India: Economic Growth & Development

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Economics: The Pretence of Knowledge

Fred Hayek, one of the most prominent economists and political philosophers of the twentieth century once described Economics as "The Pretence of Knowledge". Nowhere has this been more in evidence than in the pathetic record of world economists in predicting the growth and development of India.

Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, Professor of Economics in the department of Economics at MIT writes: "If you ask an economist today what the body of economic theory has to tell us about the stability of the capitalist system, or whether the poor countries of today are destined to catch up with the rich countries, or even whether free trade is better than some protection, he would throw up his hands (though in the next instant he would probably offer his own opinions)."

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, columnist for Businessworld, writes "I have for long been sceptical about the ability of economists to exactly predict the really significant long-term trends that change the destinies of nations."

The folks over at the The Economist have been puzzling over and scratching their heads non-stop over the past few years trying to figure out what's happening in India. In recent years, leading Business schools in the West have made it a point to closely analyze the phenomena of the Mumbai dabbawalas and Lalu Prasad Yadav, two "outliers" that do not quite fit conventional wisdom. The Christian Science Monitor equated the managerial and organizational simplicity, the efficiency and on-time delivery record of the dabbawalas with that of a modern, sophisticated global chain like McDonald's. One important lesson The Economist should draw from this is that education is not everything - entrepreneurial spirit and risk-taking cannot be taught in schools.

Lalu Yadav's success with Indian Railways have been even more puzzling. How has a man with no formal education brought about a change of this magnitude? How has he transformed the loss-making organization into a profitable one without retrenchment and privatization? With no hikes in fare and freight charges? When Japan's railways faced the same problem a few years ago, did they not have to privatize in order to survive? Ironically, in the US, the bastion of capitalism, the Railways run at a loss and in Europe it survives basically on subsidies.

If you really want to understand the Indian economy, the first thing you need to do is tune out the economists and other "manufactured" experts. The next thing you need to do is become invested. Or maybe this order should be reversed.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

New Book, “Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America,” Explores Academic Anti-India Bias

New Book, “Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America,” Explores Academic Anti-India Bias

New York, July 9 2007:

The launch of a new book titled Invading the Sacred: an Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America, edited by Dr. Krishnan Ramaswamy, Prof. Antonio de Nicolas and Aditi Banerjee was announced today. This book brings together essays by many well-known scholars and seeks to facilitate a nascent grassroots movement to challenge the systemic misrepresentation of Indian culture and philosophy by certain American academicians.

Invading the Sacred is a product of an intensive multi-year research project that uncovered shoddy and biased scholarship driven by certain power cartels. This book narrates the Indian Diaspora’s challenges to such scholarship, and documents how those who dare to speak up have been branded as ‘dangerous’. This raises serious questions about intellectual freedom in the American academy.

“This is a thoughtful, reasoned, yet passionate plea that the perspectives and sensitivities of Hindus be considered in the presentation of Hinduism in scholarship, textbooks and the media. What is remarkable is that many western academics are so resistant to it,” wrote Nathan Katz, Professor of Religious Studies, Florida International University, Miami.
Air Marshall Raghavendran, (retd) PVSM, AVSM, warns that such biased but apparently scholarly images of India as a degraded and oppressive culture, impacts US-India relations, and paves the way for US intervention in India’s human rights affairs.

“In such an environment, acts of aggression against us - such as by sanctions, wholesale conversion, terrorism or ‘insurgency’ - can be ‘justified’ as ‘legitimate’ fights against an abusive culture. The foundations are being laid for this, under advice and prompting from scholars and faith-based organizations, by the US State Department declaring year after year that India is a country lacking in respect for human rights and religious freedom.”
The book also examines how such scholarship can wreak psychological damage on individuals and entire cultures, particularly second-generation Indian-Americans.

About the Book

India, once a major civilizational and economic power that suffered centuries of decline, is now newly resurgent in business, geopolitics and culture. However, a powerful counterforce within the American academy is systematically undermining core icons and ideals of Indian culture and thought. These scholars have disparaged the Bhagavad Gita as “a dishonest book”; declared Ganesha’s trunk a “limp phallus”; classified Devi as the “mother with a penis” and Shiva as “a notorious womanizer” who incites violence in India; pronounced Sri Ramakrishna a pedophile who sexually molested the young Swami Vivekananda; condemned Indian mothers as being less loving of their children than white women; and interpreted the bindi as a drop of menstrual fluid and the “ha” in sacred mantras as a woman’s sound during orgasm.

Prof. Kapila Vatsyayan, one of the most respected scholars of Indian culture in the world, notes that scholars have tried to over-sexualize and reduce the rich, complex, and multilayered world of Indian symbols, icons, and mythology,

“through a single perspective of a Freudian psycho-analytical approach applied to the exclusion of the others. Also there is a sense of bewilderment when one notes that rather outdated and almost passe theories of the psycho-analytical are being applied, when the discipline has taken in many more penetrative paths.”
Pandit Jasraj, the Hindustani music maestro, pleads,

“To American scholars whose negative scholarship on Indian Divinity has been highlighted in this book - If you do not have enough knowledge about a culture and religion, you should not write about it!”

The book inquires whether these are isolated instances of ignorance, or whether there is an institutionalized pattern of bias driven by certain worldviews? Are these academic pronouncements based on evidence, and how carefully is this evidence cross-examined by other scholars? How do these images of Indians created in the American academy influence public perceptions through the media, the education system, policymakers, and popular culture?

Prof. Anantanand Rambachan, at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota describes the book as

“a valuable historical resource for those who want to understand better this debate, and those who wish to become participants in the conversation ... Scholars should welcome a critical voice from the community that is the focus of their study, for a mutually enriching dialogue.”

Prof. Kapil Kapoor, the former pro Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, sees this book as a very valuable contribution to the dialog of civilizations:

“The intellectuals featured in this book, with their bold decision to take on this scholarship, have entered into a serious dialogue about motives, methodology and substance and, using their own tools, have reversed the gaze back on to the scholarly establishment to their understandable discomfort.”
The issues here are so critical that Air Marshall Raghavendran says that “It should be required reading for every Indian diplomat, the defense department and those in foreign affairs, and especially for Indian scholars.”

The book hopes to stir serious debate on topics such as:

  • How do Hinduphobic works resemble earlier American literature depicting non-Whites as dangerous savages needing to be civilized by the West?
  • Are India’s internal social problems going to be managed by foreign interventions in the name of human rights?
  • How do power imbalances and systemic biases affect the objectivity and quality of scholarship?
  • What are the rights of practitioner-experts in “talking back” to academicians?
  • What is the role of India’s intellectuals, policymakers and universities in fashioning an authentic and enduring response?
TITLE: Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America
EDITORS: Krishnan Ramaswamy, Antonio de Nicolas, Aditi Banerjee
PAGES: 545

Available at

Contributors to the volume include the renowned anthropologist Prof SN Balagangadhara (University of Ghent, Belgium); the scholar of religion, Prof. Arvind Sharma (McGill University); the noted psychologist Dr Alan Roland, Pandita Indrani Rampersad (the first ordained female Hindu priest in the West Indies), and the educationist Dr Yvette Rosser, among others.

About the Editors

Krishnan Ramaswamy PhD is a scientist with a background in psychometric research. His areas of research include clinical outcome trials in major mental and neurological illnesses. He is a student of the Vedas, Vedanta, Sanskrit and Panini, and has a lifelong interest in bhakti poetry from various regions of India, particularly in Marathi.

Antonio T. de Nicolas PhD is Professor Emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He has authored twenty seven books, including Avatara: The humanization of Philosophy through the Bhagavad Gita, a classic in the field; and Habits of Mind, a criticism of higher education, whose framework has been adopted as the educational system for Russia. He received critical acclaim for his translations of the poetry of the Nobel Prize winning author, Juan Ramon Jimenez, and of the mystical writings of Sr. Ignatius de Loyola and St. John of the Cross. He is presently Director of the Bicultural Research Institute.

Aditi Banerjee received a B.A. in International Relations, magna cum laude, from Tufts University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. She is a practicing attorney in New York. Her publications include: The Hyphenated Hindus, in Outlook India; Hindu-American: Both Sides of the Hyphen, in Silicon India; and Hindu Pride, in Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs in America (Jon Butler et al. eds., Oxford University Press.).