It is easy to imagine Wendy Doniger spilling her coffee over the table in rapturous joy when she was informed of the decision by Penguin to withdraw her five years old book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’, in an out of court settlement with a litigant. Despite her consistent provocation of Hindus through amateur psychoanalysis of Hinduism, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Chair in History of Religions at the University of Chicago has failed at becoming a Salman Rushdie.  Yet she and her ilk have constantly tried to portray themselves as the Western guardians of academic freedom which they aim to bring to the dark skinned and even darker hearted heathens through the illuminated study of their own mythologies. It is playing Rushdie without the danger of being Rushdie.

Of course Wendy faced dangers – an egg was thrown at her once. This is almost an accepted  (but not so civil) way of protesting unpleasant characters in the Western civilization. And that was the greatest extent of danger she faced. Since then she and her academic cheer leaders would like to go around parading themselves as the Rushdie equivalents of Hinduism.

A typical instance is the way Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, makes the allegation that the Hindu critique of one of Wendy’s academic children, Jeffery Kripal led to death threats.  In her 2007 book ‘The Clash Within’ (Harvard University Press) she states:

Many points in Kripal’s book might be debated calmly and reasonably. Instead after being attacked by Malhotra with over-the-top scorn and aggressiveness, Kripal received death threats…Kripal whom Doniger describes as “traumatized” by his experience now pursues his interest in the history of mysticism without reference to India. (p.251)

The accusation that Nussbaum makes is against Rajiv Malhotra, who spearheaded an organized, civilized and scholarly critique of the amateur psychoanalytical deconstruction of Hinduism. Yet from the statement that Kripal himself had made regarding the whole controversy, it is clear that the Professor of Ethics has lied in the most unethical manner. This is what Kripal has stated in his website (as accessed on Feb-19-2014) regarding the alleged threats (leave alone death threats) supposedly triggered Malhotra’s criticism of his work:

I must point out that I have never manufactured “threats.” There simply have never been any, and I have always made this crystal clear to all who have assumed otherwise, including Mr. Malhotra. (Emphasis not in the original)

Making anything from Malhotra’s scholarly critique of their work to a few loose cannons of ineffectual Internet Hindu diatribe, sound as dangerous as the Islamist Fatwa against Rushdie, these worthies should have soon realized that they made the madness of the ingenious gentleman of La Mancha look much like reason.

The Hindu reaction to the Slander: Slandering Hindu religion, Hindu symbols and Hindus has a long history. For example Dominique Lapierre, in his novel ‘City of Joy’ (1985) slandered Ramakrishna order monks as pimps who sold cyclone victims to brothels. When Wendy and her school started the pseudo-scientific amateur psychoanalytic deconstruction of Hindu religion, Hindus did not react by burning books or holding placards stating that those who insult Hindu Deities should die. On the other hand Hindus in United States took an entirely different approach to the problem. They published a detailed Hindu study of each of these Freudian deconstructionists and published an anthology of completely annotated studies of these worthies. It was the professional Hindu deconstruction of the amateur Freudian deconstruction.

Titled ‘Invading the Sacred’, Rajiv Malhotra’s Infinity Foundation launched the book. The book provided the Hindu fraternity of students in the American academic world the needed counter points point by point, sometimes angry, sometimes polemical but always authentic. It did not incite violence, it did not cry ‘insult to religion’, it did not ask to cut the slits for blasphemy; it simply put down the facts from Hindu side and misquotes, tortured texts, wrong translations which plagued the armor of the other side. It was an honest, brilliant, democratic call for an open debate and dialogue. Prof. Balagangadhara of the University of Ghent, spoke of this dignified scholarly Hindu response as ‘early signs of an awakening’ that signal the realization that ‘western explanations of their religions and culture trivialize their lived experiences; by distorting such explanations transform these, and this denies Indians access to their own experiences.’ But the Wendy’s side not only shied away from the debate but also wrote tangentially and threateningly that Hindus being a minority in United States should behave.

Worse, Hindus were asked to behave as model minorities. Prof. Martha Nussbaum cautioned Hindus in a veiled threat that the ‘activities of Malhotra’ would ‘lower the prestige of Hindu Americans in the US academy and in the US culture more generally’ and that they would ’make Hindu Americans look like an ethnic minority that does not understand norms of civil discourse and academic freedom and that tries to get its way by falsehood and violence’. (pp. 260-61)

Hindu Right and Freedom of Expression: Despite mediocre scholarship perpetuating the myth that the so-called Hindu rightwing is against freedom of expression and favors book banning, the mainstream Hindutva forces have proved on two vital occasions that they not only do not favor banning of adverse criticisms of Hinduism but embrace criticism head on with debate and dialogue.

The first instance was the controversy over the publication of ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ which was part of an unpublished work of Dr.Ambedkar that denigrated Hindu Gods including Rama and Krishna. In 1985 Shiv Sena till then a provincial party had adapted Hindutva as its political philosophy. In 1986 Ayodhya movement was getting a definite shape. In 1987 in a purely politically motivated move Maharashtra government published the ‘Riddles’ in the fourth volume of Dr.Ambedkar’s collected works. Shiv Sena wanted to use this as a means to arouse Hindus. It also had an anti-Dalit bias.So it took out processions and conducted meetings opposing the publication of the ‘Riddles’. But official RSS magazine Vivek came out with a definite statement that the Riddles should be part of the collected works and Hindus should not have any problem with the publication of the section critical and even derogative of their religion.

In 1988 the Islamic fundamentalists and Indian ‘secularists’ like Kushwant Singh joined hands in advocating the banning  Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in India, which the Government of India dutifully banned after the rituals of violent demonstration by Muslims. The very same year 1988 RSS officially came out in support of Dr.Ambedkar’s writings in the ‘Riddles’ controversy.

The next instance directly relates to one of the scholars belonging to the lineage of our present Heroine Wendy. In 2001 when BJP led NDA was in power, a member of parliament from the ‘secularist’ Telugu Desam Party (Mr. C. Narayana Reddy, TDP) sought a ban on “Kali’s child’ and asked it to be removed from the Parliament Library besides getting it deleted from the ‘other books’ section on Ramakrishna featured by Encyclopedia Britannica. (Here it should be remembered that Wendy is a member of the International Editorial Board of Encyclopedia Britannica thus giving her an unethical advantage in promoting her own controversial ideas as mainstream)  In reply the then Union Home Minister, Mr. L. K. Advani, said though there was a proposal for banning the books in 1997, the Vajpayee Government had decided not to do so.

The Hindu response to the mediocre misinterpretations of Jeffrey Kripal came in the form of a scholarly work by two monks from Sri Ramakrishna mission, Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana. ‘Interpreting Ramakrishna Kali’s Child Revisited’ (Motilal Banardidass) analyzes in detail the framework in which Kali’s Child was written: the historical context, the review of literature and then went into the actual textual data. It proved beyond doubt that the author of Kali’s Child had mistranslated the original texts and then misinterpreted the mistranslations and then had sensationalized the misinterpretations of the mistranslations. Again the silence from the other side was deafening.

In the case of ‘’The Hindus: An Alternative History’ Vishal Agrawal an Engineer turned Indic scholar, has made an exhaustive study of the errors in the book (Vishal Agarwal, The Hindus: An Alternative History by Prof. Wendy Doniger, A Chapter-wise Review, Voice of India).  There has not been any worthwhile response from the denigrators of Hinduism.  However the particular litigation against the book is on flimsy ground and it is most likely that the case would have been dismissed in favor of the book.

So why did Penguin decide to remove the book?

Hindus do not have the ability to indulge in mass violence as for example it was done by certain religionists in the case of a controversial youtube video or Danish cartoons case. Nor Hindus have the ability to do backdoor lobbying in the corridors of power as certain religionists did when Dan Brown’s movie ‘Angels and Demons’ was to be released in India or when they stopped a Discovery channel from airing a documentary on the alleged burial site of Jesus and Magdalene.

So why did Penguin act this way – four years after the publication of the book, when it has become a non- issue. It may be a strategy by Penguin to play ‘martyr’ and at the same time a marketing strategy to get the book popular and also a political ploy to paint India as ‘becoming fascist’.

Hindus do not seek book banning and book burning.  Their example is Adi Sankaraacharya who went out of his way to save the Jain texts which Jain scholar Amarasena, was committing to fire in a mood of depression. All Hindus seek is a neutral platform and debate and dialogue with no ulterior motive.

The following two tabs change content below.

Aravindan Neelakandan

Co-author of acclaimed book "Breaking India", Aravindan Neelakandan has worked for the past decade with an NGO in Tamil Nadu serving marginalized rural communities in sustainable agriculture. He is also a popular science writer in Tamil and is part of the editorial team of highly popular Tamil web portal

Latest posts by Aravindan Neelakandan (see all)