If you are a doctor, a public health worker, a parent-to-be, or even a decent citizen of the biosphere, you will probably take the issue of prenatal health seriously. You will probably not smoke around a mother to be, nor would you advocate unhealthy habits for expectant mothers. If you visit a hospital virtually anywhere in the world, you will likely see posters pointing out the obvious; that it is unsafe for infants if parents indulge in certain behaviors. You might see brochures and information around on nutritional needs, and other tips as well. And similarly, in a health camp run by traditional health specialists, you might find information on herbs, acupuncture, or other such methods for prenatal health, fertility and so on. It is a part of responsible parenthood, and indeed, citizenship, to think of the health and well-being of unborn children, ours, and those of others.
Now, please click on these links and take a look at the websites of these two organizations (Arogya Bharati and Garbh Vigyan Anusandhan Kendra). What do you see? Do these organizations seem like they are concerned with health, or instead are they about racial hygiene and extermination of whole populations, which is what the accusation of eugenicism and Nazism insinuates?
These are the doctors and volunteers who have just been smeared in newspapers around the world as Nazi eugenicists, as hateful racial supremacists, as the vilest sort of creatures one could find in this day and age.
The Media Campaign
It is no casual smear. This accusation was made by a major Indian English newspaper, The Indian Express, and then cited as the basis for another article in The Washington Post’s with the catchy headline: “’Straight out of the Nazi Playbook’: Hindu Nationalists Try to Engineer ‘Genius’ Babies in India.” The story has now travelled widely. Ironically, the German DW published a variation, and so did other outlets in India and around the world. Like a macabre real-world colonial game of Chinese Whispers, the theories and accusations, and range of tropes and lies, grow. The Indian Express returned to the story with an editorial entitled “Ayurvedic Eugenics,” full of colorful phrases like “Aryan god-tier babies” and “tropicalized baby Siegfrieds and Gunthers” and “strapping Germanic heroes and Rhinemaidens in India.”
Now let us return to Arogya Bharati again. Is there anything remotely suggestive that it is concerned with eugenics, especially of a Nazi, blond, master-race sort? Here’s what its website says:
“Even in this 21st century it is distressful to note that people die of aggravation of simple diseases like fever, diarrhea and hunger, thirst, heat strokes, and cold waves, or they are dying because of poverty, ignorance and blind beliefs.” (emphasis added)
Let us understand this language, sentiment, and mandate accurately. The organizers of Arogya Bharati may write that their concern is with the rural poor because “Bharat resides in villages,” and some of them may be inspired or even associated with India’s singularly most misrepresented volunteer group, but the rest of their vision with its concern about “ignorance and blind beliefs” seems as Nehruvian and rational-modernist as that of any doctor or public health official educated in India in the last half a century. There is neither Gunther nor Adolf here at all.
And as for “Garbh Vigyan Sanskar,” (which the Indian Express has translated—despite the pretension of claiming the word “Indian” in its name—rather quaintly as “Uterus Science Culture”), one needs to only search the phrase to see how widespread the idea of prenatal care is in traditional Indian knowledge cultures. You can find CDs on “Garbh Sanskar” mantras for the well-being of the embryo in any modern Indian mall, as well as vitamins and supplements being sold in stores even in California drawing on Ayurvedic knowledge. There is neither surprise nor scandal in the idea of “curd, fennel and banyan branch” (an NDTV headline) sort of approach to health.
It’s a cultural idea sure, but no different from the cultural idea that mothers to be need to consume alcohol (as modern, “scientific” doctors used to insist of their unwilling Indian female patients some years ago), nor that new-born babies be subject to painful and medically unnecessary surgical interventions simply because some religiously ethnocentric quacks argued for a while in peer-reviewed journals that there was a scientific basis to their pre-medieval beliefs (on that note, one wonders if the West Bengal Child Rights advocates who have attacked the Ayurvedic pregnancy fair have a position on medically unnecessary surgical interventions on newborn children).
How then did something as widespread and unsurprising as Ayurveda-inspired healthcare for expectant mothers and babies in small-town Bharat get turned into an enormous media circus about the RSS and Nazi eugenics? There are at least two dominant and persistently deployed media tropes at work here. The first of these is this the now standard media reflex about reducing anything remotely connected to Sanskrit, Ayurveda, or Indian knowledge systems into a condescending chuckle about flying-chariots fantasies. Earlier this year, the Indian Express, and several other newspapers, misrepresented a workshop led by an astute scholar of Sanskrit and Vedic texts at IIT Mumbai on ancient Indian knowledge as an unscientific cow-saluting celebration of “myths” (read my analysis in the Indian media watchdog site The Hoot). Unsurprisingly, the Indian Express story this time around too leads with phrases like “shuddhakaran” and planetary alignments and so on, to create a sensationalist narrative.
The second trope, and the far more significant one, is the construction of an RSS – Nazi- Eugenics mythology here. There are essentially two quotes around which this international media circus has been launched. The Express quotes Dr. Hitesh Jani, National Convener of Arogya Bharati as saying:
“Parents may have low I.Q., with a poor educational background but their baby can be bright… babies of dark-skinned parents with lesser height can have fair complexion and grow taller.”
The second quote in the Express report is from Dr. Ashutosh Kumar Varshney, a secretary of Arogya Bharati, who is reported as saying that the project was “inspired by the advice a senior RSS ideologue received over 40 years ago in Germany” from a woman called “Mother of Germany” who said that a new generation in Germany was born through “Garbh Sanskar” and that was why the country was so developed.
Let us examine these quotes closely, assuming they are accurate, and that the reporter was diligent and truthful (we should note though that the popular media watchdog site Op India’s refutation of the original story quotes another Secretary of Arogya Bharati, Dr. Ramesh Gautam, as saying that “fair and tall” is not a part of their program’s mandate at all).
The first quote suggests an appallingly consumeristic approach to the birth of a child, and if the “fair and tall” part is true, also a sad truth about fairness-obsession among parents too. However, does the quote suggest anywhere at all that the program is meant only for Hindu parents, as the allegations about “Hindu nationalism” and the RSS make it out to be? Or, to be precise, “Hindu-Aryan” parents (this part is important because the pseudo-intellectual circus on this issue has now gone into this Aryan-Dravidian direction very deeply as I discuss below)?
And even more importantly, does the poorly imagined notion of up-breeding children to score better in tests deserve comparison to the Nazi kind of eugenics that have included not only genetic interventions, but more importantly, violent and genocidal exterminations of millions of people?
And what is the moral stature of writers who quietly normalize racisms, religious ideologies, and national policies that have actually massacred millions of innocent children and parents with swords, guns, and atomic bombs when they turn to attack Hindu volunteer doctors for wanting to spread their traditional healthcare knowledge to the poor and underserved?
That is the real story being concealed here.
Aryan Mythology: Who Uses it and Who is Blamed for it?
The propaganda cover is a desperate, strained one. But because it is being festered and circulated within echelons of powerful media institutions, it has a frightening global ubiquity, and the ability to do damage as well. The trope that is being pushed, so fervently, is ultimately a lie; there has been a sly, growing tendency among some commentators who defend variations of the Aryan Invasion Theory and its accusation that Hindus-are-Nazis to somehow turn around now and accuse “Hindu Nationalists” as believing in a pure Aryan past and now, a super-race! (see some examples here and here and here).
Having been deeply involved with the Indian-American textbooks movement in California the past few years, I am familiar with this absurd illogic:
If you believe Hindus are indigenous to India, and did not invade/migrate/meander in as “animal herders,” then you are labelled as a “Hindu Nationalist.”
But then, if you are a “Hindu Nationalist,” you must be a believer in the blond, blue-eyed Aryan super-race.
Meanwhile, the desperate defenders of failing dogmas and theories, hiding behind the walls of their educational and class privilege, position themselves very nicely as having been against all this Aryan mythology all along. That is exactly what is happening with the whole RSS baby media circus.
Swaraj from Propaganda
My criticism though is not only for the privileged global media-academic complex that lacks the humility to just say it was wrong and move on from strawman-fencing to some form of honest dialogue and debate with others. It is equally directed at the lack of cultural and intellectual vision in a government that somehow does not realize that it has a duty to protect its citizens at home and abroad from what is essentially a low-key campaign of slow genocide and extinction. Its members pounce and threaten an online retail business because it listed for sale a doormat with an Indian flag, but fails to recognize that there is a sustained propaganda war on India’s children, irrespective of whether they are Hindu, Muslim, or other. It needs an information policy at the very least, created by independent scholars, writers and artists unafraid to call out its formidable information deficits. Presumably its “Information and Broadcasting” department could facilitate its creation.
In the end, an information war on the sovereignty of Indian parents and children is what this whole attack on a doctors’ voluntary movement to help poor parents is about (as for the rich, why do they need RSS inspired ghee and turmeric camps when they can afford the corporate fertility-eugenics complex that is spreading around the world today?). Under the seemingly decent and rational guise of fighting Nazi eugenics, what this discourse is doing is perpetuating a slow and invisible form of genocidal eugenics of its own. It holds that people in India do not even have the right to ensure the health of their offspring. It holds that Indians, on the whole, do not even deserve to be born, because they will not conform to the plans of parasitic economies and predatory cultures.
Just go back and read Katherine Mayo’s Mother India if this seems too harsh a criticism. In 1928, with an open mandate to discredit the Indian independence movement and support American anti-immigration policies, Mayo targeted not just Hindus or Hinduism but specifically the Hindu mother, most of all, and her act of producing a child who will most likely refuse the Christian or Muslim destiny that the British and Mughals have offered to them (the good races/religions, according to her hierarchy):
“In some respects Mohammedan women enjoy a great advantage over their Hindu sisters,” she writes, “(because of their) better (genetic, presumably) inheritance (and) supported by a diet greatly superior to that of the Hindu.”
Race, diet, genetics, all the things the Garbh Sanskar (and illusions around it) are being mocked for today, are all there in her colonial discourse. Mayo also says that Hindus are essentially okay with killing their infants, like all “primitive races,” but it was only “Christian or Muslim culture” that forbade infanticide. It’s the oldest racist-religionist trope around to naturalize violence against uncoverted Indians (and other Indians, too because in the end, unchecked anti-Hindu intellectual racism will affect not only Hindus but Muslims, Sikhs, and other Indians abroad too).
There is a reason that xenophobes and racists in other countries call Indians “slumdogs” and “untouchables.” They have been taught, for several generations now, in classrooms and in their popular culture, that Hindus are really wretched and kill each other anyway so it’s fine to do anything we want to them. It’s a genocidal mania, chilled and served in palatable doses to everyone who can read a textbook or newspaper.
We have to remember this always. This whole mental-moral mess about superior and inferior races and who deserves to live or die or even be born did not come from the Hindus, Vedas (as some failing scholarly figures have alleged), or even the RSS. We have merely carried its burden for several hundred years, and have barely escaped from it, and that very act now seems to engender our being blamed for it, for our own suffering.
Even after 70 “free” years, how little our supposed “Swaraj” has achieved in contesting the cruel and mendacious template Katherine Mayo concocted for her “master race.” How will we break free? How will our children live?