Published on 3rd November, 2016, in DNA
In the 1970s and ‘80s, school children were often asked to write essays on ‘brain drain,’ mournfully referring to people who secured degrees in India, and then migrated to foreign lands to reap the benefits of their education, without any payback to the nation that invested in them. Many of these migrant Indians still retain their Indian passport, which legally connects them to their homeland. We call them Non Resident Indians (NRI). Others gave up their Indian passport, cutting the umbilical cord, choosing to be American citizens, for example, taking the US Oath of Allegiance that demands they abjure all relationship with foreign sovereign powers. These are the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO).
Most PIO and their children, look back at India nostalgically, and do connect with India mainly for religious reasons. However, a tiny group of PIO feels dissatisfied in the foreign land of their choice. It has not delivered on its promise. So they seek a new purpose. They look back to the land they abandoned, and have decided its time they save India from Indians. These are the Bharat Tyagis, who claim to be more Bhartiya than resident Indians, despite abandoning Bharat Mata. Bharat Tyagis find India messy and dirty, mismanaged by its democratic process, and feel technology will save the land, and of course, chest-thumping jingoism. They blame reservation policies for this, and Left liberalism, and Nehru. This is why they migrated out, they say defensively when asked about their passport. With little or no memory of the land they left behind, they imagine India as a Hindu land, where cows are worshiped, where there is no discrimination based on caste or gender, where Muslims are invaders who destroyed pure Hindu culture a thousand years ago. They spend every waking hour cursing American academicians who they see as conspiring to divide India. Anyone who disagrees with them is an anti-national, especially those with Indian passport.
On enquiry, you realise most of them studied engineering in India before migrating. So they generally have a poor understanding of the humanities, especially history and geography, a subject that they ignored in school in the pursuit of science and mathematics, and encountered later only when they made millions of dollars to retire.
Exposure to the ground reality of India has naturally horrified them. Rather than facing it, they have gone into denial, and assault. The only reason anyone gives them any importance is because of their nuisance value, flooding internet with their hate-filled snarly misogynistic casteist supremacist tweets, spam mails and Facebook comments.
There is no doubt that some of American interpretation of Indian history and culture is problematic. But it is an American perspective. Like all perspectives, it cannot be perfect. Just as the British reading of India was not perfect. The colonial scholars understood India such that it justified their rule. Likewise, American academicians understand India such that it ensures their tenureship, which means they have to indulge America’s saviour complex by showing the rest of the world as full of victims and villains.
When the British encountered India’s tantrik past, Queen Victoria did not find it amusing and saw it as proof that the natives needed civilising. And so her embarrassed Indian subjects went out of their way to sterilise its mythology, preferring the abstractness of Vedas to the sensuality of its epics. These were Victoria’s children. Nehru was one of them, and Gandhi, embarrassed by images of the Khajuraho, until Rabindranath Tagore drilled in some sense. Today when American academicians refer to this tantrik heritage, and analyse it the way that makes sense to them, it horrifies the Bharat Tyagi, who is essentially Victoria’s child frozen in time. They hiss at the academics and spew venom at them for being Hinduphobic (which they well might be). Living far from India, having breathed American air for long, they forget that Indians who live in India in the 21st century have the maturity and the confidence to speak of India’s Vedic and tantrik roots, ascetic and sensual traditions, on their own terms, without being defensive, or apologetic, or seeking the approval of the Americans.