To ban or not to ban; this is not the question.
Wasn’t long back that Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus; An Alternative History was withdrawn by The Penguin, forcing people to talk turkey. Strong opinions, exasperated comments, inflated egoistic remarks; everyone has something to dish out. The out of court settlement with the right wing lobby, high talk on religious sentiments has had all of us involved in a bull’s session. However, what is the real question? Is it, how important it was to ban her book or how the book is detrimental to our society? Is it about author’s scholarship, quality of work or the colonial hangover she might have carried, if any. One may also question the attacks on the book, the rightist attitude towards condemning anything slightly negative towards religion.
At the same time, it is also important to question ourselves? Are we as Indians being pseudo secular banning away books which are non-normative? Whether it is Satanic Verses (1988) or A.K Ramanujan’s (Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five examples and three thoughts on translation) in 2011 or The true Furqan by Al Saffee and Al Mahdee in 2005 to cite a few.
It is also important to question our modernity, for it is us, who stand united, up in arms, against Valentines Day celebration; condemn girls wearing jeans to college and resort to legitimizing Kangaroo courts in the name of preserving culture.
Also important is to question the neo liberal agenda which feeds us scraps of cultural leftovers from feasts enjoyed by right wing politics, corporate and sponsored media; leaving us to enjoy a simulated holy war against an invisible threat, deliberately constructed in our psyche.
It is also important to question the world of glittering voyeuristic pleasure we revel in. Addiction to Yo Yo honey Singh brand of songs or applauding the flamboyant display of performances replete with double entendres, sexually obscene gestures and suggestive body language. It is important to question an audience that watches its own younger generation sinking its teeth deep into voyeuristic pleasure and devouring it with delight.
We, the biggest democracy of the world, with ancient religions dating thousands of years should perhaps also question the formation of such a collective; with fragmented identities and hollow value system trapped in a state of perpetual unrest and discord within. The intoxicating celebrations of our neo-liberal world are marked by a ruthless display of ‘symbolic and cultural capital’ one has amassed; recreating and ‘reproducing’ stereotypes.
It is important to question the pervasive hypocrisy of our society rendering it susceptible to violence as is experienced by a Nirbhaya everyday or when a new Mujaffar Nagar is destroyed every once in a while.
It seems that religion is such a frail entity that any little investigation will lead to its downfall and destruction. This obsession with sanctity and a fortified conservative attitude towards the sacred is bewildering. This insecurity to preserve rectitude is confusing. Academic work of any kind, if at all ruffle some feathers; should be taken in the right spirit and religion should be able to defend itself for its believers.
Though I haven’t read the book myself like many others condemning it; I still want to defend the author’s freedom of expression as much I want to defend the religion’s inherent strength to answer back to its detractors.
It is important to question, Why are we afraid and of what?
Religions are not weak, nor are human beings foolish. If we have a society which has grown up to be able to deal with Honey Singh and the likes; the potential damage such lyrics may cause to society; an academic article can cause no harm. Should a religious entity not be able to hold fast in the wake of such dissent voices?
In fact, such a parallel discourse must exist, so as to provide a chance to the believer to rediscover the strengths of her religion and eliminate its weaknesses. Our religions are not in need of rightwing bail-outs. Wendy Doniger’s book should not be seen as an offensive limitation.
It is time, to look within, and lift some bans off our soul than ban questions which do not have easy answers.