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Let Us Talk About Your Book:
Arvind Pal Singh Mandair -
"Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part XIV

Q & A with Author by SIKHCHIC.COM




Continued from last week ...

[Previous segments of this series can be found in the BOOKS Section of] 





   A few of these chaps have even gone to the extent of throwing charges of ‘blasphemy’ at you? What’s that about?

A    Yes, they have. But they are not so much charges as they are shameless lies and fabrications designed to excite gullible Sikhs into emotional reactions against the work I am doing, and that being done along the same lines by many like me.

In fact what has amazed me is the level of lies being generated here by one person in particular – by a retired professor in Punjab, who, people tell me, is egged on by a ‘man with a mission’ in California.

At first I thought it was a case of mere misunderstanding of the key themes of my book.

But when you read more closely what some of the things written by him against me, it is difficult to believe that anyone with even the most basic education could be so off the mark!

My book is certainly not easy to read. After all, it is written for a particular section of the academic community. But to misinterpret it so badly is almost beyond belief. Are his distortions innocent or are they deliberate and mal-intentioned? He presents day as night, white as black.

I toyed with various explanations for why someone would do this. For example, could a former scholar be so utterly incompetent that he could write such nonsense under his own name? It didn’t make sense. Or, could he have been under the influence of a substance when he read the book? But I dismissed that as well.

Eventually I settled on a more plausible explanation. What led me to this explanation was the relatively positive reception of the book in Punjab over the last two years (between 2010 and November 2013).

Many students and scholars in Punjab couldn’t afford to buy the book so they acquired photocopied versions of it which were being circulated in the intellectual circles. When people read it, they realized that new arguments and ways of thinking about old problems were being presented in the book, and that these ideas could be of immense benefit for thinking about the positioning of Sikhs in a new world order.

A number of excellent seminars were organized around the book, one at Guru Nanak University (early August 2013) and one at Bhai Vir Singh Sahit Sadan in 2011. At no point in these seminars (which were attended by a variety of different scholars and students) did anyone ever raise the issue of ‘blasphemy’ or that there was anything negative in my work that could not be attributed to genuine scholarly critique.

In fact the general reception amongst the broader intellectual base in Punjab was one of genuine interest mixed with excitement.

Q   Then what happened?

A    Realizing the momentum that was being created by the book’s reception, the goondas saw this as a danger and moved quickly to negate the book and myself as much as possible.

Their tactic was very simple and went something like this: “Arvind Pal Singh Mandair’s arguments are making us and our legacy completely irrelevant. We can’t engage with the book, because we don’t understand what he is saying. So what do we do? We must prevent the book becoming too popular and gaining traction. How do we do that, if we don’t understand the book’s basic arguments … Easy - let’s just defame and slander him, and let’s do it in Punjabi because the Punjabi readership is too naive to think deeply about this matter. Let’s just tell them that the book is a danger to the Panth, and that the author is part of the “McLeod group”, and that his writing is blasphemous. Nobody will question this, because those Sikhs won’t read the book anyway … so no one will know any better …”

So by early November 2013 articles started appearing in some of the more marginal Punjabi newspaper, plus a couple of TV interviews on TV channels run by one or another of the more wacko outfits, propagated by this one retired professor in Chandigarh. Very soon I was being maligned as ‘blasphemer’, or as an agent of the RSS, or as someone who sympathized and worked with Hindu groups, etc, etc …

And there were all manner of threats appearing against me … including one or two hardly veiled death-threats (“mandair nu jeenda mar dena chahida”).

But by late December 2013 it had begun to dawn on me that this was not a simple scholarly misunderstanding. It wasn’t even a case of simple misrepresentation of my book on the part of this retired Chandigarh scholar. It was actually a highly coordinated attack that involved more than one individual and where the stakes were much higher than merely scholarly disputes.

I suspect that this is the case because I did some digging of my own and learned two things. First, that this person seems to have a history of attempting to destroy the credibility of Sikh scholars and books that could possibly gain some traction with Sikh readership and help a new generation of students make sense of the problems facing the Panth.

The writer of one particular blog even suggests that this person was one of three people who came to the UK and US right before the 1984 Indian army invasion of the Sikh Gurdwaras in India. This blog suggests that he came to sabotage the burgeoning anti-Indian sentiments among Sikhs abroad.

Secondly, what this retired Chandigarh ‘scholar’ had written may not have entirely been his own work.

It is plainly obvious that he doesn’t have the ability to grapple with the book at all. When I read his diatribes against my book I began to suspect that key parts of it may have been fabricated by another person, a student recently graduated from a Western university who had long nurtured a grudge against me. This person may well have helped the retired scholar to do the dirty work and remain under the radar himself.

My sources in Punjab tell me that this graduate student had been in Chandigarh during the past year and had spent time talking with the retired scholar and others in his circle, and had helped to foment a set of malicious lies about the content of my book. Again, this person had wagered that (i) no one would be able to understand the book; (ii) few would even venture into reading an academic work; (iii) and, even if they do, their level of understanding will be low; (iv) they would therefore be amenable to lapping up the rumours and innuendo on the internet and help spread them further. Once the lies began to spread on the internet, they would penetrate some marginal sections of the grass roots and the damage against me would be done.

So we have a more complicated scenario, which I think may be closer to what actually happened.

What we have a man who did not have the intellectual training or ability to understand the book. But because he needed to somehow generate a negative statement about my book, he borrowed someone else’s misinterpretation (the visiting graduate student) and used that to ply his own commentary on my book, in the process believing that what the visiting student was saying had some authority because the latter had graduated from a major Western university.

This all sounds a bit like a Punjabi comedy, doesn’t it?

Perhaps this is what they call ‘politics’ in Punjab.

Then again, maybe there is no difference between the two!

To Be Continued Next Week …

April 22, 2014

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Arvind Pal Singh Mandair -
"Religion & The Specter of The West"
Part XIV"

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