Saturday 22 March 2014

Wendy Doniger and Freedom of Speech

When Penguin publishers decided to withdraw the book 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' in an out of court settlement with a litigant, many overjoyed Indians over this 'victory', have failed to notice that this may be a well constructed exercise in defaming India and Hindus. 

The book was published in 2009. Professor Wendy Doniger, the author, is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Chair in History of Religions at the University of Chicago. Her works exhibit a major uniting chord: a reductionism which reduces Hinduism as a symbolic manifestation of Freudian unconscious. Some of her works can definitely be classified as having some kind of brilliance. But as she emerged as a power-center in American academy she increasingly became obsessed with Freudian reductionism of all aspects of Hinduism. She favored such a study of Hinduism among Indologists.  Each of her important doctoral students has produced works that have deconstructed Hindu phenomenon in an amateur Freudian fashion.

For example David Gordon White in his 'Sinister Yogis' has argued that the modern conception of yoga derives much from nineteenth-century European spirituality and in Indian tradition they are mainly  'wonder-workers or sorcerers who use their dangerous supernatural abilities—which can include raising the dead, possession, and levitation—to acquire power, wealth, and sexual gratification'.  Wendy Doniger herself stated, “The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think,… Throughout the Mahabharata ... Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviours such as war.... The Gita is a dishonest book; it justifies war…. I'm a pacifist. I don't believe in 'good' wars.” (Philadelphia Inquirer of 19 November, 2000)

Another important uniting theme in her writings as well as in the writings of the scholars of her lineage is that they want to denounce the good image that Hinduism has among the Westerners and deconstruct everything in Hinduism that appeals to the western mind.  Once the Freudian deconstruction of Hinduism, however unscientific it was, became the rule in American academic institutions teaching Hinduism or Indology, they received a support from an unexpected quarter, Indian Marxist academicians. For long, Marxists have stated that Freudian psychoanalysis was a bourgeois degeneration. But now when the object of attack is Hindu religion and culture they happily joined hands with the Freudian right. 

Jeffrey Kripal another of Wendy Doniger's disciple wrote a book on Sri Ramakrishna 'Kali's Child' in which he portrayed Sri Ramakrishna's spirituality as emanating from his repressed homosexuality. The book was promoted in the American academic circles so much so that at one point  the book was placed prominently in the "related books" column of the "Ramakrishna" entry in the online edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in 2000. Here it should be mentioned that Wendy is a member of the International Editorial Board of Encyclopedia Britannica. The assault continues unabated as for example, in an undergraduate study on Hinduism in an American university another Freudian deconstructionist of Hinduism, Paul Courtright has his work on Ganesa as textbook which informs the students that Ganesa 'remains celibate so as not to compete erotically with his father, a notorious womanizer, either incestuously for his mother or for any other woman for that matter'. The attack on Sri Ramakrishna mission extends far beyond the walls of academic world. For example, in his 1985 book the 'The City of Joy', Dominique Lapierre slandered the monks of Ramakrishna order as 'pimps' selling the victim children of a cyclone devastation into prostitution in Mumbai with assistance from Indian police. The book went on to become a best seller. However the then Marxist government in West Bengal refused permission to shoot the film as a book in Calcutta and even Satyajit Ray is said to have declined to make a film on Teresa as they saw these as colonial attempts to defame the self reliance of the people of the Third World. But then the neo-Marxists we have today have better connect with the globalized transnational capitalism when it comes to attacking Hinduism.   

Such attacks on Hinduism in the western world are almost taken for granted in a way attacks on Jews in the works of 'scientific studies' and fiction were taken for granted in the pre-holocaust west.
However, what is the most salient feature of these attacks on Hinduism has been that Hindus in United States never indulged in violence. Of course a rare angry Hindu shot an email threatening with violence and these authors tried to make of them, a Hindu version of Salman Rushdie and market them the American way. However the mainstream 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.

In India:
The problem reached India during the NDA rule. L.K.Advani was then the home minister. A request was made to ban the book Kali's Child. But Sri.Advani refused to ban the book, disappointing the pseudo-secularist forces which were waiting to beat the Hindus and portray them as fanatical.  On the other hand two monks from Sri Ramakrishna mission, Swami Tyagananda and Pravrajika Vrajaprana, came out with a scholarly work 'Interpreting Ramakrishna Kali's Child Revisited'. The book analyzed 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, Jeffery Kripal had mistranslated 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 premier 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 no 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'.

We have as our example 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 defeatist depression, after Sankara vanquished him in debate. Hindus do not seek book banning and book burning.  Hindus seek a neutral platform and debate and dialogue with no ulterior motive.  

Aravindan Neelakandan

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