Friday, February 28, 2014

My views on the controversy surrounding The Hindus: An Alternative History

I read the book in parts. I was planning to read it thoroughly before making this post. But couple of days back I happened to read many articles published around the globe about the controversy surrounding it and some of them had excerpts from the book. By then I had just read two chapters of the book. It was perplexing that the passages quoted in the articles were totally different from the two chapters that I read, which were elegant and had the tone of a well researched paper. Curiosity made me to skim the book and read the quoted controversial passages and try to find the context in which they were written.

Most of the book is about marginalized sections in Hindu society and I found it well written and sensible. But the parts that tries to interpret Hindu mythology is written in an extremely demeaning manner and the prose lacks any academical quality. Its as if two different people with extremely different agendas has authored it. I felt that the author consciously tried to contract atleast some of her interpretations of Hindu scriptures into narrow circles of lust and incest, losing out on the wider meaning and symbolism somewhere and finding non existent treasure troves elsewhere.

And then comes the strange behaviour of intellectuals. Some of the stock words thrown out by them include Talibanism, Hindu fundamentalism, Fascism, arm twisting and banning of books. After reading the articles, national and international, about the story, I feel either it is over reaction or oppertunism. The plaintiff is a small outfit that want to alter the educational system of the country. There was no fatwa, no physical threat to writer or publisher, no incident of violence, no public hate speech till this time. They had just filed a case that the content of the book slanders their religion unnecessarily. Did Taliban ever approach court with their grievences? Or in that case Fascists? Did Ayatullah Khomeini consult law before issuing Fatwa to Rushdie?

Another interesting fact is that court has not yet banned the book. There is no court order saying that selling, purchasing or possessing this book is crime. (You still cannot possess a copy of Satanic Verses in India). Penguin India agreed for an out of court settlement and took back the copies in circulation. But the book can be purchased from other countries and brought to India and can even be downloaded as digital version domestically. Why did they not opt to carry on with case and back the writer, when there is even an option to go for appealing if the court verdict is against them?

In every interview with the writer, that I have read, she just shifts the blame on Hindu fundamentalists. She always maintain that her book is an alternative history of Hinduism. Did she ever check the back cover of her book? Or the book description in Amazon? It uses the adjective 'definitive' to describe the book. How on the world can an alternative history become definitive one?..

These are my views on the controversy. I accept that others can have different views. You can call me a Hindu Fundamentalist after reading this post. (Those who personally know me will laugh at you). But I'm never going to call you sickular.

My word...


  1. (I thought I'd commented on this - but there are some glitches in my browser, or I'm just not very tech-savvy.) I've been thinking about this topic for a while now. And I get the point you're trying to make, I just think banning or withdrawing books is never okay, no matter what the circumstances - but it's to be expected, people are always waiting for controversy, posed to take offence at the slightest chance. But when a publisher does it, I can understand the uproar it'd create! But such furors wash over after a few days; to be replaced unfortunately by newer ones. (I hope this comment gets published!)

    1. It got published... :)

      What I didn't like in this case was the haste with which publisher pulled back the book. I feel the move was just to create controversy and cash in on it.