Penguin Withdraws and Destroys Scholarly Work on Hinduism

A pretty disturbing incident of censorship is taking place right now in India. A retired school teacher has been campaigning for the banning of a book, and Penguin is relenting, pulping its remaining copies. You can read the whole sorry story at The New York Times here. The incident may signal, in upcoming elections, a shift toward the fundamentalist and nationalist Hindu right. Already there are campaigns afoot to go after the school textbooks, evaluating them on conservative Hindu grounds, and violence lurks over liberals who publish books that offend literalist Hindu sensibilities. The center, alas, is not holding in India.

It’s already bad enough that Pakistan is destabilized with fundamentalist religion; if India trends that way as well, it’s not too hard to imagine, a decade from now, the two nations, both led by religious conservatives beholden to fundamentalists to maintain their power, engaging in a war fueled by religion. And both countries have nuclear weapons. Not a pleasant thought.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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20 Responses to Penguin Withdraws and Destroys Scholarly Work on Hinduism

  1. andrewclunn says:

    I think perhaps we need to give the people of India a bit more credit. I’m a bit more optimistic that the land of Bollywood will not so easily forgo cultural modernization.

  2. Peter Smith says:

    It seems to me that one would have to read the book to reach an informed and balanced conclusion, and I’m not going to do that so I can only speak generally.

    Free speech is never a simple on-off binary matter. We accept limitations to free speech for several, very good reasons. In my own country(South Africa) we also have hate speech laws. Our experience with those laws has been overwhelmingly positive. In any diverse and polarised country(such as mine) there is a large potential for speech that will inflame sectional sensitivities and provoke violence. The ideals of free speech require a homogenous society with a high degree of of consensus and a culture of tolerance. The US is increasingly falling short of this standard but even so seems culturally deaf and blind to the dizzying array of problems that India faces. I can easily imagine that hate speech laws are even more necessary in India than they are in my own country, South Africa.

    Setting that aside, I see an even more troubling phenomenon. Across all Western countries there has been a rising tide of strident and mean spirited criticism of religions of all types. It is a spirit that exploits tolerance of free speech to promote intolerance of religious thought and behaviour.

    The problem lies in how the different belief systems react to what they see as a life threatening attack. In my own spiritual home, the Catholic Church, we accept that persecution is inevitable and concentrate on doing what we do well, providing a safe place for worship, helping others with schools, hospitals, clinics, soup kitchens, aid distribution work, etc. This is a useful response.

    Many of the evangelical churches have reacted by adopting a laager mentality, intensifying their beliefs in the fundamentals of their religion and becoming even more fundamentalist. This explains the growing belief in things such as young earth creationism. I don’t think this is a useful response but I can understand their reaction.

    Islam has reacted in a similar way, becoming even more radically fundamentalist. But unfortunately it has acquired a strong political element because the critics are seen as Western, European powers intent on denigrating cultures they don’t understand. It is the politicisation of a religious backlash that is the source of the violence.

    So, while Western pseudo intellectuals derive considerable schadenfreude from their attacks on religion, they are lighting the fuse to anger that can have considerable consequences. Then when the fire takes hold they point to the fire as confirmation of the truth of their criticisms.

    Tolerance is a two edged sword. If you demand tolerance of your free speech I should be able to expect tolerance of my religious beliefs. We can meet in the middle by agreeing to respectful speech that does not demonise another person’s strongly held religious beliefs.

    Of course that does not happen, schadenfreude is a highly addictive drug and pseudo intellectuals regularly become intoxicated on the heady nectar of contempt. But that has consequences which can be unmanageable in some societies. It is for this reason we have laws against hate speech.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Peter,

      Your position, in my view, sounds reasonable and superficially plausible, and perhaps it is even necessary for countries with high illiteracy rates.

      But as literacy climbs in a country, free speech needs to expand, not contract because literate adults living in a democracy can and must hear things. Claiming “offense” because someone disagrees with you or is ironic about what you take seriously is a return to innocence. But literacy is a movement from innocence to experience. Experience is an encounter with the Other.

      So yes, of course, you cannot have a rational–and certainly not a caustic–debate about religion among illiterates, but thank God (if God exists) that the world is becoming more literate. The greater the literacy achieved in a country, the more we must insist that irony and seriousness can go together, and that emotional and intellectual discomfort and disorientation is okay.

      You and I, for example, could easily take competing serious positions on a matter in which we are, in turn, ironic or contemptuous in response, and neither of us would do anything more than argue back (perhaps delighted in the intellectual give and take). You can’t do this, obviously, with an illiterate fundamentalist living on the outskirts of, say, Cairo. I get that.

      But India is an increasingly literate society. People shouldn’t be babied in this fashion. Adults can hear things. It is necessary for the progress of humankind. And “offense” in most instances is a political bludgeon used by charlatans leading illiterates. It’s not really an offense. It’s just used to shut down speech. It’s an act of communal power expression by those who are otherwise intellectually bankrupt.

      Your siding with fundamentalists through the expression of pragmatic epidural bromides makes you sound (to yourself) reasonable and compassionate, but you’re really just lending bad leaders of reactionary and illiterate movements additional power. (So shame on you!)

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      By the way, the book banned in India can be purchased at Amazon here:

      http://www.amazon.com/dp/014311669X/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=17XA4DF2PU7NJ&coliid=I35CQG69T2E1PS

      Wendy Doniger’s book is blurbed positively by a Harvard professor and The Washington Post.

    • Peter Smith says:

      Santi,
      I read your reply with a sense of growing incredulity. You start well enough “Your position, in my view, sounds reasonable“(why, thank you) but carry on to insert the snide “superficially plausible“, failing to show why it is superficial. You end with the admonition “(So shame on you!)“, some unnecessary polemic “epidural bromides” and a false statement “Your siding with fundamentalists“.

      So you disapprove of what I say but fail to engage with my arguments. Snide commentary does nothing to give your arguments any weight.

      The heart of your argument seems to be this:
      But as literacy climbs in a country, free speech needs to expand
      and
      But India is an increasingly literate society.

      Now that is a strange claim. The major reason for free speech would seem to that of justice and the equitable functioning of society. Literacy merely amplifies the effects of free speech. The content of the speech should not depend on the medium of the speech. For example, the illiterate labourer present at a village meeting in northern India should have the right to stand up and express his point of view. Justice and the proper functioning of their society demand it. It is true that the spread of literacy has helped inform people of their rights and helped them to claim their rights but it is not the justification for their rights.

      Claiming “offense” because someone disagrees with you or is ironic about what you take seriously is a return to innocence.
      Oh dear, you are seriously misrepresenting my position. The debate is not about ‘disagreement’ or ‘irony’, it is about hate speech. Such a serious misrepresentation is anything but ‘a return to innocence’.

      People shouldn’t be babied in this fashion. Adults can hear things.
      You speak as though free speech was an unqualified right but this is not so(in most Western countries) and you know this very well. The main reasons for qualifying free speech are(depending on the country)
      1) propaganda for war,
      2) incitement of imminent violence,
      3) libel and slander,
      4) espionage,
      5) sub judice rules of court procedure, contempt of court,
      6) contractual, rules of employment, etc,
      7) hate speech.

      The real debate is not about free speech itself, but where to draw the line between acceptable free speech and unacceptable free speech. You seem not to understand this point at all. I am surprised.

      Now one can plausibly argue that the limits in my list above should be very small in mature Western democracies, with high levels of internal consensus, while more extensive in immature democracies with divisive cultures, such as my own country. But in all cases the limits should be as small as possible, consistent with the effective functioning of the society.

      I also know that state power has a vested interest in restricting free speech and will, if we are not vigilant, suffocate unapproved speech. This is an ongoing struggle in both my country and yours.

      But, what I am really talking about is hate speech and that is something we have real experience of in my country.

      You claim
      It’s[restrictions on hate speech] an act of communal power expression by those who are otherwise intellectually bankrupt.
      On the contrary, we have found that hate speech is ‘an act of communal power expression‘ against hated or despised minorities.

      Hate speech laws give protection to minorities against the intellectually bankrupt expression of communal power.

      Of course the devil is in the details and defining what constitutes hate speech is difficult. Here, in my country, we have seen the process unfold in our judicial system. The target of the perceived hate speech challenges the speech in the courts and the ensuing debate clarifies the matter. Careful examination by the courts has proven to be the best way defining the limits of hate speech. Over time a useful consensus has emerged and there is widespread support for hate speech laws. The only people who seem to have suffered from this are the purveyors of hate. RIP.

      Finally, what I am really arguing for is a culture of tolerance and respect. Free speech can be responsible speech. Is that so bad? I do know this, as a practising and devout Catholic, I am called upon to show tolerance, understanding and respect for others. I sometimes fail but I never stop trying. I wish others would adopt the same ethic. Hate speech laws help to nudge society in this direction. Law is the codified consensus of what society desires.

      • Peter Smith says:

        I should have added, from the perspective of our experience in my own country, that I think what Penguin did was wrong(not because of the contents of the book, I know nothing about that).

        They should have persisted and let their critics challenge them in a court of law. This would have resulted in a thorough public examination of the rights and wrongs of the book. The judicial findings would have added to the body of common law and helped to further define what constitutes hate speech. This is a very healthy process because it helps to inform society of the limits between acceptable free speech and unacceptable free speech. It also helps to nudge society in the direction of understanding and tolerance.

        I presume Penguin decided not to contest the matter because it thought (a) it will probably lose a court case or (b) the publicity would be too damaging to its commercial interests, or both.

        Either way it is sad because the judicial process would have done so much to clarify the matter. That is our experience in my own country and I am a strong supporter of the judiciary(warts and all).

      • Peter Smith says:

        The whole incident was initiated by a challenge from Dinanath Batra. He is acting within the framework of the laws of the land and he has every right to do this. Laws are not selectively available to people of whom we approve. They are not selectively available for the purposes we approve of. He has the right to defend his belief system against what he perceives as hate speech. It is then up to the courts to decide the issue. In the process the matter will be thoroughly explored and greater understanding will develop. This is a good and healthy process. It is called the rule of law. Respect for the rule of law is foundational to society, even when the outcome is inimitable to our own perceived interests. Appealing to the rule of law for protection is a form of free speech.

        Penguin should have contested the matter and then, through the legal process, there would have been clarity and finality. I won’t comment on the actual rights and wrongs of the book since I have not read it. But the legal process would have revealed the rights and wrongs of the book and subjected them to careful examination. That can only be good.

        Opposing someone’s right to resort to the law for protection because of the label ‘right-wing campaigner’ or ‘fundamentalist’ is just plain wrong. The law is not selectively available and trying to make it selectively available is a form of suppression.

        I say this as someone who is a ‘liberal’ Catholic, someone who is light years away from the fundamentalist fringes of religion and who knows nothing about Hinduism.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Peter,

        Three points of disagreement. First, hate speech is very, very far from an academic work of the sort that was pulped. To bring hate speech into the discussion of an academic work is reaching. I can understand, in extreme historical contingencies, why one would very, very cautiously restrict speech (such as banning the publication of Hitler in post-WWII Germany). But this example is very far from anything related to the Penguin case. To ban an academic work from a country is to ban the Anglo-French Enlightenment itself–one of the key foundations upon which free speech even becomes a coherent proposition.

        Second, free speech is not first for social justice or even the smooth functioning of society. It’s for the soul. To be prohibited from speaking the thoughts of one’s own mind is a violation of conscience; it is an imposition of power over honesty. For any person to say–“The harm done to me by the honest expression of your thoughts outweighs the harm done to you in the forced suppression of your honesty”–is an act of hatred in itself; it is a willingness to dehumanize another human being; to arrest the functioning of their thought and conscience–and even disrupt their own survival mechanism (which is thought, not instinct). One should do this only under an extreme and temporary circumstance (if at all).

        Third, that Penguin would have to defend itself in court to publish an academic book is outrageous. It’s so far removed from hate speech that there is simply no equivalence. The reality is that Penguin feared violence and violent protests, not that it would lose a court case. It feared for its employees, and for boycotting protesters who might turn violent outside an establishment selling the book. In other words, it feared irrational hatred directed at the company.

        You can be kind in your speech all you want, but you have to make room, if for no other reason than a respect for conscience, for those who feel the need to shout it from the mountaintop that (for example) Jesus Christ is not their Lord (nor Krishna), and to make a jest of you if you do so. It is part of growing up to hear from, and not try to censor, the ironic Other, not because you agree or like it, but because you respect the conscience of the other person just enough to say, “I get my honest expression of thought, and you get yours.”

      • Peter Smith says:

        Santi,

        Point 1.

        First, hate speech is very, very far from an academic work of the sort that was pulped.
        Well, we don’t know that, do we? What we do know is that some readers perceived it that way. And in this case it is perceptions that matter. The targets of perceived hate speech should make their case in court and let the courts decide. The rule of law is a wonderful thing.

        To bring hate speech into the discussion of an academic work is reaching.
        The judicial process will result in a thorough examination of the book and then we will have a definitive answer. Once again, let the courts decide. Respect the rule of law.

        I can understand, in extreme historical contingencies, why one would very, very cautiously restrict speech
        Conditions already present in India. This is exactly why that hate speech law is part of the Indian penal code. I can give you any number of references to the volatile situation in India.

        Point 2.

        Second, free speech is not first for social justice or even the smooth functioning of society. It’s for the soul.
        Then speak to yourself. The moment you speak to others it also has a vital social component. But I agree it is also for the soul, however my list of free speech exceptions show the strong social component.

        To be prohibited from speaking the thoughts of one’s own mind is a violation of conscience
        We do it routinely. Or did you fail to read my list of reasons why we limit free speech?(I forgot to add copyright as one of the reasons we limit free speech). My right to free speech is always weighed against the harm that it causes to others. From the list I have given you, one can see that society has long ago accepted the principle that harm to others can sometimes annul my rights to free speech.

        is an act of hatred in itself; it is a willingness to dehumanize another human being; to arrest the functioning of their thought and conscience
        Powerful rhetoric that ignores the simple fact there are two parties to speech, the speaker and the listener. We have to also consider the harm to the listener and my list of free speech exceptions illustrates this very well. Free speech can be ‘an act of hatred in itself‘, can ‘dehumanize another human being; … arrest the functioning of their thought and conscience‘. Do the rights of the speaker always trump the rights of the listener?

        One should do this only under an extreme and temporary circumstance (if at all).
        We already do it routinely. Consult my list of free speech exceptions. Mind you, I agree that we should keep to a minimum any restrictions on free speech.

        Point 3.

        that Penguin would have to defend itself in court to publish an academic book is outrageous.
        No one is above the rule of law. Demanding that a book publisher should be exempt from provisions of the law is outrageous. Demanding the selective availability of the rule of law is outrageous.

        It’s so far removed from hate speech that there is simply no equivalence.
        Careful examination by the courts will reveal whether this is so. This is our experience in my country. The judicial process is a wonderful thing.

        The reality is that Penguin feared violence and violent protests
        Was there any evidence for this or was this a convenient excuse? Was there any evidence that they would not be protected by the forces of law and order?

        It is part of growing up to hear from, and not try to censor, the ironic Other
        It is also part of growing up to become aware of the harm that one’s speech does to others. It is part of growing up to recognise that the interests of others can sometimes outweigh one’s own interests. It is called being a social animal, it is called being a moral animal. We often self-censor for these reasons. I would never tell my mother-in-law what I think of her.

        the ironic Other
        Who opposes ironic speech? You should be careful to not misrepresent my position.

        Throughout your replies you speak as though free speech were an untrammeled right where people can speak without regard for the harm to others. You have emphasized the good of the speaker without considering the good of the listener.

        The simple truth of the matter is that it is not an untrammeled right. We do limit free speech out of consideration for the harm to others. This is an established fact. What is interesting is where we position the limits and when. How do we measure harms to others? What harms should we tolerate? How much harm to others should we tolerate? When do protests of harm become blackmail? When does free speech become intimidation and silencing? This is the real debate and arguing from the position that free speech is an untrammeled right is just not useful.

        I do agree that free speech is a most valuable thing and that we should restrict it as little as possible. Given that, I also believe that the victims of free speech should should have recourse to the law for protection. This balances the rights of the speaker with the rights of the listener. A simple example of that is I may use the laws of libel/slander to protect myself from another person’s free speech.

        Over and above all this, I believe we should be working for a gentler, kinder society that values respectful discourse. We should be moving away from the harsh, ugly and angry polarization that is beginning to characterize debate in today’s world. We should rediscover the virtues of respect and tolerance. One can be honest and respectful.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Peter,

        Perhaps because of your habit of being a “devout Catholic” (whatever that means), you’ve grown too comfy with giving up your individual self assertion to larger institutions (“Father knows best”) in a way that makes you not particularly rebellious at the thought of surrendering your freedom of thought, speech, and conscience to a “higher good.” But whenever I hear someone tell me (essentially) that my right to speech is granted by the state and the collective, and not a right inherent to my identity, and that the burden of demonstrating no harm to the community when I speak is on me, I rebel. It sounds like a time for civil disobedience.

        In the instance of Penguin, it should be able to go on its merry way without having to ever itself step into a court. Let the person or group whine to the magistrate with the sole burden of proof: what harm did this cause to you? Let them pass a very high bar before anyone else is ever brought in to account for “harm.” Otherwise, let the complaint be chucked out of court after the briefest review.

        And I would distinguish respect from tolerance. Nobody needs to respect the ridiculous opinions they perceive others holding; they need only tolerate them.

        But you are clearly animated by the philosophical justification of censorship, which says something about you as a person. Your emphasis is the straining of a gnat to swallow a camel. I’d be more impressed if your outrage was directed at the censors in this instance, and not at me for saying that they are dicks.

        And you know and I know that no harm whatsoever came to Hindus from this academic book. (I’m sorry, but a book reviewed in the Washington Post and blurbed by a Harvard professor is not Mien Kampf). You know this, and still want to put Penguin through an ordeal for a teacher’s resistance to hearing from Enlightenment secularists about the actual history of Hinduism (and not that Hanuman the monkey god did a miracle at this or that moment in the traditional telling of Indian history).

        Mystification and feigned outrage are ways for charlatans to mobilize largely illiterate groups for the expansion of their power. But I won’t go there with Catholicism in the Third World.

        But maybe that’s why you’re so passionate about this. In the advance of Catholicism in the Third World among illiterates you want a similar deference to the priests of Mother Church that Hindus expect for their gurus.

        Well I’m not offering that deference. Sorry. Let gurus and priests of whatever sort justify themselves in the rough and tumble world of vigorous intellectual skepticism without simply shutting that skepticism up by force of law in the name of “hurt sensibilities” of the community at large.

        Indeed, that’s the trick here. You’ve shifted harm from individuals who have to prove it for themselves individually, one by one, and placed it upon an amorphous group that can be mobilized by charlatans and brought into the streets for collective pressure on book publishers.

        Again, shame on you for the bait and switch, the shifting of burdens of proof, and for giving intellectual support to charlatans who would take individual rights to freedom of speech away by setting bar of offense on “low.”

        Jerry Coyne has a term for atheists who (ironically) defend intellectually arguments of faith while urging atheists to keep their rhetorical tone down: faitheists. I’m wondering if you don’t deserve a similar moniker: Censorlics (Western Catholics who claim to believe in free speech generally, but defend intellectually the censorship practices of non-Western countries).

        –Santi

      • Peter Smith says:

        Santi,
        When a person resorts to nasty non sequiturs it is a sure sign they have lost the argument.
        The nasty part is where they attack the person rather than the argument(ad hominem) and the non sequitur part is where they drag in arguments not related to the core debate.

        So let’s see how you fare when we call you out on the nasty non sequiturs.

        Nasty non sequitur #1
        your habit of being a “devout Catholic” …, you’ve grown too comfy with giving up your individual self assertion to larger institutions
        ad hominem – yes
        relevance – none, false accusation

        Nasty non sequitur #2
        But you are clearly animated by the philosophical justification of censorship, which says something about you as a person.
        ad hominem – yes
        relevance – none, false accusation.

        Nasty non sequitur #3
        Mystification and feigned outrage are ways for charlatans to mobilize largely illiterate groups for the expansion of their power. But I won’t go there with Catholicism in the Third World.
        ad hominem – yes
        relevance – none, false accusation about Catholicism.

        Nasty non sequitur #4
        …you’re so passionate about this. In the advance of Catholicism in the Third World among illiterates you want a similar deference to the priests of Mother Church
        ad hominem – yes
        relevance – none, false accusation.

        Nasty non sequitur #5
        shame on you for the bait and switch, the shifting of burdens of proof, and for giving intellectual support to charlatans
        ad hominem – yes
        relevance – slight, false accusation.

        Nasty non sequitur #6
        Censorlics (Western Catholics who claim to believe in free speech generally, but defend intellectually the censorship practices of non-Western countries).
        ad hominem – yes
        relevance – none, false accusation.

        Congratulations, Santi, you have excelled with six nasty non sequiturs. May I politely suggest you address the actual arguments I raised? Making false accusations about myself contributes nothing. Dragging in irrelevant arguments that are moreover false is, well, just plain irrelevant.

        But, since you raised the issue of censorship, let’s look at that again. Yes, there was an act of censorship. Penguin carried out that act. If you would care to read the comments you will see that I opposed that act of censorship. I stated that in my opinion Penguin should fight the claim in the courts so that examination by the judicial system would reveal the truth about the book. Now that seems to be an admirable response, not the advocacy of censorship. You will also see that I advocated respect for and adherence to the rule of law. Another admirable response that does not have the foggiest connection with censorship. Really, Santi, dragging in the censorship word and throwing it around wildly seems to be, err, umm, just plain wild.

        You have completely and utterly ignored my core arguments, that of harm and due process.

        1) Harm.
        All Western countries restrict free speech according to the principle of harm. Where free speech would cause sufficient harm, laws have been introduced to give the aggrieved parties redress in law. Some countries include hate speech as a harm. Note that is not censorship, that is a figment of your imagination.

        2) Due process.
        This means quite simply that an aggrieved party may sue for redress when he considers that he has been harmed by someone else’s free speech. The judicial process exposes the true facts and an impartial party (judge or jury) makes a finding based on the facts and the law. Note once again, this is not censorship, that is a figment of your imagination.

        Underlying all of this is a very simple principle. One person’s free speech can harm another person. When that happens the injured person should have a right to redress. And the courts are the medium for deciding such disputes, where the injured person can obtain redress. That is not censorship, it is the right to redress.

        A really simple example of harmful free speech is that person A may defame/slander/libel person B, causing harm to person B. Person B has the right to take his case to court and claim redress. This is not censorship.

        Or another example of harmful free speech. Person A may publish person B’s copyrighted work, harming person B. Person B may now sue in the courts for redress. Once again, this is not censorship.

        Turning now to hate speech. While the laws have been clear enough, defining their application has proven to be tricky, both in my own country and in other places like Canada. This is the great value of the judicial process, it refines the common law surrounding hate speech. This is why I am so quick to advocate that the case should go to trial.

        This quote from SA constitutional professor Pierre de Vos is quite illustrative of the issues:

        The Canadian Court stressed the narrow application of hate speech prohibitions. Unlike the South African Equality Act – which prohibits speech that can reasonably be construed as having the intention to be hurtful – more serious harm is required in the Canadian hate speech regime before speech would be deemed unlawful. It was only when the effects of the speech would cause “detestation” and “vilification” that the speech could be prohibited.

        Representations that expose a target group to detestation tend to inspire enmity and extreme ill-will against them, which goes beyond mere disdain or dislike. Representations vilifying a person or group will seek to abuse, denigrate or delegitimise them, to render them lawless, dangerous, unworthy or unacceptable in the eyes of the audience. Expression exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification goes far beyond merely discrediting, humiliating or offending the victims…. The act of vilifying a person or group connotes accusing them of disgusting characteristics, inherent deficiencies or immoral propensities which are too vile in nature to be shared by the person who vilifies.

        The Canadian Supreme Court also warned against the use of hate speech provisions to limit legitimate forms of expression:”
        Hate speech legislation is not aimed at discouraging repugnant or offensive ideas. It does not, for example, prohibit expression which debates the merits of reducing the rights of vulnerable groups in society. It only restricts the use of expression exposing them to hatred as a part of that debate. It does not target the ideas, but their mode of expression in public and the effect that this mode of expression may have.

        Santi, I hope by now that you understand that there is considerable and very well informed debate about hate speech.
        Your nasty non sequiturs have contributed nothing.

        I can only appeal to you to engage in the debate in a serious and substantive way.

  3. Tāṇḍava says:

    This is a fairly balanced report:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/murali-balaji/indian-censorship-and-the_b_4777117.html

    key points are:
    – It is not just a “Hindu” law. The law has been used to ban Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen, as well as sales of their books, to placate Muslim groups, while The Da Vinci Code was banned to please Christians who contended that the book was offensive.
    – Donniger shows glee at interpreting entire religion through the lens of Freudian psychoanalysis when even most psychologists have moved away from psychoanalysis as a legitimate means of diagnosis. If the same were done to Islam there would be riots and deaths, and many Christians would be equally upset if things like the spear in Jesus’s side was interpreted as a sexual fantisy.
    – There are numerous errors in the book that are uncorrected.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Seriously, you’re going to ban a book on the grounds that a scholar has applied Freud to Hinduism?

      Freud famously attributed eastern forms of meditation to the pursuit of an “oceanic feeling,” a return to the mother and a heightened narcissism (“I am everything, and a part of everything”), and this is hardly implausible. It’s a plausible interpretation of what’s going on psychologically (at least in part).

      And even if applying Freud to Hinduism was utterly ludicrous (which it’s not), you wouldn’t want to ban Donniger’s book. Why? Because it’s valuable in life to encounter ludicrous thoughts so as to critique them and know why they’re ludicrous (as when Shakespeare’s King Lear says, “No, no, this way lies madness!”). You’ve got to practice evaluation against resistances and difficulties to evaluation.

      In the 21st century, it is incumbent upon priests, imams, ministers, and gurus to teach their congregations to value such resistance (intellectual or otherwise) as tapas (heat for purification), and so to welcome it as part of one’s ongoing pursuit of the actual truth of matters. Nobody should want to participate in a religion that amounts to little more than mystification assisted by isolation and censorship.

      So the law that all the religions in India tap to shut up others demonstrates their epistemic insecurity, not their strength. Religion, if it is truly robust and not a house of cards, should be able to cope with the contemporary world without government assistance.

      –Santi

      • Tāṇḍava says:

        Personally I would not ban it, nor would I have banned the Da Vinci code or books that Muslims don’t like. The point I was trying to make is that this book is at least as insulting to Hinduism as books banned by the law by other religions. It therefore cannot be seen as a “shift towards fundamentalists and [the] nationalist Hindu right”. It is more of a hyper-sensitivity towards all religions.

        It changes the question for Hindus from “should this book be banned?” to “should Hinduism be shown less respect than Christianity or Islam who have had books that they find insulting banned?”

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Forgive me for annoyance with your response, but either shit or get off the pot on this. The previous wrongs done by other religions to authors does not make it right for Hinduism to get in line to smack down yet another author in the name of religious equality. If you wouldn’t ban the previous authors, then stop the cycle of banning this one. Somebody among the religions has to go first; has to say, “This is wrong to censor, and we won’t do it.” It’s the first step toward peace and civility. Perhaps Muslim and Christians will be ashamed of their own behavior by the Hindus’s good example.

      • Peter Smith says:

        Santi,
        This is wrong to censor, and we won’t do it. It’s the first step toward peace and civility.
        Another strange argument, fatally undermined by your self-contradictions.
        I would have thought the first steps towards peace and civility were to
        1) engage in thoughtful discourse, not “either shit or get off the pot on this“,
        2) respect the humanity of the other person,
        3) consider the other person’s point of view,
        4) refrain from hate speech.

        I suppose one could sum that up as thoughtful, considerate and respectful discourse.
        Is this really too much to expect? Is that not a desirable goal that is the necessary first step ‘toward peace and civility‘?
        Since you admit, by your own words, that civility is a worthwhile goal, should you not be practicing your own precepts? (not “either shit or get off the pot on this“)

        How does hate speech promote the ‘peace and civility‘ you advocate?

  4. Tāṇḍava says:

    Santi,
    there is no “reply” link to your specific post so I’m answering here
    I think that your above response, that Hindus should show a “good example” to Christians and Muslims is a world away from your original assertion, that this is “a shift toward the fundamentalist and nationalist Hindu right”.

    either shit or get off the pot on this.

    Not so easy if when you shit someone moves the pot from beneath you!

    • Peter Smith says:

      Not so easy if when you shit someone moves the pot from beneath you!

      Ha ha!
      That was done by a Western pseudo-intellectual so that he could attack you for crapping in the wrong place. Then, when that happened, he could have the joy of attacking you once again for complaining. A real win-win for schadenfreude.

      As a friend of mine so perceptively remarked, ‘contempt is the nectar of Western academia’. It is a form of self-eroticism and would even be funny if their hate speech did not cause so much harm.

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