Wendy’s revenge: Plagiarism charge against Rajiv Malhotra is a red herring
Rajeev SrinivasanJul 18, 2015
There has been a lot of commotion over on social media lately about the books written by Indian American author Rajiv Malhotra, who has single-handedly stood up to forces in US academia who paint, according to him, a negative, motivated, and false picture of Hinduism. This is not a purely abstract issue, as it impinges on soft power, positioning, and the marketing of India to the world, something that previous governments paid scarcely any attention to, but the current one does.
To put it simply, the issue is as follows: one Richard Fox Young, apparently an employee of a Christian seminary in Princeton, NJ, where Malhotra also resides, has gone on the warpath against Malhotra, accusing him of plagiarism, based on some material that was allegedly quoted without explicit attribution in his books Indra's Net and Breaking India. Young's crusade against Malhotra is not new: I personally have had to block Young on Twitter because he bombarded me when I supported Malhotra.
Now, a disclaimer is in order: I have known Rajiv Malhotra for some years, and we have corresponded on occasion, although we have never met. While I don't agree with him on everything, I am broadly in sync with him; and I have had no financial dealings whatsoever with him or any entities with links to him. There are friends of mine who disagree with him on style or substance, but when it comes to an external attack, we all stand with Rajiv.
On taking a brief look at the whole imbroglio, I see an old game being rehashed: certain anti-India and anti-Hindu forces are at play, and have been, in academia and elsewhere, for some years. There is a certain #DeepState at play, which I alluded to a few months ago in when I suggested that India has been deemed a part of a new #AxisOfEvil. I see no reason to change that view, as the same dramatis personae are at work here too: pals of the USCIRF - Cold Warriors of religion, focused on conversions.
I wrote about this clash of civilisations in “Fear of Engineering” in 2002, including the fact of Rajiv Malhotra, Sankrant Sanu, et al standing up to entrenched antipathy towards Hindus in American academia, led by ‘den mother' Wendy Doniger Flaherty and “Wendy's Children”, as Malhotra dubbed her acolytes. What was a somewhat obscure tiff in American academia then has now become quite an issue in India now.
There is an even greater link. This fuss about Malhotra's books may be direct revenge for what happened to Wendy's books a few months ago: upon being accused of hurting the sentiments of Hindus, her publisher unilaterally withdrew her books on Hinduism, which were allegedly a travesty of true research, not to mention full of gratuitous titillation and insults. Malhotra was the person who first challenged Wendy and her brood 15 years ago, and now the objective is to bully his publisher into withdrawing his books: sweet revenge indeed.
This is a pretty good tactic, and is an old one. The RISA group of mostly American religious academics who act as gatekeepers for Western Indology has consistently excluded those other than their own through the spurious argument of ‘scholarship'. This is defined as having been a PhD candidate under one of them: a clear case of intellectual incest. Indeed, Wendy has spawned - in nice counterpoint to Romila Thapar in India - an entire generation of Hindu-hating ‘scholars', both Indian and Western.
They have sought to denigrate the ‘insider' perspective of Hinduism, as experienced by practicing Hindus or sympathetic scholars, and lionised an ‘outsider' perspective (the words ‘emic' and ‘etic' are used to refer to these points of view) of hostile anthropologists (or colonial administrators in British Raj days). For instance, they have kept out scholars like Michel Danino, quite possibly the foremost authority on the Sarasvati river and thereby the best debunker of the entire ‘Aryan Invasion Fairytale'. This is not surprising: let us remember Galileo Galilei, who was almost burnt at the stake for upsetting the carefully built-up sinecures of insiders who had made their careers out of heliocentrism.
But that RISA citadel is under attack, as Hindus, both scholars and lay people, have begun to question them, turning the microscope back on them, and asserting that the western world-view is not universal (which Malhotra has done explicitly, by treating the West as anthropological specimens to be viewed through the lens of Hindu philosophical systems).
No, the western view is true for all people and for all time. An example is in the concept of ‘intellectual property rights'. The traditional knowledge and intellectual property of Hindus, freely given by pundits, have been quietly expropriated by western scholars (‘embrace-extend-exterminate', the famous Microsoft strategy), who then turn around and assert that it is their property (the U-turn Hypothesis), for which they hold IPR. Westerners zealously guard their IPRs with patents and copyrights and so on. We remember the neem and turmeric patents. The tactic is also subtler: the appropriation of yoga into ‘Christian yoga'; the demonisation of coconut oil by cleverly comparing hydrogenated coconut oil to extra-virgin olive and saffola oil; and so forth.
Hindus have a different, yet internally consistent, view of knowledge. They have traditionally created knowledge and simply put it in the public domain for anyone to use, without even signing their work. Is that wrong? Does this mean that Hindus were not innovative? Far from it. We don't know who invented the decimal system (it was possibly Brahmagupta), but did it benefit society? Yes, it did, although it may not have benefited Brahmagupta personally through royalties, and indeed he may not have cared about the money, anyway.
In the West, too, the rise of Unix/Linux and open-source software has made it clear that ‘copyleft' or freely opening up intellectual property, is not the end of civilisation as we know it; on the contrary, it can lead to very fine products and benefit society. Indeed, as opposed to Microsoft's IPR-heavy Windows, 98 percent of us now carry mobile devices based on the open-source philosophy of Unix/Linux, GNU and the Free Software Foundation. So it's clear that an alternative point of view may well be as valid as the conventional wisdom. Creative Commons is another example.
Staying with IPR for a moment, let us consider the basis of the attack on Malhotra: that he has plagiarised. Insofar as I can tell, what he is accused of is acceptable under the definition of ‘fair use' in the US Copyright Act 1976, 17 USC Section 107, and under ‘fair dealing' in the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, Section 52. If you peruse these provisions, you will find that the quoting of copyright materials for ‘research' is allowed without hindrance, as it is for teaching as well, so long as it is not used for monetary benefit to the user.
Thus, there is little basis in fact for the allegation, a priori, and I suspect that if Malhotra sues, he will win. However, it is an excellent tactic, known as “throwing some mud and seeing how much will stick”. The objective is not to penalise the alleged plagiarism, but to create the impression that Malhotra is intellectually dishonest, the equivalent of accusing him of a felony, which will remain as a stain even if he is exonerated. That is the objective of Wendy's Revenge: hopefully, it will cause him to self-censor.
This technique has been used to devastating effect in the past. One example is the Nun Rape Syndrome. In 1998, there was a big hoo-ha over an alleged rape of four Catholic nuns in Jhabua, in the forests of Madhya Pradesh, and Hindu groups were immediately accused. To be honest, it's not clear why the rape of a nun is more heinous than the rape of any lay woman: it's, alas, pretty routine, just ask Sisters Anita and Jesmi. Anyway it turned out that the rapists were themselves Christians. The story then disappeared, but there were no apologies for libel against Hindus.
The same thing happened in West Bengal recently. An elderly nun was allegedly raped, and since the BJP is running the government of India, blame was immediately directed at Hindu organisations. Then it turned out that the rapists were Muslims, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and the nun was also spirited away. Once again, the story was swept under the carpet, but no apologies.
Interestingly, Indian ‘sepoys', the brainwashed or the mendacious, are in the forefront of the attacks. I have read several of them, and also devastating counters by Malhotra and Danino as well as an excellent piece by Atanu Dey showing up their hypocrisy.
Sadly, I also found the usual champions of ‘Freedom of Speech' - including a bunch that went to a big conference in Singapore just weeks ago on this topic - strangely silent. But that is par for the course. They shouted from the rooftops about MF Husain's FoS, but were quiet about Tasleema Nasrin's FoS, even when she was manhandled by some people. They went on and on about Perumal Murugan's FoS, but were deafeningly silent about Joe D'Cruz's FoS. The sepoys obviously know what to think and where their selective outrage must be directed: their handlers must be telling them regularly.
Thus the entire arsenal of the #DeepState has been brought out, including the sleeper cells. The fact that the allegations are baseless will not matter, and the nasties will succeed in their objective of shutting down Rajiv Malhotra unless all of us who support our civilisation are vocal in our resistance. To start with, you could sign the petition that is circulating online here. But that isn't enough: do get active in fighting back. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the withering assault on Hindu civilisation.