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 We are thus not allowed to see the Ramayana as ‘a marvellous parable’ (as Rabindranath Tagore saw it), but as a historical document which cannot be questioned.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.