Gunga Din Comes to Michigan – ‘Scholar’ from America, Madhav Deshpande

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The author is Director of Sarasvati Research Center, Chennai, India. He has done pioneering work on the Sarasvati River.

Gunga Din Comes to Michigan :

‘Scholar’ from America, Madhav Deshpande (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor)


By S Kalyanaraman, Ph.D. (January, 2006)




During the ongoing controversy over the inaccurate, stereotyped, derogatory depiction of the culture and religion of Hindu in sixth grade textbooks in California, Professor Madhav Deshpande, an instructor of Sanskrit at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) told the Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Golden (Defending the Faith. New Battleground In Textbook Wars: Religion in History Hindu, Islamic, Jewish. WSJ, January 25th, 2006 at ) that he opposed the attempts of Hindu Americans to correct the negative coverage of their faith. His views were stated in the following words –


“According to Madhav Deshpande, a Sanskrit professor at the University of Michigan who is Hindu, Hinduism is polytheistic and linked to the caste system, and women did have inferior status in ancient India. He says the Hindu groups hold a mistaken position that dates to when India was ruled by Britain in the 19th century and under pressure from Christian missionaries. The missionaries told prospective converts Christianity was superior because it had one god, treated women fairly, and didn’t have castes, Mr. Deshpande says, adding that to counter, Hindu intellectuals made up an argument that their religion had once been the same way. The foundations’ contention that the caste system developed separately from Hinduism is incorrect, he maintains, because “in ancient texts, there is no distinction between the religious and nonreligious domains of life.””


It can be seen easily that Deshpande’s understanding of Hindu mirrors what Hindu-hating Communist historians have been saying about Hindu traditions for the last 50 years. But here are even more denigratory statements…


Michigan Standards of Integrity


Deshpande thought that he had not been harsh on Hindus sufficiently. Therefore, after this article came out, he wrote a public, pathetic sob letter to the editor of the newspaper, bringing in even the womenfolk of his household into the dispute just in order to throw more muck on Hindu American organizations –


In the Madhva Vaisnava family of Deshpandes in southern Maharashtra where my grand-father grew up, the name of god Shiva was banned from the house, because they were worshippers of Vishnu. In the Madhva Vaishnava dialect of Marathi in our house, they would not use the common Marathi verb “shiv” to sew clothes, but found alternative words. Even while scrubbing floors, the Madhva Vaishnava women of my family many generations ago used to scrub floors with vertical motions of hand, rather than sideways, because that resembled the Shaiva marks on the forehead. Such was the Shaiva/Vaishnava divide, part of daily experience even within my own family a few generations ago.”


This letter was reproduced by Deshpande himself as a loyal camp-follower of the eurocentric troops populating the Indo-Eurasian Research Yahoogroup (Message# 2907 the same day as the article on that hate-list). Did Madhav Deshpande forget that the 11-year-olds who will read these textbooks may be less interested than his Michigan college students in being tortured with lectures on how women in the Deshpande household cleaned the floors and latrines?


But the important point to note is that the same Madhav Deshpande had said just the opposite earlier on a public forum –


“And, yes, I come from a Marathi Brahmin family where we worship both Vishnu and Shiva, including Shiva in his linga form.”


 (Posting 44659 on 30 September 03 in the IndianCivilization Yahoogroup).


Now how can this be selective amnesia? How can Deshpande forget the worship of Shiva in his own home while writing a totally contradictory pathetic letter to WSJ editor? Is it a fair conclusion to draw from these contradictory statements that he even targets his own woman relatives to tarnish the religion of his birth in order to appear loyal to his current masters?


When caught sans pants, cover up!


Exposed in an earlier article, Deshpande rushed to claim in the IER anti-Hindu hate-list (message 2935 on IER list on 31st Jan 06’) that he had told the WSJ reporter said that it was ‘many generations ago’ that women in his household scrubbed latrines and bedrooms with vertical motions. But his grandfather had moved to Pune from his village and since then his father and he himself worshipped both Shiva and Vishnu. Unfortunately, readers who could see his actual letter to Mr. Daniel Golden, proved a little less gullible than his usual audiences. They could see no indication of such clarity and honesty in his letter – no reference to this wonderful flexibility and diversity in a religion that would allow its followers to choose their own forms of worship, of different forms of the same God. Instead, all they could see is that he uses the small letter “g” for God, in the best traditions of the Communist Party and the WitzelJugend.


What does this prove then? It merely proves that he stoops to denigrate the small Madhva Vaishnava Hindu community as a bunch of fanatics. Coming as a “clarification” of his beliefs, wasn’t this a malicious attempt to misrepresent the facts? Wasn’t this cynical slander against innocents? Does the U. Michigan Honor Code accept such behavior from students a third of  Deshpande’s age? 


Can U. Mich History Professors Get Centuries Right?


Deshpande wrote this to Mr. Golden to ‘prove’ that Hindu dharma is polytheistic, forgetting that the textbooks in question deal with ancient Hindu dharma before 600 CE, and Madhvacharya was born six centuries later! So how are his experiences relevant? Why did Madhav Deshpande attempt to represent the ancestral practices of his kulam as proving the beliefs of the entire Hindu dharma? Did he tell the reporter that the Madhva Brahmins were a very small community anyway?


To cap it all, even a cursory perusal of standard books on Dvaita Vedanta (such as B N K Sharma’s ‘Philosophy of Madhvacharya’, New Delhi, 1982) would reveal what the great Saint said: “Two Gods are not possible, because if there were more than one God, the action of One may be negated by the action of the Other, and the entire creation would lapse into a chaos.” QED.


Is U.Michhigan Sanskrit and Asian History Professor Madhav Deshpande really  ignorant, or just habitually dishonest, about what Madhvacharya had taught? Should such a person have any role in deciding how Hindu should be depicted in school textbooks for innocent school children in sixth grade? I say no!”


Honorary Bwana?


Deshpande’s revelations explain partly his eagerness to please the eurocentric racists of Harvard’s WitzelJugend. He begs approval by citing on the equally racist Liverpool Indology that his father served the British government. He cites in the best traditions of a Brown Sahib butler, how much he resented being introduced as an Indian scholar.  In his words on 24 Feb 1997,


“In a recent review of a book of mine in the American journal Language, the reviewer refers to me as an Indian scholar, this despite my teaching at Michigan for 25 years, and my American passport.  In India, however, I am pleasantly introduced as a scholar from America.”


How terrible! But he sees nothing wrong with his Master Witzel proclaiming on the IER how American citizens who are Hindu are “HIINA” and are not going to go back “home” to India.


When not even asked to bend, he genuflects to the ground. In another message to a public forum in August 2000 dealing with the famous Hindu saying “the whole world is one big family” (vasudhaiva kutumbakam), he started with the disclaimer “I have never been a supporter of the Hindutva politics”. Did any eurocentric colleague ask him to deny or confirm his Hindutva affiliations? No. But Deshpande started with this disclaimer anyway lest his masters suspect their camp-follower of harboring some trace of sympathy to his own traditions. Ever keen to assure his eurocentric colleagues that “I am one of you”, he used almost  40% of an obituary he wrote for his Guru (another brown sahib) R N Dandekar to tilt against the “Hindutva” windmills! Apparently he could find nothing better to fill up an obituary for his old master, than refer to their common sycophancy to their racist masters,


Deshpande revels in personal attacks on fellow Indian Americans on a public list (because they reject his colonial Aryan theories). This foreshadowed the much worse racist comment that Witzel made on the IER list (message 2300). Obviously, self respecting Indians who cannot accept the self-debasing and abusive remarks of Deshpande promptly objected. And thousands of decent adults have objected to Witzel’s racist slurs against Hindu Americans. Deshpande no doubt approves of such comments.


Madhav Deshpande perhaps thinks (like Dinesh D’Souza) that he has obtained salvation by breaking away from his Ghentoo and Indian heritage and then bonding himself to the great eurocentric heritage. In the past when people have asked him to critique works of other scholars that denigrate Hindu, he has declined (Posting 55493 on 02 April 2004  in the IndianCivilization Yahoogroup) claiming that it does not interest him. But of course, the denigration of Hindus interests him, and that is what he did through the Wall Street Journal when he did not even hesitate to tell the editor how his mother cleaned the floors of the kitchen! He revels when others denigrate Hindus, and he indulges in it himself.


When a faulty paper on genetics appeared four years ago suggesting that high-caste Hindus such as Madhav Deshpande have more European genes, he showed an exceptional interest in the details of this paper.  His interest in genetic studies appears to be limited to a desperate search for eurocentric genes if such genes ever existed. Should one recall the views of another international academic, Stanley Wolpert, who talked of Caucasian genes in reference to Aryan Invasion Theory?


In the past, he has specially picked out two books for his hyperbolic praise- one book was by the Communist historian R S Sharma, whose school textbooks preach hatred against Hindus. The other was by Rajesh Kochhar, whose book peddles weird theories such as transforming Indian rivers Ganga and Yamuna as tributaries of the Afghani river Helamand!


This pattern is consistent with what one sees in his publications that contain defenses of racist scholars such as Whitney against academic criticism by Ghentoo Indian scholars. This also jibes with why he keeps quiet when his racist colleagues in the WitzelJugend pass all kinds of slurs against Indians, but he is appalled in the best “Upstairs Downstairs” fashion when uppity Indians expose the racists. Due to the racism of some Indologists, the Liverpool Indology list saw a lot of acrimony between Ghentoos and Europeans and it closed down in 2000. When it was re-opened, it had been ethnically and politically “cleansed”. The new list was now governed by a committee of 10 people including Deshpande but no Indians. (We do not wish to offend Deshpande or India by calling him an Indian).


An interview in the University of Michigan newspaper quotes him denigrating Indian scholars who according to him “merely repeat what other scholars had said, as was the custom in India”. Is this Madhav Deshpande’s summary of his denationalization and de-Hinduization when he says that “Now I can go to India only as a visitor”? (reflecting the disbelief of some Englishmen that India would demand visas of  Bwanas). Incidentally, the article also says that Deshpande wrote a poem on ‘God’ Ganesha coming to America. Did polytheistic Deshpande write to the reporter to say that the correct phrase should have been ‘god Ganesha’ (with a lower case ‘g’)? The article also says that Madhav Deshpande is interested in politics. The last revelation makes sense. After all, a petition co-signed by him is lauded on the official website of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) whose cadres are said to have indulged in thousands of political murders in the last few decades all over India.


To summarize, wouldn’t the word ‘disgusting’ be a fair characterization of his behavior?


Is such a person entitled to speak for Hindus or Indians, or even as one of them? No!


Do we want such persons who conform to the behavior discussed in the book ‘Pleasing the Whites’ (by Richard Crasta) to decide on how Hindu dharma and India are taught to sixth graders in California? No!


Denigration of Hinduism in his Classes?


Deshpande also offers an undergraduate course in Hinduism in his university. A few years ago, he made a list of online resources that he uses to teach this introductory undergraduate class. The list is shocking, when the websites are checked.

  • The only link that he uses on Ramayana teaches that Rama was an ‘Aryan’ hero who defeated the Dravidian Ravana using low caste vaanara tribesmen such as Hanuman.
  • The only link on Hindu women that he uses is from an Islamist website dwelling incessantly on Sati, dowry deaths, widows and so on.
  • He includes a link from a non-Hindu (Christian proselytist) Dalit website criticizing Hindu dharma.
  • He also included another link from a Communist website that is critical of contemporary Hindu political movements.
  • And several links supporting his favorite Aryan invasion theory!


Why should these links be offered to undergraduate students during an introductory course in Hinduism of all places? Does this not reflect a hate-filled mentality?


Fortunately for us Hindus, his teaching skills are commensurate with his scholarship. His students at Michigan rate him at 1.4 on a scale of 1 to 5 in an online review. His students say that he uses antequated material for his class, teaches colonial versions of Hinduism, digresses very often, is boring and what not! Thank God, dhanyosmi is’vara, for the blessed common sense and instincts of the students at Michigan.


This may also explains why he has never done anything to improve the biased and hateful treatment of India in school textbooks. How could he, when he is himself ashamed of his Indian and Hindu background?


Do we want such people who uphold and portray such a negative and boring view of Hindu dharma to their students in classrooms to decide what sixth grade California textbooks should say on Hinduism? No!


Gunga Din of Michigan?


The review of Madhav Deshpande’s contributions reminds us of the following lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Gunga Din’ that celebrates the subservience of a water carrier of that name who served the British colonial (euro-centric) masters:


“You may talk o’ gin and beer

When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,

An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;

But when it comes to slaughter

You will do your work on water,

An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.

Now in India’s sunny clime,

Where I used to spend my time

A-servin’ of ‘Er Majesty the Queen,

Of all them blackfaced crew

The finest man I knew

Was our regimental *bhisti*, Gunga Din.                   

[bhishti = water carrier]


  He was “Din! Din! Din!

  You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!

      Hi! slippery *hitherao*!

      [hitherao= come here]

      Water, get it!  *Panee lao*!                  

      [Panee lao = bring water swiftly]

  You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.”


In India, when they want to ridicule Indians who are more English than English, they say that “The British left India, but they left behind their mules who are still bearing their burden”. Well, at least one of these mules left India to serve as a bhishti for his gorasahebs!


Shame on you Madhav! He may be accepted by eurocentrics, he may self-proclaim that he is a scholar from America, but I find it impossible to accept that he is part of the bharatam janam referred to by Vis’vamitra Gathina in Rigveda (3.53.12), the bharatam janam who created and have sustained the world heritage of Hindu civilization.


The author is Director, Sarasvati Research Centre.

The author is Director of Sarasvati Research Center, Chennai, India. He has done pioneering work on the Sarasvati River.


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