The article The Repression of Religious Studies by Wendy Doniger touches on many topics of which I chose to answer a few.
A. Intellectual Territorial Integrity Violations
Soon after Rajiv Malhotra’s seminal book, The Battle For Sanskrit, came out, scholars from various fields signed a petition to remove Pollock from the leadership of MCLI, among who was Makarand Paranjpe, a JNU professor of English. He answered in his erudite way outlining the reasons why this petition was signed. Either the Dona from Chicago didn’t read it or didn’t understand it or chose to ignore it or all the above, we don’t know. Didn’t she also do a similar thing in the past? Sheldon Pollock himself invaded the intellectual territory of others on August 27, 2015 when he signed a petition to bar Mr. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister from going to Silicon Valley, which effort was characterized as “far Left” by the Silicon Engineers who signed a counter petition welcoming Mr. Modi, as “a very strong representation from faculty in engineering disciplines, who, arguably, are best prepared to comment on Digital India as well as the Aadhaar program.’ Obviously Pollock’s efforts were not on par with the engineers’ qualifications with the implication that he was not qualified to comment on Digital India.
Qualifications of Sheldon Pollock Questioned
1. Pollock’s previous experience with Clay Library has to be looked into. Translations by Doniger (“Harsh Ratnavali”) and Pollock ("Raghu Vamsa "and "Rasamanjari") were found to be have many pitfalls (https://hrdayasamvada.wordpress.com). His translation of a verse from Chandodogyopanishad was found to contain many errors (http://www.jagritbharat.com/index.php/bfs/browse-shashtrarth/1210-pollock-s-translational-woes-continue-12-errors-found-in-his-handling-of-a-single-two-line-sanskrit-verse.)
2. It is clear that Pollock is man of contradictions. For example in his paper published in 1985 he at one place says sastras are prescriptive followed by the statement later that there were professions which did not follow any sastras. Elsewhere he says at one place Sanskrit helped the languages of Southeast Asia followed by statement that Sanskrit killed those languages.
3. He works a theory, cites data supporting that theory and ignores data that don’t. His theory was that the sastras were repressive of the society. He says these texts are dogmatic, regressive used for political and social oppression, without providing any evidence. People read an Upanishad or one of the Darshanas or Geeta because they find them enlightening, freeing and progressive. He quotes Kautilya who showed disdain for sastras but does not follow up on this stream of thought and ignores it when concluding.
4. For a man who spent 40 years writing about Hinduism his knowledge of his subject matter leaves many gaps. He missed major paradigm shifts in Hindu philosophy - Vedas, Upanishads, Darshanas, Advaita, Visishtadvaita and Dvaita each represented a change suggesting an evolution of thought. He does not mention this most important feature of Hindu philosophy.
5. He said that the worship of Ram is a ‘cult’ popularized around the 12thC to rally the masses against the Turkish invaders by projecting them as the demonic ‘other’. Is he suggesting that Ravana the villain of Ramayana was a Muslim? Even though Ravana was a Brahmin he did not escape punishment for his misdeeds. Historical evidences to Ramayana date back, as Nandita Krishna says, to Lumbini pillar erected by Ashoka in 249 BCE. Famous Sanskrit books such as Uttararamacharita by Bhavabhuti in 8th and Raghuvamsa by Kalidasa in 5Th based on Ramayana were written well before 12th century. In Sangam literature, in the book Puranaanooru, in verse 378, on page 604, there is a mention of jewels of Raman’s wife Sithai. This could have been anytime between 4th Century BCE and 5th Century CE.
6. According to him Mahabharata is the most dangerous political story in the world because it is a deep meditation on the fratricide in civil war. Mahabharata war was not a civil war. It was a war fought between two clans- Kauravas and Pandavas who were cousins not brothers. His admiration for Moguls is well known and he should know that the history of Moguls is the best example of meditation on the fratricide.
7. His opinion that Sanskrit is a ‘dead’ language whose revival was done by barbarous invaders coupled with carefully read this “The German Holocaust was inspired by the Nazis reading of Sanskrit texts” is not evidence based.
8. His statement that Rama didn’t have free will and was a fatalist to accept decisions made by his father assumes that Rama was incapable of making any decisions independently. The events in Ramayana show otherwise- his dealings with Sugreeva, Hanuman and Vibheeshana show him as a very sagacious person and his conduct in War show him as a capable leader and fighter. Sam Harris says,” Decision is already made before you are aware of it. We are not the conscious makers of our actions”, thus nullifying the concept of Free Will. Spinoza thought that there was no Free Will. Thus even the western opinion is divided on this issue. What is Pollock doing criticizing Rama for not having free will?
There are many other issues on which Pollock either does not understand Hindu documents or is willfully misrepresenting them for a higher goal such as breaking up of India. These are enough to show that he is not capable to run a classical library of Indian languages translated into English.
B. Need for Swadeshi Indology
The Battle For Sanskrit argues that South Asian Studies first carried out under the aegis of European Orientalism, and when money ran out there found a new lease under American Orientalism, is nothing but a mutual admiration society that has as put by an observer “little regard to due process, academic rigor and rational approach to theorizing”, as seen by allowing Pollock to formulate theories without evidence as shown above. His theory on oral tradition, his penchant for using outdated works in interpreting ancient Hindu books, his dismissal of ideas that run contrary to his theory without giving a reason or evidence, declaring “social and grammatical orders are related by their very nature” without proof, and his famous contradictions that go unchallenged all point to the breakdown of peer evaluation in the process of publications on South Asian Studies. Is this treatment reserved for Hindu studies alone? Will they make statements like these on other religions? Academic freedom allows classifying Ramayana and Mahabharata under mythology but no book under Islam, Christianity or Judaism is classified as mythology according to Rajiv Malhotra.
Ursula King spins a theory that Vivekananda borrowing ideas from the west such as compassion erected an edifice of modern Hinduism which otherwise did not exist before. This is well explained in Malhotra’s earlier book, Indra’s Net. In doing so he contradicted Adi Sanakara’s theory of attaining mukti from jnaana path alone. This statement became the lynch pin of the entire western Indology that relegates Hinduism to a meaningless conglomeration of a million unconnected narratives, ideas, processes, personalities events and places. In the worst case scenario these Indologists compare Hinduism to Humpty Dumpty put together by Vivekananda with glue of western ideas. For Ursula King nothing seems to have happened in Hinduism in the eleven hundred years from Sankara to Vivekananda which is either total ignorance or total willful misrepresentation of history to undermine Hinduism.
Besides Advaita in the eighth century two other equally important schools of thought emerged one in the eleventh century called Visishtadvaita proposed by Raamaanujaachaarya and the second one in the thirteenth century called Dvaita proposed by Madhvaachaarya. While Advaita in a nutshell says Brahman and Prakriti are same, only Brahman is Real, Ramanuja says they are both same and real, and Madhva says Hari and Prakriti are different and are real, Narayan and Hari respectively taking the place of Brahman in the two traditions. These fundamental differences are debated by scholars showing a robust evolution of thought in Hinduism totally ignored by western scholars. All three Achaaryas as they were known also gave Bhashyas to Upanishads and Geeta in accordance with their theories. Many other thinkers gave interpretations to the three theories themselves essence of which was there were many ways to attain mukti. Sankara wrote three great poems that are the source of puja even today- Bhaja Govindam, Mahishaasura Mardanam and Kanakadhaara stotram evidence that he advocated Karma and Bhakti besides Jnaana as paths to Mukti.
Those who criticize Hindu society for lack of compassion forget David Copperfield, Les Miserables, Count of Monte Cristo, Brothers Karamazov, Grapes of Wrath and others where Western Society’s inhuman behavior towards other human beings is portrayed in great detail. The violence that marked Europe is conveniently forgotten. The colonialism, oppression, suppression, slavery, imperialism are shoved under the rug from everybody’s view. Of all the societies in the past Hindu society was the most egalitarian and giving. Hindus didn’t borrow compassion from the west. The borrowing of compassion was done in the fifteenth century by the Jesuits who took it to Europe where it became digested and now passes on as a western commodity.
Great many western Indologists come with background of Theology, Seminary training and Evangelical fervor, Ursula King, Wendy Doniger and Richard Fox young being the prominent examples. Thus their interest in Hinduism is not limited to an objective study of but to nitpicking and putting down Hinduism paving the way to conversions.
These later day interpreters of Hinduism pay no attention to earlier thinkers like Bailey, Playfair, Voltaire, Hodgkinson, Thoreau, Durant, Emerson, Toynbee, Romain Rolland, Oppenheimer, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Goethe, Mark Twain and others who showered encomiums on Hinduism, but they instead push their critical view to damage Hinduism with sole purpose of . carrying on culturally genocidal conversion. In this they are ably led by Marxists like Pollock who cling onto outdated theories of class struggle that have failed in the erstwhile USSR beside other countries including India.
The contributions made by Hindus are never mentioned in California text books but only negative aspects thanks to South Asian scholars at Universities. Thankfully, there has been a growing chorus of Hindu voices complaining about this now. The utter failure of Max Mueller in writing the true history when added to the current crop make Hindus cringe at the prospect of foreigners writing their history. If somebody said to Gandhi,”France is ruled by French, Germany by Germans, but let us rule India, as we know better”, what would he have said. Furthermore all academic work done in India is ignored by American Orientalists on one pretext or other.That is why there is a need for Swadeshi Indology, a term and concept developed and proposed by Rajiv Malhotra.
C. Book banning case study; Satanic Verses
The author of The Hindus did not in her own words suffer from the case. The book was not banned. It was sold under the counter stealthily. She likes it that she has upped the Hindu objectors. She made money albeit immorally bordering on intellectual dishonesty, whereas Satanic Verses was banned. Does the author claim her book is comparable to Verses in literary values such as style, creativity and language? Why did Verses fail so much financially and faired so much worse politically but excelled intellectually? Why did her book an instrument in the hands of evangelists did better financially and politically but miserably failed intellectually? Does she stop to think? Which book will survive in the long run? Compare the magnanimity of Hindu objectors that allowed the sale of The Hindus to be continued to the dogged, mindless and vicious campaign that banned Verses, a great literary work. By the way on what side is she and her friends are on banning Verses?
D. What does Rajiv Malhotra say?
Rajiv Malhotra says of Pollock, “I found Pollock's modus operandi to be work back from a conclusion, offering selective references to support it, and oftentimes simply base it on an assumption with no evidence to back it.”
We saw above ample evidence for this. Malhotra asks questions such as did Sanskrit prevent anyone from learning, are Hindus fatalists, are sastras repressive, did Vedas prevent growth of knowledge, are the Rishis same as Christian priests of Europe of a bygone era, what is the true meaning of four ashrams, what is the true meaning of four purusharthas, does Karma prohibit meaningful engagements of individuals in making families and communities prosperous, is Sanskrit responsible for German debacle, is Hindu society chaotic, and many others and asks Hindus to learn about their history, practices and greatness much to the chagrin of South Asian Studies scholars who give answers denigrating Hinduism. Malhotra asks Hindus to do poorva paksha and uttara paksha to get to the truth much to the discomfort of American Orientalists. Malhotra brings to the attention of Hindus the works of Reinhold Guenendahl that refute Pollock but does not get the public exposure they deserve as the space is occupied by more wealthy Americans who control the media.
Naturally a truth seeker like Malhotra gets the ire of a prevaricating Dona from Chicago.
F. Brahmins Blamed Again
Dona from Chicago says the wealthy Brahmins in the US support Malhotra in his battle against her and Pollock. American Orientalists’ favourite target finds its rightful place in this write up. Is there any grain of truth in this yarn? Why didn’t the Dona from Chicago do some home work before she made this baseless allegation? American Orientalists have signed close to fifteen petitions against Hinduism, India, Modi and similar causes some time in the numbers that exceeded 500, including the Dona from Chicago. Many of these are also persons of Indian origin. Did she check how many of them were Brahmins? Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to cry that Brahmins support Malhotra at the same time drawing huge support from them to her cause? She is promoting hatred which is illegal in the US and the FBI would like to take a look at her.
Conclusions: American Orientalists are outdated in their knowledge, are prevaricating, are hypocritical, are unscientific, are irrational, are promoters of hatred against Brahmins, are ignorant of Hinduism, lack academic integrity- these are only a few among other character flaws. I as a Hindu would not want them write about Hinduism.