The whole idea of censorship and burning (or pulping) of books is beginning to seem rather quaint. One is distressed to see Penguin (India) destroying perfectly good copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus in order to assuage the hurt feelings of sensitive defenders of some would-be ancient Hinduism from modernist critique.
But of course, Penguin (USA) can quickly replace them, even in India, as the author herself recently noted. Besides, if the intention of this legal action was the suppression of the book, she also said, it backfired, since “they are now selling like hot cakes”. Fairly soon, of course, people everywhere will be downloading any book they like in digital form.
What is distressing is the whole sentiment behind the idea of banning books. A scholar like Doniger, who has spent her whole life studying Sanskrit and writing lively books intended to provoke an interest in Hindu literature and thought, nowadays finds herself denigrated by a cadre of defensive apologists who feel they must guard against anything they deem to be a slight to their tradition. Given that Indian intellectual life for the last 2,500 years has been characterised by extraordinary openness, rigour and self-criticism, exactly what has produced this new narrowness and thin-skinned sensitivity?
What seems to be most in need of analysis is the way the voices of scholars representing the elite academic institutions, whether the University of Chicago or the Jawaharlal Nehru University, are resented by those whose voices are not amplified to the same degree. Populist demagoguery and calls for book-banning succeed when people have no access to the education that provides a way to step up to the microphone. Feeling left out of the conversation, it is no wonder they shout, even to the point of shouting down and trying to silence their opponents. Of course, many of those inciting the shouting are neither oppressed nor voiceless. They may even be well-educated (in technical if not humanistic disciplines) and privileged. Their motivations may be deeper anxieties about modernity, or gender, or they may simply be cynical in using hot button issues to advance their own interests and power.
So while I will always vigorously oppose anyone who calls for censorship and book banning, I can sometimes appreciate the resentment that produces such appeals. For descendants of the Enlightenment, freedom of speech may be a sacred right, but it only makes sense in the context of social equality. The sort of equality that depends on education cannot, however, be advanced in a society that stifles free expression and access to ideas, popular and unpopular.
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.
I suggest that people should carefully read the following essay by Prof. S. N. Balgangadhara :
What Do Indians Need: A History Or The Past
Please try to understand who is the biggest threat to Hinduism in today's world. Hinduism has survived despite overpowering foreign influence in the last 1,000 years. Will Hinduism be fatally hurt by the present very serious threat which is within?
I hope all shades of opinion makers will ponder over the essay and post their thoughtful comments for the benefit of all readers.
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