Culture Wars in India (and Elsewhere)

By Come Carpentier de Gourdon, Convener of the Editorial Board of the World Affairs Journal

The many rifts in the contemporary world cannot but extend to the field of culture as they always have, in one way or another. Bismarck was perhaps the first to explicitly call Kulturkampf his policy to combat, in the name of what was technocratic and political modernity for the time, the feudal traditions  and confessional principles followed by Catholics and other conservative Germans but all powers have fought in the civilisational arena to propagate and impose their worldviews and ways of life on others through language, ideology, school curricula, modes of dressing, food et al. The British, among other colonizers, were no different in India and Macaulay epitomized their approach.


Today, institutional dominance still lies with the West, comprising North America and Western Europe and that institutional dominance, articulated in a myriad of political, financial, industrial, trade regulatory, scientific, academic, media and philanthropic foundations, corporations, churches, NGOs and other bodies, naturally extends to the fields of culture, religion and guiding philosophies and jurisprudence just as it also encompasses sports, news and entertainment.

We can outright dismiss naïve or disingenuous beliefs that governments are motivated by altruistic “democratic” considerations so that the old power games are no longer played in the post-colonial age. . Likewise the objection that the world is too complex and plural for anyone to be able to dominate it ignores the fundamental persistence of patterns of organization created partly in the 19th century and partly during the years since the second World War, to keep the Anglo-Saxon and other western hegemons at the helm of the global ship. Institutions can survive for long the decline or even the eclipse of their founders.

For some years to come at least the leading organizations we are alluding to, whether it is the UN Security Council, the IMF and World Bank, the Rockefeller, Ford  and Heritage Foundations, the Brookings Institution, RAND, the Ivy League and other major Euro-American Universities and leading research centres in the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Italy to mention only a few, will remain on the pinnacle of the power pyramid even while new centres of excellence, inspired by and seeking to compete with them are unfolding in other parts of the world.

Tradition, prestige, reputation, track record and intellectual assets and are not easily lost or  gained. Hence the rest of the world is still under the spell and influence of the dominant judeo-christian civilization, whether the latter chooses to appear  under its irreligious, materialistic aspect or emphasizes its theological and eschatological age-old mission.

Cultural Studies as a Tool for Control

A result of western dominance is the subjection of all other cultures and forms of knowledge to a type of analytical study designed to extract whatever is found valuable (economically, philosophically or therapeutically) for the dominant system while objectifying, according to “scientific criteria” all elements of the object of study. Claude Levy-Strauss was one of the early anthropologists who reflected on the implication of a clinical and detached academic survey of a human group regarded as primitive  and submitted to a modern set of criteria and concepts developed in the West within its own culture.

A familiar illustration of this process is the dissection of religious and spiritual traditions, techniques and symbols of Hinduism by scholars trained in  academic disciplines such as history, anthropology, sociology or psychology but also almost always under the influence of an ideology, either Marxist, psycho-analytical (yes, it is an ideology) or liberal-functionalist, which by definition ignores or rejects the spiritual principles and cosmologies that guided the societies being studied as they are deemed  invalid given the presumed scientific ignorance of their proponents. Rajiv Malhotra, arousing considerable anger in academia, has highlighted the shortcomings and even the intellectual dishonesty of those methods, employed by well known indologists such as Wendy Doniger, which implicitly discredit the subjects they study in most aspects: theology, morality, chronology, understanding of natural laws, physiology, psychology, jurisprudence et al.

Unsurprisingly such academics are also politically involved or at least weigh in heavily in the political debates of India to support the “progressive” side (that which shares their point of view) against the “reactionaries” (i.e those who challenge or reject their propositions and conclusions). The latter conclusions and verdicts are often based on “alternative” counter-narratives meant to discredit ancient cultural systems by distorting or spinning original text to build  feminist, revolutionary, “non-brahminical, dalit-centric” versions that have little if any historical foundation but rest on fashionable theories of caste and class struggles and sexual repression. The intention is clearly to destabilize a society by diagnosing long ignored ills.

It is well known that in the USA in particular intellectual theories given high level credit and publicity are used as weapons by the State to further national and corporate interests. Recent examples of such semi-official sponsorship of select theses may be found for Leo Strauss’s Neo-Conservative theories, Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilisations”, Milton Friedman’s Neo-Liberal prescriptions  or Thomas Friedman’s “Flat World”.

Various investigative articles have revealed the roles being played at many levels, from the political to the socio-educational by the Ford and other major foundations. The billions of dollars they invested over several decades cannot be regarded merely as generous contributions to a poorer country. They are a part of the budget allocated by the US power structure for long term penetration of India and many other states with a view to gradually modifying society and institutions in a way desired by the ruling “Atlantic” elites. It does not matter much whether those elites sincerely want to better India by bringing her closer to their  own ideals or whether they mainly wish to secure their strategic and business interests by so doing.

Humanitarianism and Freedom as the new Missionary Religion

Contemporary research shows that socio-political bodies behave in ways similar to biological organisms and they inevitably equate what is to their own benefit with the general good. In the case of America the common good consists inter alia of conjuring the menace of communism and socialism, securing free markets mainly for American mega-corporations, spreading Christianity, raising levels of public consumption and promoting the rights of individuals  as a condition for their liberation from the allegedly oppressive control of traditional communal institutions.

A  clear illustration of the techniques being applied is provided  by the Australian politician and academic Gareth Evans, the best known exponent of the theory of “responsibility to protect” and of “humanitarian” (military) intervention in foreign countries in order to arouse and organize populations against their governments. Another “guru” of the currently dominant ideology is the American “Ivy League” intellectual and activist Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Foundation, officially dedicated to the promotion and study of non-violent methods of resistance, who has authored the authoritative textbooks on ways and means to achieve “regime change” and whose influence has been explored in a 2011 documentary entitled “How to Start a Revolution”.

Although both those anglo-saxon ideological leaders are outwardly non-partisan and committed solely to effecting the transition “from dictatorship to democracy” (the title of a book by Sharp), they target “underdeveloped” or “non-liberal” countries and implicitly assume that western market economies of North Western Europe and Northern America have graduated to a higher socio-political status and are therefore entitled to sit in judgment on others but are their own sole judges.

A concrete effect of the actions they advocate is to  undermine the societies they target by pushing them, usually with massive support from the US State Department, the US International Communication Agency and NGOs such as the Freedom House, Human Rights Watch,  George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the Lauder Foundation and many others, to get on the western bandwagon by “normalizing” according to concepts of human rights often quite alien to them. Yet that the results of those allegedly well meaning actions in many countries from Yugoslavia, Egypt , Ukraine and Libya to Syria, Iraq and many other countries have been nothing short of catastrophic. In Syria or Libya for instance, rather than acknowledge that these societies were precipitated into chaos, slaughter and misery largely thanks to the support and action of the West for ‘regime change’ even if it was to benefit extremist Islamist elements, the US-European league prefers to bury its head in the sand by alleging that it only wanted to bring about freedom and democracy and carries no responsibility for the disaster it brought about. A similar sort of hypocrisy is being shown in the case of Ukraine by the very same actors.

Among the many “rights”” now seen as mandatory under contemporary liberal “progressive” norms are the secularization of all institutions, including marriage, the facilitation of divorce,   commercially mediated procreation and medically assisted death, the rights of self-styled minorities (“clandestine” immigrants, LGBT etc…) recognized as separate communities based on the  demands of professional activists (usually trained in the West) who claim to represent them.

After advocating  equality and universal suffrage in elections, the concept of democracy has  evolved into one of a segmented society with multiple reservations, prerogatives and special rights for any organized cluster of people  with enough influence to secure them. In contrast however, Indian society is described as being not only marred by the stigma of casteism and theocracy but also by the neglect or oppression of “LGBT” as long as it does not institute same-sex marriage, enforce more non-discrimination rules and provide greater facilities to them such as support for sex change surgery. It is worth noting that the foreign “fifth column” rarely hesitates to use or foster caste and religious conflicts by inciting certain communities to rise against  others in the name of correcting injustices and upholding minority rights.

Naturally many westernized intellectuals and politicians in India and other targeted nations are quick to embrace that politically correct point of view by demanding that the “progressive” western lead be earnestly followed in all these matters.

The Notion of Rights in a Traditional Context

Those tempted to see those revolutionary reforms as legitimate concessions to  hitherto ignored or repressed non-conformist citizens fail to notice that the abstract notion of rights as dues that society owes to its members, (as it owes a pension to retired workers) is mostly meaningless in traditional cultures which rely on a dense network of mutual moral and ritual obligations  to fulfill the needs of people within a given hierarchical order. Thus marriage, giving birth to children or receiving an education are not seen as rights but as gifts and achievements that society honors and celebrates as ways of serving the community.  Turning those biologically based, age-old institutions and practices into human rights hollows them  of their significance since they are by definition based on consent, ability and regard for the common good. In the Indian  vocabulary, they are Dharmas and not rights.

Mahatma Gandhi put it very well in his famous 1947 letter to Julian Huxley when he called rights not outflowing from duties  “usurpations”. The concept of right is conflictual since it lays the basis for an aggressive requirement which must be secured by force if need be, irrespective of prevailing conditions and which can and does expand endlessly to encompass any human claim or craving without however delivering real freedom but rather creating more bondages. Do all have the right to live in luxury homes, own expensive cars, have children, follow whichever precept their personal belief systems may impose on them, marry as many persons of either sex and of any age they wish? The very question is meaningless in practice.

The concept of right as a material or abstract possession to be conquered by every individual against or regardless of others reflects the violent and belligerent understanding of social dynamics related to Thomas Hobbes’s vision of nature and man: nasty, brutish and short. We can see how drastically that abstract notion of rights is now being curtailed under the threat or pretext provided by terrorism.

Naturally people raised in the western-inspired educational environment will usually support the goals of the foreign and indigenous, foreign-trained reformers and see much good in the action conducted by the philanthropic western “saviours”.

Thus, as more pupils are brought up in that educational system, a critical attitude to the agenda of the western powers becomes increasingly rare and unpopular. In the  past, several civilizations from (now Latin) America to most of Africa and the Pacific  were made to forget almost all of their past and especially their religions and often their languages by missionary action and this process of neo-acculturation is ongoing in many parts of the world, including  tribal and remote regions of India. Michel Foucault talked of “subjugated knowledge”  to designate the traditional wisdom and knowhow of tributary societies  often equated with backward practices by developmental agencies  and Kapila Vatsyayan contrasts the culturally rich but economically deprived tribal and rural India with the educationally westernized but culturally impoverished ruling elites generally committed to enforcing the global agenda laid out by their overseas teachers.

It is paradoxical that although no one seriously questions the reality that economic wars are ongoing between various countries (see for instance the situation in Greece and that the United States in particular uses economic, political and, when it deems it necessary military weapons to extend its domination and protect its privileges and prerogatives, many are still reluctant to acknowledge that the conflicts extend naturally into the all important domain of culture, religion and education.

Colonialism by Other Means

One common objection to the contention that the former colonial powers use those tools to maintain and reassert their domination relies on the belief that the West in general and the US in particular are divided in their own societies between many different ideologies and opinions and especially between religious and secular constituencies as also between Leftists and Rightists.

The apparent evidence of the West’s inability to follow and impose a single policy towards weaker states however ignores the fact that countries and  supra-national entities (such as NATO, the G-7 and the EU to cite only a few) have agendas that transcend their apparent or real internal divisions. Thus secularists (including atheists) and Christians and Jews (whether secular or not) do generally agree on common interests and goals. Indeed it may be said that they share the same notion of progress and modernity (except for an old style conservative fringe) which entails the abandonment of “social backwardness” and its side-effects, including superstition, polytheism, theocracy and paganism.  At the very least they advocate reforms of the ancient belief systems on rationalistic and monotheistic principles.

We should notice that very similar strategies  were being implemented in past centuries by the colonizing nations in the territories under their control. They claimed to fulfill a mission, mandated by their “only true religion” and allegedly higher morality and political maturity, to civilize the dominated people and thereby earn their gratitude and compliance. A similar language, pari passu is now used. Instead of its faith and civilization (as opposed to savagery), it invokes development, modern economics  involving privatization to the benefit of MNCs, human rights, freedom and “universal values” which the West supposedly invented during and since the Renaissance.

The conversion to the new values manifests in many ways such as the adoption of western fashions, the preference for English, its literature and Pop culture and many forms of personal behaviour, such as showing sexual intimacy in public, which are frowned upon in many traditional societies, not out of sheer Victorian “puritanism” but due to a notion of modesty based on a very different understanding of bonding between the sexes and the family.

The fact that many of the  criteria and standards being marketed in the  “Third World” are not being satisfactorily fulfilled and met or provide only mixed blessings in the very countries which export them is not taken into consideration by the official promoters and enforcers who generally don’t allow themselves to introspect anymore than Christian missionaries take the liberty to question the practice and effects of their creed on their own societies.

The adoption of enlightened (i.e. western modern) views can  be facilitated by conversion either to Christianity (as the most widespread form of western monotheism) or to atheism-agnosticism.

In Western mainstream opinion  “modern moderate” Christianity is seen as a halfway house, somewhere between the discarded “idolatry” and a secular materialistic individualistic “enlightenment”. On the other hand many Christian evangelists see the replacement of paganism by secular atheism as a first step towards an eventual “revelation of God in Christ”. A “happy compromise” is held out in protestant countries where people with a higher education usually regard themselves as secular in their mindsets and lifestyles even though they may retain a private religious affiliation. The United States for one is an officially “biblical” –i.e. Judeo-Christian  - polity which professes in the name of freedom an outwardly secular or agnostic worldview at the State level and thus encourages both a break with ancestral traditions in other civilisations  and, subliminally a conversion to Christianity in one form or another.

Those who are working to bring the rest of mankind under control by inculcating their values and concepts in other, generally poorer societies are bound to see any resistance to their “liberating” endeavour as a negative and dangerous factor. That explains at least in part the great suspicion in which “right wing Hindus” (not a self-chosen label) are held by the formerly imperial and neo-colonial governments for upholding an indigenous  alternative to, and hereby resisting the global campaign for cultural, socio-political and eventually religious conversion. Thus the so-called ”Hindu revivalists” have to be fought by all overt and covert means available.

The coordinated action of the western powers is clearly visible in China where Christian Churches are working underground to convert the masses while all sorts of Euro-American entities strive to bring the country into the liberal democratic fold as a logical  sequel of Chinese economic and cultural modernization on  western, first Marxist and then capitalist lines.

The greatest fear that the Modi government  arouses in the West is not its allegedly repressive tendencies but rather its Hindu or Indic traditionalist DNA combined with its  ambitions for India to become a great power. The global hegemons would feel more comfortable with a mildly socialistic, centre-left regime or even with a dogmatically Marxist dispensation steeped in European ideas and committed to the “good fight” against “Hindu fundamentalism and backwardness”. That is the background for the war over Sanskrit and Indian history being waged at present between scholars and historians  faithful to the western, essentially deconstructionist methods, which require studying religious texts, rites and symbols as archaic  peculiarities pertaining to the legacy of the “savage or prelogical mind”  and those who uphold the validity of indigenous and ancestral concepts and forms of analysis such as maya-samsara, yajna, bindu, rita, dharma, karma, samskara, mithuna, sambhava, yama, niyama whose significance is relevant to all scientific and philosophical disciplines and structures a different, indigenous type of society and state founded on the “sacred secularity” enshrined in Indic cultures.


The changes  being called for or imposed on non-western societies by the dominant financial and political powers of our age are not be judged simplistically as being good or bad. No transformation process is entirely negative in nature unless it leads to the death of the affected organism. The course of evolution being adopted at any time merely reveals the winners and the losers.

It is well known that in the last few centuries many long-lived and sophisticated societies the world over lost much of their sovereignty, wealth and identity to their Euro-American conquerors. They may have gained some benefits in that traumatic process if and when they survived it but they  did not cure their endogenous ills by absorbing the foreign panacea they were forced to accept.

The Euro-American modern socioeconomic and political system while partly replacing ancient hierarchies by new ones founded on economic stratification and degrees of westernization, has not durably eradicated many of the age-old scourges of mankind, be it disease, injustice,  crime, poverty, inequality, lack of individual liberty, racism, sexual trade in women and children or human  exploitation in general. Indeed it has made many of those plagues even greater apart from creating new ones, including weapons of mass destruction and environmental collapse. Thus an assessment of gains and losses is in order.

It is now the challenge of India to build and support a viable alternative to the western “post-modern” model that she is being pressured to follow by so many agencies, foreign and domestic. This does not imply closing the door to outside influences but it entails fighting insidious and continuous mental colonization by upholding and propagating the best part of her philosophy, culture and socio-economic principles.