The rape debate: How Western Universalism influences India's intellectual elite

This update is a summary of a thread on the forum which started with a storify posted by Shalini of a debate on rape that happened on twitter between a few prominent intellectuals in India. Here is the original storify which set the tone for this thread.

Sankrant Sanu and S. Gurumurthy were debating the delicate subject of rape based on their Dharmic worldview which is the one espoused by Rajiv Malhotra's Being Different.

The overwhelming consensus of the thread seemed to be that so called "Right Wing" sympathizers in English media in India today were "educated" anglicized Indians (as one commenter put it) whose worldview was shaped by ideas permeating Western Universalism.

Ravi responds:

[Kanchan Gupta's] positions are indistinguishable from typical 'educated' anglicized Indians...  Sankrant's rebuttals are to the point, but yes, twitter is not really the medium to go into depth. But he did refer to his deeper articles, so the viewer can go read.
Kanchan's only plus point is that he is a 'brand name', hence has more recognition... But the youth will be looking for more than repetitions of old worn shibboleths of his, will turn to deeper analyses. Rajiv's work is getting deeper penetration precisely for this reason.

Manish wrote in with this:

// Accoriding to Wikipedia, Kanchan Gupta is guided by the Brahmo Samaj.  The Brahmo Samaj has been criticized for reforming Hinduism in such a way that Hinduism began to look like a Protestant denomination! //
--- To think that Brahmo-Samaji Kanchan Gupta is seen as a staunchly Nationalist Hindu writer by many in the socal media space!! This exhibits the depth to which confusion has sunk inside Hindu society. A Grand Narrative based on Dharmic ''Religions'' is direly needed, if we are to ever remove that confusion. 

Rajiv's response to this was that his forthcoming book would be about the narrative that Manish was referring to. Rajiv adds that his two trips to India in 2014 made him keenly aware of the urgency for this narrative and he assured that his next book which would be full of new ideas and approaches would trigger huge debates.

The following observation from Kush was forwarded to Kanchan Gupta by another forum member and his reply to the forward was posted to the forum.

Kush's observation:

Kanchan's ideas are not beneficial to us as I have noted following him on Twitter. Vis-a-vis Dina Nath Batra issue one can have objections to banning of views but he seemed totally oblivious to the Rajiv Malhotra debate on Wendy, which frankly is a litmus test for "secular" Hindus' attitudes.
Quite frankly Kanchan appears totally absorbed in a Eurocentric worldview. This is down only to lack of reading and inquiry.

Kush's further went on to discuss the merits and demerits of Sankrant's engagement with Kanchan Gupta, on the subject but they do not have a direct bearing on this conversation.

Kanchan Gupta's response to Kush's forwarded mail [posted here as is]:

On the debate you refer to, I think I am a lot deal, and more, younger than Rajiv Malhotra (for whom I have the highest regard but would not accept as the final word as that would mean closing my mind which I am loath to do and I am sure he would not want me to do) and I definitely do not believe that I know everything or all that I know is correct. For me every day is a learning experience. I closely followed Rajiv Malhotra's online debate with his critics on the Wendy Doniger book and subsequently wrote about the issue. My views are reflected there if anybody cares to read.

At a personal and professional level, only the social and political aspects of religion interest me. I am not particularly keen on theology. Nor do I correlate theology with reality. The lower traditions of faith is what we get to see and live, not the higher traditions. As a writer who makes his living from his writing, I cannot afford to disengage from the lower traditions. Most if not all who debate religion and take theological positions have their livelihood elsewhere and hence can afford to indulge in idle debate. Unfortunately I do not have that pleasure or, if you wish, leisure. I have bills to pay at the end of the month. I would think I have not compromised on ethics as a writer; that by itself is satisfaction enough.

A last word. Kush is right, as a Brahmo Samaji (of whom only a handful remain), I am Eurocentric in my worldview. But for 1757 (for Bengalis) and later 1857 (for all of us), we would not be writing left to right but right to left. I wish the Rajiv Malhotra Group would revisit the Bengal Renaissance. Perhaps that would explain to them why some of  us are 'different'.

I am neither hurt nor flattered by misplaced criticism or praise. What I have done for Hindus and Hinduism over the past three decades as a journalist, writer, speaker and activist, my critics won't be able to match in a lifetime and more.

You are free to post this mail (without changes) on Rajiv Malhotra's Group (to which the unwashed have no access).

Rajiv's rejoinder to Kanchan Gupta's mail [posted on the forum]:

Kanchan cannot truthfully say the "unwashed have no access" to this egroup. Admitting that he is unwashed is of course his own self-assessment and prerogative. But he must know that membership of this egroup has been open and he never subscribed. Thats up to him to do. On his more substantial issues, i dont have time for response as I have responded to the same issues many times before - he should read up past writings and responses. My priority is on my new original research and not on regurgitating the same old arguments for every new person who comes along.

Rajiv went on to further clarify on the way he approaches debaters:

Lets not give too much importance to this one man. In my prioritization, I ask the following questions on a person before deciding to take them on:
  • Is s/he an ideological/scholarly pioneer - i.e. has his/her own school of thought with a sort of parampara? These are my prime targets. Hence you will find my books naming such persons only and not minor ones. Their influence comes from their leverage as original thinkers with followers/students in serious numbers. ITS, BI and IN each have such targets. They are not small fry.
  • Even if s/he is not originating new ideas that get market share, s/he could be a distributor of others' ideas through mainstream media - such persons are often intellectually shallow, as in the case of most Indian TV hosts, and their importance is due to their official position, not because they have knowledge of their own. Hence taking them on would be a way to influence the public. I have been less successful in getting them to discuss with me (except Mark Tully and a few others), but would like to do so. They avoid me as if I dont exist and cite excuses not to include me in their discussions. Also, their formats lack in depth discussions and tend to be short sound bites, with many voices shouting over each other simultaneously - not good for serious debates.
  • Is this person with knowledge that can significantly benefit my work in tangible ways? I want to always learn to improve my game from every source.
  • Am I under attack by him - in which case I might want to respond if he is causing harm by spreading misinformation. For that he has to be important enough.
At this point the reader may also read the engagement that Rajiv has had with another apparent 'right wing' luminary Swapan Dasgupta and others like him viz Sadanand Dhume and Rupa Subrahmanya. You can read it here and here.

Propounders of the eurocentric worldview and their adverse impact on the fortunes of the BJP, India's Dharmic nationalist party have also attracted attention from Arun Shourie, part of BJP's think tank and a Dharmic himself who referred to a group of six journalists who according to him run the BJP show. This was at the chintan baithak of the BJP after their electoral defeat in 2009. A DNA report alludes to this. Another report in The Tribune which has since been taken off but of which there is a screenshot also has a discussion. 

Rajiv Malhotra's path-breaking book 'Being Different' offers a fascinating and important contrast between the eurocentric/western universalist view versus the dharmic thought system. Many of India's anglicized elite, whether they are on the right or left of the aisle, appear to have failed in studying these differences rigorously. Consequently, it has resulted in erroneous assumptions that produce faulty, unsustainable solutions to India's problems.

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