A recent surge of Hindu activism is being felt in academia, with scholars facing protests and even violent threats over non-Hindus interpreting religious texts.
The Washington Post (April 10) reports that 19 years after a professor at Emory University used sexual imagery in writing on the story of Ganesha, the revered Hindu God with the head of an elephant, an Internet campaign was started by Hindu militants that included death threats. In January, Macalester College professor James W. Laine provoked similar violent outbursts over his book on Hindu king Shivaji.
One of Laine’s collaborators in India was assaulted, a mob destroyed rare manuscripts where Laine had done research, and the professor was even threatened with extradition and trial by the Indian government. Other academics writing about Hinduism have encountered similar hostility, often fueled by the view that only Hindus have the right to speak and write about the religion.
University of Chicago professor Wendy Doniger, who has been at the center of these controversies and protests, says that the wave of protests is being fueled by Hindu nationalism (known as Hindutva), which charges that Hindus are denigrated by the West imposing a Eurocentric worldview on a culture they do not understand.
Others say that it is not so much Hidutva but just ordinary Hindus who are behind the new activism (though not the cases of violence and threats). They are borrowing a page from black civil rights activists and are claiming their own identity and history from what they see as a closed circle of American scholars who control the Hindu research and publishing field. But many Indian scholars have defended the American writers, saying these incidents are part of a larger pattern of attacks against scholars in India.