A writer and Professor of South Asian History at Rutgers, Prof Audrey Truschke, recently tweeted that in the Ramayana, Sita calls Rama a “misogynist pig”. Someone remarked that “it’s an interesting thread on the need for India to reclaim its cultural and civilizational narrative from the Western dominated, heavily funded academic ecosystem that produces & promotes a certain narrative and perception of India that is often at odds with the lived experience. It also often borders or is outright racist, Hinduphobic, anti-India.
Do read the tweets from @AudreyTruschke too. Some of the comments directed at her are loathsome and need to be condemned. The larger point though is, why should we let the white man dictate and control the narrative of our history, philosophy, religion and culture?”
Further, other tweeters have called into question her spirituality and the fact that her husband and father are Christian evangelists. They also question her PhD guide Sheldon Pollock who is not from the Hindutva school.
I have been following this thread.
1) In the famous verses of Ramayana where Sita questions Rama for his doubts about her chastity, she uses very strong words (as strong as the language permits). This is in the Yuddha Kaandam of Valmiki Ramayana.
2) Prof Truschke simplified Sita’s words into Hollywood-ish language, saying that Sita calls Rama a mysogynist pig. From a Western point of view, I understand that this pejorative is not abusive. Ramya routinely calls me a pig for the mess in my study. It does not mean she disrespects me. May be she is the only Indian woman who has called her husband a pig. But you know what I mean.
3) The word “pig” caused an outrage. Now, rather than pass it of as “Some of the comments directed at her are loathsome and need to be condemned”, it is far far worse. She was called a whore, a cunt, she was asked to come over and get fucked – I can show you the tweets. Even Mohandas Pai took deep offence, and even a man of his wealth and influence was not temperate. Rather than try to understand and then engage, he went on the offensive. What happened to “Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner”. The thousands of tweets from Hindus high and low indicates such a deep misogyny and bigotry that one has to ask – was Prof Truschke right?
4) Her response was either naive or cackhanded. She was repeatedly asked to post the Sanskrit text which has the word ‘pig”. She kept posting the English translations – Goldman, etc. And she kept saying I have studied Sanskrit for 15 years. The verbal violence continued to mount. For some strange reason she never once explained herselt, I do not think this is sinister. I think she was just obtuse and after some time became stubborn as the abuse poured in.
Whenever people have asked “Why do I not know about this or that” I have often responded that we are responsible for our own ignorance. I say this again. Prof Truschke is an academic and academic rigour is everything. No point giving it an “Indological” air that presumes “respect”. Because who is to define lese majeste? You? Me? Baba Ramdev? Modi? Bajrang Dal? So first of all, there is an urgent need for all of us to become more and more aware of our cultural moorings because that increases knowledge. We do not need a Truschke to interpret India for us but then we never did. There I agree with you that we need to be more interested in our selves and our past.
But this “Indological” view should not mean we should not question. Have you read Prof Kshiti Mohan Sen’s little introduction to “Hinduism”? Its a great read. It was written in 1959 so lot of people may call it “Nehruvian” – whatever that means – but Prof Sen makes the profound point that Hinduism is probably the only world religion that does not have the concept of heresy. It is possible to disbelieve and still believe. It is possible to be a monist (like Adi Shankara) and still marry and be on good terms with a dualist (a follower of the Bhakti cult for example). By encouraging a faith based narrative you are in effect Islamising Hinduism.
Is that what we want?
When I read things like “Do we want people like her, who claim to have no spiritual insights, but eager to deconstruct our epics, the philosophies, stories we grew up with being shredded, ridiculed at each time? Do we want more of these intellectuals to shame us and take away our civilisational identity?” I am afraid. As Juvenal asked, “Qui custodes ipsos custodiet”? Hinduism IS an intellectual religion that uses epics and myths as either narrative or counterpoint. There are over 300 versions of the Ramayana. In one version, Rama and Sita are brother and sister. Now who do we burn for this?