The withdrawal of a book by Penguin Books has made the author of the book feel bitter and portray herself as a victim. This strange attempt at self-martyrdom does not hold any water and is a lame effort on her part to weave a romantic tale of being oppressed.
The publishing house voluntarily withdrew the book in the face of a police complaint against them. The fact that it is a voluntary withdrawal is clearly stated in the settlement document, and therefore, this issue is nowhere close to being a violation of anybody’s free-speech rights. This is especially the case as the government in India is one that is friendly to the author Wendy Doniger’s views. If she truly believes that she is a helpless victim of oppressive forces in India who violated her freedom of expression, she is delusional.
Among the charges listed in the complaint against Penguin Books were charges of plagiarism, false claims in the book, and that it was written with a Christian missionary zeal. For example, the complaint alleged that the book falsely claimed that the image on the jacket of the book was from a temple in Puri in Odisha even though that was not the case. If true, such false claims would at least violate consumer protection laws in India. Making false claims to sell a book, that too on the cover of the book, is an unethical practice.
Big business houses typically have a legal cell with a large number of lawyers just to ward off lawsuits and they constantly deal with multiple lawsuits at the same time. The fact that the publisher chose to withdraw the book instead of fighting out the case means that the publishing firm probably assessed that they would lose this case as the claims in the complaint were accurate.
The withdrawal of the book is a victory for those who turn the tables against the creators of oppressive laws and their cheerleaders by using the same laws against their proponents. We need more such cases that cause pain to whoever is responsible for the draconian laws in India. This is the only way to keep up the pressure to modify the legal system and protect the freedom of expression of everyone. Hindus have always opposed such laws and have started using them only as a retaliatory measure after the laws were applied in an unequal manner for several decades putting Hindus at a disadvantage.
India would have been a free-speech state instead of a state subject to “public order” if Jawaharlal Nehru had not targeted Hindus and amended the Constitution curtailing free-speech rights in the country. Nehru and his family members have been guilty of many transgressions in the past sixty five years and they have received support from faculty members in American and British universities. These faculty members have routinely attacked the opponents of such oppressive laws and branded them “fascists.”
This episode involving Wendy Doniger’s book is a lesson for the opponents of free-speech and their cheerleaders around the world, especially in American universities. As they say, what goes around comes around. Wendy should have supported Hindus who have always fought for free-speech laws in India and elsewhere.
This is not the first time that either the creators of draconian laws or their supporters were hoist on their own petard. MF Husain was a cheerleader for Indira Gandhi’s censorship laws during her Emergency era and was also directly responsible for banning books as he was a Member of the Parliament when books like the Satanic Verses were banned. When the same laws were applied to him after decades of his victims remaining silent and tolerating his shenanigans, he and his supporters started their organized wailing sessions in the media and Western academia. American professors have been making the false claim that Husain was in exile from India when in fact he actively maintained his property in India.
Within the US, Wendy Doniger is known to support a political party which advocates a policy that they call the “fairness doctrine.” According to this policy, political opponents will be targeted and compelled to be “fair” by presenting opposing views that are not in agreement with their actual views.
Apart from support to the violations of free-speech rights, racism is another rampant phenomenon in American universities and the number of racists is usually proportional to the intensity with which faculty members announce themselves as “liberals” or “progressives.” At the University of Chicago’s Divinity School where Wendy Doniger is a senior professor, there are just two Black faculty members among the thirty four listed on their website despite Blacks forming 13.1% of the American population. Of the two, one is merely an Assistant Professor, and all named chairs and ‘Distinguished Service Professor’ titles are with Whites, while the lone Black person who is a full professor, Dwight N. Hopkins, seems to have earned his spot as a full professor after publishing something entitled ‘Loving the Body: Black Religious Studies and the Erotic.’
According to Macmillan Publishers which published this book, Hopkins was only an Associate Professor at the time of publication of this book. The book criticizes the Black Church for ignoring sex in religion which, coincidentally, happens to be Wendy Doniger’s pet theme! As for the lone Chinese person listed as a member of the faculty, he is not even a professor of any kind and his job is limited to “Field Education and Community Engagement.” It should surprise no one that the Professor of Chinese Religion is another White person who can control the narrative on China and the Chinese people. With an ethnic Chinese professor in charge of this subject, the chances are low that he or she will demonize the Chinese civilization and stereotype the Chinese people in a negative manner whenever it is demanded.
Scroll down the list on the website and you will find that appointments at the Divinity School have nothing to do with formal qualifications when Whites are involved. They actually seem to get a free pass when it comes to qualifications. The website shows that a professor named Stephen Meredith, who is listed as an associated faculty member at the Divinity School, has no formal degrees in Religion but is trained in the fields of pathology, biochemistry and molecular biology. This is the ugly truth about the racial composition at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School.
No one should be surprised by these facts in Wendy Doniger’s workplace. After all, Wendy herself has donated money to a group in which important leaders were members of the racist organization Ku Klux Klan. An online search also shows that she figures in a discussion thread on stormfront, a website run by neo-Nazis, and one member suggests using her works to belittle Indians. Besides, the now defunct Microsoft Encarta pulled her article on Hinduism after investigating complaints that the article had a racist tone.
American universities, particularly the humanities departments, have a very poor record when it comes to protecting free-speech rights and opposing racism. Not long ago, former Commerce Minister Dr. Subramanian Swamy was prevented from offering his course at Harvard University after Diana Eck, a White professor, organized a campaign to oust him in response to an article Dr. Swamy wrote in an Indian newspaper articulating his views on fighting terrorism and removing friction between Hindus and Muslims. She organized no effort that kept Irish poet Tom Paulin out of Harvard University when he was invited to the university after articulating much stronger statements such as calling for a genocide of jews. As a friend used to repeatedly point out, different strokes for different folks.
In another recent case, the students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School were pressured into withdrawing an invitation they had extended to Narendra Modi. The culprits were the university’s faculty members who disagreed with Modi’s views and they were led by, according to Hindustan Times, the university’s President Amy Gutmann. Ironically, Gutmann’s family found a safe haven in India when they fled Hitler’s holocaust against Jews.
Opposition to unpalatable views is par for the course in American academia. Martha Nussbaum, who is Wendy Doniger’s colleague at the University of Chicago, has even attacked the concept of freedom on the internet and has edited a book entitled ‘The Offensive Internet.’ The book calls for government controls on the Internet because views expressed on the internet can hurt one’s feelings and make people cry. Perhaps, she wants a “peer reviewed process” to control the ideas published on the net. Wendy Doniger, who according to her university’s website is also on the Orwellian sounding “Committee on Social Thought,” would be a great fit on such a Censorship Committee to control “social thought.”
The internet can be a cruel place for people like Martha Nussbaum. When the state of Arizona tried to pass an internet censorship law which was in line with some of the ideas in her book, and which was supposed to criminalize online speech intended to “annoy, offend, terrify, threaten, intimidate, or harass” others, the internet group Anonymous mocked the law by responding with a campaign to send a hilariously worded form to the Arizona legislators. Click here to read about this incident and see a copy of the form.
Wendy Doniger can certainly fill out this form. In 1990, she wrote, “The authors of the Rig Veda, the invading Indo-Aryans, highly valued their freedom and abhorred any constraint.” She now denies the Aryan Invasion in her more recent publications. What happened in the intervening period? The Internet became popular and Hindus on the internet won the debate on the Aryan Invasion Theory.
These days, it is not uncommon for professors in American universities to dissociate themselves from the discredited theory. Wendy should check the box in the form that says “I lost an argument in a chat room” since that comes closest to losing the debate with “internet Hindus.”
University professors are also targets of the thought police in academia. Stefan Arvidsson points out in his book ‘Aryan Idols’ that Bruce Lincoln, who is a professor at the the University of Chicago, was punished with a boycott by the mainstream academia and citations to his works dropped after he pointed out that the research work of Geirges Dumezil, who contributed to the development of the Aryan mythology, was influenced by Fascism.
Wendy’s description of prevailing views of the Aryan Invasion Theory too does not use proper citations and is hence a deceptive one. She does not credit any Hindu for schooling her on this topic, but instead goes on to bash them. She cites some person named Martin West, presumably a White person, without mentioning the contribution of Hindus active on the internet in demolishing the theory. Using an idea without properly citing the people who first came up with the idea is generally considered plagiarism.
What is worse, Wendy even claims that some Hindus would want to get Christians and Muslims out of India based on the argument that Vedic people originated in India. That is stretching the truth because Hindus have never claimed that the Muslims and Christians of India are of Arab or European extract and not converts to their faiths. Such xenophobic allegations which are not based in facts should have no place in any civilized discourse. These allegations put her book in the fiction category as no Hindu has ever claimed that Muslims and Christians must leave India because one view of the Aryan Invasion Theory was proved right and another view was proved wrong.
As for the quality of scholarship in Wendy Doniger’s book, there really is none. The word ‘Alternative’ is typically used by Communists in the West as a euphemism for ‘Communist opinion’ rather than a scholarly opinion. Like in the case of bad scholars, if her claims are not based on ‘Christian missionary zeal,’ they clearly must be based on Pavlovian conditioning to unquestioningly accept mythological claims as historical facts simply because such ‘facts’ were fed by people like her teacher whom she probably perceived as an infallible and authoritative figure. When the book first came out, I asked Professor Joe Barnhart, a noted scholar, to opine on the following description in Doniger’s book which treated fictional events as historical facts and even assigned dates to them.
When Jesus appeared to him in a vision that night, Thomas said, “Whithersoever thou wilt, our Lord, send me; only to India I will not go.” Jesus nevertheless eventually indentured him, for twenty pieces of silver, to an Indian merchant, who took him to work on the palace of the ruler of Gandhara, sometime between about 19 and 45 CE. After a second voyage, in 52 CE, Thomas landed in Kerala or Malabar and there established the Syrian Christian community that thrives there today; he then traveled overland to the east coast, where he was martyred in the outskirts of Chennai. As usual, the interchange went in both directions; in exchange for the goods and ideas that the Christians brought to India, they took back, along with Kerala’s pepper and cinnamon, always in demand in Rome, equally palatable stories – elements of Ashvagosha’s life of the Buddha (in the second century CE), such as the virgin birth and the temptation by the devil – that may have contributed to the narratives of the life of Christ.
Professor Barnhart responded by stating that if Wendy Doniger did not make the distinction between a narrative and a reliable report of events that actually happened, “… she’s in Woo-woo Land where she might meet the Wizard of Ozz. I don’t know anyone in the Society of Biblical Literature who would take this Thomas story as a description of historical events. Good fiction borrows from real-life events but doesn’t pose as a historical account.”
The reference to fiction fits in neatly with another description currently doing the rounds on the Internet. Apparently, the publisher’s promise to reduce all remaining copies of Wendy Donger’s book to pulp has finally helped in correctly categorizing the book: pulp fiction.
Arvind Kumar is a writer and an activist who focuses on politics, economy and civilizational issues. He can be reached at arvind at classical-liberal dot net.