An Indian view on history, current affairs and politics

March 27, 2023

Who is the real liberal?

The recent controversy over Penguin India’s decision to withdraw and pulp Wendy Doniger’s book “The Hindus: An alternate history” has once again sparked the debate about freedom of expression issues in India. The decision to withdraw the book was taken by publisher following a legal battle with a group of Hindus led by President of Sanatan Dharma foundation, Dinanath Batra. The objection raised by this group relates not only to the factual inaccuracies in the content which for the most part shows shoddy research and poor translation of Hindu texts on the authors part but more importantly the author uses outlandish assumptions to conclude extremely obscene and denigrating ideas about Hindu gods and religious scriptures. Throughout the book, Doniger analyzes Hindu Gods and Goddesses using discredited psychosexual Freudian theories, resulting in speculations. Doniger uses selective quotations from obscure and non-original, peripheral and ignorant references with a bizarre emphasis on sexuality and eroticism. Before i proceed, its prudent to share some excerpts from the book for the benefit of readers.

Page 40 If the motto of Watergate was Follow the money, the motto of the
history of Hinduism could well be Follow the monkey or, more often Follow
the horse.

Page 112 – The author alleges that in Rigveda 10.62, it is implied that a
woman may find her own brother in her bed!

Page 128 – The book likens the Vedic devotee worshipping different Vedic
deities to a lying and a philandering boyfriend cheating on his girlfriend (s).

Page 225 -Dasharathas son is certainly lustful… Rama knows all too well what people said about Dasharatha; when Lakshmana learns that Rama has been exiled, he says, The king is perverse, old, and addicted to sex, driven by lust (2.18.3)

Pg 571- It is alleged that in a hymn from Saint Kshetrayyas poetry, God rapes the women devotees.

Above are few excerpts that were cited as derogatory to Hindu beliefs not to mention several inaccuracies that actually turn the book into a product based on imagination rather than research. It is appalling then that such a book was often referred to by students of Indic studies. Equally appalling is that Wendy is considered an authority on Indic and Hinduism studies even though she has an academic background in Muslim studies.A closer look at her work clearly reveals a pattern of Hindu bashing all the while defending and often praising Muslim and Christian conquest of India. In this 779 page book, many themes are touched upon, she jumps from one topic to another; it is laced with personal editorials, folksy turn of the phrase, and colloquial idiom. She can always pull from her bulky bag of tricks the most damning story—Vedic, Puranic, folk, oral, vernacular—to demean, damage and disparage Hinduism.

The book is written, entirely from within the same western, modern, secular-academic point of view that has largely rejected a sacred vision of the cosmos and that has largely dismissed whatever tried-and-tested systems of spiritual practice we may once have had. Doniger conveys almost none of the spiritual vitality and seems not to recognize any of the practical spiritual knowledge that other writers and teachers show to be embedded in Hindu scriptures. If anything, she belittles these aspects of Hinduism in just that sort of way that modernized people as a group tend, unfortunately, to do, believing themselves to know better and to be more sophisticated than people who maintain their ancient traditions.

Coming to the recent controversy, It’s important to note that this is not a new book. The book has been around for several years now and the content of the book was challenged by academicians through articles, seminars and columns. It was only after Wendy’s book was awarded Ramnath Goenka award in 2012, that a group of academics decided to challenge the book in courts. Remember these people are not a bunch of street thugs who were out burning the book and issuing threats and fatwas but noted academics. It was following this court case that penguin settled for an out of court settlement and decided to withdraw the book and pulp it.The so called liberal intelligentsia reacted along predicted lines except that their attack this time was more vicious scathing and relied mostly on misinformation to slam the Hindus in general and the litigants in particular. The litigants were called cretins, idiots, bigots, fascists, hate mongers, morons, bigots and a lot more.

In one fell swoop the outraged liberals banded together to generalize this episode as Hindu fascism led by BJP and RSS. Does a Hindu not associated with these groups not have a right to protest against unjust denigration of his religion. Does anyone realize if Wendy had attempted a fraction of what she did with The Hindus in certain countries, she would have been stoned to death. The protest against Wendy was peaceful, almost docile and within legal framework of the country. How is taking a legal recourse to a dispute fascist? How is the legal case against Wendy’s book different from a defamation case one files against deliberate insult or a case filed against hate speeches?

The protest by Indian liberals was more vocal and vitriolic than their western counterparts even though no one missed a chance at bashing Hindu nationalists. In their urge to appear more liberal and get noted by western media, a lot commented without even understanding the issue at all. A lot called it a ban when in fact it was a voluntary withdrawal by the publisher. The litigants were well within their right to file a court case where they had equal chance of losing the case and per their statements they were prepared to accept such a result. The publisher on the other hand could have fought the case to the bitter end. Publishers also had the option to remove the excerpts objected to by the litigants instead they chose to withdraw. The liberals however continued to blame the litigants even though it was the publisher who failed to defend the writer. How many of these liberal intellectuals said a word when Dr. Subramanyam Swamy’s, Taslima Nasreen’s or Jitendra Bhargava’s work were withdrawn. The reason for such hypocrisy lies in the fact that unlike Islamists, Hindus do not react violently. Secondly this gives them visibility and recognition in eyes of western media which has a history of rewarding Hindu bashing.

The hypocrisy of left liberals is exposed in their reaction to any form of protest by Hindus. When an offensive content is challenged academically, they term it trolling the writer. When protesting on street they call it violence by fascist fundamentalists and when challenged legally they heap abuse wrapped in ignorance and of course challenge the law. Is it strange that overwhelming majority of liberals who didn’t find anything wrong with Wendy’s book are atheists. How can you even identify with the sense of hurt of Hindus when you don’t believe their scriptures and faith. Funny how Congress and AAP spokespersons joined the attack even though their own record in banning books, sites, boycotting criticism on TV is appalling. Seems all sorts of scavengers and bottom feeders have got together to feast on the dead and the dying. Its ironical how withdrawal of Wendy’s book sparks freedom of speech debate but her deliberate distortion and denigration of Hinduism doesn’t. What if Owaisi who famously claimed to kill all Hindus in 15 mins writes a book stating the same?

Those who’re waxing eloquence on US for its 1st amendment allowing for freedom of speech should know US is the top most requester and blocker of content on Internet. Before you think of the reasons why they do so , remember Internet is universal, laws governing it and the reasons to block it should be universal as well. There is a need to debate. Freedom of expression cannot be taken as freedom to insult and hate. We’ve not yet reached the Utopian state where responsible behavior comes before claims of freedom to do or say anything. Penguin India’s explanation for withdrawing the book is bizarre. It was evident that cost of litigation was too much for them to pursue the writer’s cause, yet they chose to hide behind excuse of Indian laws and threat to its employees. How can you blame a law when you didn’t test it in the court? Seems they judged the case even before the court could. Hindus genuinely hurt by Wendy’s book continue to be at the receiving end of an over zealous mob of self proclaimed liberals while the rest shine in their ignorant best. Sometimes i feel Hinduism has survived despite attacks, insults and denigration not because of an inherent resilience but an indifferent attitude. Hindus just don’t care!