Have you been following the controversy over Wendy Doniger’s recent book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, published by Penguin? It is now being reported that the publisher has agreed to withdraw and pulp the book, in the near future, due to a 2011 court case in India, arguing it was insulting to Hinduism.
As reported by the Indian site, scroll.in:
The company made the decision in response to a case filed against it in 2011 by Dina Nath Batra, the convenor of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan, which describes itself as an educational institution, and five other people. Batra claimed that the book had been “written with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light”.
“The book is disrespectful of our gods and goddesses,” Batra told Scroll. “It has taken us four years to have them withdraw the book.”
The complainants raised several objections to the book, starting with its cover. “On the book jacket of the book Lord Krishna is shown sitting on buttocks of a naked woman surrounded by other naked women,” their petition said. It claimed that this decision had been taken “with the full knowledge that Sri Krishna is revered as a divinity and there are many temples for Sri Krishna where Hindus worship the divinity. The intent is clearly to ridicule, humiliate & defame the Hindus and denigrate the Hindu traditions.”
See how the case is being described on New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV; note the book’s obscured cover image):
There are so many things to comment on in this case, far too many for a brief blog post…, so just two points:
That there seems to me good evidence for a fairly recent (largely colonial-era) invention of the thing that people the world over now take for granted as this self-contained, ancient thing called Hinduism (let alone any of the other things that we today know as the world’s religions — so this applies to them all), yet people are fighting vehemently for the integrity and autonomy of it today, is something that surely deserves far more study. For it seems that we have here powerful evidence for how legacies from the colonial era — such as how to organize and name populations — have so successfully been reproduced and adopted that they now provide the very ground upon which people worldwide think themselves into agency and thus identity.
But what I think is even more interesting is how nicely this represents the thesis that knowledge and power constitute one indissoluble complex — a thesis much associated with Michel Foucault, of course, but one also adopted by many in academia as well. Taking this thesis seriously, and of course recognizing that there are a variety of (often competing) interests and discourses that constitute any one social site, means that this is best understood not a case of so-called Hindu fundamentalism triumphing over disinterested scholarship (as, no doubt, many scholars and media outlets in North American or Europe will portray this case); instead, it means that we have here an occasion — happening in real time, right in front of us — of (1) how organized social interests determine what gets to count as information worth learning and reproducing and (2) how what counts as the past is a construct of competing interests in the present. That is, what do we make of this if we take Foucault’s thesis seriously, thereby seeing not just the author and her detractors but also ourselves, and our representations of the case, its disputants, and this thing Hinduism as well, as being just as deeply implicated in the contest as any other?
There are still copies for sale at Penguin’s site, linked above, and a variety of used editions for sale at amazon.com; while this is surely not the last controversy over identity and representation, it is one of sufficient consequence, taking place right in our own field, that you may wish to read the book for yourself. If so, you better get your copy soon.
Read Wendy Doniger’s statement.