the prime minister. I, therefore, decided never to write an open letter nor to assume that a particular letter is addressed to me and respond.
But still, my enormous desire for open letters could not stop. To quench my desire for open letters, I started rehearsing and reading all those letters again with the decision that I will not write an open letter which is long; with the intention that a busy person like the prime minister may be able to read and respond at least in the form of smiley or pictorial message.
Consequently, I decided to decode and simplify one of the letters addressed to the Prime Minister by Ms. Barkha Dutt, who seems to be the best journalist as per to the major opposition parties in the country. She, generically, seems to be representing the hundreds of opposition parties but also the 1.2 billion people.
The actual Barkha Dutt’s letter to the prime minister can be read from here.
We now get down to “Decoding Barkha’s Dutt Letter addressed to the Prime Minister” to make it easy for all those who are reading the letter, including the Prime Minister himself if he at all he decides to read her letter.
For this, I use the dictionary from my favorite, R. Jaganathan. As I consider him the master of decoding speeches and open letters too, other than providing financial advice day & night to the Government of the day. I mean, the advice in the night will be 100% different from what he provided in the day. I love to call him as my Guruji, but ever since the Congress’s innovation of Afzal Guru ji, I stopped using Ji. And we are again distracted from the “decoding process.”
Actual Headline of her letter is as follows:
 “A letter to PM Modi from Anti -National Sickular pressitute”.
Deciphering the Headline:
This is a clever distortion, a thorough attempt to narrow down the argument by painting positive things which is obvious and which everybody can agree on. This is what others refer to as anti-national, since the issue you tabled is different from the main topic. Those few who are against JNU slogans are against the fundamental right of “speech”.
Example: “I am for a uniform civil code and if that makes me communal, I accept”
Having decoded the subject of the letter, we now Decode the Letter in one go.
Dear Prime minister,
We both are equal, we both started our career together – you as the General Secretary and I as the Reporter. While you were trying to manage the affairs of the party even without being fluent in English, I mastered the art of managing the entire military. I have not only given input to the past government to solve all the problems of the Indian military, but also have the solutions to the problems which you personally could not solve, be it OROP or Defense Procurement. This signifies that I am the most patriotic person in the entire universe.
Also, I am the best, be it in my part-time job of reporting or full-time job as a consultant to the government. I can be an adviser or critic from The South of Tamil Nadu to Kashmir. Don’t trust my competitors, my service is readily available for you to always see and hence collect. Irrespective of the fact that my friends are teasing me and telling me that I should not provide you any advice. Yet, I am still willing to offer my services.
Additionally, I have always been thinking that you are more inclined towards the center instead of left leaning like the past government, which was my assumption. But with the action your government has taken at JNU, I am totally convinced. Since all your men are completely under your control, we could in no way influence them, unlike previous NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, yours made our lives miserable.
Even during 26/11, when several people were killed by Ajmal Kasab and his friends from Pakistan, the previous UPA government was so accommodating. Not only that they allowed us to access to all their data, but also, the ministers of UPA were accommodating. The interesting part was that each of them was speaking in different languages which enabled us to create so many conspiracies and interesting stories which also led to an increase in our TRP coupled with a mount in my salary too. Your government, on the other hand, has made my job quite difficult. Interestingly, they all speak a single language, leaving us with lesser opportunities to create interesting stories or conspiracy theories and hence, the downward slope in our TRP.
Furthermore, our TRP has come down to 3%.This is because your government does not have a conscience. It only concentrates on filing cases against us and sending us notices.  Since there is no support from the government, we – the like-minded people – tried to lobby, so that our TRP could go up. But to our greatest surprise, your government rejected it. My friends refused to support me in pretention because you told them not to help me in increasing my TRP. I came with the idea of taking support from the lawyers to increase our rating, yet they refused to accept my proposal. But your refusal to support our business as well as your refusal to increase our influence with the corporate, our business almost liquidated. To me, this is against our channel.
We assume, Mr. Prime Minister, which you are aware of our hardship and therefore, you need to do something. It is not only my channel that has this problem, but also other channels except “Times Now” that broadcasts exclusive Dogs barking shows and government-funded channels. All the others channels will be forced to close, if your government refuses to support, just like previous ones. Then again you did not inform us about your visit to Pakistan, due to which we could not get the advantage of 24/7 coverage. It was only a Pakistan TV channel that milked your entire visit. Same with the case of your visit to Kashmir several times, only Pakistani viewers are interested in Kashmir related news so their TRP increased.
After our best efforts we are able to convince some motor mouthed members of your party, all that news they could create for us are about Beef and Demons. Do you agree that news on “cooking beef” and “worshipping demons” is not something people are interested in? When we report news on those subjects, no one views it. We need news that people will watch and a situation whereby our TRP increases. Even when Kanhaya Kumar was being dragged and pulled, our cameraman was not given proper access to show whether he was bleeding or had broken legs or hands.
What kind of police force do you have Mr. PM? … could not even break his leg. Our TRP would have gone up not only locally, but the image would have made both national and international headlines. We need to be reporting the abuse of power so that we can get donations through NGO route. In the previous UPA government, we had a Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh who was not able to give us an exclusive interview as he can’t speak at all. But even now, we do not have hope on Prime Minister – a one to one interview as we know that for sure, will not be given by you. Help us Mr. PM … Support an increase in our TRP.
We know your love for the nation; we also love the nation and also want the nation to become richer so that, we can improve our business by numerous blackmail options we routinely do. But, to our disappointment Mr.  Prime minister, all those news coming from your government is not TRP worthy. After persuading for long, your party members were willing to help us, but all that they could do is to hit a couple in Maharashtra in Mumbai. What can we do with this kind of stupid news? We need news like that of CWG or 2G.
During the previous government, not only did we get all the support to increase our TRP, but also support to make additional income through Ms. Radia and many others.  The previous UPA government allowed us to make enough money, honored me by giving several awards but even asked all the school going students to study about me. But to my dismay, I was told that you will be removing even those lessons about me from the Syllabus.
I am getting older, so before my retirement, I need to make a reasonable amount of money. I also intend to start my own business up. I also published a book that only very few have purchased. Please be kind enough, help us! If you help us, I will try my best to support you. I don’t have money to buy diamonds for you though. If you make up your mind that you are not helping me after reading this letter, well, God help you. I pray to God and I believe that the government that will support me will be in power in 2019.
Dear Prime Minister, India belongs to people like us, not you. People like me have built this country over a period of 50 years of hard work, and we have built a strong eco system. Whatever you may try, our eco system will fail you, and 2019 will be ours.
Yours truly,
Anti-national Presstitute Barkha Dutt.
Post Script (This is from me, not Ms. Barkha Dutt):
I don’t expect any response from either the Prime Minister or Barkha Dutt, or anyone who has excellent skills in writing an open letter – including those who have written the above 3 letters. I don’t mind if you abuse me with written comments here or on my twitter account, I will not read them. I am requesting for a small open letter from those who are planning to write in future, so that I will be able to decode faster.
Source: opindia

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Varanasi is as old as Indus valley civilization, finds IIT-KGP study


Kolkata: It's a perfect example of science meeting faith and technology buttressing myth. A detailed study conducted by IIT-Kharagpur - using GPS, one of the latest tech tools - could well turn the clock back on Varanasi, indicating that the holy town has been a continuous human settlement since the days of the Indus Valley Civilization, around 6000 years ago.

The project, funded by the Union ministry of human resources development (it has released Rs 20 crore just for the first phase), has even attracted the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The PM made it a point to explore the project's progress on Sunday at Varanasi, when he met the IIT-Kgp faculty members and inquired about its possibilities and scope.

The results that have come from a detailed geo-exploration (exploration conducted through GPS technology) conducted by seven IIT-Kgp departments, tracing the different stages through which civilization progressed, and how Varanasi has been able to maintain continuity as a living civilization, unlike comparable seats of human settlement in the world. The researchers have dug 100-metre-deep boring holes all over Varanasi to conclude that there is evidence of continuous settlement at least till 2000BC. There are enough indications that by the time the data collection is over, there would be enough to prove that this date can be pushed back to about 4500BC.

The oldest part of this civilisation has been traced to the Gomati Sangam area of Varanasi, as indicated by the underground layers that have already been tested.

It is perhaps time to take a re-look at India's history. IIT Kharagpur is about to make an explosive announcement. It is ready to put the clock 6000 years back on Varanasi, bringing it at par with the Indus valley civilisation, if not older. What's more, the seven departments of IIT Kgp, that are working on the project, are tracing the different stages through which the civilisation has progressed and has yet been able to maintain its continuity as a living civilisation, unlike comparable ancient civilisations around the world.

The project, which is completely funded by the union ministry of human resources development, has attracted the attention of none less than Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who made it a point to explore its progress on Sunday at Varanasi, when he met the IIT Kgp faculty members and inquired about the possibilities and the scope of the project.

The results that have come from a detailed geo exploration through the GPS conducted through 100 metre deep bore holes all over Varanasi shows continuous settlement history till 2000 BC. The indicators are that at the end of data collection, this will be put back another '1500 years to establish the final habitable antiquity of Varanasi at 4500 BC.

The geo-exploration, that is being conducted jointly with the British Geological Survey, has already established the existence of Naimisharanya, a forest that finds mention in the Vedas and in the Kashipurana. This forest was considered mythological all these years.

The researchers are also trying to set up a riverine route from Kolkata to Varanasi to Prayag (Allahabad). "Since ancient times, people used this route but the advent of the railways stopped it. We are trying to re-establish that route," said Joy Sen, a senior faculty member of the school of architecture and planning, who is also the chief of the project that has been christened Sandhi. The other departments that are involved in sandhi are humanities and social sciences, computer science, information technology, electrical, electronics and telecommunications and oceanography. The riverine route will be developed to carry tourists, said sources.

Separate heritage trails leading to the five oldest ghats - Asi, Kedar, Dasashwamedh, Panchaganga and Rajghat - are also being created. "We are tracing the ashrams of ancient yogis and spiritual leaders of all religions that dotted the lanes leading to the ghats. Some of these are extinct now, some dilapidated. We will reclaim and restore as much as possible," Sen explained.

A large part of the project, which began in August last year, aims at creating a green rim and reclaiming the greenery and waterbodies that dotted the entire zone from Sarnath to the campus of Benares Hindu University. Efforts are on to remove encroachment and illegal constructions so that the earlier ecosystem is reclaimed as far as possible. "Varanasi has been the seat of all religions and their holy men, who will all be represented elaborately in the project. Efforts are also being made to establish special zones in areas that are dominated by old age homes and shelters for widows," Sen added.

Language, music and iconograohy play a major role in Sandhi. Old texts like Kashipuran or Skandapuran, Mahabharata and Ramayana and the Buddhist text Anguttaranikaya are being re-read for descriptions of Kashi and Kashiraj that were considered mythological all these years.

"We are encountering surprises every day. What was thought to be lore or myth is gradually getting established as history, and that is our biggest achievement," Sen said.

Top Comment

Indian civilization is without the shred of a doubt, one of the most ancient in the world, and what is perhaps unequivoc... Read MoreVijay S Kumar
Source: timesofindia

The MHRD is completely funding the project and has already released Rs 20 crores for it.