Wendy’s unhistory making history
Dr Pramod Pathak
No sooner the news of court settlement for withdrawl of copies of Wendy Doniger’s controversial book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” was out, there was scramble for the copies of the book. As reported by S R Praveen in “The Hindu” Dt February 16, 2014, the local dealers and inturn Penguin books made fast bucks by selling the copies without issuing bills. He called it as ‘Streisand effect’. After the pop singer Barbara Streisand’s effort to sue the photographer for clicking hers offending picture, they got circulated like wild fire on the internet. Similarly by the time the court matter was settled, almost all the copies of Wendy’s unhistory were sold out which made a history. Demand for the book had slumped over the last two years due to gross inaccuracies, leave apart the distorted views. It served the purpose of Penguin books that were experiencing the Damocles’ sword hanging on their head due to infringement of copyrights, textual inaccuracies and incorrect map of mediaeval India 600 CE to 1600 CE where Kashmir is not shown as part of India. Out-of -court settlement gamble proved the best business bait and the publisher recovered all the money they had put in publishing this trash.
As expected some authors, especially like Arundhati Roy this time was not fierce but lamented (Times of India Feb 12, 2014) as to why Penguins have succumbed to the Hindu rightist’s pressure. Shobha De felt that Penguins have buckled under the external pressure form the right wing Hindu zealots (Times of India Dt Feb 16, 2014). They did not buckle, on the contrary), made a smart business deal. She did not felt like paying attention to the reality that editorial board of Penguins must have felt really ashamed that they did not apply Confused about their usual editorial scrutiny and accepted the text as submitted by the author. Expected brouhaha
As it was expected that the secular Freedom of Speech loving community from select group to came out with offended feelings and that along with Wendy, martyrdom of like of James Laine, MF Husain, Siddharth Deb, Bhargava and Badopadhyay was evoked. Book withdrawal by Penguins was declared as great victory of the rightist Hindu forces. While Arundhati Roy lamented, Ratna Kapoor, AnanyaVajpeyi, Sheldon Pollock, RomilaThaparand others signed an open letter condemning the decision and proposed for repealing of the section of the 153A and 259A of the Indian Penal Code (The Hindu Feb 15). Ramchandra Guha was forthright in condemning the Hindu as well as Muslim bigots (The Times of India Dt Feb 13). The co-author of Wendy, Sudhir Kakar meekly submitted, “So what we are talking here is Islam. So yes, there is certain caution exercised by scholars here. But then if a certain section of Muslims is intolerant and violently, so does this mean all Hindus should follow the same example?”(Times of India Feb 16). Inturn Kakar conceded that all these scholars are cowards and dare not tell the truth in the face of adversaries. To note here, the Hindus were not violent. They only protested and took recourse to civil action and agreed for out of the court settlement.
No reference to the text
All the so called thinkers and contributors to the English newspapers, listed above, seem to have not even browsed Wendy’s book. They would have noted umpteen mistakes and inaccuracies, and would have certainly withheld their remarks about the decision to withdraw the book. However they have manifested flock mentality as usual. On the contrary, scholarly reviews in prestigious journals, by social scientist and American Journal of Oriental Society have criticised poor historiography and lack of focus. Vedic scholar from Harvard, Michael Witzel too was critical of Wendy’s book. But for the Indian secularists she is epitome of scholarship.
Publish criticism volumeIn this book Wendy has lost her bearing. She appears to have done away with the precision in her scholarship she had shown it in her earlier works. It is pity that the western scholars have not yet come out of their colonial mind set and the Indian secularist have not come out of the slavish mentality. They write false histories of Asia and Indian subcontinent. The perceptions of the Native American policy makers are coloured by these half-truth histories and they formulate their international strategies. That is why strong nation like USA has not been able to win a single war in the post-World War II era. The Penguins would have done well to publish volume of critical essays published mostly on the web. That could have been sold like a hot cake. Scholars and lay people as well would have known both the shades of opinion, it could have been a real intellectual exercise.
(The writer is a Vedic scholar based in Goa. He is Ph. D. in the Vedic literature, authored books on the Vedas and is a freelance writer. [email protected])
- In case of the Shiva lingam, she never felt it necessary to refer the origin of the Shiva lingam to the mystic hymns of Skambha Sukta in the Atharva Veda (X.7 and 8) where the infinite expanse of the divine column as perceived by the seer expands on either side, upward and downward to infinity.
- The similar story repeats in Upanishadic lore where the Supreme Gods, Brahma and Vishnu find it impossible to reach either of the ends of the column form in which Lord Shiva had appeared
- Wendy forgets the idea of infinite existence and expanse of Shiva Lingam was espoused in these hymns. She takes recourse to the Puranic story of lovelorn Shiva appearing naked before the spouses of the seers who curse him to get his penis detached.
- It really hurts one to see the scholar of her standing committing blunder of the highest order when she states, “Ravana stole Sita and kept her captive on the island of Lanka for many years.
- Then she states that Rama brought Sita back home with him. He made her perform an ordeal by fire (P221). Any lay person with little acquaintance with the Ramayana text would assert that Sita was in captivity only for a few months and the fire ordeal was performed right after killing of Ravana and not in Ayodhya.
- Of late Wendy sounds irrelevant when she narrates about the cow exhibition in Chicago held in 1999, relating it to World’s Parliament of Religions (Page 640). “Chicago city officials exhibited 340 life size cows in city, which had nothing to do with Hinduism”. These were later sold and brought $200 million in additional tourist revenue for the city.
On Hinduism publisher seeks one week time
Aleph Book Company, the publisher of Wendy Doniger’s On Hinduism has sought one week time from Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti to formally take a decision on the book. In response to a warning letter sent to the publisher on March 6, Shri RK Mehra, chairman, said the book was printed and published way back in Jan-Feb, 2013 and is now out of stock.
The publisher also said that copies of the said book have been sent to four scholars independently for review and is waiting for their response till next week. The publisher also assured that the book would not be reissued until the concerns are addressed for acceptable resolution of the whole matter.
But Shri Dina Nath Batra, convener of Shiksha Bachao Andoland Samiti is not satisfied with the response of the publisher and said they would take all democratic and legal steps to see that this mala-fide book also comes to an end if the demands are not fulfilled. Talking to Organiser he said the intention of Wendy Doniger is to mollify Hinduism by bringing out exaggerated sex prevailing in Hinduism and the content of the book present sexy pictures of Ramayana and Mahabharata which is worse than the previous book.—Heena Nanda