Monday, February 24, 2014

The Hindus: An Altyernative History by Wendy Doniger: Why it deserves to be banned

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Ever since Edward Said postulated the enduring link between western/ white scholarship and economic and cultural hegemony the world  has been sensitive to the fact that it is West which is capable of representing the non White societies and civilizations and in the process make the rest of the world accept the categories of thought and analytical models as "academic" discourse. I need not state the obvious" It is not possible for any non western civilization except China, to study, dissect, analyze and represent the Western world. Intellectual products are also representations of domination and hegemony, except that the Western World pretends that its constructions and representations of the non western world stem from its inherent intellectual strength: objective analysis, historical method, social sensitivity and the like. Any attempt by the non western world to turn these tools of analysis on the west itself is generally shrugged off as polemical and unworthy of academic respectability. In short, the non white world cannot represent itself, it has to be represented only by white scholars and academics. It does not matter at all that these academics are pursuing an ideological goal in which western hegemony is beyond the margins of debate.

It is against this background that wer have to see the book which has been at the centre of a major controversy in India. Wendy Doniger who sported the Irish O'Flaretty some years back when I met her at the campus of the University of Hawaii when I was a student there, has published a think volume entitled, The Hindus: An Alternative History. A little known social organization called Sikha Bachao Andolan has succeeded in making Penguin Books, her publisher pulp the volumes of this text and withdraw the book from circulation. Earlier there was Laine's book on Shivaji which suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Congress Party and its fringe elements in Maharashtra. Stanley Wolpert's Ten Hours to Rama was officially banned in India though the other books including Wendy's have not been banned. Therefore the state cannot be blamed for the tribulations of this book. In a soft state like India which has been made even more soft by corruption and mal administration, the state cannot be relied upon to protect the dignity of the Indian Civilization. Private groups have to come forward and defend India.

Wendy Doniger writes in an offensive manner about India and its civilization. What she has written is not History and to call the work an "alternative history" is just a rhetorical flourish.Revered Indian heroes and religious icons are subjected to unbridled attack in the name of academic study. I canmot understand how a woman like Wendy Doniger can write about Goddess Durga in a demeaning manner. Being a Jew perhaps a lapsed Jew, Doniger need not revere Indian Gods and Goddesses but she does not have the right to belittle them or speak in a tone and tenor that devalues the spiritual value of these icons. India is an idea that is animated by the images of these gods and goddesses and Wendy has no right to humiliate a civilization whcih has lasted for three thousand years.

Unfortunately India is not China and no American will take liberties with China. And India too is changing and it no longer regards the Westerner as having an inalienable right to demean his religion, society and culture.
                                                      I am extremely disappointed in the response of some of our prominent intellectuals who have come out in open defence of the book and have taken Penguin to task for not standing up to the  organization which succeeded in forcing the publishers to withdraw the book. I personally bought a copy of this book after the controversy broke out and am not sure if Penguin Books are really sincere about their offer to withdraw and pulp the copies of Wendy's book. Will any Western country including USA tolerate a scurrilous attack on their civilization in the name of acadelmic freedom. India has a coupe of centuries to go before it can even think of taking on the West on its own turf. Till then we have to defend our culture.

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