An overview of the voices which rose in criticism of such writings on Hinduism - chapter 11

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Every inbred organization defends its integrity by citing its so-called ‘independent’ reviews. But the standard definition of ‘independent’, as used in business and law, would fail to qualify RISA scholars as being truly independent. Criticism that is controlled and licensed by those who are to be criticized is not entirely legitimate. The denial of agency to Indians who are outside the academy’s controls and supervision continues to provide cover to hide questionable practices. Truly independent critics such as those featured in this section become targets of the establishment’s wrath. When all other arguments fail to silence these critics, they are attacked personally as being ‘anti-social’ elements—as we shall see later. This is an entirely arbitrary judgment, without any independent critical analysis or direct representation by those being so condemned.

Scholars should criticize but not define another’s religion.

The article, RISA Lila-1, generated an avalanche of critiques of RISA by non-mainstream scholars. This in turn triggered a backlash from several RISA-associated academicians. Many of these scholars refused to allow agency to the living, breathing other, who is today also their American neighbor. Perhaps the fight for ‘agency’ is on behalf of those who are absent, belonging to bygone eras or living in rural India, and unable to talk back. The participation of the living diaspora, whose culture is being represented, has often been seen as an annoyance.

When asked whether his somewhat negative tone could turn off scholars who might otherwise be receptive, Malhotra replied, “The British didn’t like Gandhi’s aesthetics, either.” He felt his style had to be commensurate with what it took to get the desired impact, and that it should be compared with the scholars’ own styles which are amply on display—against the critics in the Indian diaspora, against the Hindu deities, against the gurus, and so forth. Later, you will see graphic examples of the RISA scholars’ verbal abuses of one another and of Indian ‘others’.) Many felt that the scholars do not come with ‘clean hands’ as their own discourse is full of ad hominem attacks.

One of the scholars moved to respond after reading Risa Lila-1 was Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara of University of Ghent, Belgium. Balu (as he is popularly called) is the author of The Heathen in His Blindness, an acclaimed book on the flaws in looking at Indian traditions through the prisms defined by Western scholars based on Abrahamic religions. Balu became actively engaged in arguing against the Doniger School on Sulekha, and has since then deepened his involvement through other forums.

He first posted extensive comments in three parts to the Sulekha discussion thread, and these parts are excerpted and presented as chapter 12. (Later, he wrote a further article on Sulekha in which he used Kripal as interlocutor but the points he makes are of general importance to understand how the West studies India. This appears as Appendix-2.)

Chapter 13, titled, ‘The Children of Colonial Psychoanalysis’ is a summary [drawn up by Yvette Rosser], of an important paper by Christiane Hartnack. It shows how the colonizers used psychoanalysis as a tool to profile Indians, especially Hindus, in a manner that fit the colonial agendas. The similarities between the colonial writings and Doniger’s School today are striking.

The article in chapter 14, ‘Is the Fight Between Siva and Ganesha an Episode of Oedipal Conflict?’ by Yuvraj Krishan, a prolific Indologist from within the tradition, is focused on showing that core Freudian assumptions simply do not apply to Ganesha and Shiva and that Western scholars have stretched the facts to fit their thesis. He references original texts of the tradition to argue his case.

Chapter 15, ‘Kripal on the Couch in Calcutta’ is a summary of an article by Prof. Somnath Bhattacharyya (‘Kali’s Child: Psychological And Hermeneutical Problems’). It exposes the flawed application of Freudian analyses by Doniger’s School. Bhattacharyya is a professor of psychology in Calcutta (emeritus) as well as a practising psychologist and well read in the original Bengali texts central to the Kripal scandal.

Sankrant Sanu, an independent scholar who was a Microsoft Manager analyzed the material on Hinduism written by Wendy Doniger for Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia and wrote a critique of the numerous biases it contained. This became yet another popular Sulekha article and is reprinted as chapter 16. Doniger has said publicly several times that the Encarta article was removed because her name was not ‘Sharma’ [since the section was re-written by Prof. Arvind Sharma from McGill University]—implying a racial bias, rather than her work being unable to withstand Sanu’s criticism or her inability to respond to its substance.

Chapter 17 is a reprint of a very detailed point-by-point evaluation of Paul Courtright’s book on Ganesha by two dedicated scholars from outside the academia, Vishal Agarwal and Kalavai Venkat. It raises serious questions about the rigorousness of peer-review that occurs within the academia. It also raises very troubling questions about the quality and integrity of Courtright’s scholarship, not just about Hinduphobic cultural bias—questions that have so far been ignored both by Courtright and his peers, primarily by claiming victim status for the scholar. Doniger has also condemned criticisms of Courtright, claiming these are attempts by ‘extremists’ to control the study of Hinduism.

A few others have been selected for inclusion in the Appendices. Dr. Alan Roland is a well-known psychologist who has specialized in clinical work with Indians living in the United States for a few decades and has authored scholarly books based on this work. He criticizes the use of Freudian psychoanalysis in interpreting Indians and Indian cultural symbols, because he is convinced that Freud’s models are not valid for Indians. Appendix-1 is a reprint of Roland’s article, titled, ‘The Uses (and Misuses) Of Psychoanalysis in South Asian Studies: Mysticism and Child Development’.

Appendix-2 ‘India and Her Traditions: A Reply to Jeffrey Kripal’ is an essay by S.N. Balagangadhara. This is based on Balagangadhara’s cogent and direct rejoinder to Jeffrey Kripal.

The final article, titled, ‘The Butterflies Baulked’, is a compilation of reader responses to RISA Lila-1 by Yvette C. Rosser. It gives a sampling of the over one thousand comments and private emails from supportive voices across cyberspace. These are a good barometer of the quality and quantity of the spontaneous mobilization and intellectual ferment caused by the essay.

Read entire chapter 11 from page 119 to 122

Pdf of the book is available for free download here.

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