Don't even ask why I'm spending so much time and effort on Wendy Doniger's The Hindus, but here is my missive to Vishakha Desai, formerly President of Asia Society:
I am writing with respect to your opinion piece India's Move on 'Hindus' Shows Disturbing Fear of Free Expression that was published on the Asia Society web site, http://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/indias-move-hindus-shows-disturbing-fear-free-expression.
The web page listed your Twitter handle @VishakhaDesai but I see that you have been inactive on Twitter since December 2012. Since I couldn’t share my thoughts with you via Twitter, I decided to write this email.
Some questions and comments:
- How can you say that Wendy Doniger’s opponents are well-funded? Do you have a money trail that you can show? Asia Society lists donors who contribute more than $50,000, and you were probably instrumental in getting contributions of this magnitude when you were President of Asia Society. I doubt that Wendy Doniger’s critics have those resources.
- Would you have the nerve to denounce Muslim groups that force censorship (often with the threat of violence or even violence itself) in the way that you have denounced the “right-wing” Hindus who sought recall of Doniger’s book? I suspect not, as “right-wing” Hindus (particularly an 88-year-old man) are a soft target.
- You promoted debate instead of censorship. Here are some comments on your opinion piece:
- Wendy Doniger has refused to engage in debate: for example, “she did not participate in a discussion of her book at the annual conference of AAS (Association of Asian Studies) at Hawaii in 2011.”
- “What discussion can you have with obnoxious findings without any proof?” for example, claiming that Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda had a homosexual relationship. I would also like to point out that Wendy Doniger has stooped to name-calling: she told one of her critics that he was a “mouse turd.”
- “There is no debate possible with Wendy Doniger or her students - it was tried fruitlessly about a decade ago (Google for "RISA Lila"). But since Doniger is a Western academic, a colleague in the same power structure that Ms. Vishaka N. Desai belongs, Ms Desai will not point it out.” Indeed, you’ve closed ranks with the academic establishment.
- You wrote,”it's heartening to see that all major newspapers, especially those in English, are full of major stories and editorials by well-known writers and thinkers, all condemning the decision by Penguin … But where was the organized effort to ensure that the climate of fear and intimidation would not continue to allow the destruction of more books deemed to have a view of Indian culture different from the right-wing Hindu zealots?” Well, the English language media in India, academia, and your writers and thinkers are that organized effort. Once again, it is telling that you singled out “right-wing Hindu zealots,” not Christian zealots, not Muslim zealots.
- Wendy Doniger’s critics do not have a level playing field to engage her. It is true that the Internet and social media have been great levelers, but access to traditional media is still important. Her critics do not have access to marquee publishers like Penguin with its marketing muscle (it could give away copies of “The Hindus” – I know, because Penguin sent me a free copy in advance of the release date) and mainstream media. Wendy Doniger and “The Hindus” controversy were featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and PRI’s The World radio programs. USA Today did interview Rajiv Malhotra, Wendy’s foremost critic, at length, but his comments were not included in the final article that was published.
- Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus” is prescribed in various syllabi. What will be the effect on Hindu students? Will they be subject to mockery, taunts, and worse, on account of Ms. Doniger’s interpretation of the “sexualized nature of Hinduism,” as you call it? (I call her interpretation pornography) In this politically correct climate, other groups would protest if they receive similar treatment, and academia would give in to them.
I was surprised to get a quick reply from Ms. Desai: go past the jump to read it: