Home » Library » Articles by Rajiv Malhotra » Rajiv Malhotra’s Interv...

Rajiv Malhotra’s Interview with Rediff.com’s Arthur J Pais

Follow Rajiv Malhotra's official page on facebook.

‘When Westerners make fun of our gods, they’re instigating trouble’rajiv-malhotra

Arthur J Pais
‘In theory, yes, Hindus are very open. I’m one of them. I’ve coined the phrase ‘open architecture’.’

‘But I think the Wendy Doniger group is not allowing open architecture. They are closing this architecture.’

‘They are bringing a point of view in such a heavy-handed way that it tends to dominate and it tends to suppress the alternative points of view. So some kind of counteraction is necessary and using the law is a decent thing to do.’

Rajiv Malhotra, one of Wendy Doniger’s most vociferous critics, speaks to Rediff.com’s Arthur J Pais about the prejudices created by American scholars about Hindu gods and Hinduism.

Rajiv Malhotra, left, a constant critic of Wendy Doniger and what he calls her Chicago school of writers and thinkers, retired at age 44 some 20 years ago and put his money into the Infinity Foundation, an one-man think-tank.

The Indian-American writer of books on India has devoted himself, for more than a decade-and-a- half, he says, to “clarifying the many misperceptions about Indic traditions in America and among Indians.”

When did the fight against the book start? How did it go through? 

My involvement with this started in the year 2000. My kids went to Princeton Day School and one day the teacher asked me for information on Vedanta, (Swami) Vivekananda and Ramakrishna (Paramhamsa) because in their teaching of world religions they wanted to have knowledge of Hinduism.

One of the teachers told me that he has been advised by some American scholar not to teach Vivekananda and Ramakrishna because the parents would object to this. When I asked why the parents would object, he said it has been declared that Ramakrishna had a relationship with Vivekananda.

I have never heard of such a thing. We started investigating this and asked which scholar had said this and that is how I discovered a whole genre of scholarship which has this kind of view that Wendy Doniger and her students came up with. So, they used Freudian psychoanalysis to psychoanalyse (Hinduism).

Which book has talked about Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhamsa?

A book called Kali’s Child by Jeffrey J Kripal. Then I found Paul Courtright, one of Wendy’s students, had a similar book called Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. They had this very vulgar kind of view.

So, I tried to take this around to the religious, Hindu community and they did not want to touch it. Many of the Hindu leaders in this country (America) maybe were too arrogant, too cocky, or too embarrassed or too scared to talk about it. They did not think it important to take any action.

So I took it upon myself to start writing articles expressing that these are not correct interpretations…

This issue has nothing to do with Christianity versus Hinduism, because most of these people are Jewish, anyway. They are using a Marxist lens, a Leftist lens, a Freudian lens. The kind of theories they are using are completely inapplicable to the Indian way of life.

Then, I started attending the conferences of religion to see why this is happening. It was very strange. All religions had people represented from within.

You would see rabbis from Judaism, Buddhist monks, imams talking about Islam. In the case of Hinduism, there was hardly any practising Hindu speaking for it. It was entirely non-Hindus who felt that they have understood the text, learnt Sanskrit and they were able to interpret it. So, I felt that this is a huge untold story.

I started writing articles. These articles created a huge stir. And, this is the situation with these people. We compiled these arguments in a book called Invading the Sacred that came out in 2007, and since then I have come out with three more books that are not on Wendy but other issues related to Indian civilisation and Indian philosophy and thought and so on.

I personally moved on beyond Wendy Doniger. But I have created a huge awareness and awakening among the Diaspora and among people in India. So many other groups started getting immersed and started taking up my cause and they are the ones who started litigating on Doniger and her book and so on in India.

There has been quite a bit of criticism against the group that filed the case against Doniger’s book.

The person who filed the case is a woman called Monika Arora. She is a very reputed Supreme Court lawyer in Delhi. She filed this case.

Some people are trying to portray the Hindus involved in this case as some kind of savages, violent people and all of that. The point is that the Hindus who filed this case used the rule of law; they used the courts. There is no hint of any violence. They are very cultured, sophisticated people. They went to the court and filed a case.

The case has been going on for over two years. There was never a hint of any violence or anything indecent. It was a let’s go to court and fight. So, the Hindu site put out a petition in the court citing many, many instances of errors in the book, citing page numbers. Some of these are not matters of interpretation, but factual errors and these are available online.

There is a petition that lists many, many pages of errors and so the opposing side of Penguin gave Wendy Doniger’s point-by-point response. This went back and forth several times.

It was not like it was an uncivilised mob. It was a very civilised legal due process going on.

I’m not privy to what was the thought process of the Penguin side. But they must have concluded that they have the risk of losing. So, they reached an out-of-court settlement to withdraw the book.

Now, somehow, the Western scholars are making it sound like some kind of a Hindu mob pushed them and forced them with violence. There is no evidence of such thing; on the contrary, the entire evidence is that it was a legal due process by which a civilised country manages disputes.

Were you part of the litigation?

I deliberately decided that this should run its course through the legal system. I do not want any part of it. I’m available as a scholar. My criticisms of the writings are very publicly available. I’ve always said anybody can quote them freely, but I don’t want to be drawn into a legal matter myself.

The reason being that Wendy is one of the issues that I have raised, you know, Wendy and her whole lineage. But I’m a scholar with many things to write about. That is not the only thing I’m concerned about.

I’m writing about Indian history of science and technology; I’m writing about comparative philosophy; I’m writing about India as a nation and what are its narratives.

I’m writing on many topics and I don’t want to get stuck in one issue that will exhaust me. I realised that I should not personally get involved and I therefore decided to stay behind.

How else did you support the case?

I did not support them in any tangible way, but they have my ideas. They are pretty self-sufficient in how they funded it; the group has funded it, got the lawyers, and done the whole thing on their own. I basically lit the fire in the beginning by highlighting that these are issues.

I also hope to create a process in which Hinduism is properly interpreted and presented not only to Hindus, but to anyone.

The thing is that every religion gets criticised. But other religions are where they are producing people who are very qualified to represent their own religions and therefore these seminary products become scholars and they get launched in different universities for support. For Hindus, they never set up a seminary. So, I am a kind of a one-man show. I can only do so much.

Given the number of Hindus in the world, there are a thousand people like me who are standing there to study this, represent it, debate it, go and argue and be available to the media. But, right now, there aren’t that many Hindus who are really well read, highly sophisticated and being able to represent because we don’t have seminaries.

So, the real solution to all this is that Hindus should use seminaries which can produce a high calibre of leaders and then these leaders can go out there to take a stand.

A good education system should respect the non-Western culture, be it India, China, Japan, the Middle East — whoever. They should respect those people because Americans will be trading with them, having partnerships with them, having different relationships with them.

It will be good for America to train the next generation of Americans to be really appreciative of various cultures.

What kind of education did you have in India? 

I went to a Catholic school from kindergarten to the end of high school. I went to St Columbus School, a Catholic school, and I got a very good education from there. I have many Christian friends and now some of my closest friends are Christians.

I feel that the Western mischief of intervening and creating disruption inside India is a sad thing because Indians have had a long history of being able to get along in a very pluralistic society.

When these Westerners get in and start making fun of gods and goddesses — all these vulgar writings about gods and goddess, all the vulgar writings about many of the symbols, the festivals, making fun of the gurus — obviously, they are instigating trouble. I see it in that way.

I see it as a very sophisticated form of intervention that causes internal problems in India and then they can blame it on Indians, as the British used to do.

Have you tried to engage with American scholars?

I have always told the American Academy that for each religion you should always have certain people who are insiders at the table. The American Academy of Religion has 12,000 members at their annual conference.

You go to the panel on Hinduism, they should have a few Hindus able to represent their faith: Teachers, preachers, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, there are people from the Ramakrishna Mission, the well-known old-established organisations.

When they are describing something about Hinduism, they can bring in many kinds of people. But right now they do not bring outsiders of the academy. They only bring people who are qualified academics.

These qualified academics have very Western training and have a very narrow point of view on other religions because they are relying only on the texts.

Hinduism is not a religion of the book where you can learn everything by reading a text. You have to also understand how it is practised and how the people who practise it, see it and interpret it.

The proper way to learn Hinduism is not only to read the text as seen by outsiders but also what is the insider practitioners’ perspective. I’ve suggested to them that every time there are four speakers, three of them could be the normal American academic types; but one of them could be a practitioner who is brought in as a voice of the Hindu community — who will kind of represent their point of view. But they have never accepted this.

There is a kind of a power, arrogance and a sense of ‘We know more than you guys know about your own religion’. This kind of colonial hangover continues. I think these problems that we are now noticing are examples of things getting out of hand because people feel very insulted.

So many Hindu parents complain that when their kids go to school, they are made fun of because they are asked all these kinds of questions: Do you worship a monkey, why do you have this dot on your head, and so on. So these kids are vulnerable and are embarrassed.

I’ve become a kind of clearing house for these Hindus. People bring their problems to me and I refer them to somebody who can help. I get approached for advice by Indian students in colleges who write to me that they are facing a certain issue and then I get involved.

But one man cannot do this. This should not just be my job. So I organise this representation of people who are interested in this.

Was there any other way to deal with the Doniger book instead of asking for its withdrawal?

If Penguin had said that we are going to issue a new edition, thank you for telling us, sometimes books have an error issue, I think that would have made things OK.

But, my feeling is that Wendy Doniger, as a matter of principle and arrogance, did not want to change a single word.

Her books have been printed and stored in airport shops. Some Indian group in Mumbai also gave her awards. These awards were given by businessmen and industrialists who do not know anything about religion.

I know she has a good lobby firm. She gets her students to promote her work worldwide: In the US and the Indian press. She has all of us who have given her a privileged position where she is beyond criticism.

And so what has happened is because she enjoys this high prestige, it is not acceptable to her that all of a sudden — in the last 10 years — a lot of Hindus have started complaining about her.

But this is the reality of the Internet. And, what I have done and what Hindus are now doing about this was only possible because of the Internet. On the Internet, because of social media, people creating blogs, people tweeting.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve been tweeting, a lot of people have been re-tweeting and it has become a huge thing.

So, if it had not been for the Internet, they would have simply ignored us and continued and said who are you, we won’t bother about you. Now, they cannot ignore. I think that is a big part of it.

Several people from Princeton University and elsewhere in America, including devout Hindus, said they like the book.

I personally am not in favour of banning any book. I have never called for a book ban in my life. I will never do that. I’m more interested that my counter-position should get an equal voice.

My complaint is that they have banned me from all academic forums. The same Western people when discussing religions of south Asia, they do not include me in their reviews, in their panels, in their conferences.

The academic presses will not publish me; the literary festivals in India are so controlled by Wendy Doniger’s wavelength and fan club that people like me who represent an alternative point of view are not allowed.

So, there is a frustration that one side controls the forums. Their people control: They are on the editorial boards, they are on the selection committees, and their particular point of view gets in and the opposing voice does not.

It’s not a free market of ideas. It’s a market controlled by certain monopolistic ideas and the opposing ideas are not given a fair share.

I can write and sell to my Hindu followers. But they will not allow my books into the academy; they will not allow my books to be read in the courses and even in the mainstream media.

So what is happening is that as a matter of practical reality, one side is being represented in the mainstream channels of communication and the other side is blocked.

The argument is that Hinduism is an open-minded faith and so are Hindus. It doesn’t reflect well on Hindus.

Mahatma Gandhi was also using satyagraha against a big empire because they had too much control and power. And he was disrupting them and bringing them down. I consider what I’m doing is a kind of satyagraha against a very corrupt system of knowledge because it is misrepresenting knowledge: They control the printing presses, they control the academic presses, they control the journals, their friends are running the media.

So, their ideology is the one that gets in and therefore that is a kind of a monopoly that has to be broken.

If there was a similar monopoly in business, it would be an anti-trust case. In the business of the humanities and knowledge, you can (have) a monopoly and there’s no anti-trust law that covers that. So, that is an issue.

In theory, yes, Hindus are very open. I’m one of them. I’ve coined the phrase ‘open architecture’. I fully support it.

My new book is called Hindu Open Architecture. It says it is an open architecture, people are welcome to join, all kinds of different points of view are invited, we can criticise one another, we are evolving, we are not fixed in time, all that is fine.

But I think the Wendy Doniger group is not allowing open architecture. They are closing this architecture.

They are bringing a point of view in such a heavy-handed way that it tends to dominate and it tends to suppress the alternative points of view.

So some kind of counteraction is necessary and using the law is a decent thing to do.

Could the withdrawal of the book create more demand for it? People could be reading it for the first time.

I think that is always the case. But both sides will get something out of it. The people on the other side will play victim, that the Hindus are bad people, they banned us; they are bad guys, so they will try to get some sympathy.

But, on the other hand, the Hindu side will also get mileage by saying we know our fight… We can win. It will give more publicity.

More people now want to reprint my books because they want to understand what exactly was the criticism about Wendy Doniger. So, people on both sides will be interested in the published materials.

Some people will get interested in what Wendy Doniger is about because she is controversial; she always was. More people will also be interested in what I have to say. I keep getting calls from people in the last 48 hours wanting to get more of my stuff out.

It is more a matter of principle; we’re trying to make a statement. I don’t think that they’re expecting that the book will disappear because certainly you can buy it as an e-book.

The point is that the book has been out for so many years, a lot of people have bought it and it has done very well.

Penguin has made it into a bestseller. To bring the book down is more of a moral victory.

It’s not a victory in a practical sense that will make a difference. It makes a moral statement that we have a point against this very iconic author and we are able to make this point in a legal forum.

And we are able to make it so effectively that even the publisher agrees with that.

Arundhati Roy has talked about a fascist government coming to power and has suggested it was a factor that made Penguin withdraw the book.

I think that’s stupid. I think people are trying to link too many things. These are overdone. These are people trying to over-sensationalise. Everything you can link with Narendra Modi and fascism, you can try to get headlines.

I would not even waste time with her because that is stupid. Arundhati Roy is not a scholar of religion. She has not read either Wendy Doniger or critics of Wendy Doniger. They are just trying to get some quick mileage out of it.

None of the people who are criticising this move have actually read the petition and seen what the complaint was in the first place.

They are just trying to link all these petitions as some kind of Hindu goals and Hindu terrorists and fascists and Taliban and so on.

I know that these people are decent people. They are regular professionals and they have hired a very well-known, prestigious Supreme Court lawyer who has filed this in a very legal, correct way. They prepared an argument and they got counter-arguments back and forth and so this is how Penguin decided to settle it.

Penguin is interested in big deals and they would not have bowed down. I don’t think they would have settled for this kind of reason. They have many other titles that are very controversial. They have titles against Modi. They are not withdrawing those… So why would they withdraw only this one title?

Published: February 17th, 2014

  • mko

    Being open doesn’t mean inviting abuses. A person has every right to differ with others ,but in a respectable manner. Some spineless Indians hide their impotency behind ideals of tolerance and openness ,while some others defame their own religion,belittle their country, their people & texts in-front of foreigners for short term gains .
    The latter category (opportunists & immorals) are basically by products of western parenting and Christianized education system in India devoid of good Indian values.

    Gandhi’s ideal of tolerance and non-violence has been universalized to an extent that ideals of true heroes like Subhash Ch. Bose ,Azad etc. becomes niche-less in the history of freedom movement .

    whereas Lord clement Atlee the then PM of British during India’s Independence didn’t think the role of Quit India movement (1942) as impactful as INA (Azad hind fauz) war-cry against Britishers and its after effects. We are peaceful by nature , our life idols and sacred scriptures teaches us patience , non-violence ,tolerance upto a certain limit . Both Rama & Krishna tried to evade war many a times through peace-talks , but they finally had to resort to fight for Dharma.

    Thanks God ,People like Arundhati Roy were not there ,else, Lord Rama had to face the court trials for killing demons , as ,she is more concerned about protecting human rights of inhuman people.

    A new party has surfaced in India which shamelessly and boldly gives ticket to Arundhati roy’s kind people and still garner some support in India. This really tempts kinds of Wendy Doniger to practice blasphemy free-handedly in India .

  • Kanagaraj Easwaran

    Well done Rajiv ji. You have defended our case.Yes it is a great victory against who want to destroy our great civilization. As you have rightly argued our victory in this case will reach many Hindus and most of our people will join in defending our Civilization.

  • robbiejena

    It is very hard because Abrahamic Religion are after Hinduism 24X7. China takes care of the Buddhism. So, think.

  • Sivaraman

    In connection with the psychoanalysis of Wendy Doniger,I remember the following joke:A male patient went to a psycho analyst.The analyst drew a horizontal line and asked the patient “What does this remind you of?
    The patient replied “A lady lying down”
    Then the psychoanalyst drew a vertical line and asked “what does this remind you of””
    The patient said a”A lady sitting up”
    The psychoanalyst drew an oblique line and repeated the question
    The patient said “a lady sitting reclined”
    The psychoanalyst said”I think you are sex obsessed!”
    The patient replied “Who? me!You are the one to draw all those sexy pictures,You are the one sex obsessed and walked out of consulting chambers.
    Thia could be what will happen if Wendy Doniger goes for psycho analysis
    Sivaraman
    vengsiva@rediffmail.com

  • Octavio Po

    Congrats Rajiv Malhotra! You are a brave Man. I am
    very proud of you. Never sold your Soul like many pseudo-indians. Cong,
    marxists, Nehru dinasty, seculars, christians-catholics, muslims, and other
    servants-slaves of british and colonialists countries, try to destroy the
    First and Unique Great CIVILIZATION of Mankind. India is full of traitors and
    cowards of it´s own Culture. They are fear. How can is this possible? Because
    international media is controled by a demoniac elite very very dangerous that
    only think in power, luxury, sex( prostitution, white traffic, pedophyles,
    etc),mind domination, wars and control of drugs. Doniger is more a pawn of a
    big strategy to denigrete Indian Civilization. Jay
    Bharat-India.

  • dilip

    Kudos to you and your work Rajiv ji!

  • Rohini Chaugule

    Hallo sir,

    Really inspired by your thoughts and proud of u

  • moulder

    Rajiv is on the right track.

    Thanks to Rajiv, people are taking note and are waking up to the duplicity of Hindu-esque “experts” whose aim is to discredit Hindus and make a mockery of Hinduism

  • Venkat

    Sir ,
    Really inspired by your thoughts and proud of u

  • Jay Zaim

    Watched you tonight on NDTV articulate,concise are some of the words that come to mind.Hope some of the the media houses find the wisdom to call you back for a one on one to take this forward.Kudos.

  • manoj

    I think indian media is so biased towards Hindu religion because most of them have not any knowledge related to our religion and they do not speak with fair voice and whatever says or wright foreigners like Windy donger they give standing ovation to them we need to awaken our inner SACHIDANAND then we would be able to fight against these demons as Rajiv jee rightly acknowledged .

  • manoj

    Rajiv jee mera Dandvat Parnaam saveekar kray you really give us a great feeling about our heritage and civilisation which will give us new confidence about ourself which we will use in nation building .

  • Satyam Joshi

    Namskar Rajiv Sir,
    I am from Nepal.
    My name is Satyam Joshi
    I’ve been hearing you since,may be, 2 months i think(a vdo where you are telling a lady that telling muhammad,jesus and ram are same is insult to Abrahamic people)

    Everything seemed scattered and what comes from where ..which to catch,etc.But your speeches discussions are like jaw dropping truth.And keeps spellbound.
    You are very well in delivering your thoughts but sometimes I cant get you because my English is not that good.
    And I like when you use very normal indian way of english while speaking and examples.

    Ok,
    Wendy has got so many awards,dont the award givers should think about this opposing and withdrawing book incident? Or re-interpret their decision of awarding a false interpreter.
    She clearly says that she is a Sanskrit scholar but not archaelogist or historian , so on what bases they award that lady ..just on basis of how well she could devastate hindu faith and rituals.

    I want you to please release vdos in Hindi too.Because there are some Arya Samaji brothers who dont read english but I want them to hear you too.And they understand Hindi very well.If thats not possible please put a hindi subtitle on the vdo or put someone to oral translate while you speak in English.

    I know you are too busy protecting Bharat and I am so fan of yours that I sometimes imagine a guru like you here in Nepal.
    The unveiling of INGOs in some vdos are so true and convincing.Everybody ,in inner side, know the hidden agenda of westerners but will not tell and no one has broken the cap of the bottle.But still hindus like to work under those INGOs

    And yes there is a heavy inferior complex in Nepalese..too much …worse than neighboring countries.
    A hindu child attending a christian school comes to home and whenever something bad or good happens ,she tells come papa mama I will pray … and she bends her knee and lock her fingers ..and even then the parents couldnot understand this but instead they feel happy that she has learnt westerner way of praying…And I feel pity and sad.
    If possible please do something to awaken hindus(Hindu scholars)of Nepal too.

    Thank you sir for reading.

    • yogesh

      One may see need for Hindi translation of Rajiv’s Videos as this way his thoughts can reach wider audiences.

      Meanwhile, you have other ways:

      1. Rajiv’s books ‘Being different’ and ‘Breaking India’ are available in Hindi.
      2. Use Google translator to translate articles like above. This may not provide perfect translation but it may serve some of your purpose.

  • dear mr. Rajiv,
    reading your book feels such a music to my ears. a profound knowledge system “Vedanta” forms the foundation of a great culture of Hinduism and you have presented it with all the rigours of scholarship that is awesome.
    my journey began as a teenager with my existential questions. perhaps that pushed me to take psychology as my field. psychology as taught in indian universities had its origin in western cultures. it

    could not provide answers to my deeper questions. fortunately i had a rich environment to grow up. I had seen uncontaminated cultural diversity and western psychology constructs were inadequate in explaining them.

    i looked for my answers in Hindu/indian philosophies which should be more accurately called DARSHAN.
    there was no turning back. i studied Vedanta and Yoga. i saw unparalleled profundity in Advaita Vedanta and feel awed by the mighty insights that it has for life and the world/universe. as you said that it transcends the intellectual categories and one can not really grasp it unless one puts it to experiemnts in life. there could not be a mightier thought than what SANKARA brought out as non-dualism, essence of Vedanta.
    i wrote few articles for psychology community to share my understanding and highlighting the need to bring a shift in paradigm that was needed to make Psychology (western) more rich and profound. but those who had studied indian philosophical traditions were trying to grasp it through the prism of western psychology and using your terminology in the mode of ” digestion”.

    currently i am reading Indra’s net and feeling a sense of gratitude that you took upon yourself to reveal the small mindedness of so called scholars whose pursuit is not guided by search of truth but personal survival and glory.
    it would be great to meet you some time. i live in Delhi.

  • Heraclitus kapila

    The west wants a monoply of lies to be passed as truth. The movie 300 depicted The Persians in a bad light distorting history. For centuries they have been talking about Hellenistic mathematics as Greek when in fact it was Egyptian. I guess the freedom of expression means you can lie all the time.You do not expect a counter opinion from the other side that has no money to put up the truth.The saying of Gobbels who believed that a falsity repeated a thousand times becomes the truth is true so true. i repeatedly see NY times, a totally paternalistic reactiobary paer publishing Pankaj Mishra and never a counter opinion. The best thing for the Indians is to ignore these reacftionary abrahamic apologists and go on the quest of objective thinking

  • Rajul Sharma

    And now they are publishing Donieger in English, Tamil & Telugu. That too with an Indian publisher. How shameful ?