Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Seemingly Balanced Article on Academic Scholarship in Hinduism by Univ. of San Francisco Prof. of Media Studies

Here is a seemingly balanced article on Hinduism scholarship, especially in the USA, Hinduism and its Culture Wars, by Prof. Vamsee Juluri, professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco, http://www.theindiasite.com/hinduism-and-its-culture-wars/

However, Prof. Vamsee Juluri too seems to view Rama and Krishna through the lens of history (as against scripture) and seems to be of the view that they are mythological/literary figures rather than real ones. BTW he was raised in Hyderabad and so is a Telugu Bidda.

Some notes on the article (it is a long article and so there are quite a few notes):

*) The Hindu-American community has, in recent years, raised concerns about errors/prejudices in works of Western scholars of Hinduism.

*) Scholars like Wendy Doniger and Romila Thapar have argued against the Hindutva view that India has been a Hindu land since ancient times which was somewhat recently (from a historical perspective) invaded by Muslims and others. [Ravi: Romila Thapar seems to be a leading Indian historian and her views, I guess, must be quite influential in Indian academic scholarship about Hinduism. Maybe sometime I should read one or two of her books related to Hindu history of India to get some idea of current Indian academic scholarship views about Hinduism. BTW her wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romila_Thapar, states "Romila Thapar (born 30 November 1931) is an Indian historian whose principal area of study is ancient India." - so she must be heavily influential in Indian academic scholarship about ancient Hindu history.]

*) Diana Eck in her new book, India: A Sacred Geography, states that even there was no religion of the name Hinduism in the past, "there was a shared mythological imagination and practice that was deeply entwined with the physical landscape of the subcontinent for at least two thousand years". [From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_L._Eck, "Diana L. Eck (born 1945 in Bozeman, Montana) is a religious scholar who is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University, as well as a Master of Lowell House and the Director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard. Among other works, she is the author of Banaras, City of Light, Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, and A New Religious America: How a Christian Country Became the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. At Harvard, she is in the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, the Committee on the Study of Religion, and is also a member of the Faculty of Divinity. She has been reappointed the chair for the Committee on the Study of Religion, a position which she held from 1990 to 1998. Eck is a Methodist and is married to the Reverend Dorothy Austin." Ravi: Utterly fascinating! I must read some of her works somewhere down the line. BTW I think I must mention that her spouse name (and some other info.) indicates a same-sex married couple.

Her book (India: A Sacred Geography), which seems to be quite a recent one (perhaps first published in 2012) has glowing editorial review comments on amazon,  http://www.amazon.com/India-Sacred-Geography-Diana-Eck/dp/0385531923

One of these comments is from Karen Armstrong, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_Armstrong, "In this lucid, learned and luminous book, Diana Eck introduces the Western reader to the sacred landscape of India. She leads us into an unfamiliar world, with myths and symbols that seem initially strange, but by the end of this rich journey we find that we have encountered unexpected regions within ourselves." Words like lucid, learned and luminous from Karen Armstrong is high praise indeed! [After reading Karen Armstrong's comments I was compelled to place an order for a copy here: http://www.amazon.in/India-Geography-Diana-L-Eck/dp/0385347081, price Rs. 490/- for paperback book.]

*) Two views of what today's Hinduism is are provided. [Ravi: My view is that it is devotion, devotional groups, shrines, festivals, rites and scripture of various kinds from Puranas having the stories of divinity to Vedanta philosophy.]

*) A.K. Ramunajan's three hundred Ramayanas essay being removed from Delhi university undergraduate reading list is mentioned. One of the Hindutva viewpoints which the author felt is "worth considering" was why teach the version(s) that "depict our beloved gods as villains".

[Ravi: Hmm. What a hugely sensitive matter religion becomes when it is part of under-graduate or school curriculum! Some info. related to US school curriculum and religion controversy: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Californian_Hindu_textbook_controversy, "A controversy in the US state of California concerning the portrayal of Hinduism in history textbooks began in 2005. Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu groups complained that their religions were in part incorrectly or negatively portrayed.
The Texas-based Vedic Foundation (VF) and the American Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) complained to California's Curriculum Commission, saying the coverage in sixth grade history textbooks of Indian history and Hinduism was biased against Hinduism, and demanding that the portrayal be revised according to the views of Hinduism and Indian history shared by most Hindus and Indians."
Ravi: I think most people become activists for proper representation of their religion in school curriculum when they see children, especially their own, taught a biased or mis-represented view of their religion. That's how Rajiv Malhotra got into his activism in this area.]

*) The various versions of "stories" of Hindu gods are accepted and tolerated by Hindus in India without any well known attempts to impose a monolithic version on all Hindus of India. "High academic writing" has a different "elite postmodern" view.

*) "Most devout Hindus have formed a picture of the gods in their inner lives long before they learn the facts of sexuality, and in this picture, the affection and reverence they feel for the gods is usually parental, and therefore non-sexual. We think of Shiva and Parvathi, for example, as parental figures;  --snip---, in our minds they are known only as our Adi-Dampatulu (Telugu for Primal Couple), and she, our Ammavaru (Revered Mother)." [Ravi: Very, very well said, Prof. Juluri. I entirely agree.]

*) Prof. Diana Eck writes, “the linga (in at least one interpretation) is an epiphany of such transcendence that it can hardly be considered a part, much less an anatomical part, of Shiva as he appears in embodied form.” [Ravi: I am so very happy to see the noted Prof. Diana Eck state this so clearly. That is the way the vast majority of current-day Shiva lingam worshipers see it. Scholars of religion who write and talk about Shiva lingam must emphasize such views, at least in the context of modern day Shiva lingam worship, instead of trying to promote 'anatomical' views for cheap publicity purposes.]

*) South Asian writing of the past few decades has achieved world acclaim but such writing does not seem to include Hindu spiritual quests or pilgrimages. [Ravi: That is certainly some food for thought. Perhaps Hindu devotional writings in English are not considered literature-quality wise good enough to make it to top literary lists and/or there is some bias that comes into play here.]

*) Current generation Hindu parents have to deal with effects of globalization and other factors in the "story of religion" being passed on next generation youngsters.

*) The article talks about the Ramayan television serial, rise of Hindutva and more younger middle-class Hindus in India and abroad viewing epics like Ramayana as scripture as against myth.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Rajiv Malhotra on Gross Misrepresentation of Hindu Religion by Some US Academic Scholars of Hinduism

Here's a very interesting interview of Rajiv Malhotra on rediff detailing how some US academic scholars of Hinduism including distinguished Prof. Wendy Doniger have grossly misrepresented Hinduism, http://m.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-when-westerners-make-fun-of-our-gods-theyre-instigating-trouble/20140217.htm

Here are some salient points of the interview from my perspective.

  • Rajiv Malhotra got involved with this topic in 2000 when one of the teachers of his kids' school in the USA informed him that some American scholar had advised a teacher not to teach Ramakrishna and Vivekananda due to some negative stuff associated them!
  • Some US academic Hinduism scholars use Freudian psychoanalysis to analyze Hinduism. [Ravi: and come to some weird conclusions which they spread as the truth]
  • Most of the other religions in the USA have seminaries whose products become scholars of that religion in US universities. Hinduism in the USA does not have an equivalent seminary.
  • Most Hinduism professors in the USA are not Hindu (in belief & practice).
  • Rajiv Malhotra has been banned from all academic forums. [Ravi: Rajiv Malhotra has written books on Hinduism but perhaps is not considered to be an academic on Hinduism.]

Rajiv Malhotra sent an email to a mailing list (of which I am a recent addition) today about the rediff interview mentioned above. In the mail he provided the following links:


Given below are relevant extracts of a mail response I sent him today:

I would like to express my heart-felt gratitude to you for having taken up the cause of highlighting, and making efforts to correct in a completely non-violent and peaceful manner, mis-portrayal of Hindu religion and Hindu culture in US academic scholarship on these topics. I was shocked to the core to read about the horrifying mis-portrayal of Hinduism by a US senior and distinguished professor of Hindu religion, Prof. Wendy Doniger and other US academics who may be inspired by her. As US scholarship plays an important, if not dominant, role in world academic scholarship the implications for Hindu academic scholarship worldwide is horrifying to a staunch believer in Hinduism like me. As you have indicated in your recent rediff interview perhaps the crux of the problem is that most of the professors of Hinduism in the USA are not practitioners or believers of Hinduism.

I will be forwarding your mail to many of my contacts ---snip---.

I pray to Almighty God to shower His Grace on your efforts as well as efforts of others to correct, in a completely non-violent and peaceful way, the mis-portrayal of Hinduism in US (and world) academic scholarship. I further pray to Him that academic scholarship in Hinduism becomes more truthful in letter and spirit, and is infused by faith in the Sanathana Dharma approach to God.

I would also like to state that I have great respect and reverence for other faiths like Christianity and Islam. Vedanta teaches us, "Isa vasyam Idam Sarvam" (God dwells in all this). And so I view various faiths of the world as different pathways to the one and the same Divine power that permeates all of creation, which is referred to as God.

--- end mail extracts ---

Shri Rajiv Malhotra responded with "Thanks".

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book having Baseless Criticism of Hindu Divine Figures Blocked from being Distributed in India

Last updated on March 13th 2014

Penguin India has decided to withdraw a book on Hinduism by an academic, Wendy Doniger, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Doniger. From http://www.legallyindia.com/201402114335/Bar-Bench-Litigation/penguin-pulps-hindu-book, "In settlement of a civil and two criminal suits brought by a religious group against Penguin Books India, the publisher has agreed to withdraw and destroy all copies of a history book on Hinduism."
...
"The petition also claimed that Penguin has “hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction”, breaching section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), citing the book’s line that “placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who lived at various times”."

The book also depicts Lord Krishna in a poor light.

I congratulate and thank the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee for taking the matter to court and winning.

My considered view is that some academics have taken upon themselves the right to "declare the truth" about matters that occurred millenniums ago. I would be fine with an academic saying that irrefutable historical evidence is not available to prove that Rama of the Ramayana and that Krishna of the Bhagavata Purana were real figures. Similarly I would be fine if academics said that irrefutable historical evidence is not available to prove that the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament were real occurrences.

But some of these academics go way beyond and "declare" that scriptural accounts of these divine figures (Ramayana, Bhagavata Purana, New Testament etc.) are mostly, if not entirely, fictional accounts, that have been created and then propagated by evangelists associated with those religions/religious figures! Such "declarations", to my mind, are baseless! Lack of irrefutable evidence does not prove non-existence. After all, we are talking of events that happened/supposedly happened some millenniums ago.

Please note that such books do not go through even an academic peer review though editorial staff of the publisher may discuss the matter with the author. The only way to challenge such authors & publishers is by going to court.

The big problem, in my view, is that academics are considered by secular educated society to be discoverers and tellers of the truth. So some of such accounts get viewed as truth by "educated" sections of society. Wikipedia, for example, uses books by some such academics, as references for content of their web pages on religious figures.

--------

[Update on March 2nd 2014. Prof. Doniger seems to base her statement of Ramayana being fictional on lack of archaeological and inscriptional record of Rama. (She writes in The Hindus - An Alternative History, "Rama left no archaeological or inscriptional record."). So, as a rebuttal of her arguments, I would like to rephrase some statements from the above comment to "Lack of archaeological or inscriptional evidence does not prove non-existence of Rama. Lack of detailed consistency among various versions of the Ramayana does not prove that Ramayana is fictional. After all, we are talking of events that happened/supposedly happened some millenniums ago. In a largely oral record preservation tradition that was prevalent millenniums ago in India it is natural for some variations to creep in various versions of Ramayana across various languages, sub-cultures and geographically distant regions where the Ramayana was adored and preserved. I presume that there is a large amount of commonality about the story of Rama in most of these versions of the Ramayana and that commonality seems to me to be strong scriptural (oral and written) evidence of Rama having been a real figure of history. Further, I would view the lack of archaeological or inscriptional record as an argument for dating Rama to far earlier than most Hinduism academics/Indologists seem to date the Ramayana. One famed mystical master who was a 'seer' dated Rama to 20,000 years ago. In which case, is there any wonder that we have not found any archaeological or inscriptional record of Rama?"]

Here are two excellent links which give the Hindu believer view of Wendy Doniger's works/withdrawal issue.

1) "Why the Wendy Doniger episode is not a free speech issue" by Sandeep Balakrishna, http://www.firstpost.com/india/why-the-wendy-doniger-episode-is-not-a-free-speech-issue-1388751.html

I added the following comment to the above article:

Ravi S. Iyer ...
Very well said. I am so happy to see this article which puts the Wendy Doniger book withdrawal issue in the right context. It is not an issue of "free speech". It is an issue of outlandish and selective interpretation of Hindu scripture that is cheap and sensationalist. What a pity that we have some such scholar-academics of Hinduism in the world today!

2) [Warning: Very unfortunately, Wendy Doniger's writings on Hinduism focus on sensationalist stuff like eroticism. So please be warned that the link given next quotes some such writings of hers.] RISA Lila - 1: Wendy's Child Syndrome by Rajiv Malhotra, http://creative.sulekha.com/risa-lila-1-wendy-s-child-syndrome_103338_blog, article dated 12 years ago. [From his wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajiv_Malhotra, "Rajiv Malhotra (born September 15, 1950), is an Indian-American multimillionaire, author, philanthropist, public speaker and writer on current affairs, world religions and cross-cultural encounters between east and west. After retiring at age 44, he founded the Infinity Foundation in 1995, dedicating himself to philanthropic and educational activities and "making grants in the area of Hinduism studies"."]

One small extract (from Wendy's Child Syndrome) and comments of mine:

"The most important leverage she (Wendy Doniger) has is that she has given more students their Ph.Ds in Hinduism than any other person in the world and has successfully placed these former students in high-leverage academic jobs throughout the Western world, to carry the torch of her theories and principles of researching Hinduism. There is no place one can go to in this academic discipline without running into the effect of her influence, through her large cult of students, who glorify her in exchange for her mentorship."

[Ravi: My God! If even part of the above is true today (the blog post is dated 12 years back) then there is a serious need to address such misrepresentation of Hinduism by the Wendy Doniger group of twisted-interpretation-Hinduism academics by works from genuine Hinduism academics. But does India have any such genuine Hinduism academics? Have some rules of the Indian secular constitution prevented the field of Hinduism academics in India to get established and grow?]

---

The following comment of mine now appears on the web page of an "opinion" article related to free speech in the context of Wendy Doniger's book withdrawal, that was printed in yesterday's The Hindu, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/changing-landscape-of-free-speech/article5677713.ece

I congratulate and thank the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee for protecting the emotional sensitivities of the vast majority of Hindus in India who revere Rama, Krishna and other Hindu Gods, using the law of the land, from twisted interpretations of Hindu sacred texts by Wendy Doniger being distributed in India. 

Some academics have taken upon themselves the right to "declare the truth" about matters that occurred millenniums ago. It is OK for an academic to say that irrefutable historical evidence is not available to prove that Rama of the Ramayana and that Krishna of the Bhagavata Purana were real figures. Similarly it would be OK if academics said that irrefutable historical evidence is not available to prove that the miracles attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament were real occurrences. 

But some of these academics go way beyond and "declare" that scriptural accounts of these divine figures (Ramayana, Bhagavata Purana, New Testament etc.) are fictional! Come On!

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 13, 2014 at 10:24 IST  

----
I sent the following to Letters column(s) of The Hindu today (Feb. 15th 2014) [made a couple of corrections later on]. I don't know whether they will consider it for printing in their columns for the newspaper issue of day-after-tomorrow (Monday). BTW I submitted a similar comment on the web page of the article (given below) but the moderator blocked it (as other comments posted later have appeared on the web page).


This is in response to the article, No country for free speech, says Penguin, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/no-country-for-free-speech-says-penguin/article5688586.ece in today's The Hindu.


India is a democracy and its laws are made by representatives of the people to reflect the needs and views of the entire country. The vast majority of Indians are deeply religious and have intense love for the divine/holy figures of its religions like Rama, Krishna, Mohammed, Jesus Christ, Sikh founder-Gurus, Buddha, Mahavir, Zoroaster and Moses. Provocative book covers and outrageous statements about these figures may make a book writer famous and sell book copies but they hurt the sentiments of vast numbers of Indians.


Western countries may have a standard for free speech which allows burning of holy books and showing of despicable videos about such figures which create horrific tension not only in the countries where they occur but worldwide. Should India follow such Western standards of malicious criticism of religion in the name of free speech? In my view, of course not.


Ultimately such matters have to be decided democratically by the will of the people of the country as a whole and not a Westernized elite group of Indians.

--------------------

Update at 5:49 PM, 15th Feb. 2014: Now the comment appears on the web page article mentioned above! I had written about it not appearing to the Readers' Editor of The Hindu. Don't know whether that played a role in my comment going past the moderator. Anyway, thanks to The Hindu for showing my comments on the web page.

I do appreciate The Hindu as an awesome newspaper which facilitates intellectual debate and discourse in a suitably moderated way on a wide range of topics, including sensitive ones, which I think is great for 21st century India which includes 21st century holy scripture interpretation, belief and practice of various religions like Hinduism, Islam, Christianity ...

---------------------

The Hindu carried an article today (16th Feb. 2014), http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/shoe-pinches-when-it-is-on-the-other-foot-says-swamy/article5694511.ece, which quotes a statement of Dr. Subramananian Swamy about the outcry of some people about the Wendy Doniger book withdrawal and free speech in India issue, “The academics’ cry of academic freedom carries no credibility, and there is, I am convinced, no court or future Parliament in India, which will respond sympathetically to their demand. Rather most Indians will think that they have got their just dessert.”

[About Dr. Swamy from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subramanian_Swamy, "Dr. Subramanian Swamy (sometimes spelt Subramaniam Swamy; born 15 September 1939) is an Indian academician, politician, activist and economist."]

The web link above also carries the following comment of mine:

I think Dr. Swamy has said the plain and simple truth. The Wendy Doniger book withdrawal issue is related to Indian Penal Code provisions to protect Indian religious followers from malicious criticism of their revered holy figures even if it comes from a professor of a religion. This professor of religion seems to have no faith in the religion she is a professor of and seems to enjoy trashing it. The people of India at large and as of the present time, simply cannot digest such criticism of their religion, whatever may be the religion they are following. I think the Westernized intellectuals of India who are up in arms against Penguin India for the withdrawal of the book, simply don't get this reality of India.

Unfortunately The Hindu seems to be carrying very few viewpoints from intellectuals and political leaders like Dr. Swamy on this matter. I thank Dr. Swamy for speaking up on this matter and The Hindu for printing it.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 16, 2014 at 10:16 IST

--------------

TIME interviews Dinanath Batra, president of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samithi (Committee), http://world.time.com/2014/02/12/sex-lies-and-hinduism-why-a-hindu-activist-targeted-wendy-donigers-book/. It has only six questions and answers but I think Shri Batra has explained his organization's stand very well. I felt it appropriate to put down some extracts of Shri Batra's answers below:

"The entire book is objectionable, but yes, that (juxtaposition of sex and Hinduism) is one of our main objections. She is insulting our gods and goddesses and religious leaders and texts and even our freedom fighters. I don’t have any objection to sex and neither does our religion, as long as it’s within the parameters of religion."

...

"We are against anything that hurts people’s religious sentiments. Our movement is aimed at cleansing distortions from education in India. We have also taken on the Indian educational boards for wrong facts in their textbooks. We will protest against any book that portrays a negative image of our society."

Ravi: "Wrong facts" is a key issue from my perspective. Views of the distinguished Professor of Hinduism, Wendy Doniger, are presented as established facts in her book including the view that Ramayana is a work of fiction! I am deeply disturbed to see these kind of, in my opinion, baseless "facts" being created by distinguished professors of Hinduism. In my view, a tragedy of Indian academia is that, barring Dr. Subramanian Swamy, an economist, the mainstream media seems to have no other famous/distinguished Indian academic publicly countering Prof. Wendy Doniger's views.

In contrast, it is the Hindus in the USA who are publicly countering Doniger from an academic perspective. Here are a couple of interesting links:
1) HAF (Hindu American Foundation) Reacts As Penguin Waddles Away From Doniger, http://www.hafsite.org/HAF_Reacts_Penguin_Waddles_Away_Doniger

A small extract: "Even a controversial scholar like Doniger has the right to be heard, but, just as the rest of us in medicine, law, business, or the sciences face both short-term and long-term repercussions of varying severity for misstatements of facts or liberty taken in editorializing or interpreting facts, academics like her need to introspect as to their commitment to balancing academic freedom with academic integrity and mutual respect."

2) Indian Censorship and the Curious Case of Wendy Doniger by Murali Balaji, Director of Education and Curriculum Reform, Hindu American Foundation, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/murali-balaji/indian-censorship-and-the_b_4777117.html

A small extract: "But the book and many of her articles over a 40-year academic career misinterpret facts or pick and choose incidents that conveniently fit a narrative of an erotic, exotic, mythologically rife Hinduism whose portrayal is actually alien, and often insulting, to adherents of that tradition."


Ravi: I thank the Hindu American Foundation for challenging distinguished professor of Hinduism, Wendy Doniger's attempts to present some of her controversial views on Hinduism as "facts".

------------------

I wrote the following in response to an article by The Hindu's Readers' Editor in support of "free speech", Process as punishment, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/process-as-punishment/article5696398.ece in today's (17th Feb. 2014) The Hindu.

Interesting views.

My take is that there should be some mechanism to prevent falsehoods and/or negative allegations not backed by strong evidence from being spread about religious figures as these figures are the beloved of many. If the figure is a contemporary or near-contemporary one I understand that the laws dealing with slander of any citizen provide a means for such matters to be challenged in Indian courts.

However, when the figures are from scripture which are over millenniums old, I don't think the slander laws would come into play. Perhaps that is why, in India, we have the IPC section 295A.

From a point of view of promoting scholarship that reveals the truth I think one can consider modification of section 295A to exclude established facts (backed by strong evidence) about religious figures even if they are very negative. But to do away with section 295A entirely may lead writers, including distinguished professors of religion, to spread all kinds of juicy gossip about religious figures that they personally may be convinced about, even if they lack strong evidence for the same.

--- end response --

A slightly shortened version of the above appears as a comment in the above mentioned web page of the article.

------------------------------

A small extract (slightly modified) of my mail response to a correspondent yesterday (19th Feb. 2014) related to this topic:
Free speech is fantastic and I love it. But freedom comes with responsibility. Irresponsible and malicious speech aimed at religious figures who are the beloved of many, in the name of free speech does not seem right to me. Even if it were right the reality is that vast numbers of people in the globalized world of Internet communication today simply cannot digest such kind of free speech. The globalized world has to deal with this reality of today.

-------------------------------
Update on 22nd Feb. 2014:

I came across this very interesting judgement of Bombay High Court in 2010 when Maharashtra government's ban of a book about a religion was appealed by the author of the book, http://legalperspectives.blogspot.in/2010/01/freedom-of-speech-yes-unwarrented.html.

Some parts of the judgement putting forward the need to balance free speech with religious tolerance are given below (taken from the above link as I could not easily get the actual judgement document on the net):

48. Freedom of speech and expression is a cherished right of every citizen. Every person has a right to express what he/she feels about any issue which according to him/her needs to be debated upon or brought before the public eye. Freedom of expression would also include freedom to criticize. Indian democracy has survived because of the protection its Constitution has granted to its people to express freely their views on affairs of the State and on other issues concerning religion, culture, civilization, literature and personalities, which are beyond the mundane affairs of the State. This list is merely illustrative and not exhaustive. Fearlessness is the hallmark of a vibrant, democratic and secular society like ours. We are an amazing mix of people coming from different social and cultural background, people professing different religions and people who speak different languages. While we have a right to criticize each other, the criticism has to be healthy and not malicious. It must not lead to creating ill-will and hatred between different communities. Freedom of expression must be well utilized, it must lead to sensible dialogue but not senseless destruction of lives and property and breach of public order.

54. In our constitutional set up, everything is open to criticism and religion is no exception to it. Every religion, whether it is Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other religion, can be criticized. Freedom of speech and expression covers criticism of a religion and no person can be sensitive about it. Healthy criticism provokes thought, encourages debate and helps us to evolve. Counsel submitted that the author has through the book placed his perception of Islam before people. He submitted that the book brings the lesser known aspects of Islam before the public eye. He submitted that the book gives correct insight into Islam, but assuming the author is wrong, he has a right to be wrong.
55. We do not want to join issue with Counsel on this aspect. The author has undoubtedly a right to be wrong. The author can say what he feels is right and if it is wrong, he cannot be punished for it. But what needs to be seen is whether the author has done this exercise bona fide with a real desire to explore the tenets of Islam and give his exposition thereof.
56. An author has a right to put forth a perspective that a particular religion is not secular. This is a view point which one has a right to assert. However, if a book reeks of hatred for a particular community, if it contains rabid material and there appears to be no sincere handling of the subject but a malafide exercise to stir communal passions one must pause and consider whether it is in the interest of general public to allow its circulation. In such a situation restriction imposed on the freedom of speech and expression by the Constitution must spring into action. It is necessary once again to remind ourselves that in Baragur, the Supreme Court has made it clear that no one has a right to impinge on the feelings of others on the premise that his right to freedom of speech remains unrestricted and unfettered and that it cannot be ignored that India is a country with vast disparities in language, culture and religion and unwarranted and malicious criticism or interference in the faith of others cannot be accepted.

81. It is not possible for us to agree with Counsel. We have no doubt that the author must be allowed to criticize Islam. Pure and simple criticism without any intention to hurt religious feelings of a particular community must be allowed. But, here the criticism is not academic. The author has gone on to pass insulting comments on Muslims with particular reference to Indian Muslims. That is most objectionable.

--- end extracts of judgement ---

The court upheld the ban. The author appealed to Supreme Court which, in April 2010, declined to interfere with the Bombay High Court judgement, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/court-declines-to-interfere-with-book-ban-order/article751618.ece.

My humble opinion is that the above judgement sections are very wise given the vast majority of religious believers in India. As it is a High Court judgement which was not interfered with by the Supreme Court in 2010, I think we have a good sense of how top judges of India view this matter of balance between free speech including criticism and religious tolerance today.

Today's The Hindu carries the article, "Why we write books", http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/why-we-write-books/article5714214.ece. Its lead paragraph states: Who becomes a scholar in order to insult and injure others? It is the bigots, propagandists, trolls and fundamentalists of the world who trade in insult and injury

The following comment of mine appears on the above web page of the article:

While society does, in general, respect scholars for their intellectual contributions, I think the author has gone too far by presuming that scholars cannot have malicious intent. Scholars are also human, and academic conspiracies, unfortunately, are not unknown. So scholars should also be under the purview of the law of the land including the laws that protect the vast majority of religious followers of the country from deliberate and malicious attack on their beliefs.

In 2010, the Bombay High court had contended in a case involving a book authored by R.V.Bhasin that criticism of (a religion) is permissible like criticism of any other relgion. But it held that the book had criticism with a malicious and deliberate intention to outrage the religious feelings of (followers of a religion), and so upheld the ban on the book.

The tragedy in this case is that we did not get the honourable court's judgement on whether Prof. Doniger's work was maliciously critical of a religion or not.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 22, 2014 at 15:46 IST  

----

An additional comment of mine was shown on the web page of the above article:

I agree with Anil Suri that contrary to public perception, academics are as prone to self-promotion and supressing differing or opposing schools of thought as people in any other profession. 

In the rarefied world of creation of new academic knowledge i.e. academic research, we have specialized areas intellectually dominated by a usually small number of top academic scholars. The battle between competing theories/views among these top scholars can become an intense one which may even become rather unethical at times. 

Prof. Doniger's book seems to be a part of such a battle. The concern for society at large in this case is that it is views from such books by distinguished academic scholars on religion that makes its way into school and college curriculums on religion as well as encyclopedias. [Prof. Doniger is on the editorial board of advisors of a leading encyclopedia.] And that then becomes the accepted representation of a religion among the majority of people over time.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 24, 2014 at 09:23 IST  

------------

Here is a fascinating article by an Associate Prof. of Law on the history of Indian Penal Code section 295A (which is the key section that tripped up Penguin India on Prof. Doniger's book) in The Hindu of 25th Feb. 2014, "Scribblers, scholars in the same boat", http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/scribblers-scholars-in-the-same-boat/article5723012.ece.

My comments on it appear on the above link. Have reproduced them below (Please note that “ and ” characters enclosing “deliberate and malicious intent” have been shown as some junk characters):

Very interesting history behind IPC section 295A added in 1927 - 
especially the view of law makers then that the requirement of 
“deliberate and malicious intent†would exclude "bona fide 
criticism, historical research and all that leads to the 
interpretation of religious texts in such a way as to lead to 
progressive reform in social matters". 

Today, the fear of criminal prosecution in our legal system and 
attendant harassment and waste of time leading to possibility of 
self-censorship and/or publisher censorship about any critical 
views on religion is a point well taken. 

But the suggestion "that historical and scholarly works be given a 
blanket immunity from the operation of Section 295A" seems to be 
going too far. Unethical practices, unfortunately, are not 
uncommon in academia today like in other walks of life. The 
scurrilous scribbler may easily don the role of an academic 
scholar, say by becoming a PhD student, and use the blanket 
immunity to spread religious-hate writings.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 25, 2014 at 10:05 IST  

---- end comments ---

So people going on and on about 1860 British penal code in the context of the Doniger book-pulping storm are wrong. This section was introduced in 1927 and some of the key lawmakers involved, as mentioned in the article, were famous Indians (Pakistanis were also Indians then) like Lajpat Rai and Jinnah.

A later additional comment on the same page:

I tend to agree with this statement of CS Venkat on the basis of my quick browsing of some parts of Prof. Doniger's The Hindus book, "In short, her attitude towards the Hindu religion is negative, needlessly confrontational, giving rise to well founded suspicions in the community about her true intentions and the intentions of those who financially support her scholarship." 
I also tend to agree with Anil Suri's statement when applied to religion, "Freedom of expression does not cover demonstrably unsubstantiated statements that others may find offensive." 
A strong desire to propagate a deeply held view even if the view lacks hard evidence and is highly controversial is not uncommon among some motivated people which includes some distinguished professors. So writings on religion, no matter what the credentials of the author, must come under the purview of anti-religious-hate laws to avoid unnecessary communal tension in a deeply religious and religiously diverse country like India.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 27, 2014 at 11:22 IST  

--- end comment ---

An article on the infamous video made in the US in 2012 which caused so much outrage across the world - YouTube ordered to take down anti-Muslim film, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/youtube-ordered-to-take-down-antimuslim-film/article5731924.ece.

The following comment of mine appears on the above article web page:

If the USA had anti-religious-hate laws like India does then the over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide, as reported by Wikipedia, due to this horrific video could have been avoided. An innocent actor like Ms. Garcia would not have endured being despicably duped by the filmmaker(s) and unintentionally becoming the target of the fury of some outraged members of the concerned religion.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Feb 27, 2014 at 15:05 IST  

--- end comment ---

Just in case the reader would like to see the wikipedia page mentioned in my comment above, here's the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innocence_of_Muslims

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2nd March 2014:
I submitted the following comment on The Hindu article dated 1st March 2014, The Indian Inquisition, http://www.thehindu.com/books/the-indian-inquisition/article5740159.ece :

Given the fact that The Hindu, in the recent past, has been frequently publishing articles against IPC Section 295A and NONE raising concerns about how Prof. Doniger's book could be used by some dangerous elements to create communal tension in India, I think The Hindu should come out clearly and state whether they want free religious-hate speech in the country like in some countries of the Western world. That would at least let its readers know where The Hindu stands on this sensitive matter of religious-hate speech/writing which seems to be the main focus of section 295A.

--- end comment ---

Later I submitted another comment:

The author refers to "Paul Courtright's exploration of Hindu mythology's fraught sexuality". I think the author and The Hindu are failing in their duty to readers by not presenting the true extent of Paul Courtright's weird 'interpretation' of part of the anatomy of Lord Ganesha. The majority of Hindus across India will find this weird 'interpretation' to be highly offensive. The phrase "Hindu mythology’s fraught sexuality" simply does not correctly convey Courtright's outlandish and shocking 'interpretation'.

--- end comment ---

--------------------
March 3rd 2014

The above comments did not appear on the web page of the article (the moderator would have blocked them). A watered down version of the second comment above was accepted and is now shown on the web page. I have copy-pasted that comment below (please note that the  character is shown as a junk character):

The author refers to "Paul Courtright's exploration of Hindu 
mythology's fraught sexuality". The author has suppressed the true 
extent of Paul Courtright's weird 'interpretation' of part of the 
anatomy of Lord Ganesha. The majority of Hindus across India will 
find this weird 'interpretation' to be highly offensive. The 
phrase "Hindu mythology’s fraught sexuality" simply does not 
correctly convey Courtright's outlandish and shocking 
'interpretation'. I think The Hindu has a duty to correctly 
inform/provide the full truth (in a sensitive way, of course) to 
its readers of such matters.

from:  Ravi S. Iyer
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 13:44 IST  

--- end comment ---
--------------------------
An update: I had written about the two blocked comments to the editor and the readers' editor of The Hindu, copy to the Press Council of India.

[From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_Council_of_India: "The Press Council of India is a statutory body in India that governs the conduct of the print media. It is one of the most important bodies that sustain democracy, as it has supreme power in regards to the media to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained. However, it is also empowered to hold hearings on receipt of complaints and take suitable action where appropriate. It may either warn or censure the errant journalists on finding them guilty." ... "The Council's actions may not be questioned unless it is proved to be in violation of the constitution, which makes it an exceedingly powerful a body."

From http://presscouncil.nic.in/Content/273_1_Chairman.aspx: "Justice Markandey Katju has been nominated as Chairman, Press Council of India on 5th October, 2011 for a three year term." Justice Katju is a former Supreme Court judge.]

The mail seems to have had some effect. The second blocked comment is now shown on the web page. But the first comment still did not make it.

-------------------------------------
8th March 2014.

Today's The Hindu had this article, Safeguarding the many histories of India, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/safeguarding-the-many-histories-of-india/article5761399.ece.
A comment of mine appears in the above web page. I have copy-pasted that comment below (slightly modified to fix two typos):

The article starts with some words about truth implying that Prof. Doniger's withdrawn book is truthful and that, that truth has been suppressed in India. By doing that I think the author is stretching the truth quite a bit. Prof. Doniger has expressed views of hers as the established truth like Lord Rama being a fictional figure but her conclusion is far from established and quite flawed, IMHO.

From a larger perspective, the issue is Penguin not continuing with the legal process to decide whether the charges made by SBAS are valid or not. In this particular case, why doesn't The Hindu (which is continuously publishing such articles) and interested people like the authors of such articles get together and file a Public Interest Litigation in the honourable Supreme Court and get its views on Prof. Doniger's book? Is that not possible?

If that is possible and the SC judges that the book does not violate section 295A (and other laws) then Prof. Doniger's book can be sold in India.

--- end comment ---
----------------------------------------------
March 13th 2014.

This article in today's The Hindu, Book leaders indulging in hate speeches: SC, http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/book-leaders-indulging-in-hate-speeches-sc/article5778911.ece, states that a Bench of the Supreme Court of India headed by Justice B.S. Chauhan on Wednesday 12th March 2014 (yesterday) stated that:

a) Hate speeches of social, political and religious leaders based on religion, caste, region or ethnicity are a "menace" to society.

b) “Effective regulation of hate speeches at all levels is required as the authors of such speeches can be booked under the existing penal law and all the law enforcing agencies must ensure that the existing law is not rendered a dead letter,”

c) “We request the Law Commission to also thoroughly examine the issues raised and to consider, if it deems proper, defining the expression hate speech and make recommendations to Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of hate speeches irrespective of whenever made,”

d) “The court cannot re-write, re-cast or reframe legislation for the very good reason that it has no power to legislate. The very power to legislate has not been conferred on the courts. However, of late, judicial activism of the superior courts in India has raised a public eyebrow time and again,”

[Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and so my views below could be somewhat off-base. However, I don't think my views below would be far from a legal expert's view.]

So clearly freedom of speech in India, IMHO, as per the current Supreme Court view of the current Indian Penal Code, excludes religious hate speech.

Extrapolating this Supreme Court view to books I think it is clear that as per current Indian Penal Code (IPC), the author(s) and publisher(s) of any book whose content is deemed as religious hate content can get booked under the IPC. Therefore, as things stand now, authors and publishers of books in India that criticize religion need to take extra care to ensure that a plausible case cannot be made that their criticism of religion is deliberate and malicious, or that it can be used to incite religious hatred/violence in India.

If this situation has to be changed to allow for a wider scope of criticism of religion than is currently permitted by IPC, then the law makers (legislature and law ministry) have to change the law.

I am not saying anything about whether the current state of affairs is good or bad. Honestly, I just don't know enough about religious hate speech in India and its consequences to take a considered view. But whatever little I have seen and heard of it has been quite scary (a "menace" like the SC said) in its capacity to create communal tension leading to violence.