Email threats and egg-throwing spark fears of Hindu extremism

November 21, 2003

Academics fear increasing attacks from militant Hindus after a lecturer faced an ugly confrontation with egg-throwing protestors.

Wendy Doniger, professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, was attacked while giving a lecture on Hindu texts at the School of Oriental and African Studies last Wednesday evening. She also said this week that an American colleague had received threatening emails.

Professor Doniger, whose publications include a new translation of the Kama Sutra , was believed to have been targeted for linking Hindu sacred texts and sex. During a bad-tempered question-and-answer session after the talk, she was asked whether, as a westerner, she was qualified to speak about the subject.

A message posted on a mailing-list website from a member of the 200-strong audience states: "I was struck by the sexual thrust of her paper on one of our most sacred epics. Who lusted/laid whom, it was not only Ravan who desired Sita but her brother-in-law Lakshman also. Then many other pairings, some I had never heard of, from our other shastras were thrown in to weave a titillating sexual tapestry.

"What would these clever, 'learned' western people be doing for a living if they did not have our shastras and traditions to nitpick and distort? They would most probably be still locked in the missionary position, sexually repressed, cantankerous, frigid and scratching for a living."

Professor Doniger said: "The Sanskrit texts were written at a time of glorious sexual openness and insight, and I have often focused on precisely those parts of the texts.

"The Hindu right is terribly prudish and embarrassed by their own texts.

The fact that I highlight what they would hide makes me, in a very twisted sense, blasphemous.

"The irony is that I have praised these texts and translated them in such a way that many people outside the Hindu tradition - people who would otherwise go on thinking that Hinduism is nothing but a caste system that mistreats Untouchables - have come to learn about it and to admire the beauty, complexity and wisdom of the Hindu texts."

Rachel Dwyer, senior lecturer in Indian studies at Soas, also had her question-and-answer session interrupted at a recent lecture.  

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