Wendy Doniger: Academia, Racism and Hinduphobia
The theatric over Penguin’s decision to pulp Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An alternative History” is amusing as an astonishing number of her Indian supporters (Doniger refers to them as native informants) and other gullible liberals continue to marshal around the flag post of free speech. In the comical fury and thunder, the real issues have been sidelined in the best traditions of Indian public discourse. In the all the discussions, the people like Rajiv Malhotra, who were the original mover of the issue in USA, are not being invited. Instead, we have people who most likely never heard about the book before the news of its pulping broke. And they have been repeating the standard lines of Hindutva, freedom of speech, fascism and so on.
It is therefore proper to put the main issues at the centre of public discourse. But before that, we want to make our position on banning of the books clear -we are opposed to banning or to taking them to courts.
The main issues in Doniger controversy are – academic integrity, racism and Hinduphobia. The work of Wendy and other such “experts” use Freud’s psychosexual analysis to analyse the Hindu Dharma, its sacred lore and people. Freud’s psychoanalysis is not considered as a scientific method by modern psychologists. It is often called as the most successful pseudoscience in history. At best, it possibly gives some indications to the personality of an “individual” if not being a wild speculation. It was never meant for analysing societies or communities much less for analysing history or religions.
Only some of the insights are still used in psychotherapy in neo-Freudian school. But even there it is rejected as a tool to explore the unconscious and emphasis is on interpersonal relation between researcher/therapist and the subject to get the desired modifications in the behaviour. And even its validity and efficacy is contested. As we will see Doniger failed on this aspect of interaction between researcher and subject as well.
It is therefore bizarre but not surprising that such discredited theories continue to be used in Hinduism studies. The Aryan Invasion Theory is another case in the point. And it is also not surprising that usual suspects are always involved in peddling such theories.
Not only her methodology is flawed but even her academic skills are under question. She is an “expert” in giving false references, quoting non-existent sources, fraudulent translations and imagined dates and geography. She is adept in presenting distorted versions of the stories as original without clearly specifying the source to prevent any cross-checking. Her skills in mis-quoting were in full display in her statement on the decision of Penguin to pulp her book. She said “they were defeated by the true villain of the piece-the Indian law that makes it criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu”. A criminal offense to offend any Hindu! What law is that?
The whole book is almost a racist profiling of a people apart from being demeaning in language and content. It is what Mahatma Gandhi called Katherine Mayo’s “Mother India”- a drain-inspector report. In fact, it resembles Mayo’s work with its obsession to prove the “natives” as sexual perverts. Doniger tells us that use of colour in Holi is a substitute of blood used in earlier times and “proves” inherent barbarity of Hindus. Indian mothers don’t bond with their children as western mothers do. She tells us that Ganesha is a eunuch whose love for sweets reflects his desire for oral sex and that the love between him and his mother Parvati is actually sexual as unable to satisfy himself otherwise he turns to his mother. She then uses these “conclusions” to explain what is the problem with Hindu society. She implies that Hindus are akin to rats and monkeys whose “chaotic” culture was in contrast with that of “serene” culture of various invaders.
Those who disagree with Doniger are being labelled as intolerant and fascist. We are being lectured to debate in a civilized manner rather than acting like “Hindu fundamentalists” and fanatics. And this comes from the people who one day preach that there is no such thing as Hindus and Hinduism and on second day blame Hindus and Hinduism for all the evil that exist! Fanatics? Who is acting like fanatics if not Doniger’s supporters themselves? The litigants simply went to the court to exercise their legal rights in a democratic, civilized manner. In fact, hardly anybody knew about the case till the Penguin decided to recall it, hardly a Taliban action. One can still understand if the debate is about the said law which was instituted by British in 1897 to penalise Hindus for ever questioning Islam.
Both sides can surely discuss the law and the wider question of the free speech but for that at least a modicum of tolerance is required from both sides. When those who disagree with Doniger are automatically branded as fascists, extremists, Taliban, totalitarian, casteist Brahmins or Brahminised, uneducated, intolerant then how exactly any debate or even discussion take place?
This behaviour of self-proclaimed liberals bears striking similarity to how Doniger responded to any request for “civilized” discussion about her work. She too branded her critiques as fascists, Hindu-nationalists, un-educated people who don’t read, RSS supporters who fund rioters in India to kill Muslims, racist and anti-women. She insulted them as being just a “native informants” (who can’t talk to her as equals) or mouse-turd or being jackals who want to hang around in the company of lions. According to her those who defend Hinduism suffer from a “psychological disorder which has roots in penies”. Her response to any challenge was personal attacks, racist berating of challengers and demonization of Hindu diaspora. Do her defenders in India realise that it’s her who needs a lecture on “civilized” debate?
The criticism of her work is not about “hurt religious” sentiments. It’s about her lack of academic integrity, racism and pushing the imperialist agenda of Hinduphobia. Her works fits well with the western stereotypes and provide ample ammunitions to the faithful agents of western imperialism i.e multinational corporate evangelical missionary organisations. The intense demonization of Hindus and division of Hinduism as “bad Sanskritic Vedic traditions” and “good folk tradition” and that later must break free of the former which was “imposed” on it has a long history.
Mercifully, Doniger has dropped the use of discredited Aryan-Dravidian polemics but has attempted to replace it by a new construct with similar narrative.
But the Hinduphobia goes even deeper. When seen in historical context (according to Doniger her critics have no understanding of context and history), it is the continuation of crusades of Abrahamists against what they see as the last pagan stronghold. Hindus are demonised not because there are problems in their society like all others, but because they are not “people of The Book”. Hence, they are lawless barbarians in thrall of Satan and who need to saved by destroying their spiritual systems and replacing their weird deities by the worship of “One True God”, exclusivist and jealous. The technique of demonization before physical eradication is a time tested technique used against all other pagan civilizations be it Greece, Rome, Eastern Europe, Arabia, Egypt, Africa, Americas etc.
The very pluralism and religious tolerance of these societies is used by Abrahamic imperialists to subvert them by the denying the very legitimacy of these ancient civilizations and fueling war and hatred between different sections of the pluralist society before moving in for a final kill. Only in India, China and Japan they could not achieve their dream of Kingdom of God. And exactly same is being attempted in India with a renewed vigour as India is the softest target among the last surviving Dharmic civilizations.
Western academia with its “experts” on Hinduism and evangelists are the vanguard of this neo-colonial project. The subversion and demonization is prelude to actual physical decimation which has already began in the region. It not only justifies and makes it acceptable that Hindus have suffered the biggest genocide in the last century. For the first time in history, Hindus no more exist in the western sub-continent something which didn’t happened in the bleakest days of Islamic invasions. But that is not only never discussed but Hindus are held responsible for their own genocide. Why were they so evil and wicked? Isn’t the world better off without them? This is the undertone of all explanations so far be it from left, West or Islamists.
The ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Kashmir is openly justified by Islamists and left, ongoing ethnic cleansing in Bangladesh is nobody’s concern. This is the reason why ethnic cleansing of Bodo tribals is tolerated and justified by blaming tribals as the ones who didn’t wanted to live peacefully with the Bangladeshi settlers.
This is why Muzaffarnagar riots are blamed on Hindus and rising Islamo-fascism is completely ignored. This is why religious oppression of Dalit Hindus by Christians in South and Muslims in North is ignored. Why are they Hindus anyways? Whatever the occasion Hindus stand accused because as the long line of “scholars” to which Doniger belongs tell us that there is something not “quite right” with them.
Then we have our leftists and liberals who have never ever challenged or critiqued likes of Wendy. Left is otherwise trigger happy over any perceived falsification and in India boosts of a strong academic tradition to its credit. Why have they never called bluff on such racist and Hinduphobic work? Instead we see them providing legitimacy to such works. Even now we see them portraying Wendy as a martyr who is a brilliant and innovative scholar proving “fuller” description of Hinduism.
Only last year an interesting event happened in left-dominated JNU. Evangelists and certain self-proclaimed representatives of SC/ST/OBCs organised Mahishasura Day during Durga Puja to denounce the worship of “Aryan prostitute” Durga. It happened right next to the history department but not a single JNU professor called bluff on this pseudo-history and neo-Nazi rant calling for “annihilation” of Hindus. Instead, many professors patronised it in the name of subaltern discourse, alternative history. A forum named India First came out with an elaborate “academic, civilized” response to it by point by point refuting the whole construct of Mahishasura Day. It involved a painstaking task of making 30-40 huge collages involving some three chart papers each. (Facebook page and photos of India First can be accessed here).
And the only response it got from the organisers and all the left parties and even left ruled JNUSU (which is supposed to speak for all students) was a bunch of abuses. Some gems of the response included-“you bloody, barbarian Hindus”, “why are you afraid of re-interpretation of history?”, “India First is fascist, casteist, communal, patriarchal”,” “it’s a Modi funded little fascist organisation”, “we will not cede our hard won democratic space to these Hindu-fascists”, “India First is run by perverts who are naturally unfit for any discussion or debate”, “it is impossible to expect any discourse from them”, “they are anti-people, anti-Dalit, anti-women”, “they are totalitarians who want to impose fascist agenda”. And then these are the people who are today lecturing others to debate rather than taking books to the court!
This from the same left which never tiers itself out shouting down any critical analysis of Islam-the second majority religion in India. Then we are told that it’s not about free speech but about the ruling class agenda and imperialist propaganda and they mush protest against Islamophobia! This is the same left which justified cancellation of Subramanian Swamy’s summer school course in Harvard because he wrote an article in India.
We were then told in so many words that “he has right to his opinion but not the right to publish”. It is the same left and self-certified liberals who arm twisted Wharton into cancelling a video conference of Narendra Modi. It is the same left which shouted down Tarek Fatah as an agent of Western hegemony and Islamophobe, refused any legitimacy to his works. We never saw anyone even making a fuss when the publisher of “Chasing the Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic state” dropped it after the first print owing to fears of communal tensions.
It looks like that only courts can provide a platform which can neutralise the asymmetry of power in the public discourse. We have seen that how in the Ayodhya case, many of the “eminent historians” disowned their works when they were cross-examined by court. But if that is the situation who exactly is responsible for it?
The whole fury and thunder over Doniger is an elaborate fraud and more so because of people making it. Arundhati Roy is more furious over the use of the word “Bharat” by Penguin. She claims to speak for “masses” but seems to be unaware that in every language of the masses, the word is Bharat. How many of her beloved “masses” call it India?
Others are more worried about “the deteriorating political situation” in India (due to probable victory of Modi led BJP!) while others are, as always, listening to sound of fascist boots. What matters is that the issue of Hinduphobia in academia has finally become a topic of discussion. The opportunity must be grabbed to expose and defeat on of the most entrenched racism and stereotypes and the nexus that thrives on it.