This news report says that Penguin has agreed to take the book back from publication and destroy all existing copies of the book “The Hindus: An alternative history” from India. The book is still available on Kindle at least in United States.
I have three things to say.
1. The Book is BAD
The book is surely very bad in quality but I will not assign motives to Wendy Doniger. She probably tried to make sense of Hindu texts based on the tools she had. She swallowed the common lies without questioning them and that is where her book actually sucked. For example she claims that BJP, RSS and VHP collectively represent “Hindu Right” and “Hindu Fundamentalists” who are trying to tell an alternate history of Hindus. She makes a sweeping remark that all these people have hatred for Muslims and other religions. Then she cites Golwalkar claiming him “intolerant”. The she tells an incident about how someone threw an egg at her during a talk and related that person with Hindu right and hence RSS/BJP.
Is BJP telling an alternative history ?
Most of these claim are demonstrably false. Firstly, BJP RSS are not capable of telling any alternate history. Both BJP and RSS have never come up with any quality material on Indian history. Even during the height of Ram Mandir debate RSS was helpless and was helped by independent scholars such as Dr. Koenraad Elst or Sita Ram Goel to put up an argument.
Is BJP/RSS responsible for hatred towards other religions ?
It is undeniable truth that Hindus in general are suspicious of muslims and vice versa. The question is whether this is the doing to BJP and RSS. The reality is that ill will between both these religions goes back hundreds of years. It is not invented by RSS or BJP. On the contrary BJP and RSS have given Hindus a political voice and hence actually reduced the possibility of more serious conflicts in the form of street violence.
Take example of Goa. When RSS man Manohar Parrikar became CM for the first time, issue of Anjadiv Island started making news. This island once had temple of my Kuldevi Aryadurga which was destroyed by Portuguese Missionaries to build a Church. Navy was taking over the island then and VHP had planned some demonstrations. Mr. Parrikar successfully intervened and ensured that demonstrations do not happen. He used his credibility ensure that matters do not escalate. Similarly few months back Mr. Parrikar gave special status to Church run English medium schools. Either cases are good examples how both BJP instead of pushing hate politics is actually mitigating Hindu backlash and anger through legitimate means. For example if Congress party had taken the decision to give special status to Church runs schools it would have been seen as minority appeasement and people would have taken to streets, now it is being looked at as an inevitable political compromise.
Golwalkar’s We the nationhood.
Golwalkar’s book is cited by each an every leftist and anti-hindu scholar as example of how Golwalkar and by extension RSS views Muslims. The reality is opposite. Golwalkar wrote that book when he was young and long before any kind of association with RSS. AS hew grew up his opinions changed and he took the book back citing so before joining RSS. If you read his “Bunch of thoughts” you will realize that his opinions and outlook towards most of the issues is totally changed with time. We may even infer that his association with RSS brought this change over time.
Is BJP and RSS Fundamentalist ?
I think is the most open lie. Fundamentalists are those who stick to basics of the religions, insist that religion be interpreted in the literal form and forced onto people. BJP and RSS are exact opposite of this. Both these organizations have brought in several reforms in the Hindu society often finding themselves on the wrong end of religion. RSS’s work against caste discrimination is “reformative” and not “fundamentalists”. Both these organizations are not religious in nature at all with absolutely no roots into any kind of theology or religious supremacy.
Wendy Claims that Ashoka was the first person to teach tolerance to Hindus. Second was Akbar.
This is another lie that people like Amrtya Sen have been peddling. The reality was exact opposite. Ashoka was the first King in Indian history to have a “state religion” (Buddhism) and hence he had to be the first one to put down a framework to engage other religions. Before that no King ever forced any kind of religion onto anyone nor bothered to elevate any specific faith to the level of state religion. It was only during Ashoka’s time people realized that a state can give more power to a particular cult.
Other mistakes in the book.
Wendy often uses the word caste in very broad sense. She has not acknowledged the fact that caste is a fairly modern concept in Hinduism. She claims that elitist Brahmin used Sanskrit as their language where as women and other castes(!) used Prakrit. Thus Brahmins were the only ones to interpret things for others and since Sanskrit was the only window we have to our past, we are essentially looking at the past from the eyes of those elitist Brahmins.
Well, one could also argue that Sanskrit was the most convenient way people to pass on their ideas through oral tradition and hence whoever had ideas took the trouble of learning Sanskrit. She herself acknowledges this later in her books saying the opinions of Brahmins about various subjects varies very widely.
2. Freedom of Speech and Wendy’ Book.
I am sad that Penguin is taking the book back. This is not a good news for aspiring Indian authors on controversial subjects. I wish Penguin had refused to take the book back and instead had continues the fight in court but then sometimes it is not worth their money to put up such a fight.
But this is not a violation of “Free Speech” as various media divas are claiming. I would have termed it intolerance or violation of freedom of speech if people would have taken to streets, or used political pressure to ban the book against the wishes of the publisher. Here the publisher has willingly agreed to take the book back. Wendy is now free to publish it via someone or simply give way the book for free on internet. Her freedom of speech does not include the right to get published. A lot of authors such as Dr. Arun Shourie, Sita Ram Goel, Ram Swarup etc. resorted to starting their own publishing company because others would not publish their books owing to government pressure or the leftist bullying. If you are going to write about controversial subjects you have to be ready for such things.
Act of throwing an egg on Wendy was intolerance. Approaching Penguin to take the book back is a civilized approach. Media Bimbos can sulk as much as they want.
3. Right wing Argument examined
Rajiv Malhotra who was behind getting this book unpublished recently published “Indra’s net”. This book can be considered as a reply to Wendy, Darylmpal and others who have been writing about Hinduism. There was no need for him to go after this specific book in this fashion.
The right wing’s stand that we can not question Gandhiji, Sita or other real or mythical people is simply wrong. In many cases she was not as wrong as the right wing would claim. For example she claimed that Sita blamed Laxamana for having a thing for her. This is a true claim based on the available sources of Ramayana.
“Because of me you wish Rama to be completely destroyed, and only because of your cupidity for me you are not following up on Raghava. It is definite. [3-45-6b, 7a] [Aranya kanda]
The irony is that almost every claim that the plaintiff has made in court as “false propaganda” by Wendy is demonstrably true to my knowledge. See the list:
- Gandhiji use to sleep naked with young girls : √
- Swamy Vivekananda asked people to eat beef √ ( In reality Vivekananda falsely claimed that people during Vedic period consumed beef)
- Queen Laxmibayi was loyal to British. x (There does not seem to be any evidence to this claim. But yes, had the British agreed to declare her adopted son legitimate, she could have possibly changed her mind. These are matters of power and we can not always look at them from spectacles of jingoism.)
- Hindus to do not follow any basic doctrine/book. √ This is both true and something we should be very proud of. I am not sure why the plaintiff are offended by this.
- Sita claims that Laxamana had a thing for her. √ [Proof above]
Wendy’s otherwise mediocre books will not get more publicity and support.