the hindus

Posted on May 26, 2014 by


The book “The Hindus: An Alternative History” is a book written by Wendy Doniger which describes an alternative to the narrative of Hindu history that they tell.  The book was initially published by Viking Penguin in 2009 and later by Penguin’s Indian subsidiary.  In 2014, it was the subject of litigation in India by the group Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samithi (“Committee for Struggle to Save Education”), alleging violations violations of a law which punishes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any religious community.”  As a result of the lawsuit, the book was withdrawn from the Indian market by its Indian publisher.  A major issue with the book is that people classify/see Hinduism differently in the US/world and India.  This has led to big problems regarding the book.

When it comes to defining things, people always define things differently.  Of course they have their dictionary definitions but people always have their own definition to things.  This also comes into play when classifying things as well.  This was present when people reacted to the book “The Hindus”.  Defining Hinduism is what seems to be a problem with this book and the reactions to it.  People in India define it as their lifestyle.  The Hindu teachings guide their whole life and they strive to be the best they can be in relation to their Hindu learnings.  Hinduism is not a religion for them, it is their lifestyle.  While in America and the rest of the world we see Hinduism as just a religion, like Christianity or any other religion.  People in America go to church but still commit sins and most do not LIVE by the bible or any other holy book.  It is just a minor aspect of their lives.  When people in India read this book they were offended because Doniger sort of made fun of some of the things that have been guiding their life since they can remember.  I kind of equate the feeling to someone making fun of my grandma or someone very dear to me.  Except I do not think that it is as personal as that, just something like that.  If someone wrote a book and kind of made fun of Christianity I would not be pissed at all, I think I could kind of laugh a little as well.  However, religion is only a part of our lives, where Hinduism IS their lives.  With this being said, another question that comes up is freedom of speech and press because this indeed was a book and not someone going around holding conferences to tell a story of how Hinduism started with the use of some humor.  It was in the form a book.

India has very limited freedom of speech which is a reason this booked could be banned in the country.  This limited freedom of speech lead to the removal of “The Hindus” from the country of India.  Penguin Books India, which first published the book, in 2009, signed an out-of-court settlement with an advocacy group, the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (“Movement to Save Education”), who claim to be defending “the sentiments of Hindus all over the worlds.  “The group had filed a civil suit and multiple criminal complaints against Doniger and her publisher; under the terms of the agreement, which includes a bizarre clause requiring Penguin to affirm “that it respects all religions worldwide,” the publisher will cease to sell “The Hindus” in India, and pulp its remaining inventory.  The original legal notice in the case, sent to Penguin in 2010, alleged that the book “is a shallow, distorted, and non-serious presentation of Hinduism … written with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in a poor light … The intent is clearly to ridicule, humiliate, and defame the Hindus and denigrate the Hindu traditions.” Citing a passage in which Doniger refers to Sanskrit texts written “at a time of glorious sexual openness and insight,” the complaint declares that her “approach is of a woman hungry of sex.”  With these is line, the case was taken to court and ruled that all books be destroyed and no longer sold in the country.  So perhaps the law is to blame? This was the crux of Doniger’s own statement, released on Tuesday: the “true villain,” she wrote, was the section of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes, in its words, “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class.” The Indian Constitution lists “freedom of speech and expression” among the fundamental rights it guarantees, but the text also specifies a series of exceptions—later expanded by India’s much maligned First Amendment—that allow the government to impose “reasonable restrictions” on this freedom. Compared to those of the United States, these terms are indeed restrictive, but constitutional scholars point out that, in adopting them, India was largely taking its cue from the exceptions to absolute free speech contained in many other modern constitutions. What differed in the Indian case was the subsequent judicial interpretation, which steadily widened the state’s power to limit free expression.

Whether or not this book is banned in India or not, it has had a huge impact on many people worldwide.  It opened peoples eyes to Hinduism and how it works.  It also helped people realize how bad India is when it comes to free speech.  One thing people need to take away from this whole ordeal is that people classify/define thins differently throughout the world and sometimes we need to be sensitive to that and refrain from saying things that will offend people.