Thus, Jeffrey Kripal’s thesis about Ramakrishna (Kali’s Child) is, according to a quoted Bengali critic, marred by “faulty translations”, “willful distortion and manipulation of sources”, “remarkable ignorance of Bengali culture”, “misrepresentations” and a simply defective knowledge of both Sanskrit and Bengali. (p.101) He has, like too many academics, the tendency to “first suspect, then assume, then present as a fact” his own desired scenario, i.e. “that Ramakrishna was sexually abused as a child”. (p.105) A closer look at his errors could make the reader embarrassed in Kripal’s place, e.g. mistranslating “lap” as “genitals”, “head” as “phallus”, “touching softly” as “sodomy” etc. Kripal’s whole scenario of Ramakrishna as a defiler of boys is not only unsubstantiated, it provides not only a peep into Kripal’s own morbid mind; it is also, in this age of cultural hypersensitivity, a brutal violation of Hindu and Bengali feelings. If it were an unpleasant truth, it had a right to get said in spite of what the concerned communities would think, but even then, a more circumspect mode of expression and more interaction with the community directly affected, would have been called for. But when it comes to Hindus, riding roughshod over them is still the done thing.
Similarly, Paul Courtright develops his thesis about Ganesha’s broken trunk being a limp phallus, and of Ganesha being the first god with an Oedipus complex, on the basis of what is clearly a defective knowledge about the elephant god. The lore surrounding Ganesha is vast and does not always live up to Courtright’s stereotype of a sweets-addicted diabetic. He has some stories in Hindu literature to his credit where his phallus is not exactly limp. Indeed, I myself am the lucky owner of a Ganesha bronze where he is doing it with a Dakini.
Wendy Doniger herself is now best known for the numerous errors in her book The Hindus, an Alternative History, diagnosed in detail by Vishal Agarwal. Known among laymen as a Sanskritist, her shoddy translations of Sanskrit classics have been criticized by colleagues like Michael Witzel, not exactly a friend of the Hindus. In a normal academic setting, with word and counter-word, where the peer review would have included first-hand practitioners of the tradition concerned, Doniger’s or Kripal’s or Courtright’s gross errors would never have passed muster. It is only because the dice have been loaded against Hinduism that these hilarious distortions are possible. It is, therefore, a very necessary and very reasonable struggle that Malhotra has taken up.
The RISA List
When I wrote my book The Argumentative Hindu (2012), I seriously wondered whether to include my exchanges with the RISA (Religion In South Asia) list about the dishonourable way listmaster Deepak Sarma and the rest of the gang overruled list rules in order to banish me, and how many prominent Indologists actively or passively supported their tricks. I didn’t consider my own story that important, but finally I decided to do it, just for the sake of history. Future as well as present students of the conflicting worldviews in India and among India-watchers in the West are or will be interested in a detailed illustration of how mean and how pompous the anti-Hindu crowd can be in defending their power position.
Here we get a detailed report on a much more important RISA debate that took place in 2003, and as it turns out, it was indeed worth making this information available. A lot of anecdotal data become known here, useful one day for the occasional biographer, such as the interesting tidbit that Anant Rambachan, with whom Malhotra crossed swords in his book Indra’s Net, was an ally back then (p.210). More fundamentally, and affecting the whole Hindu-American community, we note Paul Coutright’s turn-around to a sudden willingness for dialogue with the Hindus about his erstwhile thesis (p.211). The reason that mattered most in the prevailing Zeitgeist, was that “American Hinduism is a minority religion in America (…) that deserves the same treatment that is already being given to other American minority religions – such as Native American, Buddhist or Islamic – by the Academy. The subaltern studies depiction of Hinduism as being the dominant religion of India must, therefore, be questioned in the American context.” (p.213)
On the other hand, in all sobriety, I must also note how, in spite of that hopeful event, very little has changed. Recent incidents, some concerning Malhotra himself, confirm that the exclusion of people because of their opinion, the systematic haughtiness because of institutional rank (“Malhotra is not even an academic”, a sophomoric attitude unbecoming of anyone experienced with how progress in research is made, and by whom), the intellectually contemptible use of “guilt by association”, are all still in evidence in Western Indologist forums. He notes an improvement in the general mood as a result of the debate: “For the first time in RISA’s history, to the best of my knowledge, the diaspora voices are not being branded as saffronists, Hindutva fanatics, fascists, chauvinists, dowry extortionists, Muslim killers, nun rapists, Dalit abusers, etc. One has to wait and see whether this is temporary or permanent.” (p.215)
So far, the impression prevails that the mood has not changed much. We saw this in 2015, when Malhotra was accused of plagiarism. A detailed look at the case exonerated him and actually made the whole controversy rather ludicrous, yet otherwise moderate voices on the Indology and the Indo-Eurasian Research lists (I can’t speak for the RISA list, but it contains the same people) all ganged up against him. They acted very indignant over something that, even if it were true, would only be a trifle, immaterial to the debate at hand. It is this persistence of the same anti-Hindu attitudes that makes this book more than a historical document: it teaches Hindus what to expect today if they challenge the Indological establishment.
In 2003, one factor was perhaps that a BJP government ruled in Delhi and, in spite of its so-called “saffronization” of the history textbooks, refuted in practice all the apprehensions about “Hindu fascist” rule which the same Indologists had uttered in the 1990s. Remember, they had predicted a “Muslim Holocaust” if ever the BJP would come to power (and have never had to bear the consequences of their grossly wrong prediction in the field of their supposed expertise). Even ivory-tower academics had to be aware of that feedback from reality. Then again, this consideration ought to prevail even now, with Narendra Modi opening many doors internationally and not at all living up to the hate-image which many India-watchers had sworn by in the preceding years. Yet, “Hinduphobia” is still with us.
The major flaw in this book is its title. I object to political terms ending in -phobia, normally a medical term meaning “irrational fear”, as in arachnophobia, the “irrational fear of spiders”. As far as I know, the first term in this category of political terms borrowed from the medical register, was homophobia, the “irrational fear of homosexuals”. First of all, the word was wrongly constructed. Literally, it means “fear of the same”, i.e. “fear of the same sex”, whereas men criticizing homosexuality are not usually afraid of men. In fact the words targets people who disapprove of homosexuality, no matter what their rational or emotional motive. The term or connotation “sexuality” is missing (you might try “homophilophobia”), and the targeted “disapproval” is not the same thing as the stated “fear”, nor as the intended “hate”. Still, the neologism won through thanks to the bourgeoisie’s sheepish acceptance of it.
Next came Islamophobia, literally “irrational fear of Islam”, intended to mean “hatred of Islam”, and in effect targeting “disapproval of Islam”, “Islam criticism”. This term was first launched in the 1990s by the Runnymede Trust, a British Quango dedicated to fighting racism. It was taken over by many governments and media, and especially promoted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. It is an intensely mendacious term trying to criminalize the normal exercise of the power of discrimination. The targeted critics of Islam need neither fear nor hate Islam, their attitude may rather be likened to that of a teacher using his red pencil to cross out a mistake in a pupil’s homework. But again, a mighty promotion by powerful actors made the word gain household status.
On this model, the term Hinduphobia was coined. At the bottom, we have to reject this term as much as we rejected the use of psychiatry against dissident viewpoints in the Soviet Union.
On the other hand, an irrational anti-Hinduism is a reality. It is precisely through comparison with Islam that this becomes glaring. Whenever a group of people gets killed in the name of Islam, immediately the politicians concerned and the media assure us that this terror “has nothing to do with Islam”. In the case of Hinduism, it is just the reverse. Of any merit of Hinduism, it is immediately assumed that “it has nothing to do with Hinduism”, whereas every problem in India is automatically blamed on Hinduism, from poverty (“the Hindu rate of growth”) to rape.
Thus, it is verifiable that books may be written about “Jain mathematics”, but when Hindus do mathematics, it will be called “Indian mathematics” or “the Kerala school of mathematics”. Congress politician Mani Shankar Aiyar once praised India’s inherent pluralism, enumerated its well-attested hospitality to refugee groups, and then attributed all this not to Hinduism, but to “something in the air here”. In missionary propaganda and in the secularist media, it is always emphasized that “tribals are not Hindus”; except when they take revenge on Christians or Muslims, because then the media report on “Hindu rioters”.
This obsessive negativity towards Hinduism needs to be named and shamed. Now that the bourgeoisie has interiorized terms like Homophobia and Islamophobia, it is clear that the neologism Hinduphobia belongs to a language register they will understand. Once heightened scruples prevail and linguistic hygiene is restored, all three terms may be discarded together. But until then, the use of Hinduphobia in counter-attack mode is a wise compromise with the prevailing opinion climate.
Republished with permission from Koenraad Elst. The book review was previously published in Pragyata and Swarajya
Photo Credits: Swarajya
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