Friday, June 11, 2010






Dr. Seshachalam Dutta

(Edited and modified by Shree Vinekar)

“The Hindus-An Alternative History of India” (hereinafter called “HINDUS”) a recently published book by Wendy Doniger, Ph.D., is the most degrading, scurrilous and damning book by a professor of Chicago University. This is a second book of its kind portraying Indian society in such derogatory terms next only to the infamous “Mother India” by Katherine Mayo, which Mahatma Gandhi condemned as a sewage report. If a Government has a justification to ban a book, this is the one. Indian Government is not to be credited with the virtue of the freedom of press or tolerance to intellectual works when it comes to attack on religious sensibilities. More innocuous work, Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie was banned by the Government of India before it hit the book stores. If the government didn’t ban it, Indian Muslims might have burnt it. Indian Muslim painter-artist Hussain could paint Sita in nude, but let him paint Muhammad in the nude and see what happens to him. Who speaks for the honor of Hindus? The ruling party simultaneously pretends to be secular and at the same time co-opting Hindu credentials. The opposition BJP pretends to notice nothing unless it is published in Hindi; and once in three years it raises the slogan of Ram Mandir construction to get the votes, as though this is the only pertinent issue of concerns to Hindus. True, Doniger points out - that the Hindus are ill-defined disparate mass of people designated as “Hindus “ by the foreigners who gave them that name “Hindu” by exclusion of other foreign faiths. So no one speaks for Hindus, unlike for Christians and Muslims. Any book similar to this one on Muslims would have invited worldwide wrath among the Muslims leading to fatwa’s and no publisher would have dared to publish such a work. The only tepid response of outrage the author experienced was for a speech she gave prior to this publication at Oxford, from Jitendra Bharadwaj who hurled an egg at her (and missed); for he obviously lacked the eloquence and wit to match hers to verbally debate her in the public. No one condones such crude gesture which she cited in her book at the beginning and also at the end, almost as an inspiration for her voluminous vindictive work: but just as he missed his aim, she missed the point that he was only expressing his disgust, even if crudely, not really to harm her but to only humiliate her minimally compared to the monumental insult, injury and humiliation she was hurling at another culture. To this day she never realized what provokes such disgust in her writings although she claims to have psychoanalytic insights to view Hindu culture and mythology from the lens of Sigmund Freud.

Without any specifics, except for a slant reference to Hindutva political groups as revisionists, Doniger accuses Hindu scholars of “double vision” and portrays all of Hindu mythology as vulgar and obscene. As a former belly dancer, she sees everything with a sexual connotation and her reading of Hindu sacred texts are replete with sexual innuendos. Showing an affectation of sympathy, she talks of caste distinction and sexism in ancient Hindu society in the most demeaning manner. This is a stereotypic Western Indologists’ attitude. True Casteism is a bane of Hindu Society; but discrimination based on birth is not unique for Hindus. As a Jew (Jewess?) she calls herself “very much Jewish.” She should know that the discrimination of Sephardim Jews by Ashkenazi or the problem of Beta Israel and dark Jews is not reconciled to this day. Coming to women’s "rights,” historically women in every ancient culture were treated subordinate to men, including in Jewish or Christian societies. This is a well-known fact. Did not God of Abraham condemn women to bear children in sorrow, as Bacon put it succinctly, women were born to love and suffer and men to toil and suffer. St. Paul told women to keep their mouths shut in church congregations advising them to ask their husbands if they had any questions! Not in India, but it was in England and its colonies the practice of “rule of thumb” prevailed, condoning beating of wives with a stick no thicker than her husband’s thumb! Throughout her voluminous book Doniger feigns sympathy for Hindu women and other oppressed castes. If she needs comparative analysis of womanhood of various religious groups, Hindus at least are not guilty female circumcision (genital mutilation) as currently practiced in some Muslim and Jewish communities.

"HINDUS” is a 779 pages long book covering the antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Colonial and the contemporary History of India. What are her qualifications for the authorship? She confesses that she is no Historian, nor a philosopher, or an anthropologist but a simple philologist with some knowledge of Sanskrit, which in the West familiarly titled “Sanskritist”, meaning one with midget of knowledge of Sanskrit. While the knowledge of Sanskrit may render her to claim presumable ability to unravel the ancient history India or Hindus, what claim does she advance to the times Sanskrit was not the language of the courts, in middle ages and modern times? Here she engages in reckless diatribe on Hindu customs, culture, politics and religious practices.

With such lack of training how would she venture to write a history? She claims to use synecdoche- “selecting one or two moments in history.”……. “Taking a small piece of history and using it to suggest a full range of enduring human concerns.” The problem with this approach is that she confuses mythology and history. This approach oversimplifies history, for example: Cain killed his brother Abel, the first brother in creation and hence we have to assume brothers killed brothers in the biblical lands! Despite this shortcoming, she claims immunity from personal criticism, since she is an academician and hence claims objectivity. But in her writing she is embroiled in personal hatred for male Brahmins generated by her dislike for the egg thrower Brahmin, and further has partisan political vindictiveness against Hindu Nationalists, and therefore such argument in favor of immunity for an objective academician doesn’t hold water. She and her publisher can be sued for defaming RSS as participants or conspirators in Gandhi’s assassination and sexual innuendoes in matters religious may be treated as pornography and blasphemous. She brackets M.S.Golwalkar with Aurangazeb and Hitler. Nowhere does she recognize that the ideal and idol for Indian Muslims is Aurangazeb the great Alamgir and not Akbar (see Iqbal).

Poorly indexed, the book makes difficult for quick reading and review; she suggests one could quickly access her book from the index as the “dog sniffs the back of another to find what it ate!” She claims she herself does that often. But she should know, as a dog keeper, the analogy has sexual connotation-the dog sniffs the behind of the bitch to find whether it is in heat, and not to investigate her diet! This is an example of her humor in the text-vulgar and obscene- which seems to entertain some of her Indian friends. There are enough Gangadins among Indians who fall for it, no matter what positions in academia they occupy. Some of them have unabashedly endorsed her book. Now we come briefly to the content of the text.

Various aspects of this book have been already extensively reviewed, mostly in negative light. The British commentators found the inadequacies in the accounting of colonial period. Numerous Indian commentators were outraged at her drawing history from anecdotes in Mythology; her accounting of Muslim rule was equally wanting in fact and authenticity. She talks about Basava Purana which was written first in Telagu and later in Kannada, both of which languages are outside her expertise. Her analysis of religious texts is equally appalling and mostly gratuitous.
Doniger says that she is very Jewish and then if that is true she needs to know that Samson’s mother begged for a child from the Sun who came out of his chamber and gave her one. This she should know is mythology and not history; neither the parting of the Red Sea by Moses is history. How then, she portrays that Sun coming down to give Kunti as “Hindu History” and that “Sun God” “raped” her when the son born of this union as described in the original Mahabharata was by extra uterine conception (Sadyogarbha). In another episode she takes some tribal folk lore and talks of Sita, the most venerated mother symbol for countless Hindus as having voluptuous longing for her husband’s brother. This comment was what precisely provoked Jitendra Bharadwaj it is surmised. Ramayana is not historical work, it is not even “itihasa” it is an “Aadi-kavya” and like purana, a product of his imagination, written by a great poet, Maharshi Valmiki. It is not a history by any stretch of imagination. She thus confuses Hindu Mythology with Hindu History. Both these great epics of Hindus, Ramayana and Mahabharata, give enough preambles to conclude that these are the poetic elaborations of the imagination of the poets to illustrate some eternal principles that impact human life and society with an attempt to illustrate the then prevalent knowledge, philosophy and human affairs. They are not literal historical documents or archives. They are a means to understand the Sanatana Dharma or some Vedic truths. However, this is not to deny that some historical events may have been incorporated in the plot of these stories.

Doniger is fascinated by sexual context of Indian writings. She says every Sanskrit word has “its own meaning, an opposite meaning, a god’s name and denotes a position in sexual intercourse.” This is the height of her sexual obsession. Her Sanskrit proficiency should be left to other scholars to critique. Witzel of Harvard questions it. She split the phrase Satyaagraha as Satya+ Graha, instead of Satya+aagraha (Savarna deergha sandhi) demonstrating her ignorance of elementary Sanskrit that is transparent to any educated Indian without a Ph.D. in Sanskrit. She accuses male Brahmins filtering the Sanskrit texts, does not explain in what way. According to her analysis Brahmins are of two kinds, those who whispered in the ears of kings (and became rich) and others that were dirt poor who begged for their food every day. There are none in between by her accounting. We know that the great works were written, not by those who whispered in Kings' ears but by the very poor Brahmins. Vamadeva who wrote a section in Rigveda once was so hungry that he ate entrails of a dog (see: Radha Kumud Mukherji). Her wonderment discussing Raivika as why a low caste Hindu could be allowed by Brahmins to flourish is absurd considering most of the Upanishads were written by Kshaktrias and not by Brahmins.

Further analysis of her classical discussion on her Hindu history may not add much; it would be flogging a dead horse considering volume of reviews this book has attracted. Instead of dwelling on the antiquity, I will try to focus on Doniger’s lack of knowledge of contemporary Indian history.

Her hatred for Brahmins is revealed by her hateful treatment of so called Sangha Parivar, following the leftist propaganda of clubbing anyone who disagrees with disparagement of Hindu traditions and History as Sangha Parivar does, a political loose alliance of disparate groups with only common dedication to protect Hindu interests. She calls Tilak a militant Nationalist who only asked for Swarajya (or “self Government” and not even complete freedom) and spent years in British Jail! In her view that is militancy. (This was not even the view of the British who imprisoned him.) She deemed Gandhi's Satyagraha as ineffective in transforming his own people but only effective against the British - apparently the civilized British because they were morally evolved people. Little does she know that the British had once already faced the wrath of their own armed forces that turned against them and feared such wrath which ultimately prompted them to consider giving independence to India.

Again she is ignorant of recent history of India, when Winston Churchill called Gandhi a half naked Fakir and wondered why he attracts such attention and called Gandhi’s followers , Nehru and others as Straw men and that British Government should ignore their demands for self government. Anyone with inkling of modern Indian History should know that Gandhi’s greatest power was to awaken the sleeping Hindu Nation and to energize Indians to demand complete freedom. In this, his skill was unparalleled. It is a travesty of truth to attribute India’s liberation to the Christian charity of morally superior British persuaded by Gandhi’s Satyagraha.

Discussing RSS, she portrays Golwalkar as a Nazi admirer and BJP as anti Jewish. She is ignorant of the fact for over 50 years Nehru was anti–Israel, during his life time did not recognize Israel and India did not have diplomatic relations with that country; but it was the BJP Government under Vajpayee that had opened relations with Israel. Most of her leftist friends in India are anti-Israel, pro-China, pro- Russia, pro-Arab and Pro-Muslim. She recklessly included in the book much discredited innuendo of linking RSS with Gandhi’s assassination, a charge which was repeatedly challenged in the courts. This may be music to the ears of Congress and its leftist allies. Not so fast, –she has something for the idol of the Congress Party, Mahatma Gandhi, too.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha is like the attitude of an “Indian woman used against her husband withholding sexual access.” There is sexual connotation in her understanding of how Indian women take on their husbands! What would she suggest, sleep with neighbor’s husband! Gandhi was a sort of Tantric. Tantrics, as we all know are a deviant Hindu cult (vama margis) as Acharya Rajanish who opposed austerities of Yoga and espoused enjoying five M’S: Madya, Maunsa, Matsya, Maithuna, and Mudras. Although Gandhi never ate meat or drank liquor, according to Wendy, he practiced a kind of tantric sex, not following Upanishadic and Vaishnavic traditions, he normally advocated. In her own words:

“The practice of celibacy of Gandhi-sleeping beside girls (young almost to call jail baits in the U.S) to test/or prove his celibate control or stiffen his resolve. This practice drew not so much on Upanishadic and Vaishnava ascetic traditions which were source of many of Gandhi’s practices, as upon ancient Tantric technique of internalizing power, indeed creating magical powers by first stirring up the sexual energies and withholding semen.” The implication here is that the man got jollies looking at girls lying next to him in bed, got excited and then controlled his instincts (erections?) to make the sexual energy flow to his head (oordhwaretaka. To use the expression of Jimmy Carter, he might have only sinned at heart!

Even Vivekanada was not spared. Wendy accuses him of advocating beef eating to Hindus. This is a strange revelation, not found in the entire literature on Vivekanada. No such reference is found - in the literature in reality. He actually ate beef while he was in Chicago according to an anecdote narrated by someone. This is another example of her use of synecdoche! So he had clay feet according to Wendy for eating beef in Chicago. As a foremost scholar of Hinduism she has not stated whether there was any real prohibition against eating American cows in the Hindu scriptures. Wendy alone could explain what “enduring societal concerns” she is referring to when trying to find some dirt in the biographies of National heroes and idols of all Indians (Gandhi and Vivekananda) and magnifying it out of proportion, as if these obscure facts of their lives,, even if true, are ruling the consciousness and conduct of all Indians.

Angry Hindus are writing protesting letters to the Chicago University administration, a futile exercise; because she is not offending Muslims, but the docile Hindus. More effective way of dealing with such outrageous assault on the honor of the Nation is to (1) ban the publication outright in India and (2) for RSS to sue the author and publisher for defaming the organization by linking it with the assassination of Gandhi. It remains to be seen whether the Government has the stomach for action and whether the conscience of RSS will be stirred enough to take it upon itself enough seriously to get ready for a battle, without Shiva Sena raiding the book stores. A nation that acts like a floor mat invites contempt from all adventurers, as we have seen with the publication of El Sari Rojo (The Red Sari) fictional biography of Sonia Gandhi. What riles the Congress is not the fictional part of it but facts alluded in it, her adolescent life and her sweethearts in Italy before she married an Indian and the questions of her virginity prior to marriage. Compared to this book “Sari Rojo” "THE HINDUS: An Alternative History of India" is a sweeping insult for the Nation, its past and present.


  1. I've read "The Hindus." In this post, I do not recognize the book on my table. This blogger is filled with contempt, seems to imagine that Doniger is, too, and he thus seriously mischaracterizes the book by reading it through his own venom-filled eyes.

  2. Acheron claims he has read the book. Critical reading requires the knowledge of the original texts and the cultural context. Lacking both, all Acheron can see is only comtempt and venom, yet curiously he misses both in Wendy's writing. Acheron is misleading the reader and thus is doing disservice to the dialogue and the explored contraversy about this book as if there is nothing in the book to be critiqued.