Sheldon Pollock, the academician-cum-activist who was at the helm of supporting the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid, is back in news. He is being projected as a victim in the Indian media.
Pollock was exposed threadbare by Rajiv Malhotra in his book The Battle for Sanskrit. The book portrayed Pollock’s views that are marked by extreme Hinduphobia. Pollock met Malhotra during the writing of the book, requesting him not to write the book, and asked Malhotra if they could “work something out”, but Malhotra did not relent and did what he had to do.
Before the book was released, Pollock was considered as a great authority on Sanskrit and was awarded Padma Sri by the Congress-led UPA government. After the release of the book, a group of distinguished academicians justifiably argued for the removal of Sheldon Pollock as a mentor and general editor of Murty Classical Library. Pollock is using these steps to portray himself as a victim without vindication of his Hinduphobic positions.
In these recent interviews, the interviewers did not ask Pollock any tough question. It is understandable if the aim of these interviews is to portray Pollock as a divine blessing in the interest of conserving India’s own culture, but the questions are grossly inadequate if we want to sincerely assess Pollock’s scholarship.
There is no doubt about the fact that Pollock knows Sanskrit. He boasted about this fact and said that he is being criticised by those who are ignorant in Sanskrit. In his words: “I’m happy to talk about Sanskrit with people who actually know Sanskrit.”
However, Pollock writes about Sanskrit in English and any traditional scholar of Sanskrit would be surely embarrassed if she knows that Pollock blames the Sanskrit language and its study for the Nazi Holocaust, literally!
Why shouldn’t the interviewer have asked him the question?
Any genuine scholar of any discipline would love to promote that discipline, isn’t it?
But for Pollock who strongly opposes any revival of Sanskrit, when he was asked about teaching Sanskrit as an elective in IITs, he was circumventing the question but he never welcomed this promotion of Sanskrit learning.
An ordinary Indian would not be able to detect this much from the interview because of verbal jugglery of Pollock. His jugglery becomes understandable the moment we knew his views. His words that apparently lament lack of Indian scholarship in Sanskrit, are actually marks of his pride that as an American he controls the channels of Sanskrit scholarship in the West. Naturally, any promotion of Sanskrit would develop Indian expertise on this language to eventually dethrone him from his agenda-setting position.
While Pollock goes on with his project of demonising Hindus, he ironically accuses Hindus of demonising others. He categorically states that the idea of Rama-worship and Rama temples are only to demonise the Muslim invaders of medieval age in order to create a Hindu resistance against the invaders. Apart from dubiousness of his conclusions, he questions the Hindus’ very fundamental right to self-defence against foreign invaders through this statement. What can be a bigger sign of Hinduphobia?
How great is the scholarship of Pollock? He says, circa 260 BC as the birth of writing in India, whereas in reality extensive evidence of writing is found in Harappan sites (second or third millennium BC).
Pollock takes a moral high ground with his words “I was reluctant and said to them that nothing is sacred here except for questioning”. If questioning is so sacred to him, why doesn’t he face Malhotra in a public debate instead of calling his opponents’ behaviour as “marked by toxicity, vituperation, deceit and libel”. If Malhotra’s book is really so, he is free to file a suit in a court of law, isn’t he?
Pollock is entitled to his prejudiced views such as Hindus being guilty of Nazi Holocaust etc., but he has no right to falsely accuse Hindus of discrimination: “I’m a target because I’m an outsider who dares to speak about the inside”.
This is an absolute bunkum. Hindus forever respected outsiders who are genuinely empathetic to their culture. Sister Nivedita, an Irish woman, was respected by all one century ago. David Frawley, a fellow American of Pollock, is highly respected by Hindus as a person embodying the Vedic wisdom. I can go on and on with more and more names – Koenraad Elst, Michel Danino, Francois Gautier, Maria Wirth. Pollock is questioned only because of his hinduphobic views nothing else.
The western scholarship of other civilisations is political to the core, Edward Said observed in his book Orientalism. The same tradition lives on with Pollock and his associates. Jeffry Kripal wrote a book Kali’s Child on Ramakrishna that did a Freudian analysis of Ramakrishna to detect homoerotic strain in Ramakrishna’s life. This scholarship was criticised by noted academician S. N. Balagangadhara as very shallow and insensitive. His advisor, Wendy Doniger, too did a similar questionable analysis of Hinduism.
While one might say that these are figments of sincere efforts of scholarship with shallow methods, I will question the sincere part. The Freudian analysis of Prophet Muhammad is marked by its absence in the American Academy. Therefore, the room for sincerity is less. The rising star of this gang, Audrey Truschke, shockingly claimed that Sita called Rama “Misogynist Pig”. This author of a biography on Aurangzeb is hesitant to categorically call him a bigot or even intolerant but quick to pronounce damning adjectives on Ram.
Hinduphobia—pure and simple.