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HAF Urges NBCC Not Honor Doniger's Latest Book

New York, NY (February 5, 2009) - The Hindu American Foundation sent the following letter to the President of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), Jane Ciabattari, expressing its disappointment of the short-listing of Professor Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History and urging NBCC not bestow the 2009 nonfiction award to it.
 
Dear Ms. Ciabattari,
 
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a non-profit advocacy organization for the two million strong Hindu American community, strongly objects to NBCC's short-listing of Professor Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History as a finalist in the "nonfiction" category.  Prof. Doniger is known for seeking and presenting provocative and idiosyncratic sexually explicit and Freudian analyses of Hinduism's holiest books.  In The Hindus: An Alternative History she hues to the same, now tiring interpretation of the acts, deeds and words attributed to Hindu deities and included in Hindu scripture and sacred books.  This has naturally stirred up strong emotions in the Hindu community in India and in the Hindu Diaspora. Far from encouraging thoughtful, careful and disciplined inquiry into others' histories and belief systems, any award from NBCC for this book would merely fuel negative sentiments among Hindus, and do a disservice to serious academic inquiry.
 
The Hindus: An Alternative History does not represent nor provide insight into the contemporary practices and interpretations of Hinduism and its scriptures.  In the end, rather than offering the reader a depiction of a family of vibrant religious traditions practiced by a billion Hindus globally, Prof. Doniger offers an offensive, shocking, and gratuitous deconstruction of some of the most important epics and episodes in Hindu thought and belief.  The pornographic depictions of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in Prof. Doniger's books already grace the websites of some banefully anti-Hindu hate sites with their own varied agendas. 
 
Prof. Doniger denigrates the Gods and Goddesses that Hindus worship.  Parallelisms are proffered in this book comparing the sacred stone icon representing Lord Shiva to a leather strap-on sex toy, and Lord Rama, one of the most popular deities of Hindus, is accused of acting out of fear that he was becoming a sex-addict like his father.  A Danish cartoonist would be hard pressed to match the disturbing parodies of a believer's faith that Prof. Doniger offers here.
 
Unfortunately, instead of answering her many Hindu critics, Prof. Doniger sweepingly labels her Hindu critics as Hindu fundamentalists, never bothering to analyze the legitimacy of arguments stemming from adherents of the faith in which she claims scholarship.  In her well-received piece, "Oh, But You Do Get It Wrong", Aditi Banerjee, Esq., points out that "Doniger ignores the prolific response to her work by the American Hindu community, including dozens of published articles, countless public conferences, and repeated calls for debate and dialogue between the academy and the Hindu-American community."  To add to Ms. Banerjee's last point, Prof. Doniger represents what many believe to be a fundamental flaw in the academic study of Hinduism: that Hindu studies is too often the last refuge of biased non-Hindu academics presenting themselves as "experts" on a faith that they study without the insight, recognition or reverence that a practicing Hindu or non-Hindu striving to study Hinduism from the insider's perspective would offer.  While the Foundation believes in the freedom of expression, it takes issue with Prof. Doniger's skewed and superficial analyses and the value, or lack thereof, they bring to the study of Hinduism.  A Freudian true-believer, Prof. Doniger may believe that sex, desire and repressed urges animate the human condition, but modern/humanistic psychology has challenged this school of thought as limited and limiting.  Using Freudian analysis, then, to retrospectively find psychosexual motivations of Hindu deities seems egregiously inappropriate and deliberately provocative.
 
HAF urges NBCC not bestow such a distinguished honor upon a piece of work that is not just degrading and insulting to one billion Hindus worldwide but, frankly a distortion of the history of the Hindu faith.  Finally, the Foundation and its membership hopes NBCC takes into account the numerous protests from the Hindu community by reexamining its decision to short-list Prof. Doniger's book.
 
The Hindu American Foundation Board of Directors and staff members are available for an in-depth discussion with you and/or any NBCC Board member at your convenience.
 
Thank you,
Hindu American Foundation