Monday, March 29

The Rage boys rage again

This just makes me sad. I quote,

Ms. Susan Peterson Kennedy
President , Penguin Group (USA)
375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014, USA
Mr. Mike Bryan,
CEO & President, Penguin Books Pvt Ltd.
11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110 017
Dear Ms. Peterson Kennedy, Mr. Mike Bryan,
The following is a petition from concerned signatories to the Penguin Group asking for an apology for the publication of the factually incorrect and offensive book “The Hindus-An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger. We expect Penguin Group to withdraw the book immediately.
“The Hindus: An Alternative History” is rife with numerous errors in its historical facts and Sanskrit translations. These errors and misrepresentations are bound and perhaps intended to mislead students of Indian and Hindu history.
Throughout the book, Doniger analyzes revered Hindu Gods and Goddess using her widely discredited psychosexual Freudian theories that modern, humanistic psychology has deemed limiting. These interpretations are presented as hard facts and not as speculations. Doniger makes various faulty assumptions about the tradition in order to arrive at her particular spin. In the process, the beliefs, traditions and interpretations of practicing Hindus are simply ignored or bypassed without the unsuspecting reader knowing this to be the case. This kind of Western scholarship has been criticized as Orientalism and Eurocentrism. The non Judeo-Christian faith gets used to dish out voyeurism and the tradition gets eroticized.


Again, the above is simply a sampling of the scandalous and offensive statements in the book. By her own admission in the book, Doniger has no credentials as a historian and the title of the book is misleading as the book is not on the “History nor an Alternative History” of India. This shows that the author is not an authority on the subject as she is not able to understand the deep meaning of Sanskrit verses or Indian Concepts. These cast serious doubts about the author’s integrity as a researcher and ability to interpret accurately. Additional examples of the author’s shoddy scholarship will be made available upon request.
We emphasize that this defamatory book misinforms readers about the history of Hindu civilization, its cultures and traditions. The book promotes prejudices and biases against Hindus. Can Penguin’s editors really be incompetent enough to have allowed this to pass to publication? If this is not deliberate malice, Penguin must act now in good faith.
As concerned readers, we ask PENGUIN GROUP to:
1. WITHDRAW all the copies of this book immediately from the worldwide bookshops/markets/Universities/Libraries and refrain from printing any other edition.
2. APOLOGIZE for having published this book “The Hindus: An Alternative History”. This book seriously and grossly misrepresents the Hindu reality as known to the vast numbers of Hindus and to scholars of Hindu tradition. PENGUIN must apologize for failure to observe proper pre-publication scrutiny and scholarly review.


Basically the people who signed this petition are

1. Do not know how academic publications work (too long to explain)

2. Do not know how errors are fixed in academic work (every academic work invariably ends up with mistakes, a significant proportion are caught before publication but still some creep through. For post publication errors, book reviews and communications with the author help in pushing for the errors to be corrected in the next version, edition, reprint or as an errata) What they dont do is to withdraw it wholesale based upon some mistakes or because some people’s oh! so sensitive feelings are bruised.

3. Are far too sensitive. Dont read it. This is like “a bail, mujhe maar”. If you dont like dancing with the bulls, stay away from the paddock or the heat in the kitchen and and and. And saying that its from a head of the department in a US university gives far too much prominence to the ability of one book to rock Hinduism. When invasions, forced conversions, wars, economic servitude, a bewildering variety of alternative explanations, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Sikhism, etc. could not dislodge Hinduism, these pipsqueaks really think that a book can? and then they call themselves PROUD Hindus. Bah!.

4. Are basically against freedom of speech as they want to withdraw the book and not to publish any other edition. If that is not against freedom of speech, as in publishing, then I have no other idea what is.

5. Apologise for having publishing this book. I am surprised they did not go to the paper provider and ask them for apologies. I know this is an exaggeration, but come on.


Here’s a great article on this by Ashok Malik, somebody who is from the right himself. Anybody who is half way educated and liberal (in the classical sense of having strong individual rights, freedom of speech, property rights, etc.) would know that this kind of obscurantist thought is simply unacceptable. I quote:

If the Husain dénouement was tragic, the Doniger episode is turning out to be comic. If a book award judge received these letters, and knew nothing about the context of the controversy, he would probably fear for the author as the victim of a hate group attack. Far from being an unsympathetic student of Hinduism — which is obviously how Internet Hindus see her — Doniger would come out resembling Joan of Arc.

Why are these Internet Hindus worthy of notice at all? There are three reasons. First, a collective of the intellectually inadequate, the professionally frustrated and the plain bigoted, they represent the collapse of Hindu politico-intellectual space into a caricature of the very Talibanism it opposes.

Second, as Hindutva as an idea has contracted in real-world politics, it has become shrill and over-the-top in cyberspace. The Left has its universities, journals and institutional support system. It is a commentary on Internet Hindus that they only have multiple email accounts.

Third, there is a hard question for the BJP. How quickly can it delink itself from Internet Hindus and their offline equivalents? A party that seeks to build broad-spectrum opposition unity in Parliament on governance issues can do without such viral downloads.

I know of several people who signed the petition. Unfortunately, by the fact that they signed this petition, I am afraid I have now lost respect for them. Anybody who says this? Not to be respected. As for the authors, well, the word comic describes them well.

Here’s another interesting article on this issue from one of the chaps in the academy. I quote:

Quite right. I will admit that after a while, it became very tempting to cast my vote for Doniger in spite of preferring another book. I wanted to aim my water, so to speak, not at the blaze itself, but at those setting it. But that seemed too irritable. The protesters had a right to protest -- and the book critic, an obligation to ignore them.

As it turned out, the award for nonfiction went instead to Richard Holmes for The Age of Wonder. It seems from the Twitter, blog, and e-mail chatter that the protesters have congratulated themselves over this, taking it to be a repudiation of Doniger. That is absurd, if quite predictable. We do not discuss the deliberations that go into making the final decision on the awards. But suffice it to say that we stand by the nomination of The Hindus as one of the finalists for 2009. It is an excellent work that deserves a large audience.

And to add my own last two cents on the matter (whether or not anyone else agrees): The rancor a book generates is sometimes its own mark of distinction.

What these internet hindu rage boys have ended up is to prove themselves to be seriously lacking, in perhaps every aspect. Few things which I wrote on this:

One doesn’t request books to be withdrawn for factual errors. One requests the next edition or version to fix those errors. Almost every book almost always contains errors. If there is sufficient demand, then a second reprint or edition is created and errors fixed. If not and if the errors are too many and too bad, then the reputation of the scholar suffers. But people are at perfect liberty not to buy or read the book. In any case, the petition was framed so that it sounded like Hindus were hurt and they want the book to be withdrawn, which is a different matter from fixing errors. 


Asking a book to be withdrawn is pretty clear on what is signifies. If the petition writers would have said that these are errors, please fix it, nobody would have said a word.
In this particular case, it has had the immediately diametrically opposite effect of immediately turning the argument into a different sort of seeing the petition of demanding a scandalous book be withdrawn, echos of the long very sad history of banned books.


Asking for an apology? Asking for withdrawal? talking about hurt feelings? Oh! come on, mate, that's not academic, that's not professional, and protesting outside events is supposed to be good? As I mentioned, due diligence is done, but still errors creep into almost every book. I would presume that Dr. K, the author of the petition would know about this, specially when every paper of his has been torn up and down by everybody leading him to be a laughing stock.
You point out errors in a book review, the publisher collects it and if required then publishes a second edition and changes. The petition has been drafted diabolically, but knowing who did it, I am not surprised at all. They talked about withdrawing the book. What on earth for? That's highly unprofessional at best and more leaning towards a total display of ignorance of how academic publishing works.
But that's fine, this petition and its whole sorry abortion of a mess just is pathetic and just confirms my opinion about the bunch who run around in that neck of the woods. Whether its that silly meat eating petition or this (and there are counter petitions commenting on the errors in this petition), all it does it to further plonk mud on us. If you want to see the counter petition, click here.
this now ascribes taliban like behaviour. Its like an Indian Godwin's law needs to be established.
Unbelievable, we seem to swing between one extreme to another, far too sensitive and unable to treat with the academy in an academic manner. And then we wonder why the academy gets upset with us.
Anyway, we have beaten this topic to death. I will agree to disagree on this point.

Seriously stupid of them all. If you want to to have any sanity left for the great religion Hinduism, stay away from these so called defenders. With illiberal obscurantist defenders like this, who needs real offenders?


Mugundhan said...

Hi Bhaskar,
It will be nice if you can refut the petition line by line, the petition makes good points and they quote facts,
If the lady Doniger is an academic and he book is selected for an award based on incorrect facts, then it makes sense to dismiss the book...
You guys are web savvy, highly educated etc. Please comment on the areas where you have done good research, if you guys post blogs like this, what is the difference between illiterate mobs and you...
Very flippant post

BD said...


you didnt read my post. I am not saying anything about the mistakes, I am saying that asking to ban the book is foolish and obscurantist.

This is a principle of freedom of speech and by supporting this, guess where you are standing?