This post is co-authored by Aarti Sethi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Dinanath Batra is at it again. Not content with having bullied Penguin and Aleph into withdrawing Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, and “On Hinduism”, respectively, he has now trained his guns on Orient Blackswan. And, in what seems to be emerging as a frighteningly predictable pattern, Orient Blackswan has succumbed to Dinanath Batra’s “legal suits”, not just by agreeing to consider the withdrawal of a book that had attracted Batra’s attention, but also by withdrawing another book, on sexual violence during communal riots in Gujarat, as a ‘preventive measure’ regardless of the fact that it had not even been targeted by Batra and his organization. Clearly these are interesting times for publishing in India.
There is no need to rehash arguments on the importance of free speech and the circulation of books and words and texts. These have been extensively discussed here on Kafila, and everywhere else. At this stage it might be useful to simply clarify some pressing “legal” matters as there seems to be a bewildering confusion rife amongst publishers as to what exactly a legal notice is. Thus, to begin:
What a Legal Notice Is:
A Legal Notice is a grouse sent by registered post and has the same legal standing. Namely, none whatsoever. Any crank with half an hour, a typewriter and money for postage can send a legal notice to anyone about anything. You do not even have to get a lawyer to draft it. You just need a few minutes on the internet where pre-drafted forms are available for free. Or, just for fun, try drafting one yourself. Since it has no legal validity anyway, be creative! Continue reading #youhadonejob: Or, A Quick Legal Primer for Publishers. Or, What (Not) to Do When Dinanath (and other busybodies) Strike
Guest Post by SAJAN VENNIYOOR
“There is no Hindu canon,” declares Wendy Doniger in The Hindus. “The Vedas did not constitute a closed canon, and there was no central temporal or religious authority to enforce a canon had there been one.”
This is a curious argument in defence of heterodoxy. Canons don’t spring fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, or drop from the lips of a passing Archangel. Someone has only to do the hard work, and it’s never too late to make a nice hard canon.
As Doniger says, Hinduism as we know it today “is composed of local as well as pan-Indian traditions, oral as well as written traditions, vernacular as well as Sanskrit traditions, and nontextual as well as textual sources.” That’s good news – plenty of material there to choose a canon from.
Back in the 16th century, the Church found itself up the creek without a canon. Plagued by fifteen hundred years of heresies and heterodoxies, disagreements over the sacraments and the scriptures, not to mention a perfect storm of lusty, busty images in Renaissance religious art, the Catholic Church sat in ecumenical council between 1545 and 1563 and decided, once and for all, what was IN and what was OUT.
Index of Prohibited Books
It took the Church just over 1500 years – from the crucifixion of its founder to the Council of Trent – to decide which of its written books and unwritten traditions were truly sacred and which were profane (and which were to be banned). Continue reading The Buttocks of Naked Women and Further Meditations on Sacred Art: Sajan Venniyoor
Issued by Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK)
From Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, we are witness to an increasingly regressive trend of banning books, films and art in the name of ‘hurt sentiments’. However, while in a plural and diverse society as ours where sentiments are routinely hurt, when do certain instances of ‘hurt sentiments’ translate into the clamping down of such ‘hurtful’ narratives, leading to their censorship and banning? The aggressive intolerance towards any effort that challenges the dominant discourse on religion, caste, gender, sexuality, nation, etc. points us in a direction where knowledge produced takes the shape of propaganda. In the face of this attack, let us reclaim our right to think, question, challenge and criticize – the pillars of knowledge production. Continue reading Whose “Hurt Sentiment”? On Pulping of Wendy Doniger’s Book: Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK)
Perhaps the clearest statement on what exactly it is in Wendy Doniger’s work that bothers some people – and who these people are – is outlined in Jakob De Roover’s empathetic account of the imagined ‘Hindu boy with intellectual inclinations’ born in the 1950’s. This boy grows up going to the temple, hearing stories about Bhima’s strength, Krishna’s appetite, Durvasa’s temper. If you were this boy,
Perhaps you rejoice when Rama rescues Sita, feel afraid when Kali fights demons, or cry when Drona demands Ekalavya’s thumb as gurudakshina.
The boy goes to school and learns about caste discrimination in Hinduism (that he had to go to school to learn about caste discrimination establishes his own caste position very clearly). This makes
You feel bad about your “backward religion” and ashamed about “the massive injustice of caste.”
You sense that it misrepresents you and your traditions—it distorts your practices, your people, and your experience…Everywhere you turn, people just reproduce the same story about Hinduism and caste as the worst thing that ever happened to humanity: politicians, activists, teachers, professors, newspapers, television shows… Continue reading The Embarrassed Modern Hindu (Upper Caste Man)
Kafila normally does not carry guest posts that have appeared elsewhere, but I think JANAKI NAIR’s article from The Telegraph needs to be read widely – a scholarly, lively, feminist take on sexuality in Hindu traditions.
It is our good fortune that our knowledge of Hinduism does not come from the authorized versions that Dina Nath Batra and his Shiksha Bachao Andolan wish to propagate. Neither does our collective imagination remain reined in by his fantasies about the Indian past. This large and luxuriantly complex society, even when all else has been brutally taken from its wretched millions, has its imagination intact. And, we fervently hope, for some time to come. Therein lies the challenge to our desperately needed “historical temper”.
As an 18-year-old, I had read the sexually frank passages of the Rig Veda with wonder and amazement. In a small village called Sanehalli, Karnataka, where the performing arts have been vigorously patronized by Swami Panditaradhya, I recently watched, along with the people from surrounding villages, the Kathakali performance at the annual theatre festival, in which Shakuntala incrementally raised the decibel level and shouted “Anarya!” at Dushyanta, violating all norms of womanly behaviour and appropriate performance voice. There was thunderous appreciative clapping at the end. I have filed past, with lots of ardent devotees of Krishna, the brilliant murals at the Cochin Palace at Mattancherry, where Krishna does not waste a single digital extremity of his eight hands and two feet in pleasing his gopis (his two flute playing hands excepted). Ditto the Guruvayur Temple, whose sexually explicit murals are now, alas, being modestly covered in (NRI-sponsored) gold plate. The erotic sculptures at the Nellaiappar Temple at Tirunelveli, the great Chalukyan temples at Aihole Pattadakkal and Badami, all visited daily by hundreds of chattering and irreverent school children, continue to stand as testimony to what our illustrious forebears were also preoccupied with. One could go onad nauseum, about the little and great traditions of Indian mythology which are not only sexually explicit but bloodstained to boot. It is Wendy Doniger’s triumph that she brings us these complexities in just one book. Continue reading Terrorized By The Past: Janaki Nair
The following is the text of a statement issued by the Faculty of the CENTRE FOR HISTORICAL STUDIES, Jawaharlal Nehru University, protesting against the recent decision by Penguin India to withdraw and pulp all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s Hinduism. An Alternative History
We are outraged by the news that Penguin India has agreed to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s much acclaimed book The Hindus: An Alternative History and pulp all existing copies of the book in stock. Professor Doniger is one of the most respected Indologists in the world. She has spent a lifetime exploring the richness of India’s religious pasts, showcasing the creative interplay between multiple traditions — the Puranic and the Vedantic, the folkloric and the Brahmanic. Innovatively drawing on many disciplines, she has investigated the variegated world of Hindu mythology and theology, to explore what they say about order and chaos, morality and ethics, the good and the evil, the erotic and the non-erotic. Her reading of Hinduism has inevitably disturbed those who wish to sanitize and straitjacket Hinduism, and repress the multiplicity of traditions that constitute it. While welcoming all critical engagements with the book, the faculty of the CHS condemns any attempt to curtail the circulation of this book in any form.
The decision of Penguin India to sign an out-of-court settlement to withdraw Professor Doniger’s book is therefore an act of abandoning the basic ethics of publishing. What is most disturbing is the fact that Penguin Books — which had in the past a sturdy reputation of defending freedom of expression — has agreed to a settlement even without the Indian state or the Indian judiciary taking a position against the book. This decision will affirm the power of the forces of religious intolerance, encourage further attacks on authors who question the fundamentalist interpretation of the past, and subvert the right to freedom of expression. It will undermine further the rapidly eroding public space wherein critical debates and discussions can take place. This is a space that all who believe in democratic values — publishers included — need to preserve and defend.
Please note that individual names are not being listed in this statement as this is emanating from the entire faculty.
Professor Rajat Datta
This statement expresses the views of the individuals listed below and does not represent the views of the University of Chicago or any of its departments.
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. As students in the United States, we are acutely aware that North American organizations of the Hindu right initiated the protests against Wendy Doniger’s scholarship. Hindu right wing organisations in India have worked in tandem with their North American counterparts to suppress alternative voices in India and too often violently. We are deeply concerned about the alarming increase in attacks on any academic study of Hinduism that does not fit these groups’ narrow and exclusionary vision of Hinduism which is part of their desire to create a Hindu India that excludes the religious minorities of Indian Muslims and Indian Christians. Continue reading Statement by Scholars in North American Universities on Withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book