Ever since Penguin India decided to pulp Wendy Doniger’s Hindus, I have been battling a strange sense of unease. When a society turns fascist, it is not cheated by its politicians but by its intellectuals. I am worried something very wrong is going to happen in India once again because the dishonesty in our intellectual discourse surrounding Wendy Doniger is not just palpable but is extremely suffocating as well.
The day the publishing house decided to pulp the book, social media went berserk. The reactions could be classified in three major categories. The first comprised articles by writers and journalists and concerned citizens that decried the pulping of the book and predicted dark days ahead. A section of these articles squarely blamed the publisher for choosing to pulp the book. The second category comprised articles in the completely opposite vein: the pulping was justified in a way because the book itself was full of wrong information and misquotes. So far so good, I thought to myself as I read the pieces on social media with an equal sense of distaste and distance. But then things changed for the worse. After a few days a new stream of argument found its way to my inbox. Forwarded by various progressive and forward-looking friends, self-professed protectors of the truth, people who had the courage to withstand name-calling by their liberal friends if they were caught reading such pieces, these articles make a very strong point quite loudly: there is something wrong with the way scholars in the West talk about Hinduism and Indian scholars, here and in the West, are unable to fight this so called bias of the western method without being branded Hindu fundamentalists. In short, on a very deep global intellectual level, Hinduism is in danger and the Indian liberal is in no position to protect it for they refuse to even acknowledge that Hinduism is in any kind of danger. This third stream of articles set off the panic bells in my head. The problem for the third category of writers and intellectuals isn’t the book itself but the intellectual environment it emanates from, an environment, writers acknowledge, that is detrimental to the growth and prosperity of Hindus.
Not one of the writers taking a side in the debate had the courage to talk about the dark vapours in the political air that we breathe today. No one was even interested in wondering why a publishing house of such repute and distinction would choose to take such a step. If it is the fear of a political thinking that might be in power soon, then have we seen such a fear in the past? And, if so, what is the right path for us when faced with such scary repetitions of history?
Is it too difficult to connect the recent silence of the media on certain political figures, the departure of level-headed sincere and progressive editors from newsrooms across the nation, and the vanishing act of jokes and puns on certain political leaders on social media with what is happening to Wendy Doniger’s book? Is it too difficult to see who is behind this? And if we can see who is behind this, what stops us from speaking up? Who are we really afraid of here as Hindus? Definitely not Wendy Doniger. Perhaps, the one we are afraid of is too powerful to even be named.