Monday, February 17, 2014

Wendy versus the Hindus

The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think…Throughout the Mahabharata ... Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors such as war....

That alleged quote - Doniger claims to have been misquoted - was borrowed from an anti-Wendy Doniger diatribe that Arun linked to. I don't recall having heard of Doniger before fundamentalist Hindus managed to get her history of The Hindus banned and "pulped" in India, but it seems that she is a prominent religious scholar and student of Indian religion at the University of Chicago. It seems that she has been attacked, verbally and physically, by her opponents, whom she describes as Hindu fundamentalists or Hindutva (and here). I remain unclear on precisely what they object to, but it seems to involve not only "quotes" like the above but also alleged sexualization of Hindu literature.

As for the quote above, I don't know anything about the work in question, but it's certainly nothing that would surprise anyone who has read the Hebrew Bible or Greek literature. That sort of thing is pretty much the modus operandi of gods everywhere. Their stock in trade has often been goading human beings into murderous and self-destructive behaviors.

People really resent it when someone pokes holes in their imagined realities, as scholars of every religion often find out. A nation is an imagined reality as much as it is some lines on a map, and making a nation of India presents some severe challenges. Despite its ancient civilization it has a long history of political disunity and a vast diversity of languages, religions and cultures, as well being subjected to repeated foreign invasions and empires.

So far as I can tell, Hindutva seeks to create that unity out a Hinduism and a historical narrative - a historical narrative that rejects many "Western" interpretations of the past. Such history in the service of ideology often contains important elements of myth - for example, the insistence of many Indian scholars that the conventional interpretations of the Indo-European language diaspora must be wrong.