News: Wendy Doniger’s Outlet for Justice

Posted on May 17, 2014 by

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News: Information outlet or market tool?

News is first and foremost an outlet to pass on information. When the millions of viewers tune in to watch the evening news or wake up to bring in the paper, their first thoughts do not include analyzing the various sources and organization of the articles to find evidence of persuasion or bias. People forget that the news is also an industry. Aside from providing current information, news organizations need to make profit in order to stay in business. To do this, news sources are pushed to write the articles that will get the most attention and persuade their readers one way or another. In the case of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History news sources in opposition to the book paint a negative picture by leaving out quotes from Doniger, in contrast to supporters of the book who include full interviews of the author.

 

Wendy #2

In 2009, Penguin India published a book by Wendy Doniger that was in the book circuit for four years until recently when “an 84-year-old Dinanath Batra of the Hindu nationalist group Shiksha Bachao Andolan led a legal battle against the book and it’s publishing company” (Aljazeera.com). In the end, Penguin India “decided to destroy all of the remaining copies of the book at it’s own cost” (Aljazeera.com). This event has sparked hundreds of articles and news segments to be written: some in favor and most opposed to the banning of the book.   Regardless, both sides use different techniques to unconsciously persuade their audience that they are correct.

The week Penguin India withdrew the book from the Indian circuit, The Wall Street Journal did a piece that included Wendy Doniger’s full statement. The perspective of the article solely focused on Doniger’s thoughts and the audience was geared towards Americans. No consideration was given to Shiksha Bachao Andolan’s side, and no information was given into what the book content actually included. The journal also included a picture (shown above) of Doniger captured in a peaceful, contemplative pose reminding readers of her humanity and innocence. This one-sided article captured what Doniger’s views are regarding the issue, but completely disregarded the other side’s thoughts and left readers sadly misinformed.

 Wendy #1

Similar to The Wall Street Journal article, the British Broadcasting Company ran a news story, which included an interview with Doniger. The four minutes and forty-two second piece targeted typical BBC viewers, largely of whom are English or American, not Eastern. The video included Doniger in her own library showing a soft side of the author who feels at home surrounded by books. When interviewed, Doniger reported that “the law is very cruel, and it criminalizes a publisher for publishing a book that offends a Hindu, so it is the law that must be changed” (BBC.com/worldnews).   In comparison to The Wall Street Journal Article, the interview failed to include any of the reasons why the Indian organization sued Penguin India the first place. Why does the book offend Hindus? Viewers are left with little information about the content of the book or the justification of the other side.   Here is the link for the video, and I encourage you to watch the snippet from 1:00-1:45 to hear Doniger’s concerns about the pulping of the book.

Although this article only presented one side of the issue, it presented that side with first-hand information. Interviewing Doniger provided viewers with a very accurate portrayal of her side of the case, even though it failed to include the other side.

Another article, out of the many, in favor of Doniger’s book staying published, stems from a radio segment published online by abc.net. This article largely targets western viewers again as it originally ran on an American radio station. The article begins “there’s a long history of books being banned in India” (abc.net) This statement alone preludes the article and gives a reader a sense that this is just another case of Indian mistreatment and control. Another instance of diction employed by the article is how Doniger’s work is described as a “scholarly book.” Using the term “scholarly” to describe a book insinuates that the book is factual, however in Doniger’s case is not entirely true. While there are factual elements in the book, Doniger admits that there are modern twists to Hinduism that aren’t entirely accepted. A link to the radio segment is posted here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandartsdaily/banned-books-in-india/5418222.

Lastly, an article written by Al Jazeera in support of Doniger’s book utilizes several different techniques to attract readers’ attention to the injustice of the Indian law. The headline:

INDIA IS STILL NO COUNTRY FOR FREE SPEECH(Al Jazeera.com)

grabs any readers attention and brings a negative attitude to India’s history with free speech. Al Jazeera, a news source known for their unbiased articles, begins this article with an uncharacteristic judgment statement in all capital letters. Even though the headline appears strong and one-sided, the rest of the article includes quotes and evidence from both sides of the argument. The article includes a quote from Doniger defending the book saying she wants to examine “Hinduism not from the perspective of the male, upper-caste Brahmin but instead through the lens of other religions, cultures, caste, or species (animals), or gender.” On a different note, the article includes a quote from the leader of the opposition, Dinanath Batra, saying that Doniger’s book was “written with a Christian missionary zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in a poor light” (Al Jazeera.com). The use of different quotes from both sides of the argument is an effective way to portray both sides in equal light, even though the headline appears to be one-sided. The full article can be found here:

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/3/17/india-is-still-nocountryforfreespeech.html

While the majority of the articles and stories regarding Doniger’s book are in opposition to the banning and pulping, some stories utilize different techniques to shed light on Shiksha Bachao Andolan’s argument. On February 12, Time Magazine published an article titled:

Sex, Lies and Hinduism: Why A Hindu Activist Targeted Wendy Doniger’s Book (time.com)

This title does two things: first, it tells the reader what the article is about; in this case it is the “Hindu activist’s” side of the story. It also goes so far as to insinuate that Doniger’s book is entirely fiction and not factual by using the phrase, “Sex, Lies, and Hinduism.” As the article continues, it fails to include any statements made by Doniger and only shows Dinanath Batra’s arguments. Other words in this article that persuade readers that Batra is right is when they write that “her [Doniger’s] agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus.” No counterargument or reason is provided for this statement, leaving readers uninformed. The link for the article is posted here: http://time.com/6601/sex-lies-and-hinduism-why-a-hindu-activist-targeted-wendy-donigers-book/

Lastly, another news segment that was run concerning the banning of the book, was done by New Delhi Television Limited (NDTV.) This segment was originally run in India, where the main audience consists of practicing Hindus. Also, the segment is done in Hindi but translations and the English twitter portion make this segment accessible to Americans. Other than informing viewers that the book was banned and who the parties involved are, the segment includes a twitter portion, which largely consists of tweets belonging to Hindu viewers which state their opinion on the matter: usually an unreliable and biased source of the information. Also, when the news reporter is performing the story, she only includes quotes about the opposition such as “Doniger misinterpreted Hindu texts,” therefore insinuating the book is fiction. This source does have limitations however for American viewers who don’t speak Hindi because some words and phrases could be lost in translation. A link to the segment can be found here:

The articles and news segments analyzed above possibly have hidden agendas.  By looking at the audience the information is meant for as well as the manner in which the information was presented, it’s possible to guess at what the articles are really trying to do.  In Wendy Doniger’s case, supporters of her novel might be trying to inform and influence American citizens to stay educated and act if the American government ever tries to take away free speech.  Their tactic could be a defensive one which educates people on foreign government control in order to prevent that from happening in the future.  On the flip side, opponents of Doniger’s book might be trying to settle down unrest in their native India.  The idea of modernizing India and accepting a new culture instead of living by the older, traditional one may scare some people and by banning Doniger’s novel, the spread of new ideas is harder to accomplish.

Was Wendy Doniger mistreated? Should The Hindus: An Alternative History still be in India’s book circuit? That is for you to decide. I hope with this article you are now going to be more analytical when reading and watching various news sources. News is still a viable and the best option for obtaining information on a local and global scale, but remember it is an industry, and many sources will try not only to attract your attention, but in doing so, sway your stance.

Works Cited:

Arora, Kim. “Academics, Writers Decry Penguin’s Withdrawal of Doniger’s Book ‘The Hindus’ – The Times of India.” The Times of India. N.p., 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

Bhomick, Nilanjana. “Sex, Lies and Hinduism: Why A Hindu Activist Targeted Wendy Doniger’s Book.” Time 12 Feb. 2014: n. pag. Web. 10 May 2014

Boruah, Maitreyee. “Freedom of Speech under Attack! – The Times of India.” The Times of India. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

Burke, Jason. “Outcry as Penguin India Pulps ‘alternative’ History of Hindus.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

Cathcart, Michael. “Banned Books in India.” Radio National. N.p., 2 May 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

Datta, Saurav. “India Book Recall and the Law of Hurt       Sentiments.” Al Jazeera. N.p., 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

Hockings, Lucy. “BBC World News – Wendy Doniger on Impact with Lucy Hockings.” YouTube. YouTube, 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

Janmohamad, Zahir. “India Is Still No Country for Free Speech.” Al Jazeera. N.p., 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

“The Hindus: ALF Serves Legal Notice to Penguin.” Editorial. The Times of India [Bangalore] 15 Feb. 2014: n. pag. 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

“The Hindus Controversy: ‘Angry’ Wendy Doniger Says Indian Law True villain.” The Indian Express. N.p., 12 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

“Penguin to Destroy Copies of Wendy Doniger’s Book ‘The Hindus'” YouTube. YouTube, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014.

 

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Posted in: Hinduism