The World Book Fair on in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan was to be the protest ground against the “withdrawing and pulping” of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. On the afternoon of Saturday, February 15, the day the fair opened, there were about a dozen people herded together by the Shiksha Bachao Andolan, the outfit that sought the banning of the book, outside Hall No. 11 where the Penguin stall is, shouting ‘Wendy Doniger Hai Hai’. Some members of the group were reportedly going around urging bystanders to join in their protest to swell up their numbers, pointing out the book is a blot on their religion. Only a bewildered few stayed, most others just walked away.
Across from the Shiksha Bachao Andolan camp, there was another protest group, of intellectuals, academics, liberal thinkers and students, raising slogans against the state and the publisher for ‘banning’ The Hindus, and bravely reading passages from it. Soon enough, as could be expected, the pro-ban group started hurling charges at them, calling them anti-national and traitors. A skirmish ensued, the cops descended and the crowd dispersed. Then the restless Saturday crowd barged into the hall and everything was business as usual.
But we will be poorer by one book less on the shelves.
The Wendy Doniger controversy got headline space and prime time because she was a celebrity writer, the publisher was one of the biggest, and India’s secularism was under attack. But books are mutilated, authors threatened and humiliated, libraries ransacked often enough and all across the country and the news barely makes it to the TV ticker. Nobody can pretty much write anything remotely critical of Hinduism, Islam, Lord Rama, Jesus Christ, the Prophet, Mahatma Gandhi, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Mamata Banerjee, Jayalalitha, Praful Patel, Dhirubhai Ambani, Subroto Roy and Arindam Chaudhuri.
Here, six authors whose books were banned, taken off the shelves or simply not allowed to print even a single copy due to court injunctions tell their stories about what it is like to see their life’s work go waste.
This is apropos Banished From the Bookshelves (March 3). I couldn’t agree more. The censorship, banning and pulping of a work of art denotes an extreme sort of intolerance, which suffocates all dissent against narrowly defined norms of orthodox morality. Any opinion contrary to accepted ideological stances is ridiculed, scoffed at and banished from the mainstream. And it has happened from ancient times. Lord Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Mohammed, Joan of Arc were as much victims of this as were Copernicus, Socrates, Shelley and D.H. Lawrence. Today, Doniger’s book is targeted; tomorrow such forces of intolerance might open up against the temples of Khajuraho, Vatsayayana’s Kamasutra and the elaborate application of Shringaar Rasa in the works of Kalidasa, Jaidev and Bilhana.
Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal, Rae Bareli
I’m one with Peter Heehs, whose book The Lives of Sri Aurobindo was banned in 2008. But as the Kannada poet Sarwajna said, all this will be rain on a big boulder and won’t make much difference to the Hindu fatwa-mongers. It’s disconcerting to see the so-called ‘defenders of Hinduism’ acting contrary to great Hindu traditions. Are these people real Hindus?
H.M. Siddhanti, Richmond
There just might be a case for pious Hindus taking umbrage at books written by ‘scholars’ with ulterior motives. Try to understand what the biggest threat to Hinduism is in today’s world. It has survived overpowering foreign assault in the past 1,000 years. But will it be able to counter the westernising threat from within?
Anupam Rae, Virajpet
Outlook has finally admitted without stating it that there is something to be grateful to NaMo. There are at least three Modi biographies in English (and many more in the vernaculars, I’d imagine) in bookshops. And no publisher has had to pulp them. Reason? Because NaMo himself or his supporters have not gone to courts to seek an injunction against them!
Raghu Krishnan, on e-mail
We are slowly turning into a society of intolerant people (Banished from the Bookshelves, Mar 3). In a proper and true democracy, there is absolute freedom of speech. We don’t have that, yet revel in the tag of 'world's largest democracy’ and comparisons with western countries. There are many NGOs that fight for various causes; I am yet to find any who takes up the fight for suppressed authors!
M.R. Bhardwaj, Haridwar
Taslima Nasrin is the only writer who has boldly stated that writers have the right to say anything they like, however hurtful it is to others’ feelings. She has also done the right thing by exposing the hypocrisy of our ‘liberals’ who abandoned her when she was under attack and under gravest peril.
A. Viswanathan, on e-mail
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Very good links. Thanks. I have bookmarked both the links.
A good article. Thanks for the link.
Thanks for the link. Its an objective view point, whether one agrees with it or not!
"Hinduism may not be what a few rightwing ideologues have tried to assert that it is. But it is also not what a handful of scholars and writers positioned by their privileged location with a near-total monopoly on representing Hinduism in the world today have made it out to be"
a must read for freedom of speech protagonists : by Vamsee Juluri, professor of media studies, University of San Francisco.
Thx for the links. Interesting stuff ... there are lots of similarities theologically and doctrinally between the Atharva Veda, Bhagvad Gita and the Holy Koran ...
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