Cornel West & Suraj Yengde: Between Indology & Hinduphobia
8 minute read
Recently Suraj Yengde, a Senior Fellow at Harvard, released an extremely derogatory tweet disparaging India’s native Hindus. It is not the first time that such crude commentary has been made by activists, West-based academics, Indologists, or even foreign-aligned academics based in India itself. It is unfortunately shockingly common, an industry, with frauds like Arundhati Roy being a more famous example. These voices come from across the spectrum of socio-economics, with some being wealthy upper crust while Yengde sits in a sub-section of the Dalit camp, which has for long been a religious-imperial target. But how does it relate to a progressive left African-American public intellectual like Harvard’s Cornel West?
Over the years, some criticism has been directed at Dr West too. Perhaps it has had more to do with his relationship and critique of Obama, and his diminishing status among African-American intellectuals. Here, the focus is on the content of a recent online video-conference between Yengde and West, specifically on his India literacy. As someone who has been a watcher of Dr West for years, his oratory is indeed impressive to the layman, and his appeals to humanity will resonate with the conscientious.
Dr West Does Not Know India
Towards the hour mark, he finally admits what has been clear quite early in the interaction, that he knows almost nothing about India. Imagine if Cornel West had cherry-picked some perceived ill in an African nation, and suggested that the progressive-left African Americans reach out to support perceived victims, while severely criticizing spiritual leaders of Africa. That is exactly what West does when he wants the Indian Dalits and the African Americans to work together, while railing about “Brahmin supremacy”. How does he desire such a specific outcome when being illiterate about India’s culture and history?
Does he not understand that every country has social ills that come from various historical factors? The Dalits are among India’s staunchest Hindus, many of whom strongly backed the returning Prime Minister in the last election. Modi himself is from a backward section of society, his own rise to be marvelled at. India has had Dalit billionaires, Chief Justices and political leaders in prominent positions, including the popular current President of India. Does Dr West know the social background of the revered author-compiler of India’s greatest epic, or of innumerable spiritual teachers who came from humble backgrounds and are revered today as our gurus, our “Brahmins”?
The foreign conversion and NGO lobby has not only worked with opportunistic politicians and rich landlords in India, but also the downtrodden including some Dalits in their efforts to “save more souls” and create their own little foreign-aligned constituents. In effect, Dr West is providing cover for all the traps that have engulfed the people of African descent in his home country.
Enslavement in India
India, specifically the Hindu natives of India, have been trading with Africa for millennia, with no track record of slavery whatsoever. The industrial scale enslavement of Africa would arise out of the Islamic expansion starting in the 7th century, while the trans-Atlantic slave trade would begin almost 9 centuries later, with the blessings of the Papal Bull issued in 1455. This may not seem new, but what Dr West is simply unaware of is that India too was a victim of slavery.
It is debatable who are the most enslaved, but some have argued that the Islamic waves into a densely-populated Hindu India, and the subsequent enslavement and westward “export” of its Hindus may qualify as the largest, far more than that of Africa. When Dr West brough up the plight of the Roma, perhaps he was unaware that the Roma are themselves runaway Hindus escaping the 11th century Islamic wave into India.
Unknown to Dr West is that Kashmir was once fully Hindu-Buddhist, a centre of native spirituality for millennia, forcibly converted starting in the 13th century. A further half-a-million surviving Hindu Kashmiris would be violently expelled in 1990 once Kashmir’s Islamist politicians reverted into medieval mode. So, when he refers to today’s Kashmir as a “massive repressive response to people’s struggles”, he is in effect whitewashing the effects of the Islamic invasions into India and underplaying the complications that followed. Is Dr West saying the natives of Kashmir and India have no historical and rightful claims, nor the rights to enact policies that benefit all the state’s inhabitants? (see Gautam Sen, Radha Rajan, Virendra Parekh, Navaratna S Rajaram and Krishen Kak)
Fling Everything, See What Sticks
Like modern progressive and left “activists”, Cornel West uses the strategy of inserting as many places, events and catchphrases as possible, and links it to “humanity”. Hiroshima, US civil war, Yemen, Palestine, Jews, Afghanistan, predatory capitalism, patriarchal violence, domestic violence, ethnic violence, trans people, sexual and religious minorities, “everyone is in cahoots”, and so forth. Phrases like “structures of domination and degradation that you have to resist” and “racial hierarchy embedded within predatory capitalism connected to imperial tentacles and the military which is 40% black and brown” might impress, but in effect, are meaningless. This might pass for barbershop talk, but for a Harvard academic who appears to be very much in cahoots with an elite academic gig and unlimited media access, the standards expected are significantly higher. One’s jaw drops when he calls George Washington both a slave owner as well as an anti-imperialist fighting off the British Empire. Did he just conveniently mis-read history, while playing all sides?
For Dr West, every ill ultimately is to be traced to a few pillars, especially “predatory capitalism”. Of course, there is much to be corrected, but is there no predatory Marxism, Liberalism, Christianity, Islam, or any other predatory protest-ism masquerading as a social justice movement?
Let us take his favoured Marxism for example. Is he completely unfamiliar with the opportunism, treachery and deceit of the Left in India since its inception almost a century ago, beholden to foreign powers while its leaders live as champagne socialists, with children and family often comfortably established in Western societies? The worst is the sheer propaganda and dishonesty of India’s liberal-Marxist historians who have pushed lies into Indian school history books and the media, successfully ensuring successive generations of Indians grow up deracinated and lacking pride in its culture. Is this what Dr West was referring to when he said that “India has a long proud track record of Marxism”?
Cornel West: Humanist or Illiterate?
When Suraj Yengde asks, “where does the hate come from?”, we receive “…on a general level it is a human affair. Comes out of wombs, that generates insecurity, fear, anxiety, and what one does with those in light of the social structures, the institutions in place, the cultures when one emerges from the womb. They provide a way of channelling those fears and anxieties to say they are better than others.” Really? Is he unable to point to specific ideologies and religious scripture that spell out and instruct followers to “claim”, enslave, rape, and take over?
Dr. West offers, “…the Dalit plight predicament does not yet command the kind of spotlight that it should..”, the question to ask is, why is Dr West interested in specifically Dalits of the Suraj Yengde mould, and not the other Dalits or the rest of the Hindus? Don’t all the natives of India deserve to protect their own culture from invasive ideologies? Do our own spiritual teachers, our true Brahmin gurus who themselves are of varying and often economically poor backgrounds, do they not deserve respite from the Abrahamic and ideological onslaught?
As many Indians have understood, the moment a Westerner or Western-oriented native starts his India discussion with caste, Aryan, Dravidian, Brahminical or Dalit, we know right away this is another motivated outsider with a dog whistle joining the trope-fling festival. We have already had to deal with elite Western university trained “South Asian” bureau chiefs who routinely indulge in condescending writing in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and countless other foreign media outlets, with the support of India’s native anglicized informants. These include the small yet influential number of Dr West’s favoured “Brahmin progressives” and “Brahmin Marxists”, who have long ago rejected their own spiritual teachings for reasons we don’t need to get into here. Dr West is unaware that in terms of corrective measures, India probably far exceeds any in the west in how it provides opportunities and social benefits to the left-behinds and economically deprived, in some ways detrimental to the progress of the nation, as many have rightly questioned yet still support.
A Black Conservative Approach
There are plenty of criticisms that can be justifiably levelled at the conservative side of US politics, but one that is incorrect is to assume that left-progressives are any more benevolent. Dismissing traditional and conservative views world-wide has become de rigueur for the history-erasing Marxists. This brings me to Thomas Sowell, a conservative African-American thought leader. One cannot give blanket approval to intellectuals on any side of the spectrum, which may be a common error, a confirmation bias. However, one cannot ignore the parts where Dr Sowell is absolutely right, in that modern intellectuals have had an easy path, an ability to make claims without evidence, and not pay the price at all.
Reminded of Jomo Kenyatta’s famous quote “When the Missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the Missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible”, here come along many intellectuals on the progressive left of which Dr West is a prime example, who somehow manage to have both Bible and land. How did that happen? It is by parroting the very things they pretend to stand against, by being the very puppets in the theatre they despise. I think the African-American public deserves better than this.
What role will Suraj Yengde and Harvard play?
A Harvard fellow like Yengde, who makes such disparaging statements towards Hindus, is unlikely to be a Hindu. He is what some would call possibly a “crypto-“ or a convert masquerading as a Hindu. So Yengde goes from hating his own native spiritual gurus, due to some social ills he may (or may even not) have experienced, and into the arms of the foreign establishment via an African-American intellectual high priest of the “Harvard caste”. This playbook is old, and it has a long coaching tree, with many more protagonists being nurtured for future use.
Yengde should have been making corrections to Dr West’s flawed thinking, informing him of his errors rather than nodding like some polite schoolboy. Yengde’s relevance is more about being another willing pest, a pretentious establishment stooge mentored by West, and we will have to endure this for decades, based on past “luminaries” like the Amartya Sens and Ram Guhas, who are also sliding into bitter irrelevance.
Where is Cornel West’s humanity?
If Dr West was really concerned about the Native Americans (see this ongoing series from part 1 to 4), then perhaps he could objectively point fingers at the predecessors of his own Baptists, Evangelicals and Catholics in their destruction of Africa, India and the planet, rather than call it “American Imperialism”. Provide proof that these colonial habits have changed in his own backyard. Except he doesn’t. For a person so keen on a “spiritual and moral awakening”, he seems ignorant of the spiritual teachings emanating out of the East, especially India. Countless have already known and continue to seek it, over millennia, including plenty of African descent visitors who converge into India even today.
I am reminded of the time in January 2009, during a visit to a European corporate office, and watching the Obama inauguration with pride and tears. The let-down would come later, but it cannot be questioned that the rise and return of pride of the African descent people is a world concern, with any symbolic victory a shared joy. But the intellectuals, especially on the progressive left, with their self-preserving histrionics, are not helping. Hopefully, they will give way to a more honest and genuinely rooted set of African-descent intellectuals who already operate, but do not have the “in cahoots” access. Dr West and his crew will not stand the test of time, and deservedly so.
Hinduphobia in the Academy, Avatans Kumar, December 2020, IndiaCurrents.com
Race and Caste Matters: International Connections, Cornel West in conversation with Suraj Yengde, June 2020 (on YouTube)
The Big Scandal of Indology, Subhash Kak, January 2020
The Office Seeker and the Warrior, Subhash Kak, September 2020
Oh Staaahp ! Audrey Truschke’s Relentless Dishonesty, B V Rudhraya, April 2019, YourAwesomeIndia.com
The African-American Trap, B V Rudhraya, June 2020, YourAwesomeIndia.com
Human Rights, A Madness of Our Age, Navaratna S Rajaram, December 2018, YourAwesomeIndia.com
The man in the jazzy blue suit, August 2019, Anindita Ghose & Shubham Ladha, LiveMint
How Christian Missionaries Use Dalits as Canon-Fodder for Anti-Hindu Propaganda, Koenraad Elst, August 2020, DharmaDispatch.com
How Can Dalits Come Out Of the Elite Controlled Victimhood Narrative, Jai Prakash Ojha, April 2016, Swarajyamag
Aryanism & Indology Webinar, Joydeep Bagchee, June 2020, Hindu University of America (on YouTube)
Kanwar Yatra has more Dalits and OBCs but Indian liberals still won’t notice them, Guru Prakash, July 2019, ThePrint.in
Dalit judge now in line to be CJI as Supreme Court gets 4 new justices, Ritika Jain, May 2019, ThePrint.in
John J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of Liberal Hegemony”, November 2017 (on YouTube)
Thomas Sowell on the second edition of Intellectuals and Society, 2012 (on YouTube)
What saved India’s Peasants during the Medieval Period?, B V Rudhraya, April 2019, YourAwesomeIndia.com
Money Driving Academic Hinduphobia, Navaratna S Rajaram, April 2019, YourAwesomeIndia.com
Imperialism’s Hindu Liberals: The Legacy that Remains, B V Rudhraya, December 2018, YourAwesomeIndia.com
Image: LiveMint, Internet