Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blindness of the Religious



Religions have an uncanny knack for making people intellectually blind.  The latest example for religious blindness is the withdrawal by its publishers (Penguin) of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History.

Doniger quotes in a letter to the press:  “An example at random, from the lawsuit in question: ‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). ‘ 

Doniger is an accomplished scholar on Hinduism.  It is absurd that ignorant people are questioning her scholarship and trying to ban it from public access. 

Ramayana may not be the only bone of contention in this case.  However, since Doniger has mentioned that explicitly in her letter, let me quote some relevant passages from Dr Amartya Sen’s book, The Argumentative Indian:

“... many Hindu political activists today seem bent on doing away with the broad and tolerant parts of the Hindu tradition in favour of a uniquely ascertained – and often fairly crude – view which, they demand, must be accepted by all.  The piously belligerent army of Hindu politics would rather take us away from these engagingly thoughtful discussions and would have us embrace instead their much-repeated public proclamations, for example that Rama, the epic hero, is an incarnation of God; that all Hindus worship him; and that he was born on a well-identified spot ‘nine lakh [900,000] years ago’.  We are thus not allowed to see the Ramayana as ‘a marvellous parable’ (as Rabindranath Tagore saw it), but as a historical document which cannot be questioned.  It is also taken to have enough legal status to give actively destructive Hindu politicians a licence to tear down a place of worship of other people ... in celebration of his alleged birth exactly there.”

“Many Hindu schools of thought,” continues Dr Sen, “do not mention Rama at all, and, among the texts that do, many hardly portray him in the spectacular light of divinity in which the present day Hindutva activists insist on seeing him.”

There may be many other points in Doniger’s book, apart from her views on Rama, which infuriated the blind believers (or those who maliciously make use of religious sentiments for political purposes, which is a more vicious thing to do).  But all those points will have rational and historical counterviews too.  So why should the book be banned?  Isn’t it better to let the readers find out the truths about their religion and beliefs? 

It is more likely that these so-called religious leaders want to keep people in darkness.  Every religion flourishes when the people are ignorant.  Anyone who tries to remove the ignorance is persecuted in one way or another.  Wendy Donigen is the latest victim of religious blindness and its attempts to keep others blind too. 


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26 comments:

  1. I'm all for freedom of expression. If it is banned how are we intellectually better than the mullahs of Bangladesh?

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    1. This kind of intolerance is the same whether it is in Islam, or Hinduism, or Christianity... based on narrow religious views. I don't know if Doniger's book is a great work or not. I didn't buy it even when it became controversial at the time of its publication because the reviews had mixed opinion, many arguing that it didn't reveal the author's real scholarship. Nevertheless, she has a right to express her views just as much as we have a right to question it. But why demand a ban? If a book is not good, it will die naturally.

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    2. Religion is said to be the opium of the masses.Religion in my view cannot be viewed with intelligence. It needs your total devotion to it blindly. Religious preachers and guardians want us to be faithful and never apply logic to it. So either you are in or you are not .Choice is yours.by the way ,well written, got me thinking onit

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    3. You're right, Nima. Intelligence and religion don't go together. Faith is quite the antithesis of intelligence.

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  2. Completely agree. We are getting more and more intolerant by the hour and it actually goes against Hinduism's basic philosophy of tolerance. Putting anything above questioning is against scientific temper. And that is something we seriously lack.

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    1. I purposely chose Amartya Sen as an example here. He highlights the eminent level of tolerance that prevailed in the Hindu traditions. He cites the atheistic school of Carvakas, a character from Ramayana who questions the greatness of Rama, and so on. Such tolerance is the real greatness of our cultural heritage.

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  3. And we say we are a democratic country!

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    1. Democracy may be losing out in our country, Pankti. We may soon have a Fascist as our PM!

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  4. Fanatics are everywhere..be it Taslima Nasrin works or Salman Rushdie's...remember the painting of Goddess Saraswati by MF Hussain ?

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    1. Why is people's religion so touchy, Maniparna? Do you think people lack deep faith in their religion?

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    2. I agree with your views. I do not know anything about this author or the particular issue, so I'll say that this issue runs both ways, in general. While perfectly good books may be banned for hurting unfounded beliefs, some self-styled scholars also abuse the freedom of expression to publish trash, and conveniently generalize all critics as blindly religious.

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    3. The author, Doniger, is a scholar. She must be laughing like Nietzche's God now.

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  5. The intolerance part is well imbibed in all schools of Hindu philosophy. But my question is a little different - why is this intolerance stemming in? My take is that though the intelligentsia is heavily left leaning in this country(which is disproportionate to the political space they are given) it's bread and butter stroke is to somehow search for an Indian identity which is devoid of Hinduism - is that really possible(unless you dissolve the constitution which essentially preaches 'positive secularism' against 'negative secularism' of the west)? In reality these same leftist intellectuals preach religious freedom for the minorities, while trying to undermine today's ritualistic Hinduism. Besides, practicing Hindus don't need the advice of an atheist(Sen) and a Christian(Doniger) as to how they should go about seeing or perceiving their religion.

    The Carvakas you just mentioned above(even though were atheists) were still Hindus and refused to call themselves a different cult. Would Sen, the poster boy of Marxist interpretation of Economy and Culture in India, dare add this in that essay? I doubt.

    I was one of the petitioners who petitioned Penguin against the book and there were thousands like me. The constitution of India does not permit blasphemy against any religion in India and the Supreme Court has said time and again that there is nothing called Absolute Freedom of Speech, freedom in a democracy is always subjective to the comfort level of other citizens and society at large. As an unlikely example what would happen if anti-Christian riots break out in here initiated by some fringe elements as the writer was a Christian? Could Doniger sitting ten thousand miles away be held responsible for it?

    Many friends of mine, some revolutionary Marxists, show zero tolerance towards the fact the society is not ready for such cultural shocks. You just can not force them into it. If and when the fault-lines(which are so apparent today) get blurred and a piece of literature no longer threatens to damage the, already fragile, social fabric - write what you want. But not today.

    P.S.: I am as much against the circulation of books such as Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Nasreen's Lajja, Brown's Da Vinci Code etc, though I have read them all. There are much better things to write about than 'exposing religion'.

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    1. Its interesting that you read the books and came to the conclusion that it should be banned.Considering that you read it from a literary perspective and chose to to reject it , was again completely your choice. This is precisely what every citizen of a free thinking nations needs - choice and be able to decide for oneself whether to accept it or reject it. To decide to ban some work by some people, and not letting the other people decide for themselves is the root problem here.

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    2. Thank you moon for having the patience of sitting and reading through the entire comment.
      1. The book wasn't banned. The publisher withdrew it.
      2. As much as the people have the right to voice their opinion, others have the right to feel offended by those views. As the celebrated American jurist - Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior said: Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. The Marxists claim the moral high ground while 'protecting the freedom of speech' while they themselves are intolerant towards the sensitivities of their compatriots.

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    3. Sid, you display quite a bit of arrogance (along with ignorance, I'm sorry to say) in your comment. First of all, Dr Sen has mentioned again and again in the book quoted that the Carvaka school is an integral part of Hinduism. Either you never cared to read Sen or you're intentionally (as most religious people do) misinterpreting him.

      You say that intolerance "is well imbibed in all schools of Hinduism". I don't know what you mean by that. My question for clarification of what you mean is: Are you saying that Hinduism is essentially an intolerant religion or culture?

      Your attitude toward books that question religious ideas shows how blinkered your approach is toward reality.

      Religion is one of the most pernicious forces as it has always been in human civilisation. It is the duty of every thinking human being to question the evils it breeds relentlessly.

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    4. @Sid,

      I think I have to agree that you have the right to feel offended by the book.
      Just as much as I have the right to feel offended at the thought of society clamping down on freedom of expression. While I also agree, that one cannot indulge in any kind of expression in a society bound by certain rules, but there's a thin line.If one cannot question established beliefs, thoughts and if one cannot face such questions, we seek to quell the scientic temper in each one of us by a rigid imposition of rules.

      The problem with this approach is that the confines of what is acceptable will get smaller and smaller , till all thoughts of a different thinking is completely extinguished. Blind superstitions which exist to this day, are nothing but a culmination of such a behaviour.

      The question is, irrespective of religion , if that's where we want to head.

      Having said that, I do not dispute your right to petition against the book, which is the most peaceful approach one can adopt to dispute contentious issues instead of taking to the streets and indulging in arson.

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    5. Ignorance - My intellect is not even a fraction of yours but you didn't read my comment properly(or maybe I couldn't articulate it well). The Carvaka school is different from the Carvakas(who followed that school) and I said that Sen didn't write that the Carvakas resisted attempts to call themselves different from the followers of Lord Ram when the demons tried to coarse them into excepting the same. Read the English adaptation of Bhanubhakta Ramayana.

      Arrogance - Will not tow the line of Marxists and for that you can call me names. I will resist with all my heart any attempt by a bunch of leftist pseudo-liberals to exercise their 'right to blasphemy'. In fact some of them are so liberal and tolerant that they deleted the comment by Sachin Manan placed right below mine as it out-rightly justified the action by Penguin.

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    6. Sid, you're crossing the limits of basic decency. Sachin deleted his comment himself as far as I can see in my dashboard. Stop hurling immature allegations, that's my request. And, for your kind information, I have never (NEVER) been part of any Marxist, Socialist, Communist or Leftist organisation and don't intend to join any either. I'm a liberal thinker, a self-professed intellectual with my own strong convictions and principles. Full stop.

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    7. @ Sid,
      After reading the article, I am forced to take back my words.
      This provided a very strong justification on why it happened and I would have to agree that whatever happened, was for the good.

      http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-wendy-doniger-episode-is-not-a-free-speech-issue-1388751.html

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    8. Moon, I just read the piece you've cited. How do those arguments justify demanding the ban of the book? The writer is right that the West had skewed notions about India and Doniger has not done justice to India in her book. So what? Let the readers decide whether to believe her or not. I, as a potential reader, decided not to buy the book after reading 4 or 5 reviews. Can't people make their own decisions? Why should any organisation make the decisions for people? Why do I need a moral guardian to decide what I should read or write?

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    9. I would have completely endorsed what you are saying , but couple of reasons now forces me to rethink. I also think these reasons forces one to look at the 'grey' instead of a pure black and white picture.

      1.There are enough and more instances of religious fanatics purposely trying to malice another's religion. While we may split our hair trying to endorse freedom of speech, there could be, put simply,other forces at work.

      2.Also, we cannot ignore the fact, that these kind of books are sometimes used simply as a manipulative means to just hike the sales.More the controversy the better it is, so why not write controversial stuff, just to make a quick buck out of it.

      3.The language used for depicting the religion can definitely set fire to the tinderbox emotions of the huge not so-educated population of our country who can easily be swayed by political / religious reasons and who I suspect would not reason it out across a discussion table.The fact that the author belongs to a different religion can be strong motivation to retaliate against the other religion.

      4.Freedom of choice of all parties concerned - both the petitioners and the publisher.If it had been a ban, there would have definitely been more cause for debate.

      I think all of these cases should be viewed on a subjective and case by case basis keeping all the factors in mind as taking a hard stand might just be the best way to deal with it.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Please fell free to put in your view, Sachin. At least for the sake of those who question me about the deletion of your comment.

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  7. Agree with your views, Sir. It's their profit if people remain blind... Even those who can see have become Gandhari in today's age!

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    1. Ignorance is bliss, especially in religion, Anita.

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