Friday, March 14, 2014

My Opinion on the Whole Wendy Doniger Book Scandal

Namaste readers,

Whew. It's been a while since I last posted. There's a good reason for that. I recently got laid off from my employer, so I've been scrambling to make the best out of a bad situation by seeking out new jobs, new writing opportunities, etc. So this blog has understandably fallen by the wayside while more important matters were seen to.

However, I wanted to take some time today to finally return to this blog and render my opinion on a matter of great debate in the Hindu community of late - the publisher-led banning of scholar Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History (it's not the government of India banning it, mind you). This is one area where I've been hesitant to render an opinion, seeing as I haven't read the book in question (it's still available in the United States to my knowledge but, honestly, I hesitate to buy it).

Still, there are aspects of this I can render an opinion on. First of all, while this may be considered censorship on the part of the publisher, Ms. Doniger should have seen this coming, because of her selective interpretation of historical facts and Hindu religious practices. Ms. Doniger has taken a rather narrow view of Hinduism and its associated culture, focusing overtly on all its negatives while neglecting its positives. I'm sure if she wrote a book about Christians in the same style she wrote The Hindus, she'd get a similar reaction from readers and publishers here in the United States. I don't know Ms. Doniger's opinions on Christianity, but the fact that she chose such an approach to Hinduism without first establishing a background of criticism of other religions (particularly Western ones) does seem rather suspect.

There could have been a number of ways Ms. Doniger could have approached the subject of Hinduism and addressed its flaws. The approach she eventually chose should not have been one of them, because, again, she isn't known for her work on other religions (if she did work on other religions; again, I'm not familiar with Ms. Doniger's other work). I understand the need to pick one's battles and the need for focus, but let's face it - there aren't that many scholarly works that openly approve of Hinduism here in the West. There are some, don't get me wrong, but not enough to counter the critical ones, in my humble opinion. Ergo, if Ms. Doniger wanted to be taken seriously on the subject, she should have taken that into account.

I realize this blog post seems more like a criticism of Ms. Doniger's methods rather than her message, but seeing as I haven't read the message from The Hindus: An Alternative History, I can't really comment on that. The most I can comment on here is the way it's been handled, which can most definitely be criticized, on both ends. It certainly highlights the need for two-sided dialogue, because a dialogue that favors either side at this point can only end in tragedy.

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