Wendy’s book ban wish remains unfulfilled – Aravindan Neelakandan

S. Aravindan Neelakandan“The particular litigation against the book is on flimsy ground and it is most likely that the case would have been dismissed in favour of the book. … 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.'” — Aravindan Neelakandan

Wendy DonigerIt 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.

Martha NussbaumOf 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 added)

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 Islamic 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.

Rajiv MalhotraThe 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.

Prof S.N. BalagangadharaTitled 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 [slit the lips] for blasphemy; it simply put down the facts from Hindu side and misquotes, tortured texts, wrong translations which plagued the armour 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)

Dinanath Batra Hindu Right and freedom of expression

Despite mediocre scholarship perpetuating the myth that the so-called Hindu right-wing is against freedom of expression and favours book banning, the mainstream Hindutva forces have proved on two vital occasions that they not only do not favour 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 the 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 [and M.J. Akbar] 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.

Swami TyaganandaThe 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, C. Narayana Reddy, 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—(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, 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.

Vishal AgarwalIn 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 [Mary] 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 Shankara 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. – Centre Right India, 21 February 2014

» Aravindan Neelakandan has a master’s degree in Psychology from Madras University and Economics from Madurai Kamaraj University. He is the co-author of the famous book Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines

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7 Responses

  1. Sri Aravindan Neelakandan has explained the matter very well. But this is from a purely scholarly point of view. Few of us are able to articulate so well. The petitioners seemed to have acted out of a feeling of outrage at a gut level. But this has to be understood in the circumstances. For one thing, most Hindus have absolutely no theoretical knowledge of their religion. Hinduism is lived and practiced daily, not studied as an academic subject in the universities. So Hindus’ exposition of Hindu subjects is mainly at a popular level, and lacks the rigour of academic analysis. This is where Rajiv Malhotra, Balagangadhara, Aravindan Neelakandan and the editors of ‘Invading The Sacred’ have shown the way to deal with so called scholarly criticism.

    But their own experience has shown its ineffectiveness so far. Wendy Doniger and her ilk have consistently refused to engage their critics in discussion /dialogue. And while the academic heights are occupied by such people, the critics are denied entry and even recognition. While their own books are prescibed for study or as supplementary material, the views of the critics do not get entry to such sacred precincts. So.the brilliant writings of Rajiv Malhotra and others critical of Wendy Doniger and Company and that mind-set only circulate outside the academic world, while the universities continue to propagate Doniger’s views officially. The power of these academics to influence their students through teaching, guiding research and prescribed study material, and through peer influence across disciplines and thus perpetuate their hold cannot be underestimated. We see for instance how a George Soros is still labouring under the influence of Karl Popper more than half a century after he left the London School of Economics. And such views are faithfully reflected by their Indian admirers across disciplines. In a recent book on ancient and early medieval Indian history by Upinder Singh, (Pearson, 2009), it is Wendy Doniger’s translation of Rig Veda which is cited and referred, as if she is the authority, even though her scholarship has been questioned and shown to be faulty by other American scholars like Michael Witzel. And the divergent views of Indian scholars like Sri Aurobindo do not even get a mention.

    Surely, we are baffled by such a phenomenon. On the one hand we are not trained to treat our religion in a purely academic manner. On the other, our scholars do not have access to the academic circles and their views cannot pierce the protective network of entrenched academics. Nor do we have a comparable academic establishment of our own. Both in substance and style, our academic stream just follows the Western lead, almost blindfolded. I realise that merely to take recourse to a law is not the right answer or long term solution. But in the short run, there seems to be no other way. Inaction would only mean silent acceptance of injustice. At least this has created some awareness.

    Apart from all this, one question has remained unexamined: Do the publishers have culpability or accountability in respect of a non-fiction publication which is wrong on facts, questionable in interpretation, untrue to the living tradition, and offensive to the sentiments of the civilization it portrays? And who is to decide its offensiveness—the writer/publisher or the people offended? After all, only last week, an American court ordered Google to take a Video off the You Tube, since it was found to be offensive by the Muslims, mainly in other countries!

    But I do agree that banning a book is not right or even sensible.

    .

    • Sri Nanjappaji, you have articulated the root problem exceeding well, both here and in earlier comments.

      What are we to do? For a start Hindu studies and Hindu religious scholars have to be given a place in our top universities, and students attracted to study Hindu religion as an academic subject.

      It is an extraordinary situation where Hinduism is not studied as a serious academic subject in Hindustan itself!

      There are top Indian Hindu scholars abroad who teach Hindu religion in US and UK universities. They must be given more attention and a strong voice, and even brought back to India to establish core Hinduism studies in the universities here.

      What we see is that US universities have become the platform for abusing Hindus and misrepresenting Hindu culture and religion, an activity that was once confined to Christian missionaries. So the fight has now become a secular academic fight, and we have very few world class professors of Hinduism here in India to field against the Donigers and Nussbaums and their ilk.

      It is a very unfortunate circumstance. It has to be changed and corrected. India is in the process of becoming a world power economically and Indian leaders, especially business and political leaders, have to understand that religion is a political tool the West has used for centuries against those peoples and cultures it wishes to dominate. So religion in this context is not a matter of faith but a matter of economics and politics. Hindu Indians—and secular Indians who still value their Indian culture—have to understand this clearly and meet the challenge if they wish to survive with any political, cultural and religious integrity.

  2. I think there is no balance in speculating that the court would have ruled in the book’s favor and it is better to accept abuse than being intolerant. There could be a coordinated better response than just seeking a legal ban. But waiting for a perfect response in the midst of thousand years battle of Hindu identity and doing nothing for fear of being intolerant is like handing over the victory to Macaulayans. Their primary aim is to abuse without interference. Now if the abused plan to protest in any way, he is chained by an albatross of intolerance around the neck. Accepting abuse or being intolerant is like a choice between cowardice and violence and even confused Gandhi was clear what is preferable. I agree, though, building an institution of scholars is better answer to deliberate and malicious challenge to universal Dharm, for a permanent solution.

  3. Excellent account by Shri Neelakandan! Although I personally do not advocate the banning of books, in this instance what Shri Batra accomplished was a strategic move that may have awakened the normally lethargic Hindu response.

    A bit of Arise O Arjuna may not be a bad idea !

  4. Another book ‘On Hinduism’ by Wendy Doniger under attack – The Economic Times – New Delhi – 1 March 2014

    Another book on Hinduism by American indologist Wendy Doniger has come under attack from the same Delhi-based group which had compelled the publishers of an earlier work by her to withdraw the title.

    Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS) today demanded that the Aleph Book Company stop sales and pulp all remaining copies of Doniger’s book ‘On Hinduism’, published in 2013.

    Dina Nath Batra, who had led the charge against Doniger’s previous book, said that the contents of ‘On Hinduism’ were, like the previous work, “malicious and offending”.

    “She has used derogatory terms for Hindu deities, which hurts the sentiments of devotees,” Batra charged. The book is part of a conspiracy hatched by “pseudo secularists” to tarnish the image of Hindu culture and India, he alleged.

    “It is part of a conspiracy hatched by the children of (Karl) Marx and (Thomas) Macaulay to tarnish the image of Hindu culture. There are certain pseudo secularists who are behind this conspiracy,” Batra alleged.

    Atul Kothari, co-convener of SBAS, said the publishers had assured that they would pulp the book within a week but, if that did not happen, legal recourse would be taken.

    “We have been given an oral assurance by the publishers that the sales of the book will be stalled. The publishers have been given a week’s time to provide an assurance in writing, failing which, SBAS would… move the judiciary,” Kothari said.

    The publisher, when contacted, however, declined to comment on the issue.

    Doniger’s 2009 book, ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’, was pulped by Penguin following a row over its contents.

    She has been accused by SBAS of using content which is “derogatory and offending to Hinduism” and “misrepresents facts”.

    “Recalling this book is essential because (Doniger), a so-called scholar, has misrepresented India and Hinduism. If research studies are carried out in future on Hinduism and her book is referred to, it will lead to an alteration of facts.

    “That is not correct; therefore, we demand this book be recalled and banned,” said Kothari.

    Citing Article 295 (A) of Indian Penal Code, Batra said, “Article 295 (A) states that deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs shall be punished with imprisonment or fine, or both.”

    • After Penguin, another publisher recalls Wendy Doniger’s book – Rajiv Kalkod – Bangalore – Mar 5, 2014

      Within weeks of Penguin controversially recalling Wendy Doniger’s book, ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’, another publisher, Aleph, pulled out the American author’s previous work, ‘On Hinduism’, on Tuesday. Bookshops across Bangalore received calls from representatives of Aleph Book Company, promoted by Rupa Publications, seeking return of all copies of the book.

      Confirming the move, an Aleph spokesman said, “We don’t want to get involved in any controversy. Officials from our Delhi office sent a clear message to us — recall all copies of ‘On Hinduism’ we had sold to across Karnataka. We got back about 100 copies till Tuesday evening.”

      ‘On Hinduism’ was published in 2013 while ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ was published in 2009. Mayi Gowda of Blossom Book House told TOI that the publisher sought the return all copies of the book. On Monday, this bookshop had sold all 95 copies of the book following renewed interest in Doniger’s work post- Penguin’s withdrawal of ‘An Alternative History’.

      Another city bookshop, Bookworm, said it returned a few copies of the book Tuesday morning. The staff at different book shops said they got emails from the publisher seeking their cooperation.

      Advocate Lawrence Liang of the Bangalore-based Alternative Law Forum, who had filed a legal notice on Penguin India over the withdrawal of Doniger’s book, described Aleph’s step as “terrible”.

      “It’s absolutely shameful and ridiculous. If you want a publisher to withdraw a book, all you have to do is file a police complaint. Reading has no future in this country,” Liang said.

      ‘The Hindus’ had been recalled by Penguin following protests by a little-known organization’ Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, on grounds that its contents were “derogatory and offensive to Hinduism” and misrepresented facts. The Samiti upped the ante last week and demanded ‘On Hinduism’ be withdrawn as well, as it too was “malicious and offending.”

  5. The particular litigation against the book is on flimsy ground and it is most likely that the case would have been dismissed in favour of the book. … 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.’ – Aravindan Neelakandan

    Sri Aravindan Neelakandan has got it exactly right!

    Getting Doniger’s notorious book withdrawn is counter-productive and only serves the financial interests of Penguin Books and their author Wendy Doniger.

    Dirty books sell like hot jalebis! The mix of sex and religion is especially attractive.

    Dinanath Batra’s petition is amateurish and full of opinions. Penguin would have certainly won the case he foisted on them. Batra must prove ‘malicious intent’ on the part of the author and publisher, and that is extremely difficult to do—especially because he pretends to know Doniger’s motive for writing the book. In his complaint Batra states: “So the approach of YOU NOTICEE has been jaundiced, your approach is that of a woman hungry of sex.”

    Being “hungry of sex” does not prove malicious intent on the part of the author. Nor does writing about sex in Hinduism suggest the author is a lustful person. Vatsayana the author of the Kamasutra was a Vedic philosopher and brahmachari!

    Penguin has exploited Batra’s amateurish challenge, withdrawn the book and promised to keep it un-published in India, thereby raising its visibility and desirability a hundred-fold universally. The book is now trending on Amazon and every Indian college student is searching for it on the Internet—an amazing feat for a 700-page history tome that had been lying dormant in the world’s bookshops for the last four years.

    With this petition, Batra has shot himself in the foot and got the whole Hindu community labelled as book-banners. Yet the notorious book is still available for anybody who wishes to read it!

    Banning books—or otherwise getting them un-published—is always counter-productive. It never serves the real interest of the petitioner though it may give some subjective satisfaction (called ‘moral victory’).

    If anything positive has come out of this controversy, it is that the bias and disdain and inherent colonial-style racism of Western academia vis-a-vis Hindu culture and religion is now fully exposed in fine essays and critical articles by various scholars of Indian and Western origin.

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