Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Hindus An Alternative History

Academic books about religion--any religion--face an uphill battle for acceptance. You cannot make a scholarly attempt at explaining something that defies scholarship, and organized religion practically begs for a thorough debunking. Using the actual fossil history of camels to disprove the Christian Bible--to hell with you.

Other religions--major religions--are ripe for this kind of analysis. The Hindus is a book that is under assault by a particularly ridiculous man:
“YOU NOTICEE.” In strident, upper-case pidgin-legalese, the man—a belligerent Indian enemy of “westernization,” a strutting Hindu fundamentalist with a record of suppressive activism against books that “hurt the sentiments” of Hindus—addressed a legal notice to Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School (and a woman who knows more about Hinduism than the man in question could ever hope to learn in this benighted lifetime or the next).
The man, Dinanath Batra, hurled various sections of the Indian Penal Code at Prof. Doniger, accusing her of having outraged his feelings, and those of his co-religionists, in her book The Hindus, published in his country by Penguin India. His accusations, in effect, characterized the book as hate speech. About 70 times in his short legal notice , Mr. Batra intoned the hectoring phrase “YOU NOTICEE,” as he charged Ms. Doniger with being “a woman hungry of sex” (for her highlighting of the sexuality inherent in Hindu mythology), with having “a shallow knowledge of the great Hindu religion” and a “perverse mindset,” with hurting “the feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that [the] Ramayana is a fiction,” with holding “the flag of beef eating and cow slaughter in ancient India,” and—my favorite, in which Penguin India is conjoined as “noticee”—with intending, through the book, “to cause fear and alarm among the Hindus that their religion and religious beliefs are not safe any more and can be trampled with and denigrated, distorted & insulted and hence you have intended to induce and incite them to commit offences against the State and against Public Tranquility.”
Dinanath Batra is just another Bill Donahue, in other words, and less eloquent when he pulls things out of his ass.

Doniger's book doesn't represent any kind of a threat to the appreciation for Hinduism. In fact, you would think that the Hindu believers would be well above any kind of attack on their religion. Christians are more thin-skinned, and Muslims need not be mentioned. We all know what happens when you try to make any kind of a comment about that particular faith. It's not as bad as ridiculing Scientology, but damned close.

Academics, take note--writing about religion will cost you sales overseas. I'm hoping the book does well elsewhere.

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