How to spot an Indian Intellectual

From a lecture by former JNU Vice-Chancellor Prof. Kapil Kapoor before the Indore-based India Inspires Foundation, I have to relate a particularly relevant part, viz. about our Indian “intellectuals”. Any mistakes in my rendering are of course mine.

These intellectuals are to be distinguished from Hinduism’s traditional men of knowledge, or Rishi-s. The Rishi-s were devoted to the welfare of society, and they encouraged responsibility, self-reliance and cheerfulness. By contrast, our present “intellectuals” are only Buddhi-Jivi-s, those who “use their intellect to make a living”.

They have certain typical characteristics:

* They are worried, with a perennially worried look on their carefully careless-looking faces. They think that everything is bad, particularly all that really or allegedly stems from Hindu religion: caste, sati (even though the Sati after whom the custom was named, set herself on fire while her husband Shiva was alive, and even though all Hindu scriptures from the Rg-Veda on down condemn this rare Rajput practice), superstition etc. They worry about minorities and gender, and about the environment: whatever Hindus do, is polluting. Thus, while their consumerist lifestyles are above criticism, Hindus throwing around coloured powder on Holi are harming the ecosystem. Nowadays they worry about the farmers, even though they can’t tell a hoe from a plough.

* They have a sense of bad luck. Thus, why did they have to be born in a poor “developing country” rather than in America? (Well, at least the status of “developing country” is useful in so far as it keeps the donations coming, which money is then funneled towards the established intellectuals so that their children can get Ph.D.s in America.)   They bemoan everything. They are like Rudali-s, professional mourners; except that Rudali-s only mourn at a occurrence of a real loss, a king’s death or so, whereas these intellectuals mourn all the time. Shiites flagellate themselves on Muharram to mourn Hussain’s defeat; these intellectuals have a Muharram every day.

* They suffer from a Hanuman complex. Hanuman was so strong that the gods were afraid of him and cursed him to forget his strength until someone would remind him. So, they forget about the past glories of their own civilization. The first European travelers wondered why the Indians had no maps; well, because maps are for people who have to go elsewhere because they need something from there, but Indians had everything in their own country. Our intellectuals see only the poverty that Islamic and British colonization and Nehruvian socialism have wrought (which they falsely attribute to Hindu influence, terming Nehruvian economic failure the “Hindu rate of growth”). They are always appealing for state intervention, like today’s middle class, who always ring up for help; or like the Devata-s (gods) in the Puranic myths, helpless before their Asura (demon) enemies. It is always the Asuras who are self-reliant, while the  Devata-s are only there to shower flowers.

* They have a Tittiri complex. The Tittiri is a Indian bird that sleeps on its back with its feet skywards, as if supporting the heavens so that they don’t fall. Likewise, the intellectuals think that their enduring concern is needed to save India.

And a little extra to cap it all: intellectuals are good at talking about a book without having read it. This they call “meta-study”. Or as their hero Ayatollah Khomeini said about Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses: “You don’t need to jump into a dung heap to know that it stinks.

  • RV

    The India Inspires Talk

    Obsessions of Indian Intellectuals – Part I

    Dr. Kapil Kapoor shed light on psychology of Indian Intellectuals with especial focus on their obsessions.

  • Rajeev

    Apt and interesting description of the so-called intellectuals, part of a self styled group, in India. Its a Mutual Admiration Society to promote the coterie.

  • viroti somasekhar

    Had the title of this article been something like “How to find Half-Backed Intellectuals in India” or something like that, it would have been appropriate. Because I do believe that among these spate of Nehruvian breed intellectuals, there may exist some genuine intellectuals dedicated to truth alone.

  • Dr. MS

    Intellectuals in any society are not a “generalizable group” as they are diverse, different, independent and at times eccentric. One can certainly say many Indian intellectuals are not very independent in their thinking or their analysis. Some maybe clannish which is not a good thing. But I am not sure everyone is like that. I have met many Indian academics, scholars and intellectuals who are excellent. The purpose of intellectualism is not to conform, comply, please and placate…like a perpetual traditional secretary. One can be optimistic and be an intellectual. In some Indian universities there are a lot of “pseudo-intellectuals”…not very smart but very argumentative, and projecting issues onto others. This article is amateurish.

  • Globalaryan

    Well written to the point with enough reasoning and analysis. We need to get rid of ourselves and our societies from these pseudo intellectuals that the author is referring to. I’m sure that the work they do anti-constitutional. They undermine national unity and misrepresent facts, doesn’t our constitution have laws against such type of activities?? Lets start applying the constitution to these thugs and charge them huge fines for every item that they publish that mis-represents history. We should welcome people to “study” Indian history and religions but not “tarnish” it at the directions of foreign donors!

  • Jaya

    Amazing that Sati is called a Rajput custom without a mention of the Muslim atrocities that probably brought about the practice. Quiet unlike rules of war among the HIndus – Islamic war practices after winning consisted of beheading all males from 12 to 65 (?) years of age, all the small children and women were made slaves and unimaginable humiliations hepaed on them as sex slaves both the children and the women. So far from accede to such a life the Rajput women as a desperate last measure started committing Jauhar which meant mass immolations!! It is the dreadful intellectuals mentioned in this article who blinded by their hatred for Hindu civilization adn culture simply gloss over this fact!! What a tragedy this is for India!!

    • kalpak

      The name of the practice comes from the act godess Sati, who burned herself in rage over insult of her husband by her father.
      That is a story from pre muslim, pre christainity era.

      You are confusing jauhar with sati.
      Here is a “concrete” example;

      Madhavrao Peshwe had just restored the Maratha confedracy to some semblance of stability, but then he died young of TB.
      His wife Ramaa, who life was not under treat from any of Muslim ememies chose to commit Sati.
      Any guesses why?

      • Globalaryan

        Don’t get lost in semantics. Sati and Jauhar at the core are the same. Practice (process) is Sati and the name in Rajput custom is given “Jauhar” to differentiate. What Jaya mentions is the idea of committing Sati (Jauhar in Rajput custom) and quite often the REASONS behind why the rajput women committed jauhar are NOT mentioned at all. Then these pseudo-intellectuals raise much cacophony over jauhar practice. It’s the same twisted logic as blaming the rape victim for rape. This also speaks of hypocrisy and prejudice on the part of these so-called scholars and intellectuals. Many scholars believe that the practice of Sati in some societies arose after the Jauhar practice in Rajput societies. There is no basis or proof of practice of Sati in Hinduism’s texts. Sadly as a society, we’ve towed the colonial narrative for a long while now. It’s high time we fix these problems and control the narrative on our history and customs from within India and not from outside from India.

        Also, since you being so smug about it, can you tell us why Madhavrao Peshwe’s wife decide to commit Sati?

        • kalpak

          Since Sati the goddess and her actions are a part of Hindu mythology, you are free to deny it.
          But fact is that even after the British took over and moreover after independence this practice carries on and temples are built after such events shows that it is certainly a part of Hinduism and not due to threat from invaders.
          For example the Roop Kanwar case, which invader was going to harm her in 1987?
          Rest of your rantings sound like the Beedi baron who says anti tobacco lobby is due to western pressure. Not realizing that tobacco itself has come from the west.
          About Ramaa’s sati act, my question was rhetorical, I do not know nor can can I think of any rational reason.
          Fact is, we do not realize that because we burden our women with such “cultural” nonsense, we waste their intellectual capablilites that can be put to far better use.

          • Sree Charan R

            An ideal ideology…..without truth… facts……

          • kalpak

            I am not sure whether the above post is a meltdown or anti Macaulay style of writing.
            But what I can glean from it is that you accept Sati has nothing with Muslim invaders, it predates them.

          • Sree Charan R


          • kalpak

            “Quote from original scriptures” is the same argument by people who claim Islam is a religion of peace.
            What really matters is how each religion is practised today.
            Since I live in modern India it really not my first concern what happens to women in the past in India, or currently in “west”‘.
            What worries me is here and now:
            Even today we have child marriage in India.
            Dowry and bride burning.
            Honour killing.
            Do you want to blame this all on invaders?
            Of course religion is personal and so are the experiences.
            Do you want go and tell the village which was burnt by “upper” caste in Tamil Nadu to ignore their personal experience and not mourn their dead?
            That in effect you want to blame them because one of their “lower” caste boy fell in love with an “upper” caste girl.

          • Sree Charan R

            These are my words–
            Is the topic that is being discussed here(“How to spot an Indian Intellectual?”) has any relevance to this?

          • kalpak

            Yes it is relevant, see post by Jaya to which I originally replied.
            She started it by falsely blaming Islamic invaders for sati.

          • Sree Charan R

            Bye.Not interested in arguing with ideologues.And it is irrelevant to the topic too–which is ‘how to counter intellectuals and identify the genuine thinker’;your understanding is undeniably biased.And it was not a false “claim”, but a truthful one.No more arguments.
            Thank You.Bye.

          • Guest

            It is better you stop peddling lies which your religion christianity/islam teaches you, if you dont know anything about Hinduism.
            Sati was actually good act as it prevented bodies of woman, living or dead from rape by muslims and nothing to do with blame victim culture.

          • kalpak

            I am an Indian from Maharashtra.
            Ask any one from this state if what I have stated about Ramaa is true or not.
            Her death was pointless.
            After her death, her husand’s uncle killed her younger brother in law.
            And among other things, he also tried to take help of the British to illegally grab the prime ministership of the Maratha empire.
            And Roop Kanwar’s case was reported in the newspapers, are they all lying?

        • kalpak

          Jauhar practice is part of blaming the victim “culture”!
          Why is a woman considered as having lost her honor/ modesty if she is raped or molested?
          This is the khap culture.
          Why do we not teach our women to fight along side our men?
          Exceptions like Rani Lakshmi Bai do not count, she was self made.
          Even today, Indian military is still totally against giving women any kind of fighting roles, why?
          But even UAE has a woman fighter pilot.

          • Sree Charan R
          • kalpak

            Every fundamentalist finds his/ her own religion perfect.
            They refuse to see the flaws in it. That is why they rant.
            The link you posted mentions other cases of pre Islam Sati.
            Again, I do not care.

            I am sure that everyone during the long course of evolution has ancestor equivalents of Hitler/ Aurangzeb/ Duryodhan.
            I am not sure if all my relatives fought for Indian freedom movement, womens’ emacipation or whatever other battles that were fought in past on this land.
            But, I refuse to be Bhagirath or Parshuram.
            I do not want to wallow in the past to undo or extract retribution.
            Just learn from it to improve today. Or at least not mess things up even more.

            Why do even today khap panchayats flourish?
            Religious leaders of all colours and hues still think of women as primarily as baby making machines.
            A raped woman is still considered to be at fault, “wearing jeans…” , “using a mobile”.
            A retired senior army officer thinks that women in library will create problems.
            Youngsters are burnt/ hanged/ stabbed because they dared to marry outside their caste / religion.

            Post colonial hangover? How about tobacco cultivation and use?
            Yet politicians of all parties are in support of it, one of them has claimed it helps digestion!

          • Sree Charan R

            This is what exactly I meant in my previous “melt-down”!!!
            But still, you are operating on an “ideology-plane”, but not on “intellect-plane”.No more arguments.
            Thank You

          • kalpak

            Ok here is one on the “ideology plane”.
            Some how honor seems to apply only to women and their bodies.
            Instead of committing male equivalent of Jauhar, Jai Singh of Amber (Jaipur) attacked Shivaji on behalf Aurangzeb.

          • Sree Charan R

            Friend, I am not arguing about historical facts.My knowledge of history is scarce.Some wrong things have happened in this nation, and every patriotic citizen accepts it.But what I am saying is Indian culture/philosophy has given a very high status to women; few may have misused it, but we cannot judge a society based on that alone.
            Just consider the fact–
            There were 64 arts especially for women, during ancient times in India;with special consideration and respect for these arts.On the other hand Sati,Widow disrespect did indeed happen, no one can reject that.But, we need to take the positive aspects of our ancient culture and improve/spread/think about it,right?Now, tell me–how many of the so-called modernists(especially, the ‘rationalist-secular-liberals’ group) know the fact of 64 arts for women in Ancient India ?

          • kalpak

            So, in about 100 years, from Chittorgarh Jauhar to Jai Singh’s attacks on Shivaji, the concept of honor changed?

          • Sree Charan R

            YES. Definitely.
            Note:You are again arguing with respect to few historical anecdotes and generalizing them and judging by it(a process, generally few ideologues follow). But, this is not what needs to be thought about,right?
            Hence,closing this discussion here from my side.
            Thank You

          • kalpak

            So, when you generalize the Chittorgarh jauhar, that is ok, but umpteen cases of Hindus fighting hindus or letting down hindus fighting the invaders ( Panipat 1763), is historical anecdotes?
            Treating women as victors’ loot has always been so in nearly all old cultures.
            Even Hindu mythology has some examples, including that of Bhism kidnapping 3 sisters from their swayamvar.

          • rohit sood

            You belong to these same intellectuals, hats off!

            One and only one woman is a pilot in UAE and that too civilian, get your facts right Mr intellectual

          • kalpak

            You can see her in combat gear.
            No matter how experienced a civilian is, flying a fighter plane in combat is something else altogether.

          • rohit sood

            Disgusted by your comment ‘why is woman considered as having lost honor / modesty if she is raped or molested’

            So you are saying raping is giving honour !

            From your comment it seems your brain is raped!

          • kalpak

            Another ranting fundamentalist!
            I could say “read all my posts for this article”, but I will save you the effort.
            A woman’s honor is not lost if she is raped, it is the rapist who has lost honor.
            A woman cannot be blamed for rape, not matter what she wears or doesn’t wear.
            No matter how late or drunk she is.

            No one looses honor due to act of others.

            It is male dominated society that has put “value” on woman’s body.
            It is weakness of males, who, unable to rise to the the level of the woman they desire, need to force themselves.

  • superb….Elst sir have done it again ….an excellent teardown of Rudalis ..

  • sighbaboo

    What a joy to read!! The Hindu/Indic analogies were quite educative. Thanks for writing.

  • gk

    Nice article. In a society of equals, that too in a democracy why are few people propped up as intellectuals ? What about the rest ? If the others don’t use their intellect, how can a democracy be legitimate ?

  • Indian

    Lovely sarcasm !!!! but unfortunately this is the reality… Perhaps managign these left citadels of education for 10-15 years will create a new breed of real intellectuals who will not only have a strong Buddhi but will also be benefical to the society at large !!!!!!

  • Varun Suman M

    @aditya Actually many leftists think they are the only intellectuals

  • AnalyseAbhishek

    Wonderful read! Mr Elst has a biting sarcasm and sense of humour too!

  • adityaimpulse

    Rename it to “left intellectual”. Not all of us.