Ok I’ve been reading a lot about this Wendy Doniger and her book The Hindus – An Alternative History.
When I got to know of the book and how Penguin was going to destroy all the copies of the book in India (I use the word destroy, because the word pulp only paints a picture of tomato juice in my head), I wanted to know why. My sister logged onto Twitter, read a few lines about how the cover picture is of Krishna sitting atop a group of naked women (on one of their backsides, mind you), and how Shiva chopped handsome, young Ganesha’s head off because he suspected an oedipal relationship.
I know all of you are ranting on about lack of freedom of speech, and Siddharth Varadarajan has cancelled his contract with Penguin and Arundhati Roy wrote a sarcastic open letter to Penguin. But somehow, I find it hard to swim along the tide this time.
When I read parts of the book, I was outraged. I’m really not a Hindu nationalist or as some angry ‘pseudo secular’ people term them, “Hindu fascists.” I’m just a normal girl, who says a couple of shlokas if she gets scared at night while sleeping alone, simply because her grandma taught her those lines, which of course don’t make sense to her. They simply comfort me. Yes, I am a Hindu. But I’m not religious. In fact, I believe some of the customs are ridiculous. (I’ve written about those before.) And if this writing could anger me, how do you think it’ll impact religious people?
I understand that Wendy has researched on Hinduism for the better part of her life and she is entitled to her opinion and she has every qualification and right to write a book about it. But publishing such a book in India can only cause outrage. It’s like publishing a soft-porn ish book on Islam in Afghanistan or a sexual account of Jesus’s life in the heartland of America. Would anyone be cool with that? In fact, no one would be cool with that even in India. One must understand that India is not ready for such books. I could probably digest all those sexual connotations in the book and carry on with my life, but would a 23-year-old like me pick up a book on religion and read it? I doubt it. Unless they’re into literature studies or something, the chance of liberal-minded youngsters reading the book is slim. So who would read such books? The middle-aged – my parents, your parents, grandmothers, whoever. And people like Siddharth Varadarajan and Arundhati Roy might be open-minded to such “blasphemous” writing, but the average reader will not.
When just about 74% of India is literate, i.e., they know A B C, you think they’ll understand the complications of modern religiosity? Heck I needed to go to ACJ to learn about all that and the leftist college made me a little liberal in my thoughts, which I suppose is a good thing. But it’s really not alright to hurt the religious sentiments of others.
My sister says India has double standards. If the same thing was published about Islam, wouldn’t publishers succumb to intolerant people and pulp that as well? If you so desperately want to read the book (because that’s what the ultimate agenda is when you publish a book), go find the pdf online instead of ranting about it all day. I have it open on another tab right now. It’s not that hard. If you want to pay for it, then buy an e-book. No one is stopping you from reading it.
In a country like India, religion is something dear to everyone. It’s something they rely upon. And I’m not saying this only with respect to Hindus. Faith is what keeps Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains and people of all other religions strong. There is no place where religious people can achieve community and solidarity like at a temple or a church. So you can’t go about hurting religious faith.
So what can come out of such a book? Nothing but anger, incite and negativity. Even in the West, it’ll make people believe that India is an extremist patriarchal nation. Because that’s what the book represents. India is patriarchal, I agree, but not as exaggerated as it is in Doniger’s book. The thing is, if you go through her book, it’s really interesting. She has written about the possible origin of the vedas, of how humans came to be, how people began to worship cows, vegetarianism, about suras and asuras, it’s pure research. Maybe what Penguin could have done is edit the “blasphemous” parts of the book and publish it.
At this point, it’s not even about freedom of speech. It’s about maintaining peace and happiness. Ok I sound like a hippy, but isn’t that the ultimate pursuit? Happiness? I read Meena Kandasamy’s poem the other day, here it is. It’s just so full of anger. She is always so full of anger and sarcasm. I want to shake her and say “Be Happy For GOD’S Sake!” Oh wait…
A small comparison: In the case of rape issues in India, women can’t be rebellious and say, “I’ll wear less clothes and step out. Because they can’t tell me what to do. Blah blah blah.”
It’s not about being rebellious. It’s about being patient. It’s about waiting for the society to be ready for such things. It’s about co-operation. We’re in the process of getting the country ready for such things. That’s why we’re still a developing nation. So for God’s sake, just wait for when the time is right and then publish any book you want and people will either accept it or do away with it. They won’t make you pulp it.
Now is not the time. Not yet.