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Tension boiled over again in 2014, when the book by Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and probably the most prominent American scholar working in Hindu studies today, was withdrawn from circulation in India after its publisher settled a lawsuit claiming that it defamed followers of the faith. In February scholars in India initiated a petition calling for the removal of a major Sanskrit scholar, Columbia University’s Sheldon Pollock, from the general editorship of a Harvard University Press series of Indian classical texts on the grounds that his writings “misrepresent our cultural heritage” and that he had “shown disrespect for the unity and integrity of India” (this of a scholar who has received the Indian president’s award for Sanskrit, as well as the Padma Shri Award, one of the Indian government’s highest civilian honors).Among Pollock’s stated offenses in the eyes of the petition signers was his support for recent statements condemning the arrest of a student leader at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University on the charge of sedition.
I raised issues concerning serious errors, omissions or blatant biases.
I quickly learned that critical feedback of a serious nature -- especially from those outside the control of the academic establishment -- was not welcome.
“Not being a passive donor, I read seriously whatever was being produced in academic Hinduism studies,” Malhotra said in written answers to questions.
“This engagement was my full-time work and not a side hobby.
Of course there is nothing wrong with this: knowledge is open to all, and India is fascinating, so it is natural that people not from India should share that fascination.
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But the fact that these people are not Indian gives an opening for the Hindu right to attack, cleverly exploiting the tropes of anticolonialism.
The distrust and even disdain with which many practicing Hindus view the scholars who study their religion would likely surprise many outside the confines of the field.
A cultural and religious war is raging in which Western academics are the enemy.
Disputes over alleged mischaracterizations of Hinduism and India by Western scholars are long simmering and boil over from time to time.
This happened in 2005-6, when Hindu groups battled with scholars over proposed revisions to descriptions of the religion in California middle school textbooks.