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Most Indians do not give a damn about the Indian Council of Historical Research. The op-ed jousting over the appointment of Y Sudershan Rao as its head is therefore a sort of academic soap opera - something for <em>manoranjan</em> but far removed from daily lives and aspirations of the average citizen. That's until history -- or what passes for it -- smacks us in the face, as, for example, in a report about public health in India in <em><a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/world/asia/poor-sanitation-in-india-may-afflict-well-fed-children-with-malnutrition.html target=_blank>The New York Times</a></em> almost off-handedly steps in fecal matter. <blockquote>Open defecation has long been an issue in India. Some ancient Hindu texts advised people to relieve themselves far from home, a practice that Gandhi sought to curb.</blockquote> It goes on to extrapolate that housing discrimination forces Muslims into ghettos which ironically helps save their children from increased exposure to the higher levels of waste in Hindu communities. Not surprisingly that's caused an uproar. Media scholar Vamsee Juluri is scathing in the <em><a href=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vamsee-juluri/nose-deep-in-their-own-pr_b_5601260.html target=_blank>Huffington Post</a></em>. <blockquote>I have yet to think of a time when I heard any of India's 1 billion Hindus say, Let's go squat by that river, where God X once went, or, Let's not go to that World Bank-built plumbing contraption, where God Y told us not to.</blockquote> Juluri writes that this is a cheap shot at Hinduism which does not just hurt modern Indian's self-perception it is Hinduphobia plain and simple - a persistent and totally baseless denigration of its intellectual and civilizational heritage. But is ICHR chief Y Sudershan Rao who wants to accurately date the sacred texts the cure to such orientalism? Or Gujarat government-issued textbooks like <em>Tejomay Bharat</em> that claim to find evidence of stem cell research in the Mahabharatha? These are the questions at stake when we consider the free hand given to the RSS in what we dismissively describe as cultural matters. Historian Ramachandra Guha admits in <em><a href=http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140726/jsp/opinion/story_18640785.jsp target=_blank>The Telegraph</a></em> that ICHR was from the beginning dominated by left-wing historians who favoured themselves and their friends in the distribution of funds for research, travel and translation. But he also says while those Marxists were partisan and nepotistic, Marxist historiography is a legitimate model of intellectual enquiry, albeit one which - with its insistence on materialist explanations - is of limited use when examining the role of culture and ideas, the influence of nature and natural processes, and the exercise of power and authority. In using Hindutva to try to un-Marx the institutions we end up with the reverse problem - shoehorning faith to fit history. The glorious past becomes a given and the objective becomes not to excavate the truth but to find the truth that fits the faith. An article of faith becomes Cinderella's slipper and we are determined to find the foot that fits it. And if it does not, we force-fit it because it's our fairy tale and dammit, it has to have a happy ending.

Most Indians do not give a damn about the Indian Council of Historical Research. The op-ed jousting over the appointment of Y Sudershan Rao as its head is therefore a sort of academic soap opera - something for <em>manoranjan</em> but far removed from daily lives and aspirations of the average citizen. That\'s until history -- or what passes for it -- smacks us in the face, as, for example, in a report about public health in India in <em><a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/world/asia/poor-sanitation-in-india-may-afflict-well-fed-children-with-malnutrition.html target=_blank>The New York Times</a></em> almost off-handedly steps in fecal matter. <blockquote>Open defecation has long been an issue in India. Some ancient Hindu texts advised people to relieve themselves far from home, a practice that Gandhi sought to curb.</blockquote> It goes on to extrapolate that housing discrimination forces Muslims into ghettos which ironically helps save their children from increased exposure to the higher levels of waste in Hindu communities. Not surprisingly that\'s caused an uproar. Media scholar Vamsee Juluri is scathing in the <em><a href=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vamsee-juluri/nose-deep-in-their-own-pr_b_5601260.html target=_blank>Huffington Post</a></em>. <blockquote>I have yet to think of a time when I heard any of India\'s 1 billion Hindus say, Let\'s go squat by that river, where God X once went, or, Let\'s not go to that World Bank-built plumbing contraption, where God Y told us not to.</blockquote> Juluri writes that this is a cheap shot at Hinduism which does not just hurt modern Indian\'s self-perception it is Hinduphobia plain and simple - a persistent and totally baseless denigration of its intellectual and civilizational heritage. But is ICHR chief Y Sudershan Rao who wants to accurately date the sacred texts the cure to such orientalism? Or Gujarat government-issued textbooks like <em>Tejomay Bharat</em> that claim to find evidence of stem cell research in the Mahabharatha? These are the questions at stake when we consider the free hand given to the RSS in what we dismissively describe as cultural matters. Historian Ramachandra Guha admits in <em><a href=http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140726/jsp/opinion/story_18640785.jsp target=_blank>The Telegraph</a></em> that ICHR was from the beginning dominated by left-wing historians who favoured themselves and their friends in the distribution of funds for research, travel and translation. But he also says while those Marxists were partisan and nepotistic, Marxist historiography is a legitimate model of intellectual enquiry, albeit one which - with its insistence on materialist explanations - is of limited use when examining the role of culture and ideas, the influence of nature and natural processes, and the exercise of power and authority. In using Hindutva to try to un-Marx the institutions we end up with the reverse problem - shoehorning faith to fit history. The glorious past becomes a given and the objective becomes not to excavate the truth but to find the truth that fits the faith. An article of faith becomes Cinderella\'s slipper and we are determined to find the foot that fits it. And if it does not, we force-fit it because it\'s our fairy tale and dammit, it has to have a happy ending. [caption id=attachment_1639561 align=alignleft width=380 View full gallery
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