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The Embarrassed Modern Hindu (Upper Caste Man)

February 24, 2014

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.”

But

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… They may add some qualifications but to no avail. After spending a few years in America, you return to India, get married, and have two kids. They come home from school with questions about “the wrongs of Hinduism and the caste system.” You don’t know what to tell them. Your frustration and anger rise to boiling point. You feel betrayed by the intellectual classes.

Your daughter meanwhile grows up and gains admittance to a PhD programme in religious studies at an Ivy League university.  But because she points out ‘factual howlers and flawed translations in the works of eminent American scholars of Hinduism’, she is branded Hindutvavaadi and exiled to

some university in small-town Virginia, where she feels so isolated and miserable that she decides to return to India.

The poor thing. What a sad story of failure. She had to ‘return to India’! The very India that is the home of proud Hindus, but so much more romantic when viewed from another continent, while being paid in dollars.

And all because Hinduism is misrepresented by powerful American scholars.

One does wonder about how imaginary this slowly aging boy is, when concrete and incongruous details are offered up – ‘Your father is indifferent to most of this stuff, but then he is very moody so you prefer to stay away from him in any case.’ That indifferent moody father, this sad defeated daughter whose sign of failure is her return to India – is this an existing person you’re supposed to imagine being…? Since De Roover genuflects to SN Balgangadhar right in the beginning, from whose work, he says, he derives his perspective, one may be forgiven for wondering if it is Balagangadhar’s pain he is ventriloquizing.

And why is this very specific subject position something that any Hindu is supposed to be able to occupy so easily and empathetically?

Despite all of this, there is no doubt that De Roover offers a much more sophisticated version of Dinanath Batra’s fulminations against Doniger. He identifies a Christian distaste for pagan practices and traditions (identifiable by frank engagement with sexuality) in a long line of colonial and later scholarship on Hinduism. He accepts that Messrs. Batra and Co. have unfortunately internalized this colonial, western  critique and that

the grips of Victorian morality have made these Hindus ashamed of a beautiful dimension of their traditions.

Nevertheless, he holds that

Wendy Doniger’s work builds on this tradition [i.e. the connection established between Hinduism and sexuality, based in a Christian frame that served to distinguish pagan idolaters from true believers.] Like some of her predecessors, she appreciates the sexual freedom involved, but then she also tends to stress two aspects: sex and caste. This is not a coincidence, for these always counted as two major properties allowing Western audiences to appreciate the supposed inferiority of Hinduism. In other words, the sense that the current depiction of Indian traditions in terms of caste and sex is connected to earlier Christian critiques of false religion cannot be dismissed so easily.

However, he is of the opinion that banning or withdrawal of books is not the answer. What is?

The entirely indigenous, proud Hindu category of ‘scientific research’! In a passage more aridly framed within a western social science tradition than the most mainstream Political Scientist could have achieved, De Roover says

To cope with complex cases like these, the first step should take the form of scientific research. The disagreement with the work of Doniger and other scholars can be expressed in a reasonable manner. The theoretical poverty and shoddy way of dealing with facts and translations exhibited by such works can be challenged on cognitive grounds. This is the only way to alleviate the frustration of our Hindu gentleman (a grandfather by now) and to illuminate the intellectual concerns of his daughter. In any case, we need to appreciate how the current story about Hinduism and caste continues to reproduce ideas derived from Christianity and its conceptual frameworks. As long as we keep selling the experience that one form of life (Western culture) has had of another (Indian culture) as God-given truth, the current conflict will not abate and our understanding of India will not progress.

So when Doniger writes about  sexual elements of Hindu texts, she is not celebrating this aspect (as De Roover, Balagangadhar and other un-fettered Hindus are) but trying to denigrate Hinduism the way a long Christian tradition has. Doniger is selling Western culture over Hindu culture, that’s what she is up to. And we have to take De Roover’s word for that. By no means believe Doniger when she says that her book Hindus. An Alternative History 

highlights a narrative alternative to the one constituted by the most famous texts in Sanskrit …and represented in most surveys in English. It tells a story that incorporates the narratives of and about alternative people—people who, from the standpoint of most high-caste Hindu males, are alternative in the sense of otherness, people of other religions, or cultures, or castes, or species (animals), or gender (women). Part of my agenda in writing an alternative history is to show how much the groups that conventional wisdom says were oppressed and silenced and played no part in the development of the tradition—women, Pariahs (oppressed castes, sometimes called Untouchables)—did actually contribute to Hinduism. My hope is not to reverse or misrepresent the hierarchies, which remain stubbornly hierarchical, or to deny that Sanskrit texts were almost always subject to a final filter in the hands of the male Brahmins…who usually composed and preserved them. But I hope to bring in more actors, and more stories, upon the stage, to show the presence of brilliant and creative thinkers entirely off the track beaten by Brahmin Sanskritists and of diverse voices that slipped through the filter, and, indeed, to show that the filter itself was quite diverse, for there were many different sorts of Brahmins; some whispered into the ears of kings, but others were dirt poor and begged for their food every day. (P 1 of the Penguin Edition, 2011)

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.

So let us imagine another growing child – not De Roover’s boy, but his sister. She hears (and retains) some other stories that the boy chooses to forget or ignores – the cruel slashing of Surpanakha’s nose for her merely expressing desire for a young handsome man, the even more cruel abandonment of pregnant Sita, the Lakshman Rekha that she is called upon to observe every single day of her twentieth century life – imagine her excitement when on growing up and entering the world of scholarship, she comes across Indian feminist scholarship that attacks both Western Orientalist critiques of  Hinduism as well as nationalist responses that reconstruct a Golden Age before “Muslim invasions” – for instance, Uma Chakravarty’s critique of the ‘Altekerian Paradigm’. Or Iravati Karve’s Yuganta. Or Nabaneeta Deb Sen’s account of women’s Ramayanas in which Rama is a far cry from the ideal man. Village women sing “Ram, tomar buddhi hoilo nash’. Oh Ram, you have lost your mind. Molla, a Shudra woman in the 16th century wrote a perfect classical Ramayana, which the Brahmins did not allow to be read in the royal court. Chandrabati’s version that told the Ramayana from Sita’s point of view was criticized as a weak and incomplete text by the same arbiters of taste and morality.

Imagine this young woman trying to engage her sulky brother in dialogue as he rants about the denigration of Hinduism. Imagine the absolute lack of empathy from his side as he fulminates…

Imagine after this, the daughter of the Dalit woman who cleans the toilets of that young Hindu boy’s home. Imagine her excitement at learning, if she ever reached school, that one BR Ambedkar had torn apart the entire foundation of the religion so celebrated by the boy and his family. Or that Ranganayakamma had written a book called Ramayana The Poisonous Tree, saying we should reject it because it supports the powerful against the powerless. Or that EV Ramasami had deconstructed the story of the killing of Shambuka by Rama for daring to recite the Scriptures despite being a Shudra.

Imagine the fact that this girl would literally have been invisible to the sulky boy as the household spun silently around him on the labour of women and lower castes, as he prepared to go to America ‘for a few years.’

For De Roover and his ‘Hindu gentleman’, sexuality is not the problem, mention of caste discrimination is. By putting Christian distaste for both sexuality and caste in the same basket, De Roover is able to suggest that both critiques are tainted.  But of course, some of us may want to take a more nuanced position, celebrating sexuality and attacking caste oppression, even if critique of the latter comes exclusively from ‘the West’, which of course, it does not.

Eleven year old Muktabai,  a Dalit student at the school in Pune established by Savitribai and Jotiba Phule, gave a damn about where the critique of caste came from when she wrote in the Marathi journal Dyanodaya in 1855:

Earlier, Gokhale, Apate, Trimkaji [a series of other Brahmin surnames]…who showed their bravery by killing rats in their homes, persecuted us, not even sparing pregnant women, without any rhyme or reason. That has stopped now…Harassment and torture of mahars and mangs, common during the rule of Peshwas in Pune, has stopped…

‘Earlier’ was under the rule of the Peshwas, ‘now’ was under British colonialism. The West was her saviour from indigenous caste society.

Dinanath Batra of course, is in another category altogether from De Roover and his teacher.  Batra’s assertions in the legal notice to Doniger/Penguin demonstrate vast contempt for actual Hindu practices and beliefs, with an arrogance and ignorance of Hindu traditions unmatched by any Christian missionary. It would be tedious to pull apart every argument he makes, but here are just some of the most ridiculous examples.

a) Batra: That YOU NOTICEE at page 14 has cited a passage from Valmiki’s Ramayan in which Sita accuses Laxman of wanting her for himself but has not mentioned that very passage from Valmiki Ramayana in your book.

The implication is that Doniger is making this up. Did Batra ever really even hear the story of the Ramayana, let alone read it in any language? My mother, a practising and devout Hindu, told us the story of the Ramayana many many times, (which she reads every year from beginning to end during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam, the Malayalam version written by Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in the 17th century), and the episode in which Sita berates Lakshmana for not going to rescue Ram, being killed, as she thinks, by Mareecha, is heart-breaking. Sita throws accusation after accusation at him, and still he stands his ground, staying firm to the duty to protect her, as Ram had enjoined him to do. He finally breaks when she accuses him of wanting her for himself, and leaves her in the protection of the Lakshmana Rekha. This is in Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kanda Chapter 45, and on P 208 of Adhyatma Ramayana in the section Mareecha Nigraham, as my mother readily located over the phone for me a moment ago.

b) Batra: That YOU NOTICEE at page 669 quote a version of Ramayana in which Rama asks Laxman “do you love Sita?” in sexual sense. That YOU NOTICEE attributed this version to tribal people known as the Rajnengi Pardhan at Patangarh, Mandla district and claim that it was published in 1950. Before quoting such a distortion you and the publisher ought to have examined whether this was spread by tribals converted into Christianity as Christian missionaries are known to smear other religions.

So tribal versions of the Ramayana are produced under the influence of Christian missionaries trying to ‘smear’ Hinduism. What contempt for the non-upper caste ‘Other’! The book by Verrier Elwin cited by Doniger was published in 1950, but it relates living versions circulating in the region, for much longer. It is not a tribal version of the Ramayana produced in 1950!

c) That YOU NOTICEE at page 25, incorrectly state that “there is no Hindu canon”. That YOU NOTICEE should know the basic fundamentals of Hindu Religion which hold Vedas to be the Hindu canon as these are revered & respected by all Hindus as divine revelations.

In fact, the Upanishads, which are the later, philosophical form of the Vedas, hold the early Vedas in scant regard, as Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan points out:

The  Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita are, according to the  Mundaka Upanishad, superior knowledge. They are  born of the spirit of revolt against the ceremonial portion of the Vedas. The Vedas lend color to the doctrine that religiosity consists in the observance of the ceremonial. The Upanishads or the higher knowledge point out that the more important thing is the inner mind and right knowledge. So the Vedas, with all their appendages, are held to be inferior to the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, which speak of the nature of the individual soul and its relation to the Eternal Reality.

(‘The Vedanta Philosophy and the Doctrine of Maya’ in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Jul., 1914), pp. 431-451)

There is no question of the Vedas being ‘divine revelations’, not even the most devout practising Hindu would say that. But then, Batra is no practising Hindu, he has a political agenda. As Janaki Nair points out:

[A]mong the many charges Batra made against Wendy Doniger: “That the entire list of the books authored by YOU NOTICEE shows that YOU NOTICEE concentrate, focus and write on the negative aspects and evil practices prevalent in Hinduism.”

Therefore, his argument is that we should shield our young/vulnerable/women from such knowledge. Therefore, genuine terror about the Indian past underlies Batra’s recent campaign, and his success in getting Penguin to pulp the remaining copies of the 2009 book The Hindus: An Alternative History. What if this text actually reveals to the deracinated urban school child or NRI reader that there is much shameful ambiguity in “ancient Indian culture” to which we should be reverently and unquestionably wedded? What if women learn that contemporary Indian sexuality has deep roots in, not the Wicked West but our own ancient Indian culture?

Both with the Ramayana essay of AK Ramanujan assigned to Delhi University students that the same Dinanath Batra managed to get removed (from the formal syllabus – it is still widely taught and read), and Doniger’s book, what has been termed objectionable is the assertion that many different versions of the Ramayana and other Hindu stories exist. These intimidating and silencing moves are directed not only to the ‘Western scholar’ but towards the heterodox practices of hundreds of Hindu communities. It is never day-to-day practitioners of religion who try to silence other views of Hinduism, it is those who would like to produce ONE version of Hinduism as the only legitimate one, so as to play the politics of numbers required by elections in a representative democracy.

Devout Ram-worshipping Hindus in some parts of Vidisha, Mandsaur, Ratlam and Indore districts of Madhya Pradesh actually welcome Ravana on Dussehra, in some places as a local god; and in Mandsaur as a respected son-in-law because Mandodari, his wife, belonged to their town. Both Valmiki communities as well as Kanyakubja Brahmins of Vidisha believe Ravana to be a consummate intellectual and Shiva bhakta.

Nobody is ‘confused’ or ‘insulted’ or ‘hurt’ by this, except the likes of Dinanath Batras and KC Guptas, (the latter one of those who campaigned for the removal of Ramanujan’s essay).

The real disdain for Hindu folk tales, oral ballads and other practices of believing Hindus is shown by these Dinanath Batras and KC Guptas who are shamed and embarrassed by the glorious pagan aspects of Hinduism, and the refusal of Hindu practices to be tamed into the pallid, rigid North Indian upper caste version that is the basis of the Hindu nationalist project.

There is point in pulping Doniger – they may as well call for pulping 80 percent of Hindu practices and texts. No doubt they would like to.

51 Comments
  1. Dipshikha permalink
    February 24, 2014 5:16 PM

    ‘She hears (and retains) some other stories that the boy chooses to forget or ignores – the cruel slashing of Surpanakha’s nose for her merely expressing desire for a young handsome man’

    Yes, she may. But that would not necessarily make her more sympathetic.

    From my personal experience as a girl growing up in urban middleclass India in the nineties, there was remarkably little sympathy towards the figure of Surpanakha and in fact, all other female figures in Hindu myths who dared to desire. Most of the women in my family sniggered among themselves about the comical fate that ‘served the slut right’ when they told the story to me. Same for apsaras and even to a certain extent, Parvati.

    For many women, the slashing was not only not cruel but important for other women, because without the slashing, desire would become a part of the feminine identity – the ultimate unthinkable.

    This article, just like the one it critiques, centers it argument around the typical Indian. It will always, always be problematic use a universal narrative stand-in for the ‘Indian man’ or ‘Indian woman’. That is the very point of this essay too, isn’t it – that there is an overwhelming plurality in traditions, myths, ideologies and rituals that renders all attempts to consolidate a single strand as the correct one totally futile? So why not extend the same to the recipients of those traditions too?

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 24, 2014 6:00 PM

      There is no ‘typical Indian’ anywhere in my post, man or woman, not even a typical Hindu man or woman. I simply offer two other subject positions that a ‘Hindu’ can occupy, apart from the one De Roover sets up as universal. Those are merely two of many possible ones, and of course, there would be many (including women) who are very comfortable with the narrow view of Hinduism offered, as De Roover’s young man was. (His discomfort was with the questioning of that narrow tradition, not with the assertion of it.)
      You seem to have got the point of my essay, ‘that there is an overwhelming plurality in traditions, myths, ideologies and rituals that renders all attempts to consolidate a single strand as the correct one totally futile’. However, I dont understand your view of traditions as split into ‘makers’ and ‘recipients’ – that’s not a view of traditions or cultures that I hold. All participants in a practice are simultaneously makers and recipients – whether resisting or conforming.
      So I guess I don’t understand what your difference of opinion is :)

    • February 27, 2014 9:34 PM

      I grew up on Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan books. I remember e.g., Sharmishta’s desire for Yayati, and Urvashi’s desire for Arjuna. Yayati had children by Sharmishta much to Devayani’s dismay; Arjuna tried to turn down Urvashi gently, but was cursed to live as a eunuch for an year. Surpanakha is only the third episode; and her nose was cut after she attacked Sita.

  2. February 24, 2014 8:10 PM

    Hats off to Nivedita for writing this long but absorbing write-up that reeks of erudition. Hindu consciousness (I hate the term ‘Hinduism’ because it’s redolent of doctrinal rigidity). The pristine Hindu consciousness welcomed all ideas to let its corpus get augmented. The very idea of blasphemy was alien to Hindu consciousness and it came from missionaries and Muslims. Folk songs of Avadh even criticise Ram as a man who lacked virility, That’s why Sita loved only two men from the core of her heart: Lakshman and Indraneel (Meghnaad, the son of Ravan). She loved the latter so much that she cursed Lakshman when he killed Indraneel on the sly. Rahul Sankrityayan mentioned this in one of his letters. It’s sad that ill-educated Hindus of today have become so touchy about their religion without ever understanding the interpretative crux of innumerable myths and fables that abound their faith.

    SUMIT PAUL, Poona

  3. February 25, 2014 1:30 AM

    The sell-loathing you exhibit for your religion is despicable. People like you just ca’n for You just can’t to wait to lick the boots of pesudo white western historians! Is it any wonder the nuslims and the British invaders had contempt for Hindus? They knew they trust Hindus to hate themselves.

    You pathetic sniveling apologist lefties commies should get out of India you hate so much!

    • February 25, 2014 12:12 PM

      Nowadays, Hindus seem to have become more intolerant than Muslims. Remember the pithy words of psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, ‘Religious intolerance always stems out of insecurity about one’s own faith,’ This sums up the growing intolerance among empty-headed Hindus. Correct me, if I’m wrong.

      SUMIT PAUL, poona

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 25, 2014 2:38 PM

      Walley, in my opinion,the pathetic snivelling person is the one who spews venom anonymously. But I also understand why you’re so frustrated – neither “Hinduism” nor “India” nor women nor “lower castes” care a damn for your fulminations. We’re getting along just fine, and nothing you say has any relevance for most Hindus and Indians. Yes, I too might have been reduced to hurling useless abuses under such circumstances!

      • Periasamy permalink
        February 26, 2014 4:12 AM

        Nivedita, you seem to be under the impression that anything you write will make an impression on Indians. You audience is not Indian, so better be up front about it, rather than pretend that you speak for all Indians. You don’t, anymore than your critics do. Yours is just one opinion among a billion.

        As for Wendy Doniger’s shenanigans, it is a matter of curiosity that her random interpretations of sanskrit texts have been challenged by serious academics, and she does not have the intellectual honesty to engage in a debate with her critics to explain why her interpretation is right. She seems to take the easier path of just complain that anyone who complains of her shoddy sanskrit knowledge is a “hindu fundamentalist”. The real question is why the likes of you do not question than and instead overlook her lack of professional integrity in defending her ideas in venues like conferences and other serious contexts, where the goal is better understanding of texts.

        Why don’t you read up one of her critics like SN Balagangadhara, who raise legitimate questions about her textual interpretations in a detailed academic manner, and then defend Wendy Doniger’s “scholarship”. I dare you.

        • Nivedita Menon permalink*
          February 26, 2014 2:28 PM

          Periasami, I have long been familiar with SN Balagangadhar’s work which is interesting, but deeply flawed by his ideological defence of caste arising from what I can only surmise is his own privilleged caste position. I am not interested in engaging at length with that perspective, which I find ideological and limited.

          • Nicholas permalink
            February 27, 2014 2:52 PM

            Dear Nivedita, I have my doubts as to how familiar you are with S.N. Balagangadhara’s work (spelling his name correctly would be a start). There is no ideological defence of caste whatsoever to be found in his work. It would be interesting if you could produce the relevant passages. Also, referring to the so-called ‘caste position’ of an author is an instance of a fallacy known as ad hominem, which appears to be popular in Delhi and surroundings.

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        February 28, 2014 12:42 PM

        To Nicholas (and the phalanx of Balu’s Children who have emerged with full force ito attack the people they call Wendy’s children) – once and for all, this is not a debate on SNB, correctly spelt or not. I am not interested in debating what I consider to be a specious body of work, which needs the pulping of another scholar’s book to achieve some limelight.
        As for the location of the speaker/writer, you dont need to live in Delhi to know that nobody speaks from nowhere about everywhere, and that any claim to do so is dishonest and masks privilege.

        • A. Anil permalink
          February 28, 2014 3:47 PM

          When you write on a topic and use examples to illustrate your points, you’ve to expect that those who don’t want to discuss the topic will get purposely sidetracked debating the examples. :/
          But what can you do, not use examples ever? There’s always going to be some way to veer off topic, I’m veering off topic even now. You can’t make people discuss what they have no interest in. Who cares about freedom of expression when our very (Victorian) morality is being “threatened”!
          By the way, if we’re criticizing spelling now, would it be ok if I did a nice little grammar check for all the commenters? I’m just in such a “helpful” mood.

    • Viswa permalink
      February 27, 2014 11:20 AM

      Walley,
      First, Nivedita has done a great job of putting an erudite response to both sides.

      Second, by merely spitting venom at others (Sumit and Nivedita) you are merely engaging in ad hominem arguments. You have NOT demonstrated that Nivedita’s and Sumit’s comments follow from any of Leftist ideologies or, for that matter, from any philosophy that spits hatred at Hinduism or Indian Philosophy.

      If you were to demonstrate that with proper citations, you would be doing tremendous service to Hinduism and world philosophies.

  4. kalyan permalink
    February 25, 2014 10:15 AM

    with all due respect to intellectuals:

    1. Chances are each religion has unwanted bits. they get edited out. please consider that bible is a collation of edited essays and of course we know that Koran has unwanted bits which PBUH himself stated were owing to influence of satan.

    2. Ramayana has all things recorded warts and all and possibly old enough for anyone to add and subtract versions.
    So what is genuine truth about it? no one knows. so much talk about 3rd and 4th level derivatives of human emotion of a story retold several times over by varying set of authors over a long time.

    So who decides? I would vote for popular voice. It is not the case with other religions? What makes all of us think hindus should be any better than people of other faiths? Why this burden of acting up like being super tolerant of invectives who go against popular beliefs?

    Stop the sham. Hindus eqully have a right to edit bits out when not required for them to survive the next set of troubles. Get on with it.

    • A. Anil permalink
      February 25, 2014 8:26 PM

      Why should Hindus act better? You mean other than the part where we’re the oldest surviving “faith”? Well, how about not prolonging other people’s idiocies. “But everybody else is doing it” is literally the worst excuse for anything ever.
      I’m not saying picking and choosing is bad (you’d go mad if you tried to follow everything contradictory texts like the Bible & Koran say) but at the very least you have to be aware of what you’re sidelining. You can’t just shut your eyes and pretend it never existed because you don’t like it. Even if what’s being sidelined was a mistake (like casteism for eg.), you can still learn from it.

  5. February 25, 2014 4:48 PM

    I liked the way the author has brought out the biases of the “Embarassed Modern Hindu Man”. It’s so very apparent that the embarrassment stems from cognitive dissonance between an upbringing based on sugar-coated Amar Chitra Kathas and Grandma’s tales. Whereas, the primary texts which scholarship relies on, portray a more diverse and realistic picture. Nivedita has also brought out the deracination of the Hindutva litigants who are not only ignorant of primary texts but also enshackled by the Victorian morality that leads them to outrage against the openness in Hindu primary texts.

    However Nivedita has misunderstood de Roover’s original statement – “some university in small-town Virginia, where she feels so isolated and miserable that she decides to return to India.”. de Roover is here implying that the daughter’s “failure” and “misery” was actually due to having been sidelined in US academia, therefore the daughter decided to return to India, which de Roover surmises, would provide her greater opportunity to express a discordant opinion. I don’t think de Roover implies that a return to India was a failure.

  6. avinashk1975 permalink
    February 25, 2014 11:26 PM

    I only hope “The Embarrassed Modern Hindu (Upper Caste Man)” do not commit mass suicide out of embarrassment.

  7. Akash Verma permalink
    February 26, 2014 11:18 AM

    “the Upanishads, which are the later, philosophical form of the Vedas, hold the early Vedas in scant regard”

    That simply is not true. The relationship between Vedas and Upanishads is like a Bachelor’s degree and a PhD. PhD is superior to a Bachelor’s degree but one cannot do a PHD without a Bachelor’s(and Masters).

    Similarly the karma kanda portion of the vedas are necessary for inner purification-without which one cannot enter the higher truth. That is the classical position. So to say that upanishads hold the vedas in scant regard is absolute BS. The point is simply this-dont get stuck in the lower levels. Move on.

    Nivedita Menon, as with most people writing about hinduism, has really no clue about the subject. They pull a few verses here and there and then act as experts.

    • Akash Verma permalink
      February 26, 2014 11:24 AM

      Madame your shallowness is exposed. Proof below:

      1. Jakob agrees with one or two of points made by Batra.

      2. Batra is a Hindutvavaadin

      3. Therefore, Jakob (and his teacher Balagangadhar) are Hindutvavaadins..

      4. Nivedita agrees with Batra that (a) 2 +2 = 4, that (b) New Delhi is the capital of India, and that (c) Malayalam is a major language in Kerla.

      5. Therfore, if you follow the logic of Nivedita, Nivedita is a hindutvavaadin!!

      Of course, Nivedita and her ilk say the above argumentaion is ridiculous.

      How to make sense of Nivedita in general?

      There is only one answer possible in this case: there exists a unique theory (‘the Hindutva theory’) from which one can derive certain conclusions. It is not possible to derive the same conclusion from any other theory that we know (or can invent). Consequently, one can argue backwards: if someone, anyone, supports a specific conclusion (‘the Hindutva conclusion’) then that is because such a conclusion is derivable only from the ‘Hindutva theory’. Only a fool could entertain making such a claim today, if ever. Assuming that Nivedita is not a fool, they appear reasonably intelligent to me, how then could they ‘see’ Hindutva in Jakob’s writing? A more charitable assumption would be: Nivedita either has not read my writings or has not understood them at all. Choose your poison.

      One of the central theses of Jakob’s team with empirical support are these:

      1. Hinduism doesn’t exist whether as a way of life and as religion. So, you can’t accuse him of supporters of Hindutva (or being unfettered Hindu).

      2. Hindu fundamentalism and Indian secularism are two faces of the same coin.

      3. Current social sciences extend Orientalism, which is a product of secularized Christian theology. Here, Jakob is not accusing any Individual scholar. It is the project of social sciences. Sure, you want an emprical support. Read Balagangadhara’s work “The Heathen in his blindness” for how bibical claim that every one has a religion, has become secularized.

      4. Many secularized theological ideas have received empirical translations, thus preventing any criticism, because their daily experiences confirm it. This is part of their larger thesis about colonialsm and colonial consciouss. Check “Reconceptualizing India studies” by OUP

      5. About caste discrimination: this is an interesting affair itself. If you understand that there is no data-theory distinction: every datum/fact is part of some or another theory. When it comes to caste discrimination, one is using Normative ethics to criticise. And this normative ethics is a seculariztion of Christian ethics (this is another hypothesis as well).

      Check Normative Assumptions, Discriminations, and Caste Discriminations

      Even Swami Vivekanda fell for that. Check Vivekananda and caste-discrimination: theory-ladeness

      It is easy for Nivedita to write these kind of articles, rather than engage substantially.

      • Nivedita Menon permalink*
        February 26, 2014 2:16 PM

        Poor Akash Verma, you really have nothing to say, do you, apart from this utter, angry incoherence? And by the way, there is no place where I have termed De Roover or his teacher ‘hindutvavaadi’. You have your knee jerk, formulaic defences to every considered argument that you cannot address.
        As for your childish understanding of the Upanishads versus the Vedas, go and debate Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and the entire body of scholarship on the issue. I Look forward to your counter treatise.

        • Varun permalink
          February 26, 2014 7:55 PM

          Where does Radhakrisnan debate that the Upanishads are antithesis to the vedas. Radhakrishnan has acknowledged in several of his books and in the prinicipal upanishads that the upaniShads generally mention the Vedas with respect and their study is enjoined as an important part.
          Some references: [ bRhad-AraNyaka upaniShad IV. 4. 22; I. 9. ]
          Certain verses from the Vedas such as the gAyatrI form the subject of meditations [ bRhad-AraNyaka upaniShad VI. 3. 6. ] and
          sometimes verses from the Vedas are quoted in support of the teaching of the upaniShads. [ bRhad-AraNyaka upaniShad I. 3. 10. ]

  8. a nag permalink
    February 26, 2014 1:46 PM

    Blinkered perspective. Doniger’s flippancy, designed to sex up academic writing for the market(and in tune with dominant trends persisting in American academa)is quite irritating at times.Do acknowledge the fact that it can problematic for people , even those who are not part of the Hindutva brigade. Significantly, her style is quite different here from her other writings. I suspect a lot of her defenders have not read this book.
    What is valuable about Roover’s article(specially for Kafilaites) is that knee jerk reactions from ANY ideological position should be avoided. Ultimately, shiksa bachao’s reaction is a non – academic reaction to an academic work. And the merits/demerits of Doniger’s work have been eluded by the admittedly necessary defence of free expression

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      February 26, 2014 2:11 PM

      Doniger’s flippant style may be ‘irritating’, her translations off the mark, etc. If these were made the standard for pulping books and removing them from being available to be read, then entire libraries would have to be pulped. And you should care about whether I have read Doniger, not whether ‘her suporters’ have. It should be clear that I have long been familiar with Doniger’s work as I have been with SN Balagangadhar, De Roover’s teacher. I am, supporting’ no individual, but a principle, two principles, in fact. One, the right to read and debate all ideas. Two, to refuse the straitjacketing of ‘hinduism’, ‘India’ etc into the rigid frame produced by dominant – male, upper caste, often North Indian – voices.

      • shilpy permalink
        February 27, 2014 6:01 AM

        i agree with you, ms. nivedita on the two principles you mention. i hope you will be as enthusiastic in going after doniger and her buddies in the american academia who steadfastly block out the brown practicing hindu scholars of indian origin from debates in order to guard their turf. i am sure you are aware that this sorry state of affair does exist in the american academia, aren’t you? or are you going to pretend that this is just a figment of imagination of the hindus?

        i have absolutely no doubt that i will agree with your second principle as soon as you describe in some specifics about the “rigid frame produced by dominant – male, uppercaste, often north indian – baddies”. may i hear from you?

        • Nivedita Menon permalink*
          February 28, 2014 12:46 PM

          So finally it is clear. The concern is not with Hinduism or understanding religion, but with jobs for Hindu PIO’s in American universities. Frankly, my dear, I dont give a damn.
          And after reading the post you still dont get what I mean by the rigid frame etc., perhaps you need to work much harder before you even get a degree, let alone a job anywhere.
          And Ms. Shilpy, it’s DR Menon.

  9. avinashk1975 permalink
    February 26, 2014 2:56 PM

    @ Nivedita Menon, the question is whether the Vedas, Upanishads, etc have any relevance in today’s world driven by Science and Technology. Dr. D.M.Brooks has graphically described the atrocities committed in the name of Religions the world in his book “The Necessity of Atheism” http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20248/20248-h/20248-h.htm Should be evaluate the Religions in the light of what Dr. Brooks has written or on the basis of what the adherents of those Religions are doing now or even on the Verses of the so-called Holy Books. We can get category-wise verses like Absurdities, Contradictions, Hatred, Violence, Sex, etc from http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/

    • February 26, 2014 7:53 PM

      You’re right, Avinash. We don’t require religion and god any longer. In fact, it surprises me no end that we still believe in rank absurdities that ought to have been dispensed with centuries ago. That we still carry religions and gods like a dead albatross around our necks is a clinching proof of our imperfect and exceedingly slow evolution. So long as mankind believes in these fiddlesticks, we’ll continue to be wallowing in the muck of arrant ignorance. We need a revolutionary jolt to come out of this dungeon of self-deception. At the same time, I don’t approve of militant atheism either because it’s also a kind of ideology, albeit a radical one. The question is, why do we need an ideology for our survival? Atheism is yet another nomenclature that has ‘ism’ as a suffix. Once you remove the veneer, all ideologies are same. They suck. Rise above every ideology, however fashionable it may seem ostensibly. Mankind still has a very long way to go to call itself truly emancipated in every sense.

      -SUMIT PAUL, Poona

      • Maria Lozano permalink
        February 27, 2014 4:31 PM

        Please, don´t put all religions in the same bag. Abrahamic religions are dogmatic and exclusivist. Nothing to do with Dharmic religions.

        Do we need an ideology for our survival? Do we need roads to walk? Well, for survival we only need water and food. But is life only a matter of survival? After food and drink are guaranteed, of course, we humans are suppossed to go a bit further and a bit higher. Yes, in my view we need ideologies to walk. Not other´s ideology, but our own. And oddly enough, in the walk of self discovery, many of us find truths innerly that fully coincide with what is stated under the name of Hinduism.

        Only when we are mature enough, we can afford dropping everything.
        Only when we have the wings of wisdom to fly, we can afford to do without the roads. But too many people try to fly without these wings. Do they reach anywhere?

        • March 1, 2014 8:57 AM

          Maria, the essence of all religions is same. You can’t say, all three Abrahmic or Semitic faiths, viz, Judaism, Christianity & Islam, are distinctly different from Hinduism or oriental faiths. All religions are rigidly organised and structured ideologies. A candle is required in the darkness of night but when the sun rises, do we require it? Ideologies, specifically religious ideologies, are needed for people with a lower level of intelligence. With the arrival of higher intelligence, all religious ideologies lose their primary purpose. Yet we continue to adhere to them and this pains me no end.

          SUMIT PAUL

          • March 2, 2014 5:18 PM

            Kudos to Sumit Paul. Why can’t we all think in the same manner? I am an ex-Muslim. It dawned on me at the age of 24 that Quran was written by yokels of the desert because it is full of discrepancies. I then studied Hinduism and found it to be equally bogus. Today, I am extremely happy and ensconced in my god and religion-less existence. I feel, mankind will one day collectively realise the futility of all gods, religions and ideologies. Till then, we are all condemned to witness the charade in the name of different faiths and ideologies.

            • March 2, 2014 7:13 PM

              Thanks, Zia. I must say, seldom, if ever, does one come across a Muslim/ex-Muslim so trenchantly commenting on Qura’an/Islam. The more you read the scriptures of all faiths, the more you realise that all religions are carriers of totems from the past. That we fight to defend our irrelevant totems and relics, shows the level of devolution mankind has stooped to. One feels truly emancipated after dispensing with the universal idiocy, called religion and reaches the apogee of human evolution and enlightenment after doing away with the idea of any divine power whatsoever. To quote myself, ‘Kashmakash-e-eeman-o-kufr se aazaad hoon main/ Ho ke munkir-e-zaat bahut shaad hoon main’ (I’m free of the perennial dilemma of faith and belief/ I’m happy, having denied the entity of god or any supernatural power).

              SUMIT PAUL, Poona

              • Aaradhya Patnaik permalink
                March 4, 2014 7:30 PM

                Zia, Sumit and the rest who are discussing the necessity of eradicating a god-figure- you guys are digressing from the topic completely. Instead of looking at what religion is, where the notion of it took birth and what it does you guys are engaging in a discussion that is completely theological and putting Indian traditions in the same framework and showing how they are failures a well. Firstly, this is not something that Menon intended to touch upon and secondly, your secularist views are completely founded the body of education that the colonials gave us.

  10. Aniket permalink
    February 26, 2014 8:31 PM

    In my reading of de Roover’s piece, the Hindu boy narrative serves as an allegory for the likes of Batra. I don’t think he’s trying to present a universal Hindu subject position, so your critique (of the universality of the Hindu boy’s subject position) starts from a false premise.

    Also, I don’t quite understand why we must surrender “scientific research” to the theoretical and methodological prejudices of western social science, in particular American political science, sociology and economics. There are other academies, and disciplines within the western social science academy, which make room for plural modes of inquiry within the umbrella of science.

    More importantly, de Roover is correct in asking for more and more kinds of research. He is pointing out, quite correctly, that there are power imbalances within the academy that allows western Academia to disproportionately influence trends across the globe, just as metropolitan academia in India disproportionately influences trends across the country. This is a direct response to those who believe that a response to a book is another book (e.g., Ram Guha, S Varadarajan). Sure, in an ideal world where every reasonable argument has an equal chance of being published. Sadly, we do not inhabit such a world and this in part fuels the misplaced anger of the Batras .. or at least this is what De Roover would like to argue. You have not really addressed this issue of dominance and hegemony within the academy in your article.

    Finally, it is futile to fulminate against Batra in this case. People have the right to petition the courts. Doniger is wrong in saying that the villain is the law. The villain would have been the law had the courts ruled in favor of Batra. As things stand, the courts did not even get a chance to rule on this matter. The buck therefore stops with Penguin, not with Batra, not with the law.

  11. cutie permalink
    February 27, 2014 5:12 PM

    Gone are the days when marriages were executed by parents; The times when a Punjabi marrying a Punjabi or a Bengali marrying a Bengali was the norm. Welcome to 2013 where inter-caste marriages are quickly becoming the season’s flavour and why shouldn’t they? Everyone knows that India is a diverse land that boasts of being a mother to different cultures. But what’s the point of having so many different cultures when people snarl at the very thought of their integration?
    There is something new to learn in different cultures and we, as Indians should feel proud of having such a strong and traditional backbone with us.
    But when some of these people get offended at the thought of their son/daughter marrying into a different caste, a sense of anger sweeps me.
    What is the problem in a South Indian marrying a Punjabi or vice-versa? Why do educated people talk like uneducated pigs when their family member steps out of his/her caste for marriage? Why do people have to be such haters?
    In my opinion, an inter caste marriage should be applauded by one and all as the amalgamation of different cultures will put an end to mindless racism and discrimination on the basis of caste in our exotic land. Wouldn’t you want your next generation to be more peace loving and more socially acceptable to different kinds of people in the world? So, are you ready to take the plunge and applaud inter-caste marriages?

  12. February 28, 2014 7:50 AM

    The Hindu gentleman described in de Roover’s essay, if it is supposed to reflect Balagangadhara’s generation or mine, we grew up before there was much Amar Chitra Katha. I don’t know about Balu, but I grew up reading in the fourth or fifth standard, C. Rajagopalacharis’ Ramayana, Mahabharata and K.M. Munshi’s Bhagavan Parasurama and Krishnavatara, among other things.

    Anyway, since the issue of how female desire is treated both in Hindu epics, ancient and more interesting, in modern times, I’m leafing through CR’s Ramayana. I see Devayani proposed to Kacha, who turned her down, on the grounds that he was more like a brother to her. I see Devayani propositioned Yayati, who tried to turn her down on account of her being of a higher caste. Sarmishtha propositioned Yayati, which led his father-in-law to curse him with premature old age. Amba proposed to Salva, who turned her down on account of Bhishma having had kidnapped her. Draupadi favored Arjuna at her swayamvara. Urvasi propositioned Arjuna, who turned her down on the ground she was more like a mother to him. Sachidevi pretends to be ready to yield to Nahusha, to bring about his downfall. In explaining Rukma’s position in the Kurukshetra war, CR reminds us that Rukmini “abandoned all maidenly reserve” and asked Krishna to marry her (and save her from being married to Sisupala). And this is in a book for school children.

  13. March 1, 2014 2:34 AM

    What does YOU NOTICEE mean? I have scoured the internet for it… Some legal terminology? Spelling mistake?

  14. Nicholas permalink
    March 1, 2014 4:02 AM

    Some of these responses are eye-opening as to the current standards of debate among the JNU intelligentsia. Dr Menon makes a number of false claims about Balagangadhara’s work, which illustrate she has either not read or not understood his work. When she is asked to produce textual evidence for her claims, which she obviously cannot, she goes off on a tangent on how this is not a debate on Balagangadhara’s work, while she is the one who began speculating about his person in her own text.

    More empty rhetoric follows: irrelevant points about the ‘phalanx’ of “Balu’s children” who go have come out in full force to attack those they call “Wendy’s children.” First of all, who cares which people are participating in this debate and what their affiliations are? It is about the quality of the content and the arguments, no? Or at least that’s how intellectual debates should be. If not, one ends up among the likes of Dinanath Batra & co. Second, another spurious claim: “Wendy’s children” is a label produced by Rajiv Malhotra, who has nothing to do with Balagangadhara and his students. Perhaps Dr Menon would be so kind as to produce evidence which shows that any of Balagangadhara’s students ever called anyone “Wendy’s child.” They follow other standards and styles of debate.

    It is quite fascinating to witness how Dr Menon responds to the fact that European students follow the research programme developed by an Indian thinker who has unorthodox but exciting ideas: with misplaced sarcasm instead of substantial engagement. It is as though it is somehow contemptible that European intellectuals might be fascinated by the thought of an Indian, while it is somehow honourable that Indian intellectuals swoon over how a shiver went down their spine when they heard Etienne Balibar mention “Michel” and suddenly realised that he was referring to Michel Foucault. When Etienne Balibar is your next-door neighbour and your uncle’s close friend, all of this becomes less impressive, I must say.

    The point is this: Do you see the fundamental asymmetry at work? The following sequence is considered perfectly acceptable: aspiring intellectuals from the villages must follow the college professors of small-town India who must then look up to the intelligentsia of the state capital who in turn genuflect to JNU professors who parrot the latest lingo and fashionable thinkers that New York intellectuals have imported from Paris. But if an aspiring intellectual from Paris looks up to an Indian thinker who has not yet been recognised by the tenured radicals in New York and Delhi, something must be very wrong in the world; then sarcasm and ad hominem attacks directed at “the phalanx of Balu’s children” appear to be the new standard. Way to go, Dr Menon!

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      March 2, 2014 4:08 PM

      This comment ( a come-back from Nicholas) is one among several of this kind we have received that has been passed here only to illustrate the intellectual poverty and ethical dishonesty of this wannabe “school of thought”.
      For instance, the distancing gesture from Rajiv Malhotra when RM’s Infinity Foundation and SNB’s ideas have an intimate relationship. What is revealing is that there is an attempt to distance SNB from RM and his Infinity Foundation on the one hand and from the likes of Dinanath Batra on the other, whereas the political/intellectual continuity between the three is more than evident, and the concrete links between the first two (RM/SNB), well documented.
      Second, SNB has gone on record quite proudly to claim the caste system as “an autonomous, decentralized, stable, adaptive, dynamic, self-reproducing social organization. It is also neutral with respect to political, religious and economic doctrines and environments.” An anodyne description (for Outlook magazine) that could only be produced by one who has not been at the receiving end of its brutality, and that entirely discounts the experience of the thousands of Indians (not Western scholars) who have in fact been at its receiving end. This is what is called an ideological defence of caste.
      Third, the claim that SNB is the only Indian thinker to have mounted a single handed attack on Eurocentrism and the problems with large-scale application of theory developed in the European context to the rest of the world. This task has on the contrary, been carried out with the intellectual rigour and ethical auto-critique entirely lacking in SNB by a range of Indian (not to mention African) scholars. If this ‘Nicholas’ (who knows everything about me because I write in my own complete, identifiable name upfront) had the gumption to go beyond the first pages of my first book, which he cites only to jeer at the acknowledgements, or if he had even a fraction of the familiarity with my work that I have with SNB’s, he would have learnt much about how to simultaneously engage with and disengage from theory developed in the West. As I learnt my lesson on how to do this from a range of very ‘Indian’ feminist scholars and social theorists whose names I will not even take because if they dont spring to ‘Nicholas’s mind, it is even more revealing of the closed cult-like universe SNB’s students inhabit.
      (And yes, ‘Nicholas’, let us be very clear, Michel Foucault as intellectual, historian, philosopher and activist, has a well-deserved global status that SNB’s half-baked theories based solely on his claim to ‘Indian’ authenticity and ‘Hindu hurt’ simply cannot claim)
      But perhaps the best part of this supposedly anti-Eurocentric diatribe is the final jewel in SNB’s crown, offered up to him by this particular acolyte – aspiring intellectuals from Paris (PARIS!) look up to SNB – ah, the pinnacle of his achievements. Poor professors from JNU, who can claim only (I quote ‘Nicholas’ here) “aspiring intellectuals from the villages” of India and “college professors of small-town India” who read and engage with them.
      And yet, somehow, it is a fate we are very content with, and a universe we choose proudly to inhabit.
      All power to SNB and his Parisian acolytes in faraway Ghent (and their aspirations to the American academy thwarted by ‘Western scholars’). Is it any wonder I say we are simply not interested in engaging with them/him?

      • Nicholas Beaumont permalink
        March 3, 2014 8:21 PM

        Dear Dr Menon,

        Thank you very much for your response. After re-reading my post, I realized it did not have the appropriate tone; I did not mean to be disrespectful to you. My excuses.

        1. I have really never seen any writing where anyone from Dr Balagangadhara’s group refers to anyone as “Wendy’s child” or “children”. I also have not seen them refer to Mr. Malhotra with any kind of intellectual sérieux or respect. The only link I know of is that Dr Balagangadhara wrote a chapter in an edited volume. Could you point out the other links to me? I find Mr. Malhotra’s writings aggressive and do not know of the links between Balagangadhara’s ideas and those of the Infinity Foundation. I would be grateful for your help here.

        2. After re-reading the Outlook article you so kindly pointed to in response to my question about Dr Balagangadhara as “a caste ideologue”, I just wanted to draw your attention to the contexte of the sentences you quote. He writes the following:

        “As an example, consider one of the things that Europe ‘knows’ about India: the Indian caste system. Almost everyone I know has very firm moral opinions on the subject. Many see in it the origin of all kinds of evils in India: from the denial of human rights to oppression; some see in it obstacles to progress and modernization and so on. I suppose we agree that we need to understand a phenomenon before making moral judgments. With this in mind, if you try and find out what this famous caste system is, and why people either attack or defend it, you discover the following: no ancient book exists that tells us what the principles of the caste system are; no Indian can tell you about its structure or its organization; no scientific theory has been developed that explains how or why it continues to exist. Simply put, nobody understands what it is or how it functions. In that case, how can anyone be pro or contra the caste system? If we focus on how people normally describe this system and understand how easy it is to turn such a description upside down, the absurdity of the situation becomes obvious. While emphasizing that I do not attack and much less defend the caste system in what follows, let us look at the existing descriptions and their consequences.”

        Dr. Balagangadhara then draws some inferences from the existing descriptions of the caste system and comes to the following conclusion:

        “Even though more can be said, this is enough for us. A simple redescription of what we think we know about the caste system tells us that it is an autonomous, decentralized, stable, adaptive, dynamic, self-reproducing social organization. It is also neutral with respect to political, religious and economic doctrines and environments. If indeed such a system ever existed, would it also not have been the most ideal form of social organization one could ever think of?
        How can we try to understand this odd state of affairs? The question of the immorality of the caste system became immensely important after the British came to India. Consequently, there are two interesting possibilities to choose from: one, Indians did not criticize the caste system (before the British came to India) because Indians are immoral; two, the Europeans ‘discovered’ something that simply does not exist in India, viz. the social organization that the caste system is supposed to be.
        The reason why I have spent time on this issue is to signal in the direction of a problem, which has very far-reaching consequences. If what Europe knows about India resembles what it claims to know about the caste system, what exactly does Europe know about India or her culture? Not very much, I am afraid. Precisely at a time when, to survive in a ‘globalizing’ world, knowledge of other cultures and peoples is a necessity, it appears as though Europe knows very little about either of the two.”
        Do you see how the sentences you quoted out of contexte, have a completely different meaning than an “ideological defence of the caste system”? He just wants to make the point that the current ‘knowledge’ of the caste system is not good, since he can draw the opposite conclusions than the ones usually inferred. This is a reduction ad absurdum. To which he emphasizes that he does not defend or attack the caste system in this passage.

        3. I did not mean to dismiss your deep respect for Balibar and Foucault, who are of course very important thinkers. Again, my excuses if I offended you; that was not my intention; I got carried away and it was stupid of me to just refer to that one ‘Foucault’ sentence I half remembered from your work. The point I desire to make is about an asymmetry: when young Europeans follow the research programme of an Indian thinker developing new and unorthodox theories about Western culture and Indian culture, they are branded as ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’ and so on. When Indians admire Slavoj Zizek, who actually suggests that Pauline Christianity should be revived, they are taken to be aspiring intellectuals and not as Christian fanatics. Do you see this asymmetry? It is something that really bothers me.

        My excuses for a long post.
        Written in a cordial spirit,

        Nicholas

        P.S. My excuses also for using my first name only and thus creating some kind of anonymité. That was not my intention. My full name is Nicholas Beaumont and I am from the outskirts of Paris (hence my pretentious reference to Balibar). I do visit Ghent regularly, because my partner is currently doing research there. That is also how I came across Balagangadhara’s work (a student in Ghent pointed it out to me after she learned that I am deeply fascinated by India) and began admire his work a great deal, but I have never met him in person. If there are any more biographical details you would like to know about my person, just let me know. Since I have not published anything yet, there is nothing to read.

      • blackjack20 permalink
        March 4, 2014 2:39 AM

        You mention “political/intellectual continuity”. I can’t see how intellectual continuity can be such a crime.

        As for the other political continuity, I am part of Rajiv’s group mailer and can attest to a few things: he wasn’t part of the litigation. He only inspired teh movement of awareness of Doniger’s shoddy scholarship. He said when asked on twitter that he is against this means – of litigation – banning isn’t the way, producing an academic rebuttal is.

        (BTW, IICYM, certain Indian Americans have in the book Invading The Sacred — available free at rajivmalhotra.com – provided such a rebuttal. Wish you had mentioned something of that debate, you were after all, not just talking of freedom of speech — on which if there is a debate admitted by say Rajiv then I would stop following him. Because that is the fuller rebuttal to Wendy, not Dina Nath Batra and hindutva folk who harm Hinduism.)

        Believe me Dr Menon I have felt Rajiv’s anguish of being denied a debate. They keep him out of JLF, they kept him out of American academia but by his words alone he destroyed Doniger’s reputation. No litigation. You must either produce solid proof that he was involved in the litigation against Doniger or stop telling us he was. He was not. Yes the movement started by him may have given the likes of Arora (the SC lawyer) and Dina Nath Batra reason enough to fight the case. Anyway.

        Therefore, having been at the deceiving end of this, Rajiv is certainly for free speech. How else would his dissenting words be heard if he didn’t challenge the world authority on Hinduism, Doniger?

        It would be a pleasure if you or someone from Kafila / JNU would want to debate him. The debates can be published right here at kafila. It would enthral readers of both camps.
        You say Ambedkar tore apart the evil of Hinduism – yes, certainly, Ambedkar was critical of Hinduism. So was the Buddha critical of Vedic practice. But I don’t see anyone mention the Buddha. Why can’t he be seen as the Indian philosopher? He himself said – do not make a god out of me. (Academicians who never take to meditation but construct what they do through mere words should read Buddha once.)
        Anyway, if you subscribe to the view that Hinduism is not good for Indian society, or if you believe in a post-Hindu India, then let’s have you or anyone from JNU debate him.
        (I would though point you to his latest book Indra’s Net before you say yes.)

        PS We had an email exchange once.

        • March 4, 2014 11:32 AM

          Professor Nivedita has raised a very pertinent question as to why Buddha is not seen as a philosopher. In fact, the scriptures of Buddhism and tri-pitak mention Buddha as a tattvagyani. Pali texts on Buddhism, deciphered and analysed by Dharmanand Koshambi and Kedarnath Pandey ( better known as Rahul Sankrityayan), called him tattva-meemansak ( philosopher/thinker). In fact, Hindus quickly deified Buddha and never highlighted his philosophical stand, lest his incontrovertible arguments should destroy the foundation of Vedic Hinduism. This was subtly suggested by Ashvaghosh in his Buddhcharita (translated by Sir Edwin Arnold as ‘The Light of Asia’).

          -SUMIT PAUL

          • Vasudeva permalink
            March 4, 2014 5:05 PM

            The tipitaka deify Buddha like no other person has ever been diefied before in history. No point in blaming Hindus/Brahmins for this. Kosambi and Rahul Sankirtayan’s ideas of Buddhism came from the marxist lens they wore and not from an actual rendering of the pali scriptures. This is what is called distorting history and tradition through eurocentricism. For a nuanced understanding of Buddhism and Pali scriptures please check the works of Nayanaponika Thera, Bhikku Bodhi and Maurice Walsh. They have presented the inside perspective.

            • March 4, 2014 5:45 PM

              I’ve not been able to understand this Marxist/Leftist understanding of history and historical figures. You’ll be surprised to know that Buddha himself disliked the term ‘Buddha’ or ‘Sambuddha’ (Enlightened one). He called himself a satyanveshak (a finder of truth). His soi-disant enlightenment was a subjective enlightenment (Vastunisth Gyaanoddeepan). Maurice Walsh called him Anusandhitsu, who was unnecessarily deified as an enlightened one by the Hindus.

              Sumit Paul, Poona .

      • Reddy permalink
        March 4, 2014 5:25 PM

        @Nicholas Beaumont – you mention Indians admiring Zizek. I have come across no such admiration on Kafila!
        See the following 3 links:

        http://kafila.org/2010/01/07/the-two-zizeks/

        http://kafila.org/2009/03/14/re-booting-communism-or-slavoj-zizek-and-the-end-of-philosophy-i/

        http://kafila.org/2009/03/16/evangelist-st-zizek-and-the-end-of-philosophy-ii/

  15. Aditya Nigam permalink*
    March 2, 2014 2:03 PM

    An interesting drama is being played out here by the devotees of SN Balagangadhara, who have long been trying to make an appearance in the Indian public scene without success. The controversy generated by the surrender of Penguin Books to the whims of a Hindu right campaigner has given these devotees a chance of turning the limelight on their patron-god, beginning with the article by De Roover to which in part this post by Nivedita responds. For long, they have singled out Wendy Doniger and her students as their chief target of attack and what better opportunity than this could they get of calling attention to themselves.
    Matters still were different as long as the differences were of an intellectual nature – though even earlier disagreements have hardly remained merely “intellectual” as anyone who has been closely following their activities will know. Things have now however, assumed very different proportions, with De Roover even mounting a defense of the fascists. After citing an extract from a statement (whose source is strangely not revealed). De Roover says:

    “This readymade reaction may sound cogent but it covers up major questions: What brings Hindu organizations to filing petitions that make them the butt of ridicule and contempt? Whence the frustration among so many Indians about the way their culture is depicted?”

    The dishonesty is evident from the word go – in not sourcing the quote and naming who you are contesting; in substituting for the Hindu Right the more innocuous term “Hindu organizations”, who apparently merely “file petitions” and only for that reason become the butt of ridicule and contempt. The dishonesty does not stop here. Now these hapless “Hindu organizations”, the butt of ridicule of unnamed people, become custodians of “the frustration of so many Indians about the way their culture is depicted”. The subject is always missing, for although De Roover and fellow devotees always target “Western scholars like Doniger”, their dishonesty pushes them to completely elide any mention of someone like AK Ramanujan, whose work was similarly made the target of attack by the very same litigant backed by the goons of the ABVP, leading to the removal of his text from the DU History syllabus.

    So let this be very clear. For those of us who live in India, the stakes are very different and very high indeed. And now, with the possible rise of Narendra Modi as the next prime minister, it has become a matter of life and death. We have lived through the six dark years of the NDA rule when the marauding gangs of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal (and other Hindutva outfits) ruled the streets with impunity and their outfits mounted the most vicious attacks on academic and intellectual freedom. These are the people whom De Roover represents as being the butt of “ridicule and contempt”.

    Let it also be clear then, that the debate here is not with “Western scholars” but with internal critique and the challenges the Hindutva project faces from caste and gender assertions. It is the internal challenges from these sectors and the largely conjured up threat from the Muslim Other that constitutes Hindutva. The West is just a bogey for the acolytes of SN Balagangadhara. The Hindu Right has had no problem with the West – during the heyday of colonialism and now – in cosying up to the Western powers. And today, they are very comfortable with the US bombing of Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world. If at all a debate on the Hindu Right has to happen, it will have to happen, as far as we are concerned, with those who face its violence and its propaganda machinery everyday. SN Balagangadhara is for us a non-issue as are his acolytes. Their insistence that the debate be shifted to him is indicative of their desperation.

  16. March 2, 2014 6:48 PM

    Ashis Nandy once wrote that there were superstitions about superstitions. Paraphrasing that one could say that there are stereotypes about stereotypes E.V.Ramasami had the least respect for Hinduism or its diversity or for that matter the interpretations of epics and other texts of Hindu religion. For most Hindus the debates over this book may not mean anything as most of them understand and interpret Hinduism not from such books and only from other sources including traditions. Fortunately they are neither in the camps of E.V.Ramasami or those who have become defenders of ‘glorious pagan aspects of Hinduism’ in the context of some controversies.
    Invoking stereotypes like upper caste becomes too boring after a point. How is that many of the supporters of the author of this book happen to be upper caste by birth and male by gender. It is high time that ‘secular, leftist,modernists, post modernists and progressives’ who are opposing Hindutva stop using the same stereotypes. In any case attempts to ban books, remove texts from academic curricula and other such measures are not restricted to proponents of Hindutva.
    In my view this one version of Hinduism whether that is of E.V.Ramasami or anybody else’s has been rejected by most of the Hindus not by arguments and through practices. The hope lies in that and not in the debates on books like this. There have been critiques of her scholarship and that should be debated. It is a pity that that is not likely to happen with the pulping of the book.

  17. Kamal K Mishra permalink
    March 3, 2014 6:21 PM

    I wish to recall the recent film “Bullett Raja” (Dir. Tigmanshu Dhulia; 2013) that is set against the backdrop of Uttar Pradesh-based mafia while dealing with the political and industrial powers of the state. In the text of the film, as Raja Mishra and Rudra Tripathi are about to kill, for revenge, another Brahmin charachter, Lallan Tiwari– who when first introduced to the viewer is depicted as asserting that, “Man,it is not just me but the whole world which says that except at Pushkar there is no other temple of Brahma ji in any other place!”– Raja curiously asks Lallan to explain what is Brahma ji’s mistake for which the creator himself is cursed and not worshipped except at the said place. Next, Lallan starts narrating the mythical incident, which is not audible to the viewer and muted in the text of the film for the obvious reasons. Howsoever, Raja and Rudra kill Lallan once he has finished recounting the fault of the God of creation. Interestingly enough, at this point, Raja also makes a noteworthy statement that “dharmik mamlon mein hamein ashlilta bilkul pasand nahin hai!” (I/we can not tolerate indecency in the matters pertaining to religion). Thus, there is a solid reason to agree to Dr. Menon’s suggestion that, “There is point in pulping Doniger – they may as well call for pulping 80 percent of Hindu practices and texts. No doubt they would like to.” in my limited understanding Dr. Menon’s piece appear more than convincing except when it goes on to declare “the rigid North Indian upper caste version” as the ‘real’ basis of “the Hindu nationalist project” .

    “It is probably more accurate to say that the real disdain for Hindu folk tales, oral ballads and other practices of believing Hindus is shown by these Dinanath Batras and KC Guptas who are shamed and embarrassed by the glorious pagan aspects of Hinduism, and the refusal of Hindu practices to be tamed into the pallid, rigid Hindutva version that is the basis of their fascist nationalist project.” How can one forget even for a moment the fact that, today, Hindutva forces are no where in power in the entire north India. And, in U.P., just a few years back, Mayawati could form the government after mobilizing a considerable support from the same “rigid” upper caste Hindu constituencies. Also, historically speaking, RSS, except in very recent past, never allowed a north Indian upper caste man to replace Maratha Chitpawan Brahmins as the head or the chief executive of its militant programmes. Moreover, the poster boy of the Hindutva brigade in north India is not any rigid upper caste male from UP or Bihar but Swami Vivekanand, who eventually would not qualify as an ‘rigid upper caste north Indian man’! Nor would Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti or for that matter the new Dalit supporters of the BJP like Ram Vilas Paswan and Udit Raj. If the rigid North Indian upper caste version is the only real basis of the Hindu nationalist project then how to explain or simply understand its champions from Bala Saheb and Raj Thakrey, to Shivraj Singh Chauhan and B.S. Yeddyurappa from deep south?

  18. Karan permalink
    March 4, 2014 10:16 AM

    While I could agree with most of this article, the part about the hypothetical sister of the Hindu boy struck me as flat– it seemed to go against what Doniger was writing about it her book. Doniger put the controversial stories of Shambuka and Ekalavya before us and asked 1) how the author viewed the episode and 2) how later generations viewed it. This is a far cry from the left-wing hermeneutic we’re familiar with in India which treats these mythological events as almost real and demands that we be outraged by them.

    As far as the Surpanakha episode is concerned, the attack only happened after she attacked Sita. The cruelty done to her was merely that Rama and Lakshmana toyed with her emotions– something that later poets like Kamban edited. Growing up, the sister would probably have heard Tulasidas or Kamban anyway, so why would she be angry at this episode?

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      March 4, 2014 6:05 PM

      Karan, you are entitled to your opinion of the Surpanakha story, but let it be very clear that if my understanding ‘goes against what Doniger was saying in her book’, it doesn’t matter. My intention is not to perform a faithful exegesis of Doniger, but to make an argument of my own.
      You (and many other commentators) have tried to establish as some kind of ;’fact’ that the attack on Surpanakha happened only after she attacked Sita – but the only fact we do have is that this episode has troubled readers and writers of the Ramayana for generations, and the debate on this alone (the contradiction between Rama as Maryada Purushottam and his and Lakshmana’s behaviour towards an unarmed woman) could fill a small library.
      (Indeed, your calm assertion that ‘the attack happened only after etc.’ as if it were a well-known ‘fact’ seems to tie in with the ‘left-wing hermeneutic’ you decry, which ‘treats these mythological events as almost real’ :)
      (I thought the problem with the Left was that it does not treat these stories as real but as myths…?)
      Anyhow, as I said, you are entitled to your opinion of that episode. But a person grows up listening generally to one version of the Ramayana, not many. Perhaps when that sister later came across Kamban, who expanded the episode considerably from the Valmiki version, with considerable sympathy for Surpanakha, she felt a little vindicated…? And isn’t Kamban’s version a critique of Valmiki’s? And if Mr Dinanath Batra had his way, would we have access to these various versions?
      However, i do understand that you are not one of the Batra brigade!

  19. Nivedita Menon permalink*
    March 4, 2014 5:38 PM

    Kamal, thanks for your thoughtful comment. However, I dont think that the presence or otherwise of concrete North Indians in Hindu Right-wing organizations disproves or proves that a particular framework is “North Indian” in its values. Just as women participate willingly in patriarchy and non-Western elites in Orientalism and colonial modernity, the hegemony of a particular framework ensures that it is naturalized for those at the powerless end of the spectrum as well – that is precisely how it is hegemonic. If you look at parliamentary debates on the Hindu Code Bills, for instance, you can see how MP’s with South Indian names claiming marriage practices or attitudes to daughters different from those expressed by MP’s with North Indian names, are regularly shut up by being told – ‘Then it is not Hindu’ or ‘Then it is not Indian.’ (I have written about this elsewhere). You can also see how the dark powerful goddesses and tribal gods of the South have been incorporated into the patriarchal family units of Aryan gods as their wives and children. What is validated as “Hindu” by the Hindutvavaadis (wherever they individually come from) reflect the value systems and family structures of the upper castes of North India.
    That this hegemony is never complete is precisely the point of my essay, and it is what creates so much frustration for Mr Batra and Co.
    By the way, ‘Nivedita’ is fine. I only claimed my Ph.D to Shilpy above who patronised me while calling me Ms. Nivedita. I let my irritation get the better of me there, I’m afraid…

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