MYTHS AND SCHOLARS - PART I
(1999 March 24)
A paper written by Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy to "From Facets of Ethnicity", which is published by The
Social Scientists Association has been reproduced in "The Island" on the 6th and 8th of March 1999 under
the title "Myths without conscience: Tamil and Sinhalese nationalist writings of the 1980's". This is
supposed to be a scholarly paper, as against articles and columns written to newspapers. Ms. Coomaraswamy herself
refers to this particular production of hers as a paper according to the custom adopted when writing to the "academic
journals". Let us analyse at some length, this very important "scholarly" paper as it is not very
often we get the opportunity of referring to papers published by Ms. Coomaraswamy in "The Island" under
At the outset, I must mention that I find it difficult to understand the distinction between papers and articles especially in some subjects that come within the Social Sciences and the Humanities. One would hardly expect a paper written to a journal of Mathematics or Theoretical Physics to be published in a newspaper and if an author of such a paper, for some reason or other, were to request the editor of a newspaper to reproduce it, the latter would simply reject it unless of course the paper is of such great significance that he/she may think that it is an honour to publish it in the newspaper even if more than 99 percent of the readership would fail to understand it.
Now in most of the Social Sciences and Humanities the situation is somewhat different. Except perhaps in some branches of Economics and in some disciplines where the meanings of concepts are very important most of the papers published in the "academic journals" could be republished in the newspapers. Now I am not for a moment trying to say that understanding by a majority is the criterion that decides whether a production by an author is a paper, article or a column. But somehow I am at a loss in trying distinguish between papers and articles in papers, meaning papers published in the academic journals and articles published in newspapers. Is it the number of references that matters here? Or is it the number of footnotes or both? Do the papers published in the academic journals contain very original ideas? Aren't there any original ideas in the articles and columns published in the newspapers?
I know that a "scholar" is bound to retort that the papers sent to the academic journals are peer reviewed whereas the papers sent to the newspapers are not even reviewed by the editor or the features editor. But the question is that there are instances when peer reviewing is not done in an impartial manner. Sometimes it is done in a cyclic fashion. A and B review the paper of C, B and C that of D, C and D that of A and finally D and A that of B. So the good old concept of I scratch your back you scratch my back takes over or if you are a "scholar" you might even say that the principle of circularity is applicable in such cases. E who is outside the circle will not only have no chance of publishing in that particular journal but will not be considered as a scholar by A, B, C, and D. I am sure that there are many people who would say that getting articles published in a newspaper is much more difficult even if they are not peer reviewed.
In Ms. Coomaraswamy's article, sorry paper, the names of a few people are mentioned as scholars who have published important books and papers. Let me mention their names. Apart from Ms. Romila Thaper, Messrs. G. U. Pope, Harry Williams and Benedict Anderson who are not Sri Lankans she refers to Messrs. R. A. L. H. Gunewardene, K. M. de Silva, C. R. de Silva, Satchi Ponnambalam, N.Satyendra, Gananath Obeysekere, Michael Roberts and of course Dr. Kumari Jayawardena, and I do not have to mention on which side these "scholars" are. She refers to the paper by Dr. G. H. Peiris as a "more scholarly article" meaning that it is not up to the scholarly works of the others mentioned, but comparatively scholarly when compared to publications such as "Kauda Kotiya", the only other work on the Sinhala "nationalist" side she has mentioned. So it appears that in a very "objective" way Ms. Coomaraswamy has identified the scholars and the non-scholars.
There is another "objective" method she adopts. She likes to project the image that she is against myth making by either the Tamil or the Sinhala "nationalists". Ms. Coomaraswamy quotes Dr. Romila Thaper as if the latter is the epitome of objectivity. I have yet to come across any "objective" writing in Physics let alone History or Political Science. My main objection to objectivity is that there is no world independent of the mind. Nobody can demonstrate "objectively", that is independent of the mind, that there exists a world out there, independent of the mind. The world is nothing but the knowledge of the world and that knowledge is not independent of the mind. I know of a world only because I have knowledge of it. Recently when I challenged the objectivists to demonstrate that there is an objective world independent of the mind an ignorant post modernist came out with the example of a conceptual dog which does not bite and a 'real objective' dog that bites! The problem is that the conceptual dog as well as the other dog cannot be imagined or experienced without a mind. One without a mind would not feel of a dog biting oneself! I only hope that the objectivists of the Social Scientists Association would not follow the post modernists in repeating these childish examples in this respect. Whether in Physics or History one creates knowledge but that knowledge has to be consistent internally within a field or a paper or an article as well as externally. I will come back to this later in dealing with myths.
Now by quoting Ms. Romila Thaper, Ms. Coomaraswamy cannot pretend to be objective. I will show that within her article, that is internally, she has not been consistent. But before that few words on the objectivity of Ms. Thaper are necessary. Dr. Thaper and few others are presented as objective rational Historians by the local objectivists. Some of them in India are left of centre Historians who look at the world from a western point of view and project their view as the objective position. The views of these Historians are not accepted by many Hindus in India. The "objective rational Historians" identify these Hindus as extremists just as much their local counterparts call the Sinhala Buddhists especially the Sangha, the extremists in Sri Lanka. In India as far as the west is concerned it is a case of projecting the image of the Muslims while downgrading the Hindus using the objectivists. In Sri Lanka the Buddhists are the culprits. The so-called objective rational Historians, as against the "national" Historians, either tow the western liberal line or the western Marxist line and write their Histories so as to present the Hindus and the Buddhists in India and Sri Lanka respectively as the extremists who are engaged in myth making. In the middle- east the west has declared war against the Muslims, as they have no ethnic groups in those countries to be used against the latter.
In his "Eminent Historians - Their technology, their line, their fraud" Mr. Arun Shourie gives an account of what these Indian objective Historians have been up to. Even if one does not agree with the social philosophy of Mr. Shourie the book shows how some of these objective rational Historians have been trying to rewrite History of India according to the wishes of the westerners. I quote below a few paragraphs from Mr. Shourie's book.
"Their deceitful role in Ayodhya- which in the end harmed their clients more than anyone else- was just symptomatic. For fifty years this bunch has been suppressing facts and inventing lies. How concerned they pretend to be today about that objective of the ICHR (Indian Council of Historical Research) - to promote objective and rational research into events of our past! How does this concern square with the guidelines issued by their West Bengal Government in 1989, which "Outlook" itself has quoted - "Muslim rule should never attract any criticism. Destruction of temples by Muslim rulers and invaders should not be mentioned"? But incorporating their wholesale fabrications of the destruction of Buddhist vihars, about the non-existent "Aryan invasion," that is mandatory - to question them is to be communal, chauvinist! The capture of institutions like the ICHR has been bad enough, but in the end it has been a device. The major crime of these "historians" has been this partisanship: suppresso veri, suggesto falsi.
But these are not just partisan "historians". They are nepotists of the first order. I had documented several years ago the doings of some of them in regard to the appointments in the Aligarh Muslim University. Their doings in the ICHR were true to pattern. How is it that over twenty five years persons from their school alone had been nominated to the ICHR? How come that Romila Thapar had been on the Council four times? Irfan Habib five times? Satish Chandra four times? S. Gopal three times?" (pages 9-10).
"But today the fashion is to ascribe the extinction of Buddhism to the persecution of Buddhists by Hindus, to the destruction of their temples by the Hindus. One point is that the Marxist historians who have been perpetrating this falsehood have not been able to produce even an iota of evidence to substantiate the concoction. In one typical instance, Romila Thapar had cited three inscriptions. The indefatigable Sita Ram Goel looked them up. Two of these turned out to have absolutely no connection with Buddhist viharas or their destruction, and the one that did deal with an object being destroyed had been held by authorities to have been a concoction; in any event, it told a story which was as different from what the historian had insinuated as day from night." (page 99).
So much for the objectivity and rationality of the objective rational historian. It is the so-called objective rational historians who have an agenda and an objective. Their objectivity as well as the objective come from the west. Their objective is to establish the western ideological hegemony over the rest of the world. In the present day world if one is said to be objective then it means that one is nurtured by the western ideology. Objectivity means nothing but the subjectivity of the west. The "objective rational historian" is engaged in the project of re-creating history to suit either the western liberal or the western Marxist thinking.