CaribVoiceBook Review-Pandita Indrani
How academic scholarship defames the Hindu/Indian image
By Pandita Indrani
New York, July 24, 2007: The recently published book, “Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America,” demonstrates how the lack of vigilance and indigenous expertise facilitated a small group of western scholars usurping a Hindu authoritative voice and defaming, demonizing, distorting. eroticizing and pathologizing Hindu/India Studies through Freudian psychoanalysis; and how information age communication technology like the Internet facilitated the mobilization of diasporic voices against this trend in American academia. This book, richly illustrates how the media-academia axis worked to suppress critics through a variety of strategies and how the rights of an entire community can be undermined through this power equation. It also shows how the revolt led some scholars to introspect and re-evaluate academia’s role in scholarship and the scholar’s relationship with practitioners of the tradition that they study. This book is mandatory reading for all concerned about the integrity of Hindu/India Studies and Religious Studies in academia, India’s image and socio-economic autonomy, multiculturalism, pluralism and diversity, and basic civil and human rights.
The Hinduphobic genre of scholarship in American academia is spreading disinformation about Indic thought and civilization. It is practiced by a small but powerful group of scholars who, although untrained in Freudian psychoanalysis, are inappropriately using this technique along with their own personal pathologies and very fertile imagination to eroticize and pathologize Hindu/Indian culture – from the gods to spiritual leadership to practitioners to the nation that is India – as degraded, immoral, fraught with sexual pathologies, and a hindrance to universal basic human rights. These scholars lack language and translation skills for accessing and interpreting the multi-layered meanings and cultural nuances of the richly symbolic Hindu/Indian culture and their scholarship demonstrates the paramountcy of their personal ideologies over fair scholarship.
Such disinformation in the guise of scholarship is planted in academia, government circles, media and popular culture, by this powerful coterie of scholars who wield great political power within academia because of their seniority in Hindu/India Studies and the influence they wield over students. Since they rule the roost they have now arrogated unto themselves the voice of authority on Hindu/Indian issues. For example, Jeffrey Kripal, in his book, “Kali’s Child,” demolishes Hindu saints and Hindu mysticism, and Kripal claims to have authoritavely established that the saint, Sri Ramakrishna, had homosexual tendencies, that he had sexually abused the young Swami Vivekananda, and that his mysticism is equated with sexual deviancy. The Encyclopedia Britannica lists this book as its top choice for learning about Sri Ramakrishna. This book also won the Best Book Award from the American Academy of Religion. Although Indian scholars attacked the book for its many mistranslations and other huge errors in scholarship, it continues to be recommended as an authoritative text in academic circles.
Traditionally, scholars of Hindu/India Studies do not provide their informants (subjects of their study) with any feedback to ensure the veracity of their conclusions. They go to India where they are treated as “devatas” (atithi devo bhava = treat the guest with high honor akin to that for God); they collect their data which in many cases are likely to be faulty because of language differences, ignorance of cultural nuances and the ability to interpret the multi-layered meanings in the richly symbolic Hindu culture. When they return to America their works remain far away from the gaze of their informants, and they set themselves up as experts back scratching each other to ensure control in academia, for example, giving prizes to books and promoting each other’s books as mandated reading in college courses.
Hindu/Indian Americans started “talking back” to these scholars – something that irked them since, traditionally, informants had no voice in what was written about them. A peaceful grassroots movement arose in 2002 led by independent scholar, Rajiv Malhotra, whose profuse writings on listservs and portals like Sulekha.com came to define and expose the American academic Hinduphobia that was threatening the global image of Hinduism and India. He came under heavy attack from the coterie of Hinduphobic scholars but bravely stood his ground, physically entering their courts at conferences and so on, and challenging them on their own turf.
A silent but peaceful revolt started in academia as more and more diasporic Hindu/Indian voices started echoing in the hitherto hallowed halls of American academia. Several protests and petitions emerged on the Internet, which became the main communication pathway for . In the process, a few brave scholars broke ranks with their colleagues to protest what they too saw as biased scholarship. The hitherto disempowered started talking back to the Hinduphobic scholars. The latter then circled their bandwagons, firing back with a plethora of fallacious arguments, for example, ad hominems (attacking the person instead of the issue); stawman (linking critics with already demonized persons and concepts like saying they are “saffron,” “Hindutva” etc.); using fear and scare tactics and emotive appeal (petitions by Hindu/Indian Americans were hijacked with violent comments leading the scholars to insinuate that their critics wanted to kill them). They painted themselves as innocent victims under attack from untutored savages, with their independence, freedom of speech and intellectual freedom being under similar attack; oversimplifying the issue as one of censorship and emotionalism, claiming authority (that as scholars of religion they alone have the objectivity and scientific methodologies for research in the discipline unlike practitioners or people outside of discipline); using extended and false analogies (associating critics with Hindutva that was already tainted by them, and with violence in Indian politics); appealing to force (calling on scholars to boycott Motilal Banarsidas); using prestigious jargon to sound like experts; using extended and spurious analogies to taint their critics; and the list goes on.
In other words, these scholars were well schooled in arguing their positions and breaking down the opposition – debating skills inherent in the American education and lacking in similar educational systems in other parts of the world.
Among some of the other ludicrous claims that these Hinduphobic scholars make are:
Hindu mysticism is linked to sexual pathologies
Ganesha is an incestuous son, a eunuch and homosexual; his trunk symbolizes a “limp phallus” while his broken tusk symbolizes an imagined Indian child’s castration complex; and his large pot belly and love of sweets demonstrate the Hindu male’s appetite for oral sex.
Shiva is an immoral God who is a womanizer and whose temples are seats of “ritual rape” of women, prostitution and murder.
The Devi is a “mother with a penis.”
Hindu rituals represent sexual acts
Sacred mantras are nothing by meaningless syllables drawn from sounds during sexual intercourse.
The bindi worn on the forehead represents menstrual blood.
The leader of the psychopathologizing and erotizing of the Hindu sacred is Prof. Wendy Doniger who boasts of heading a parampara (tradition) with several chelas. She holds powerful positions within academia, has several award winning books to her name, and has tutored many PhD students who continue to propagate her ideology within academia. Her prolific writings are hugely damaging to the Hindu/Indian image. Though she claims to have translated several Sanskrit texts into English, her knowledge of Sanskrit has been openly challenged. A BBC link describes her thus:
“Professor Wendy Doniger is known for being rude, crude and very lewd in t he hallowed protals of Sanskrit Academics. All her special works have revolved around the subject of sex in Sanskrit texts.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/asianlife/tv/network_east_late/biogs/wendy_doniger.shtml)
She once said:
“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 … The Gita is a dishonest book; it justifies war.” ( Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 19, 2000)
Supporting Kripal’s approach to Hindu Studies, another western scholar, Sarah Caldwell, (whose formal conversion to Hinduism in India allowed her more ready acceptance and access into Hindu society) uses the psychoanalytical approach to researching Goddess Kali, winning an award for her work that strips the Goddess of indigenous cultural meaning. Caldwell attributes new meaning to Kali making her the mother with a penis, “the bloodied image of the castrating and menstruating . . . female.” Cynthia Humes, another scholar, recognizes the deficiencies in both Kripal’s and Caldwell’s research, but she, too, sees sexual psychoses in the people of Kerala with them being consumed by homosexuality, sexual trauma, and abuse.
Paul Courtright adopting the Freudian approach writes “Ganesha, Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings.” He concludes that Ganesha’s trunk is a limp phallus, he is a eunuch and homosexual and from the dregs of society.
Anthropologist, Stanley Kurtz, psychoanalytically proves that Hindu mothers do not have an emotionally close relationship with their babies as Western mothers do.
David Gordon White, a protégé of Doniger, in his book, “Kiss of the Yogini: Tantric Sex in its South Asian Context” seeks to strip Tantra of its spirituality, seeing it as a decadent form of South Asian sexuality, that was practiced by Brahmins in order to dupe and oppress lower caste people.
Students from the lowest grades to college are presented with these kinds of degraded images of the Hindu sacred and India. This demeans the self-esteem of Hindu-Americans, especially youths facing peer pressure in American classrooms that are already dominated by the Abrahamic worldview; it also problematizes human rights in India, paving the way for US intervention in the country’s domestic affairs; and by programming these false images in young American minds it disadvantages America in its foreign relations with India.
The critics, who are mainly Hindu practitioners (several being practitioner/scholars) are not calling for censorship but simply wish to answer back scholars who are misrepresenting their sacred traditions and image and to have their indigenous voice added to the scholarship about them; they are simply exercising their democratic right to have their side of the narrative told.
(Pandita Indrani has written Section 1 in “Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America,” edited by Ramaswamy, de Nicholas and Banerjee, published by Rupa Co., India, 2007)