Intellectual Cowardice: Western Indology is Promoting Genocide Denial Of India’s Past

I feel this is an important issue to highlight, because Western Academia seems poised to just ignore painful truths of history, even if it means genocide denial for the sake of treating all religions as equal. After learning more about the issues within Islam, I had to re-evaluate what I thought was true from US Indology books and so I made this post to highlight a perturbing trend of genocide denial by US Indology departments that seem to be extending across Western Indology and it may be branching into other portions of Western academia as well. That is why I feel it was necessary to make this post because what I thought was fairly innocuous information in Unifying Hinduism is now incredibly alarming when I reflect back on it.

Claims by US Indologists from Chapter 10 of Andrew Nicholson’s Book “Unifying Hinduism“:

“HINDUISM: A MODERN INVENTION? “Hindu” was not originally a Sanskrit word but a Persian term used by Muslims to describe a regional or ethnic identity: the people living near the Indus, or Sindhu, river.44 Only at a relatively late date was the term adopted by Indians to refer to themselves, typically as distinguished from outsider groups known as turuskas (Turks) or mlecchas (barbarians). Cynthia Talbot has recorded the earliest usage of the word “Hindu” in an Indian language from inscriptions in mid-fourteenth-century Andhra, in which some Vijayanagara kings were described with the epithet “Sultan among Hindu kings” (Hindu-raya-suratrana).45 Talbot cautions, though, that in these inscriptions, “Hindu meant Indic as opposed to Turkish, not ‘of the Hindu religion’ as opposed to ‘of the Islamic religion.’”46 In Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava texts written in Bengali in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, “Hindu” was occasionally used to distinguish natives from yavanas or mlecchas.47 Although the context makes clear that these foreigners were Muslims, Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava writers did not state this explicitly until the eighteenth century, when the term musulmāna fnally became common usage in Bengali. In this case too, the word may have designated ethnicity generally and not a specific set of religious beliefs.

Further on in the chapter:

“Unlike later Hindu nationalist intellectuals, who sometimes recorded their fantasies of heroic and violent resistance to Muslim oppression, Sanskrit intellectuals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries responded with silence.28”

Source: Nicholson, Andrew J. Chapter 10: Hindu Unity And The Non-Hindu Other (4806-5293). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (South Asia Across the Disciplines). Columbia University Press, 2010.

Nicholson goes onto cite Indologists Pollock, Talbot, Thapor, and anonymous so-called “historians” claiming Muslims and Hindus weren’t aware of each other in the Medieval period apart from Sanskrit writers responding with epithets towards Muslims. He wrongfully cites Akbar the Great, a King who de-converted from Islam to form his own religion, as an example of a Muslim King who was curious about Sanatana Dharma. He and his US Indologist peers assert that Hindus and Muslims weren’t really aware of each other.

In Sheldon Pollock’s article “Rāmāyaṇa and Political Imagination in India,” he illustrates another way that medieval Hindus employed cultural memory to categorize Muslims. He points out that in numerous medieval commentaries and retellings of the story of Rāma, the demons (rākṣasas) of the story are identified with Muslims.35 For instance, in the Rāmāyaṇa section in which the demon Virādha asks to be buried in a pit after his death rather than cremated, two eighteenth-century commentators remark that the Muslims, “who are the rākṣasas of the Kali age, still follow this custom.”36 Pollock is particularly interested in medieval kings who fashioned their public image in the likeness of Lord Rāma, using the text’s narrative logic to portray Muslim opponents as demons. But demonization can be found in other contexts as well. Cynthia Talbot notes that although there is little explicit use of royal symbols from the Rāmāyaṇa in the medieval inscriptions of Andhra Pradesh, Muslims are demonized in a similar way37 I would add that that the motif of one’s adversaries as demons has very early roots in India. In particular, the portrayal of philosophical opponents as demons dates back at least as far as the Chāndogya Upaniṣad.

And further on:

The increasing availability of translations of vernacular texts from the late medieval period should finally put to rest the notion that there was no conception of a specifically Hindu religious identity that differed from the beliefs and practices of Muslims. Although early uses of the word “Hindu” in fourteenth-century inscriptions seem to use the word in a geographical or ethnic sense, Cynthia Talbot acknowledges that ethnicity is a composite of many factors—including “language, costume, marriage customs and fighting styles”—some of which have their basis in religious practice.55 Just as observation led the authors of vernacular texts to remark on differences of food or dress, eventually it led to an appreciation of the principled religious differences underlying some of the more superficial differences in custom. “Hindu” was originally an ethnic designator. But the ample evidence from fifteenth-and sixteenth-century writers shows that by that time, the word “Hindu” had been adopted by vernacular-language authors and had in some contexts taken on a more specifically religious sense.

Although Stietencron would surely resist this idea, his analysis of the eleventh-century Somaśambhupaddhati is accidental evidence in support of Lorenzen’s thesis. Both Lorenzen and Pollock mark the period shortly after the Somaśambhupaddhati century as a time of important shifts in Hindu self-representation. For Pollock, the twelfth century was the beginning of the invention of a new tradition in which kings became Rāma by adopting his symbols and applying them to their own historical circumstances.56 For Lorenzen, the period between 1200 and 1500 was the time in which rivalry between Hindu and Muslim created a newly self-conscious identity of Hindu or proto-Hindu unity. In this book I have focused on a group of texts from the same time period: philosophical works written in Sanskrit. The evidence from medieval philosophy and doxography corroborates the thesis that Lorenzen has advanced. Before the twelfth century, the category of “affirmer” (āstika) is a blurry one, potentially admitting groups such as the Buddhists and Jainas, who affirm the existence of worlds after death. But sometime during a critical period between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, the category of āstika began to harden into the classification of the “six systems” as they are recognized today. At the same time, Buddhists and Jainas became permanently classified as “deniers” (nāstikas) in influential Advaita doxographies. Also in the late medieval period, the category of nāstika underwent a subtle blurring with categories like “barbarian” (mleccha), allowing foreigners to be classed together with Buddhists and Jainas.57 This blurring also allowed the epic and Purānic strategies of “demonization,” once applied solely to Buddhists, Jainas, and Cārvākas, to extend to foreigners, and especially to Muslims. Philosophical authors writing in Sanskrit do not acknowledge Islam explicitly. But the perceived threat of Islam motivated them to create a strictly defined category of āstika philosophical systems, systems that professed belief in the authority of the Veda. This category was later reformulated according to further developments in the nineteenth century and the medieval list of āstika darśanas became known as the “schools of Hindu philosophy.”


There are dangers in recognizing the existence of Hindu-Muslim divisions in medieval India. My greatest concern is that my thesis might be taken out of context to support a Hindu communalist political agenda. Romila Thapar, among others, has pointed out the communalists’ need to present a unified, homogenous group identity:

“Communal” … in the Indian context has a specific meaning and primarily perceives Indian society as constituted of a number of religious communities. Communalism in the Indian sense therefore is a consciousness which draws on a supposed religious identity and uses this as the basis for an ideology. It then demands political allegiance to a religious community and supports a programme of political action designed to further the interests of that religious community…. Such identity tends to iron out diversity and insists on conformity, for it is only through a uniform acceptance of the religion that it can best be used for political ends.58

The rather arcane historical controversy over philosophical and theological identities in medieval India has ramifications for contemporary Indian political debates. Arguments for a Hindu self-identity or a unified Hindu theological voice in the medieval period can be co-opted by Hindu communalist political actors.59 Accordingly, I suspect that a part of the motivation of Stietencron and others to assert that Hindu identity is purely a nineteenth-century colonial construction is to weaken Hindu communalism. For if “Hinduism” is merely an artificial construction that outsiders imposed on Indians in the nineteenth century, simplistic historical narratives of medieval Hindu unity in the face of Muslim oppression would be proved false. By acknowledging a process of synkrētismós by which late medieval Hindus formulated a new religious identity over and against a Muslim Other, seeing medieval history through a religious, communal lens once again becomes possible.

The evidence presented in this book suggests that there was no single understanding of what it meant to be a Hindu in medieval India. “Hindu unity” was not a structure created in the late medieval period that has existed unchanged from that point to the present day. “Unifying Hinduism” is a process, not an entity. Indian intellectuals have been engaged in this process for at least seven hundred years. Although they often have agreed that this unity exists, the demon has always been in the details. We see a debate over the details of this unity in the confrontation between Advaita Vedāntins and their Bhedābhedavāda opponents in sixteenth-century India. Although both groups provided hierarchical accounts of the āstika s chools, their understandings of the metaphysical ground of āstika unity were very different. One vision of Hindu unity, the Advaita Vedānta view, has come to dominate modern Hinduism. But Hindu philosophical minorities refuse to be silenced and continue to assert alternative interpretations of what it means to be a Hindu. This evidence of a gradually developing and deeply contested Hindu identity in the medieval period cannot be used to reduce regional political struggles in medieval India to a global Muslim-versus-Hindu clash of civilizations. Nor can it be adduced as evidence for Hindu communalist arguments that Muslims were engaged in religious genocide against Hindus for explicitly theological reasons. As Thapar notes regarding medieval religious identities,

Even the recognition of a religious identity does not automatically establish a religious community…. Clashes which on the face of it would now be interpreted as between Hindus and Muslims, would require a deeper investigation to ascertain how far they were clashes between specific castes and sects and to what degree did they involve support and sympathy from other castes and sects identifying with the same religion or seeking such idenity.60

Religious motivations for violent behavior by Muslims against Hindus and Hindus against Muslims in the medieval period cannot be ruled out, as Stietencron might wish, on the grounds that Hinduism did not exist. But for most incidents of violence between Hindus and other groups, the evidence points to motives more political than theological. This applies to the widely publicized destruction of Hindu temples by Muslims61 and also to the history of Śaiva violence against Jainas and Buddhists, often elided by those who seek to emphasize Hinduism’s superior history of religious toleration.62 Despite textual evidence possibly suggesting that Hindus saw it as their duty to wage holy war against demonic followers of the Buddha and Mahāvīra, those struggles too were grounded more often in realpolitik than in religious principle.63

Source: Nicholson, Andrew J. Chapter 10: Hindu Unity And The Non-Hindu Other (4806-5293). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History (South Asia Across the Disciplines). Columbia University Press, 2010.

Too bad everything they asserted is not only false, but egregious lies based on speculation and an ignorance of history. It is also a collective effort by US Indology to engage in genocide denial.

None of these people, from what can be gleaned of Nicholson’s book, have any knowledge of Islam’s brutal invasion into India or what was approximately a death toll of 80 million people from what can be found of Islamic sources.

From legendary American historian, Will Durant, and the first of his fascinating series, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage:

Each winter Mahmud descended into India, filled his treasure chest with spoils, and amused his men with full freedom to pillage and kill; each spring he returned to his capital richer than before. At Mathura (on the Jumna) he took from the temple its statues of gold encrusted with precious stones, and emptied its coffers of a vast quantity of gold, silver and jewelry; he expressed his admiration for the architecture of the great shrine, judged that its duplication would cost one hundred million dinars and the labor of two hundred years, and then ordered it to be soaked with naphtha and burnt to the ground.73 Six years later he sacked another opulent city of northern India, Somnath, killed all its fifty thousand inhabitants, and dragged its wealth to Ghazni. In the end he became, perhaps, the richest king that history has ever known. Sometimes he spared the population of the ravaged cities, and took them home to be sold as slaves; but so great was the number of such captives that after some years no one could be found to offer more than a few shillings for a slave. Before every important engagement Mahmud knelt in prayer, and asked the blessing of God upon his arms. He reigned for a third of a century; and when he died, full of years and honors, Moslem historians ranked him as the greatest monarch of his time, and one of the greatest sovereigns of any age.74

Seeing the canonization that success had brought to this magnificent thief, other Moslem rulers profited by his example, though none succeeded in bettering his instruction. In 1186 the Ghuri, a Turkish tribe of Afghanistan, invaded India, captured the city of Delhi, destroyed its temples, confiscated its wealth, and settled down in its palaces to establish the Sultanate of Delhi—an alien despotism fastened upon northern India for three centuries, and checked only by assassination and revolt. The first of these bloody sultans, Kutb-d Din Aibak, was a normal specimen of his kind—fanatical, ferocious and merciless. His gifts, as the Mohammedan historian tells us, “were bestowed by hundreds of thousands, and his slaughters likewise were by hundreds of thousands.” In one victory of this warrior (who had been purchased as a slave), “fifty thousand men came under the collar of slavery, and the plain became black as pitch with Hindus.”75 Another sultan, Balban, punished rebels and brigands by casting them under the feet of elephants, or removing their skins, stuffing these with straw, and hanging them from the gates of Delhi. When some Mongol inhabitants who had settled in Delhi, and had been converted to Islam, attempted a rising, Sultan Alau-d-din (the conquerer of Chitor) had all the males—from fifteen to thirty thousand of them—slaughtered in one day. Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlak acquired the throne by murdering his father, became a great scholar and an elegant writer, dabbled in mathematics, physics and Greek philosophy, surpassed his predecessors in bloodshed and brutality, fed the flesh of a rebel nephew to the rebel’s wife and children, ruined the country with reckless inflation, and laid it waste with pillage and murder till the inhabitants fled to the jungle. He killed so many Hindus that, in the words of a Moslem historian, “there was constantly in front of his royal pavilion and his Civil Court a mound of dead bodies and a heap of corpses, while the sweepers and executioners were wearied out by their work of dragging” the victims “and putting them to death in crowds.”

Source: Durant, Will. Chapter XVI: From Alexander to Aurangzeb: VI. The Moslem Conquest (Pgs. 10447-10520). Our Oriental Heritage: Being a History of Civilization in Egypt and the Near East to the Death of Alexander, and in India, China and Japan from the Beginning to Our Own Day. Simon and Schuster, 1935.

It seems Andrew J. Nicholson, Romila Thapor, Sheldon Pollock, Cynthia Talbot, and whatever anonymous supposed “historians” that Nicholson mentions in his book aren’t real scholars and engage in make-believe instead of verifying factual events of history.

Edit: Just as a caveat so this isn’t just negative information; incidentally, Hindu is a derivative of the term “Hindush” which comes from a 5th Century BCE inscription by Darius The Great I, so the word itself actually was coined by him in the 490 BCE and not the 14th century.

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