Saturday, June 06, 2015


From this anxiety of imitation, it is a short step to seeking authenticity in texts from the past, even if one of those texts is itself a modern imitation. The effect is further magnified by a narrowly instrumental education, the shrinking of public debate, the subservience of media to business interests, the proliferation of social media, and an influential but alienated diaspora, especially in the United States, that seeks to find a glorious Hindu past that can be seen to have exceeded the very West upon which India’s recent success depends so heavily. When this past does not exist, it has to be created, often in less imaginative ways than the manner in which Sastry fashioned the V.S.

It has meant, for instance, the destruction of books with perspectives on ancient India that the Hindu right finds unpalatable. In 2001, when the Delhi University historian D.N. Jha wrote, in The Myth of the Holy Cow, that the ancient Vedic people were eaters of beef, he and his publisher were threatened, subjected to demonstrations, ritual book burnings, calls for the book to be banned, and a court order preventing its distribution. Jha’s work was based on extensive archaeological and textual evidence, and his argument itself is widely accepted by professional historians in India and abroad, but it went against the Hindu right’s insistence that beef-eating was an evil brought into the subcontinent by Muslims (a process it is determined to reverse by force, as in a recent ban in the state of Maharashtra that makes possession of beef punishable by a five-year jail term). Similarly, when University of Chicago scholar Wendy Doniger published The Hindus: An Alternative History in 2009, the campaign against it ran all the way from the United States to India, where the book’s publishers, Penguin India, after a four-year legal battle, agreed to an out-of-court settlement that involved withdrawing all copies of the book and pulping them. Among the arguments against the book in the lawsuit initiated by Dina Nath Batra, founder of a Hindu right-wing educational organization and author of textbooks depicting ancient glories, like television and cars, was that “your approach is that of a woman hungry of sex.”


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