Wendy Doniger: Decide For Yourself

I have not read The Hindus. I had not heard of Wendy Doniger before this controversy came up. There’s a lot of opinions, a lot of thoughts.I, as usually, am not sure what I think about all this. In an effort to try to get as much information as possible, I have been reading articles from a wide variety of viewpoints.

If you’d like to do the same, here is a roundup of a whole lot of articles I found on the subject from many different points of view.

I recommend reading through all of these and reserving opinion and thought until you’ve read a lot of them and keep an open mind to potentially good points from people you don’t in general agree with. I know, there are a lot of them!

For those as in the dark as I was, the controversy is that a Sanskrit scholar who is a white, American, Jewish woman has written a book called “The Hindus” and apparently offers some radically different interpretations of Hindu scriptures and texts, which seem to be based a lot on sex and Freud. Her methods and knowledge have been called into question and Hindu groups have succeeded in having the book withdrawn from publication in India. On the one hand, censorship is a dangerous thing and on the other hand, someone as privileged as Doniger making declarations about Hinduism could be taken as fact by non-Hindus and her views could become standard instead of the views of people who are actually Hindu. Are we shutting down potentially valid and expansive ways of seeing our scriptures or are we protecting a legacy from outsiders? A tough question. (yeah. i know. some people would classify me as an outsider as well).

http://www.lokvani.com/

Books, Lies and Videotape: Wendy Doniger’s Misrepresentations about Hindu History

by Padma Kuppa

I am a big fan of public funding for various things – public education, public television, and public radio. And I am usually impressed with the way National Public Radio ((NPR) presents news, providing a multifaceted and balanced perspective on the news – the underlying dharma or justice of presenting more than one perspective is very much in line with the pluralism that is inherent in the way that I live my day to day life. No one way is necessarily “The Right Way.” Yet I was horrified to find that NPR did the exact opposite when interviewing University of Chicago professor Wendy Doniger about her controversial book.

The Scholars: An Alternative Story About Wendy Doniger and The Hindus

by Vamsee Juluri

Imagine this: A book called The Women, written by a man who claims to be an expert on women. A book called The Poor, written by a millionaire who read a few books on poverty (written mostly by other rich people). A book called The Gays, written by a heterosexual who insists he loves them even if his subjects say he is quite homophobic. Now consider a book called The Hindus. It is written not by someone who grew up as a Hindu, in a Hindu household, or presumably, anything like a living Hindu cultural environment. It contains factual errors, as well as numerous arguably dubious interpretations. It appears to Hindu readers to be skewed, distorted, and even bizarre; even if one generously concedes that it is after all subtitled as an “alternative” history.

Hindu fundamentalists vs. Hinduism

by Stephen Prothero

After the egging, the pulping. In London in 2003, a protester threw an egg at University of Chicago Sanskrit scholar Wendy Doniger, who was lecturing on the popular Hindu epic the Ramayana. The egg missed its mark, but during the Q&A other protesters continued the assault, insisting that non-Hindus like Doniger had no right to tell them what Hinduism is all about. This month, Penguin Books India agreed to withdraw Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History from Indian bookstores and pulp any remaining copies. The settlement came in response to a complaint filed by Dinanath Batra, head of Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu fundamentalist group that opposes sex education in Indian schools and textbooks that deviate from its Hinduvta(“Hinduness”) interpretation of Indian history.

‘When Westerners make fun of our gods, they’re instigating trouble’

Rajiv Malhotra’s interview on the issue of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus’

by Arthur J Pais

‘In theory, yes, Hindus are very open. I’m one of them. I’ve coined the phrase ‘open architecture’.’ ‘But I think the Wendy Doniger group is not allowing open architecture. They are closing this architecture.’ ‘They are bringing a point of view in such a heavy-handed way that it tends to dominate and it tends to suppress the alternative points of view. So some kind of counteraction is necessary and using the law is a decent thing to do.’ Rajiv Malhotra, one of Wendy Doniger’s most vociferous critics, speaks to Rediff.com’s Arthur J Pais about the prejudices created by American scholars about Hindu gods and Hinduism.

Untangling the Knot

by JAKOB DE ROOVER

The many strands entangled in l’ affaire Doniger involve issues that are too important to be left to the predictable and somewhat stale rhetoric about Hindutva fanatics or lamenting the role of the Indian government and judiciary

A LETTER TO PENGUIN INDIA 

‘Tell Us, Please, What Is It That Scared You So?’

By ARUNDHATI ROY

‘Even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement.’

Of Sex, Sleaze, Sanskrit and Spin … Of Diversity Within Hinduism … Of “A Truth” and “The Truth”

by Shumon Sengupta

Vehemently denouncing the ban / withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book “The Hindus, an Alternate History,” Shumon Sengupta observes that in general, Hinduism, more than any other religion, has been a “lightning rod” for attention by curious western scholars with a queer and perverse penchant for eroticizing everything that has to do with this religion and culture. Nevertheless, Doniger’s narrative of Hinduism is rich, bold and vivid, particularly the way she picks up hidden voices within the larger stories, invests them with her own voice, retells their stories as seen through her own eyes, always in her own inimitable way. At the same time, despite the richness and sweep of her work, despite her vast erudition, when Doniger comments on Hinduism constrained by the flaws of her chosen analytical framework, she often risks becoming one among the proverbial six blind men trying to describe an elephant by touching a part of the behemoth. But then, ultimately, Doniger’s views are her truths, not necessarily ‘The Truth.’ Her books should never stand alone in that respect, but should be studied along those which portray other perspectives.

The Embarrassed Modern Hindu (Upper Caste Man)

by Nivedita Menon

…This is precisely the problem. Whether sophisticated scholars like Balgangadhar and De Roover, trying to make Hinduism look good in the West; or ordinary upper caste men like Dinanath Batra, feeling the existential anxiety produced by tides of unruly women, lower castes, and multiple and heterogeneous practices that call themselves Hindu, the real problem with Doniger is precisely that she highlights the fact that other subject positions than that that of the beleaguered upper caste, upper class man have always laid claim to Hinduism.

Statement by Scholars in North American Universities on Withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book

by Aditya Nigam

We, the undersigned, as students of South Asia, strongly condemn the withdrawal by Penguin Press India of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History from distribution in India. We believe that this work has been attacked because it presents a threat to orthodox Brahminical interpretations of Hinduism. We believe that this attack is part of ongoing attempts by upper-caste extremist Hindu forces to stifle any alternative understandings of Hinduism.

Mani-Talk: Wendy Doniger and Salman Rushdie, separate and not equal

by Mani Shankar Aiyar

After reading the massive, 779-page tome with fascinated interest, my daughter presented me with a copy of Prof. Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. It is hardly likely that a daughter would present her father with a work of pornography. Moreover, unlike her father, she is spiritually inclined. She felt she had learned a great deal that her father needed to learn. She is also a highly trained lawyer, with a BA Honours in Jurisprudence from Oxford (where she was a Radhakrishnan scholar) and an LL.M. from New York University, besides long experience in a leading law firm of the country. Hence, the Indian Penal Code is not unknown to her. She would be loath to present her father with a book that broke the law. I confess I have been looking for an opportunity out of my more mundane distractions to settle down to absorbing the wisdom my daughter wants me to have. Meanwhile, comes an out-of-court settlement with the publishers deciding to pulp the unsold copies. As one who continues to support Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s mid-80s decision to ban the import of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, how do I reconcile my horror at what is being done to Wendy Doniger with my solidarity with Rajiv on Satanic Verses?

Right or wrong, Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’ should be published

by  SWATI SHARMA

…The case has caused outrage in India, and, as a result of Penguin’s actions, the book has become a hot seller on Amazon. Countless media organizations and well-known writers have reported and weighed in on the issue.

The group that filed the lawsuit said it was because it “hurt the feelings of Hindus.” More specifically, the connections between sex and religion, misinterpretations of the sacred text and factual inaccuracies are the main concerns about “The Hindus.”

Wendy Doniger’s Book

by Dr. Shyamalavatsa

Much has been said about Wendy Doniger’s book in the media. To be fair, the author has admitted on the front coverthat it is an alternative history, not the one that most Hindus believe in. I’ve just been wondering – if I were to spend years studying a religion practiced in a different country and get a doctorate in it, what sort of book would I write?

Doniger debate symbolizes turbulence in the air

by Swapan Dasgupta

…What seems to unite the Left outrage I witnessed 30 years ago and Batra’s litigation is the shared sense of intellectual dispossession. The free flow of ideas in a democracy is invariably tempered by value judgments over what is ‘respectable’ and what is not. Those who rubbish Doniger feel, and quite legitimately so, that academia disregards those who analyze faith from the perspective of believers. They believe that studies of Hindu faiths have been taken over, particularly in the US, by those who inherently are sceptical of the larger Indian inheritance. This conviction is bolstered by the apparent arrogance of dominant intellectuals who refuse to concede space to those who have a more sympathetic perspective of Hindu theology.

Beyond Batra and Doniger: Reflections on the study of Hinduism in the American academy

by SANYASI

…I was also, at the time, a member of the South Asian Journalist Association (SAJA) discussion forum, where, despite the best efforts of the long-suffering moderators, any number of discussions would quickly degenerate into arguments about the supposed denigration of Hinduism by secularists, Macaulayites, Western academics, and so on. It was here that I learned of the “intellectual Kshatriyas,” a self-styled vanguard of Hindus out to defend Hinduism from its detractors in the American academy and elsewhere. Most of their arguments were of very poor intellectual quality, diatribes sprinkled with the odd term like “symbolic capital” drawn from social theory or postcolonial theory. Then, as now, the actions of the Hindu Right were outrageous: attacks on freedom of expression and cowardly acts of bullying and intimidation against an individual. And, then, as now, the possible range of responses to the events was reduced to a set of two choices: a good Hindu / bad Hindu (or good Indian / bad Indian or good South Asian / bad South Asian) polarity, in which as a right-thinking Hindu / Indian / or South Asianist in the academy one had to speak up against the Hindu Right or risk being seeing as an apologist for them. This state of affairs foreclosed the possibility then, as it does now, of a genuine, much-needed, and long overdue debate about the politics of the representation of Hinduism in the American academy.

Sex, Lies and Hinduism: Why A Hindu Activist Targeted Wendy Doniger’s Book

By Nilanjana Bhowmick

In a conversation with TIME, Shiksha Bachao Andolan president Dinanath Batra explains why he thinks Doniger’s book hurts Hindu sentiments and is propagating lies about Hindu deities and national icons. No stranger to controversy, Batra had earlier taken on Indian educational boards for what he says have been distortion of facts and has actively opposed and subsequently stopped the introduction of sex education in Indian schools, saying it was against Hindu culture and religion.

Interviewing Wendy Doniger

by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Anyone who is serious about studying Hinduism needs to study the works of Wendy Doniger (b.1940), who for over 40 years has been researching, translating, and commenting on Hindu scriptures and stories. Had it not been for her, I would not have had access to so many tales hidden in our scriptures. Her language is direct and simple, shorn of distracting ornamentation. But her interpretations and choice of words (like the insistence in using the word ‘evil’ even though no common Indian language has a synonym for it) though thought-provoking are not always satisfying. A distinguished professor at the Divinity School, Chicago, with a PhD from Harvard and DPhil from Oxford and with several honorary doctorates to her credit, her first book, published in 1978, was the Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. This year sees the release of her latest book The Hindus: an Alternative History, which puts together the various influences – beyond the Sanskrit texts – that have shaped Hindu thought over thousands of years. Despite the usual male-bashing and Brahmin-bashing, this is without doubt a monumental work that is awe-inspiring and humbling in its scale.

The Hindus: An Alternative History by Prof. Wendy Doniger

A Chapter-wise Review

by Vishal Agarwal

Wendy Doniger’s book “The Hindus, an Alternative History,” published and distributed by Penguin has been a phenomenal sales success. Already (in February 2010), more than 600 libraries in North America have acquired a copy of the book, in less than one year since its publication. The Indian division of Penguin has brought out an Indian reprint as well. Doniger claims that her book is about Hindu women, low castes, dogs and horses. But these merely appear to be an excuse for her to indulge in bouts of lewd descriptions, imaginary rapes, violence, titillating sleaze, drugs, booze and the like – all of which is then superimposed on the Hindus and on their traditions. As usual, she kinks fairly straightforward narratives in Hindu scriptures to present her own pornographic versions. Medieval India is not her forte at all, and Doniger is often seen reproducing (and even amplifying) the errors already present in her secondary and tertiary sources. The book is more than 600 pages long, and the number of errors average more than 1 per page. There are errors of chronology, of historical dates and sequence of events, geography, verifiable historical facts, proper names, translations of Sanskrit texts and so on. These errors are compounded by strained and agenda driven interpretations that whitewash medieval atrocities on Indians, perpetuate colonial and racist stereotypes about Hindus, attribute many positive developments within the Hindu society to impulses from Christianity or Islam and grossly distort historical evidence.

10 Controversial Quotes from Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’

By Subhamoy Das

Wendy Doniger’s controversial book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ (Penguin, 2009) has outraged Hindus around the world like never before for allegedly insulting and offending Hindus and Indians. Seventy-three-year old Doniger is an American Jewish Indologist and has been a professor at the University of Chicago since 1978. Although she is a well-known authority on Hinduism, her bestseller book has been pointed out to have many factual errors and her perspective of things Indian, Vedic, and Hindu has been questioned time and again. Here are 10 outrageous excerpts from the book that may explain the outspread uproar against the Doniger which ultimately led to a virtual ban of her book in India.

Author Resigned to Ill Fate of Book in India

By JOHN WILLIAMS

…In “The Hindus,” Ms. Doniger wanted “to tell a story of Hinduism that’s been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks,” she said. “It’s not about philosophy, it’s not about meditation, it’s about stories, about animals and untouchables and women. It’s the way that Hinduism has dealt with pluralism.”

The novelist Hari Kunzru said in an email interview that Ms. Doniger’s work “emphasizes that Hinduism has never existed as a single pure orthodoxy.” Instead, he said, Ms. Doniger shows how “it emerges from many linked traditions and folk practices.”

Wendy’s Child Syndrome

by Rajiv Malhotra

In my previous Sulekha column, I pointed out that whereas elite colleges in the West teach great respect for Greek and other Western Classics as being the bedrock of their civilization, it has become fashionable for elitist (i.e. Westernized) Indians to denigrate their own Indian Classics. Furthermore, these Indians see their education in Western literature as validating their Western identity (falsely equating modernization with Westernization), and go out of their way in putting down their Indian heritage.

Recommended in the comments & twitter:

Wendy Doniger’s book is a tribute to Hinduism’s complexity, not an insult

by Vijay Prashad

…Doniger, a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, is no stranger to this kind of controversy. Her studies of Hinduism have sought to recover the buried, heterodox Tantric tradition from under the weight of the orientalist’s favourite form of Hinduism – Vedanta. For European orientalists, Vedantism was the closest to their own monotheism – a set of faith practices bourgeois in their mood and conduct. Tantrism – with its impurities of sex and diet – seemed out of favour. Doniger and her collaborators sought to revive interest in Tantrism, for which they turned to new methods of interpretation, notably psychoanalysis.

The Need for Indian Narrative

by Nithin Sridhar

1. The issue of withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book “The Hindu” and subsequent drama again shows the need for Hindu/Indian Narrative and Scholarship.

2. Those who are traditionally trained lack knowledge of modern scholarship. Further their numbers are dwindling fast.

3. The people with modern education largely has superficial understanding of Hindu religion and allied subjects.

4. We need to do two things- 1. Revive the traditional system of education of Veda, Vedanta, Tarka, Agama etc.And support the practitioners. 2. We need to create Indian narrative/analysis of not only Indic religions and traditions but also of world religions.

Wendy Doniger’s derogatory Hinduism studies

by Madan Lal Goel

I do not believe in burning books, but Wendy Doniger’s 779-page tome titled, The Hindus: An Alternative History, 2009,  is a hurtful book.  It is laced with personal editorials, folksy turn of the phrase and funky wordplays.  She has a large repertoire of Hindu mythological stories.  She often narrates the most damning story—Vedic, Puranic, folk, oral, vernacular—to demean, damage and disparage Hinduism.  After building a caricature, she laments that fundamentalist Hindus (how many and how powerful are they?) are destroying the pluralistic, tolerant Hindu tradition. But, why save such a vile, violent religion, as painted by the eminent professor?  There is a contradiction here.

Doniger’s book is at odds with the increasing acceptance in the United States of key Hindu spiritual precepts.  Lisa Miller (Newsweek, 31 August, 2009) reports that Americans “are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.” Miller cites the following data:

  1. 67 percent of Americans believe that many religions, not only Christianity can lead to eternal life, reflecting pluralistic Hindu ethos rather than exclusivist Christian doctrine;
  2. 30 percent of Americans call themselves “spiritual, not religious;”
  3. 24 percent say they believe in reincarnation;
  4. And, more than a third choose Cremation rather than Burial.  See:  http://www.newsweek  .com/id/212155

 Oh, But You Do Get It Wrong!

by ADITI BANERJEE

Wendy Doniger (Mircea Eliade Distinguished Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School and in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago) was recently interviewed in Outlook with reference to her new book, The Hindus: An Alternative History.  In the interview, she (1) falsely and unfairly brands all of her critics as right-wing Hindutva fundamentalists, and (2) grossly mischaracterizes (and misquotes) the text of the Valmiki Ramayana, calling into question her “alternative” version not just of the Ramayana, but also of Hinduism and Hindu history as a whole.

Doniger’s prominence and clout as a “definitive” authority in the discourse on Indian traditions and history give her views considerable significance.  For, it is Doniger’s (and her colleagues’) versions of Hinduism and Hindu history (which are often at serious variance with traditional Hinduism as practised and understood by Hindus themselves) that form the curriculum of university courses, line the bookshelves of the “Hinduism” sections of bookstores (physical and virtual), and are given play in the Western and Indian mainstream press.


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About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Raghu Mani

    Not all of those who oppose using the law to suppress the book are either nehruvian socialists or leftists. Let’s address their arguments instead of their supposed political leanings. I’ve read some of their articles and the points that some of them make are good.

    Except of course for Mani Shankar Aiyer who is a hypocrite of the worst kind. I mean, how can you *support* the banning of the Satanic Verses and oppose the attempt to take down this book in same article!!

    • Venkata

      This book violates section 295A of the Indian law. As long as the law is present in the books it should be applied equally to all the cases (Hindu, Muslim or any other religion). If you do not like the book banning then you should concentrate your efforts on repealing the law, not pick on an a specific case of implementation of the law.

  • Developing Mind

    Ambaa,

    There is this guru called Sri Sri Sri Ravi Shankar(I don’t follow him) who once said on TV that the Sanskrit word for History is Itihaas meaning “It thus happened.” So for Sanskrit purists there is only History, the narration of facts or true events. You would expect Wendy Doniger to know this, or is she too RICH for her own good as one of your commenters seems to point out.

    There is an argument that Indian History has not only been misinterpreted, but also deliberately falsified. I already interacted with you on an earlier post about retrofitting. As a child I always had a doubt about left liberal version of widow burning or Sati. This is what we studied in school. But at home things were different. Brahmin priests would not even allow women to accompany the deceased leave alone burn her on funeral pyre. There are literary works that show Lord Krishna in a sleazy manner. The other day on a morning devotional TV show, a sanskrit scholar was alluding to the poor understanding such people had of Sanskrit itself. He only asked them to introspect and nothing more. This makes me doubt left liberal history itself. There is also a you tube video of Subramaniam Swamy where he dismisses off leftist history as a “concoction.”

    Ingenuity can make you POPULAR and RICH, but it does not make you GENUINE.

    If Retrofitting of History has happened, as in deliberately adding modern(probably alien) values and concepts on to a pre-existent and purer older societies, then this is of serious concern and should not be brushed aside as something of little relevance today. If the British had DELIBERATELY “spiced up” the pre-existent Hindu culture to suit their tastes and lifestyles, then this is diabolical to say the least. In India people have always said that British believed in “Divide and Rule.” Scrolling down your own comments column, it is obvious that this whole thing has worked very well with all the popular dichotomies secular vs communal, liberal vs orthodox, sacred vs profane,etc. Are you familiar with what is happening in Ukraine nowadays? Security Council politics of “Divide and Rule.” There is a you tube video of Mani Shankar Aiyar(Oxford intellectual) saying East and West had been playing football with Ukraine for a thousand years or more.

    “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” You might have heard of this saying. Some years back William Darlymple reminded the British that Afghanistan today would not have been a mess if they had read their history “correctly”. Isn’t it apparent that West which not only prides itself in charting the course of History but also in writing the same History has clearly bungled? Or are they doing it “DELIBERATELY” all over again?

    Edward Said wrote about Orientalism-type scholarship. Westerners with superior attitude DELIBERATELY IMAGINE and CONCOCT perspectives that serve their imperialist agendas. This ATTITUDE itself has to be questioned because of the socio-political upheavals they will continue to entail. I follow a blogger named Maria Wirth who told me (replying to my comment) that wrong ATTITUDE will not work out if you are on the path of Bhakti Yoga. Have you heard of destruction of cultural heritage during Iraq War? …George Bush dreams of God, and then ends the tyranny in Iraq.

    This whole controversy is not just a literary issue for arm-chair intellectuals. In my humble opinion, it has a direct bearing even on the common man who never even heard of Doniger.

    I would want to go beyond religion, free speech, etc., and read an existential dilemma into the whole thing, particularly looking at the Geo-political realities around me.

    SATYAMEVA JAYATE!

    • Ambaa

      Indeed. You know, I’ve always felt skeptical of any version of facts or history that I am given. Maybe that’s wrong of me, but I can’t help but see that everyone has a bias of one kind or another. One must go as close to the source as possible to have any hope of understanding the truth about a situation. Both right and left have an agenda in the way that they present history.

      I definitely agree that a huge bias in western scholarship is not being able to let go of their assumptions about a people, history, tradition, and religion that they don’t inherently understand.

      • Developing Mind

        By right and left, I hope you are referring to the Western societies. Because in India, some in the so-called left intelligentsia. which pretty much wants to set the tempo in all spheres of life, have not even condescended to mention the name of Dinanath Batra who pointed out errata in Ms. Doniger’s work. I have to make it clear that I have not read anything about Hindutva ideology, so-called right in India. I just find the so-called left liberals a little too self-righteous and pompous probably for their own good.

        All I am saying is this:

        We can’t go back in time and look at events as they unfolded.
        There was ancient India
        There was medieval India
        Subsequent occupations happened and our history books written by the left( only as far as India is concerned) are full of these stories. This is a verifiable fact and not the so-called right’s concoction.
        Today, the intelligentsia again from the left says Ms. Doniger can jump, skip, and hop and go back to ancient India using her own sweet will.
        The people who question her are saying, We have not even resolved medieval India yet. They are, in my opinion, suggesting UNITY in medieval India, while the left is accusing them of imposing UNIFORMITY in modern times.

        If the so-called right is actually right about UNITY in medieval India, then the dichotomy of right and left itself does not arise. I hope I have made my point clear.

        You may say, “Wait a minute! I have used words like skeptical, bias, agenda, etc., in my response to your comment. How do they fit into this UNITY of yours?” My answer is they don’t.

        • Ambaa

          I don’t know politics in India but I have to assume that everywhere, all sides have their own agenda, whatever that may be. No person is free from bias.

          • Developing Mind

            Ambaa,

            I don’t think you got my point. All this is within a literary context. I am only pointing out the terminology, words being used, and concepts being misunderstood or not getting translated or received properly so the opposing parties are able to arrive at common grounds. You have to understand that what I said makes sense if we just remember that English language in India happened only after British arrival in 15th and 16th centuries. I am not saying medieval India was perfect or utopian, and people were a collectively enlightened group in some way. I am only alluding to the nature of discourse and the narratives being adopted, and the positions being taken by various parties involved in modern times today(This also applies obviously to comments sections of blogs on various topics).

            Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev says Indians are dialectical. This is merriam webster definition of dialectics:

            “A method of examining and discussing opposing ideas in order to find the truth.”

            I agree with him, and think Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is not being PRECISE when he says Indians are argumentative by nature. The problem is not the word argumentative. If you google the word argumentative you get two meanings, one has positive connotation and other negative. So, we have to put what he says in context, etc.,

            In your previous reply you said:

            “I definitely agree that a huge bias in western scholarship is not being able to let go of their assumptions about a PEOPLE,HISTORY,TRADITION, and RELIGION that they don’t inherently understand.”

            All I am saying is you missed out the most important thing: LANGUAGE.

            You also said in that reply:

            “One must go as close to the source as possible to have any hope of understanding the truth about a situation.”

            I am saying the source is : SANSKRIT.

            Even NASA thinks SANSKRIT is the only UNAMBIGUOUS language. I have already given an example of ambiguity in English language above, with the word “argumentative”. Because of ambiguity, we need further interpretation, etc.,

            In the current reply you are saying : ” No person is free from bias.” I am not contesting this. I am saying if WE APPLY this bias, taken a predetermined stand as belonging to left or right, and THEN peer back into History, the CURRENT TOPIC as well as FUTURE problems will continue to arise as I already mentioned in my very first reply to this post(Bush,etc.,)

            In just two words: CONFLUENCE, not CROSS-CURRENTS.

            PS: 12 years a SLAVE won Oscar. It was directed by a BLACK guy named Steve McQueen. I think the so-called right in India is saying leave Sanskrit scholarship to the right/correct Sanskrit scholars. We both are outsiders in this regard.(I am assuming you don’t know Sanskrit either.) McQueen found his Brad Pitt and other moneybags to produce the movie. Just wondering if the correct Sanskrit scholars are even interested in English scholarship. Lets hope they are, then we wont have these controversies. May be Rajiv Malhotra you mention can be their Brad Pitt.

          • Ambaa

            Ah, I see. Yes, language is crucial.

            I have tried to study Sanskrit and it proved too difficult for me! My parents have studied it with great dedication for nearly 40 years now, but even they would say they are only beginners. There is so much complexity and context that goes into it!

          • Developing Mind

            Thanks for all the replies. Will try and follow your blog posts.

            Good luck.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

        Yes! We should be skeptical of scholars – that’s a big part of what scholarship is! Then we say, “what about *this* perspective?” and we research that and maybe we readjust (or not). But just because Everyone Says It Is So and has for Centuries doesn’t necessarily make it so. (I’m not saying Doniger is right, since I’ve not read her work, but I’m rather appalled at the knee jerk reactions I’m seeing to some one’s scholarship – by many people who haven’t read her works either!)

  • Ambaa

    Very true. This book came out five years ago. I certainly never heard of it until this month!

  • Sri

    No Hindus will believe the concepts given in a book about Hinduism written by a non-Hindu. It is very obvious that there will be many misinterpretations and there will be some foolishness. It would have been written to make a negative impression on Hinduism and she would have even financially benefited. I strongly believe that one cannot explain any core concept of Hinduism without experiencing it. So, there are topics, even for Hindus with good knowledge, it is difficult make others understand.
    It is clear that the motive of the book is not explaining Hinduism. It is to attract non-Hindus. However, she made a huge publicity for Hinduism. A reader can naturally understand the intention of a non believer. Sooner or later they may dig up for truth, logic and correct interpretation. They will find it from the correct source.

    • Ambaa

      Great points! I agree that it is at least difficult if not impossible to understand Hinduism without experiencing it!

  • Akhlesh

    When the legal system can be used to disinvest in pre-apartheid South African companies to register disapproval of apartheid, what is the logical reason for not adopting the same technique here? Raghu, you probably have just an emotional reason to opposing the legal system to try and get the book pulled off the shelves.

    I am also opposed to banning books, but hateful speech (Mein Kampf, Zakir Naek’s anti-Hindu diatribes, etc.) may cause rightful exceptions in incendiray environments.

    In this instance, no court banned Doniger’s book. Her publishers got cold feet and withdrew. That is the same as Walmart changing its suppliers because a large number of shoppers decide that they do not wish to patronize a store that sells merchandise sourced from overcrowded firetraps in a less developed country. [I do not shop in Walmart.]

    • Rohan

      The publishers got cold feet because the ‘education’

      wing of the right wing hindu group of RSS made death threats.
      One book cannot usurp the whole religion.If you are a tolerant democracy then you can allow constructive criticism but if you are banana republic with Kangaroo courts anything contrary will be banned or killed

      • Akhlesh

        I have not heard or read of any death threats in this matter. The matter was sub judice, and the publishers got cold feet.

        • Rohan

          The right wing hindu groups to get their way always use force.Even a mall which wanted to welcome Sunny Leone in which BJP rules got threats of violence and vandalism if she stepped into their mall.
          Sometimes these Right wing groups just create an education front to practice violence and goons man ship.Im afraid they bring shame to our religion

          • Akhlesh

            So, Rohan, just to be clear: you do not know if any death threats were issued by “right wing hindu group of RSS” in the matter of Wendy Doniger’s book; your allegation of death threats in this matter is simply an extrapolation, based on some earlier incidents.

        • Rohan

          I do know it just that its not reported.And its election time ,people do
          anything to get an edge whether its pelting stones or banning books

          • Akhlesh

            Very interesting reply of yours (“I do know it just that its not reported.And its election time ,people do
            anything to get an edge whether its pelting stones or banning books”). Let me turn it around: Its electriontime and you may simply be spreading canards about death threats.

          • Rohan

            That was an epic fail

          • Akhlesh

            “[E]pic fail” or not my reply could be classified as, you certainly made allegations of death threats without providing evidence (except “I do know it” “just that its not reported”). Instead of “pelting stones”, you were pelting serious allegations!

    • Rohan

      What has apartheid go to do with anything?

      And if India’s legal system is not a banana system according to you , then either you are being totally biased,ignorant etc.In a system which took 5 years to hang Kasab,where 33% of the people in the parliament are criminals (law “MAKERS” are MP’s biggest joke),where you steal bread you get 6 months jail term and make hate speeches against a religion no action is taken against you

      • Akhlesh

        Whatever I may be, I do not make allegations of death threats without putting evidence up.

        • Rohan

          You still didnt answer the question as to how is apartheid related? And dont deflect from the issue by bringing some other argument in the picture plus people dont have emotional reasons to lampoon the Indian legal system , it is based on facts.I have also studied the Indian laws(namely corporate,business and Fiscal) and have to come to the conclusion that Indian Govt cannot frame laws which is why there is injustice for common people and frivolous litigation initiated by the GOVT and the countless bodies that represent the Govt.

  • Akhlesh

    Not all bullies should be ignored. The worst of them require confrontation (but in a loving way).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

    As some one who practices Hinduism, but is often told (in comments) that I’m doing it wrong (because I’m not Vedic or orthodox) I wonder if there isn’t some of that going on here. I also have an academic background in religious studies. So I am *totally* going to the bookstore, where I’ve seen this on the shelf, and buying it and reviewing it! My library only has a collection of her essays called “On Hinduism,” which I’ve just put on hold.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Argh! The book is on back order all across the US! I’ll just have to read her book of essays instead.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

    I completely disagree and it appears that you do not understand what the work of the historian, the philosopher, the religious studies scholar, or the theologian is actually about. You’ve basically said that experts are full of bias and shouldn’t put their own spin on things, and also that every person will interpret Shakespeare differently. How is that not doing what you’ve just said scholars cannot do?

    Plenty of people write history with their biases (and I have not read Doniger so I can’t speak to her strengths or weaknesses) but no one gets a PhD and devotes their life to the study of anything just to rewrite it. We need multiple voices. Yes, most history is written by the victors, *that is why we need alternative histories.* We need to look at traditions and historical narratives and say “Hey, what were the women doing and thinking?” (For example) Or the poor?

    Doniger may have gotten a lot of things wrong (again, I’ll need to read her book to find out), sure. But just because you don’t like her interpretation doesn’t mean it’s useless, or that she’s attacking your faith. (Unless of course she really hates HInduism, in which case, why is devoting her life to this study?)

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

    But insiders also need the perspective of outsiders. Plenty of Christians like to pretend that they exist in a vacuum and that only weakens their work.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

    I wanted to go to hell – both the book and the movie were so bad! 😉

  • Rohan

    Your last line contradicts the first line for personal convinience.
    It goes like ‘Im ok with blasphemy as long as it does not affect younger people’

  • Agni Ashwin

    In Sanskrit, “Dhanagiri” means “mountain of money”. I suspect “Doniger” will indeed make a mountain of money from this. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

  • Nathan Inwin

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=how-wI-Gxj4 She seems pretty reasonable to me.

  • Pradeep

    Clearly she doesn’t know anything ! According to her book, when Ramrajya [an idyllic vision of state propounded by Mahatma Gandhi] comes to India, then Christians and Muslims will be driven out of India. We all know that Gandhiji’s vision was about unity; he dreamed of a state where there would be no discrimination based on religion or wealth. Her book will incite hatred among communities. Furthermore, Doniger says [in the book] that when Sanskrit scriptures were written, Indian society favored open sexuality. The jacket of her book shows Lord Krishna sitting on the buttocks of nude women. She equates the shivlingam,worshipped all over India by millions, with sex and calls it an erect penis. She calls Gandhiji strange and says he used to sleep with young girls.


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