Wendy Doniger speaks at GV about censorship of her books

Drew Schertzer

Headline: Banned in India

Subhead: Wendy Doniger speaks at GV about censorship of her books

By: Drew Schertzer

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Censorship on Hinduism has run rampant through India in the last 10 years, so award winning author Wendy Doniger paid a visit to Grand Valley State University to say why this is. 

Doniger has written several books about Hinduism, including, “Redeeming the Kamasutra,” and the more controversial one, “The Hindus: An Alternative History.” The religious studies program sponsored Doniger’s visit. She talked Monday, Nov. 7, at the Mary Idema Pew Library at noon, for an hour talk to an audience of about 100 people.

“Nationalism drives business far more than piety,” Doniger said, as she addressed the ongoing problem of censorship. She spoke of how her book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” underwent a lawsuit in 2014. Dinanath Batra, the head of censorship in India, claimed that the book was, “riddled with heresies,” and contained malicious acts intended to outrage Hindus.

In the past, Batra has made changes to many Indian textbooks. These include saying some historians should be arrested and leaving out the assassination of Ghandi, Doniger said. She also said in 2005, a Hindu foundation approved many of the changes, pushing back dates thousands of years, taking out information on the Caste System and not mentioning the status of women. Her book eventually was required to undergo a Streisand effect, where all copies are to be hidden or destroyed. However, despite this, “The Hindus” was still sold secretly throughout India, often covered in a brown paper.

The problem is that Hindus don’t want non-Hindus to write about Hindu history, Doniger said. In 2015, Sheldon Pollock, a graduate from Harvard University and a scholar of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, wrote many translations of academic works in Hindu along with 132 other academics. Batra said these works wouldn’t do since Pollock and the other academics weren’t from India, therefore they couldn’t possibly understand Indian culture, Doniger explained. Batra then requested that a Hindu replace Pollock. Pollock said that for literature and history, he doesn’t see them as religious insight. He was able to keep his position, and Doniger said she mentions him as an example of other censorships that happen to other non-Hindus in America.

“No single person can display every part of their religion,” Doniger said. “This type of isolation enforces narrow secularism.” 

Jake Kucinski, a GVSU student present at the speech, said he thinks its important to get everyone’s opinion.

“If only Hindus write about Hinduism, they’re gonna miss a lot of feedback from other people with different views,” he said. 

Kucinski’s thoughts echoed what Doniger said in her lecture.

“Who owns Hinduism?” she said. “By only having Hindus write about their history you miss out on inter-religious dialogue.” 

She then said inter-religious dialogue was crucial for understanding different cultures and different people and that was key to understanding people that differ from you.

“The argument that American academics shouldn’t write about Hinduism is based off hurt feelings, as was my lawsuit,” she said. “Why should the publishers and the scholars be heroes? As Galileo said, ‘unhappy is the land that needs a hero,’ I hope to find heroes in you, the next generation of young scholars.”