Arena for Penguin-Doniger Case – Freedom of Speech or Acts of Hate?

1. Introduction

The second big story of 2014 in the Indo-American space has been the stunning victory by Dina Nath Batra, “a frail 84-year-old retired headmaster in India”, against the global might of publisher Penguin Books. The description in italics is from Ellen Barry of the New York Times who categorized Mr. Batra as a “right-wing campaigner” and hailed the Penguin book as a “scholarly work on Hinduism”.

Penguin settled the lawsuit brought by Mr. Batra by withdrawing the offensive book and agreeing to destroy all remaining copies of the book in India. This was a rare victory for global Indians who routinely see their religion and culture attacked, defamed and vilified by American-British entities.

This was also a stunning defeat for the Hindu-despisers in European-American newspapers, think tanks, academic “scholars” and their legions of paid agents in India & the Indian Diaspora. Led by the committed New York Times, this powerful well-funded global phalanx began attacking the Indian system with accusations of suppression of Freedom of Speech. True to form, the New York Times Editorial Board came out with an editorial titled Muzzling Speech in India.

In this article, we explore issues regarding freedom of speech in America and how it is practiced. We also explore whether the descriptions of Hinduism in America are a freedom of speech issue or essentially acts of hate under the guise of freedom of speech. This is a rather long article because the subject is critically important and the issues are numerous.

The Penguin book titled An Alternative History of Hindus created a huge storm of protest in the global Hindu community. It evoked deep religious outrage & a sense of vile disgust among Hindus. Why? How would the world’s Christians react if a book named “Alternative History of Christians” wrote ‘God raped Mary and afterwards restored her virginity’? Replace Mary by Kunti and you have the exact quote by Ms. Doniger, the author of the Penguin book.

As we wrote in our January 2010 article*, “imagine a book that focuses entirely on:

  • the sexual circumstances of the birth of Jesus,
  • the impact on the sex life of Jesus and his relationship with Mary Magdalene,
  • then draw from this an inference to abuse of boys by Catholic Priests in America and
  • further draw from these sexual analysis a causal relationship to the inhuman cruelty of European Christian conquest of Latin America, Asia & Africa.

In other words, imagine a non-Christian “religious scholar” writing a “scholarly” book about the entire span of Christianity as a sexual, gratuitously violent, deeply cruel saga and call it “Christians: An Alternative History”.”

To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart of the US Supreme Court, Hindus around the world knew religious vilification when they saw what was written in the Penguin-Doniger book. Penguin knew it too and that is why they settled Mr. Batra’s lawsuit before they lost in court.

* Our article was titled Cultural & Religious Defamation Tacitly Accepted By New York Times Editors?– Our Perspectives. It remains one of the most popular articles of this Blog.

2. Speech – What exactly is “Free” about it?

Let us be clear. Freedom of Speech is, to a great extent, America’s gift to the modern world. After all, Europe, the only other “developed” area, has never believed in allowing real freedom of speech. Britain   has curtailed inconvenient speech with both accepted & legalized restrictions, most notably the Official Secrets Act where just about anything the British Government wants can be put in and thereby restricted.

America does indeed allow the greatest freedom of speech in today’s world. Several years ago, groups that modeled themselves on German Nazis marched through a Jewish suburb of Chicago called Skokie. That expression was free and freely allowed even though an overwhelming majority of Americans abhor German Nazi philosophy.

But what exactly is free about speech in America? The answer is speech itself and the physical well being of the author. This tradition goes back to the old west where brave mean printed newspapers and incurred the wrath of powerful, often despotic, cattle ranchers who attacked these brave newspaper writers. The law, whatever existed, hardly ever provided security to these newspapers. Yes, physical attacks on newspapermen had consequences to the extent sheriffs and marshals could deliver. But financial losses including damage to printing machinery had to be absorbed by the newspapermen as costs of exercising their rights to free speech.

That tradition was invoked by the largest & most powerful of American media after the horrific attack of September 11, 2001. Virtually no one in America was in any mood to listen to any comments that were in the slightest sympathy with the attack or the reasons behind it. We recall Sean Hannity of Fox News stating clearly & loudly on his show that “freedom of speech” did not mean freedom from consequences of that speech. By consequences, Hannity meant financial consequences even to the point of shutting down any business entity involved. In fact, an American TV network fired a TV host for making comments that seemingly praised the courage of the 9/11 murderers.

So from the origins in the wild west to today’s America, the parameters about Freedom of speech are clear – any one is free to exercise freedom of speech and equally free to accept the financial & business consequences of that speech. These parameters, in today’s corporate media age, are clear – each individual is free to express his or her speech and is protected. But the revenues & profits of the corporation on whose platform such freedom is exercised are not protected.

3. Action by & against Penguin – Consistent with American Practice of Free Speech?

This is exactly what happened to Penguin Books, the publisher of Doniger’s book. Penguin had not stopped by merely publishing the book. They also marketed Ms. Doniger as the world’s foremost scholar on Hinduism. Yes, a Jewish woman, without any qualifications or understanding, was marketed by Penguin as a scholar of a completely different religion. Penguin actively promoted the book and used their clout to generate awards for this book.

One solitary Indian man decided this should not stand and he filed a law suit against Penguin. As the lawsuit proceeded, Penguin India began to realize that they could lose the lawsuit and they settled by agreeing to remove the offensive book from the Indian market and to destroy all
copies of the book left in India. There were no penalties against the author, Ms. Doniger, to our knowledge.

This is exactly the American standard of protecting free speech, the same practice announced by Sean Hannity of Fox – the individual exerciser of free speech is not affected but the corporate entity can be subjected to financial & reputational consequences.

Unfortunately, mainstream American media ignored American practice, American tradition and heaped abuse on India & Indian courts for not tolerating freedom of speech. Given what we consider to be its deep seated contempt of Hinduism, the New York Times led this attack on India with several articles. A close second was the British contingent in the American Wall Street Journal.

You see, the Indian legal system ended up acting as the American system does. But that is simply not acceptable to the NYT-led media cohort. After all, other countries are expected to behave as Americans tell them to behave and not as Americans act themselves. And India, in particular, is expected to be grateful to American “scholars” who are trying to educate Indians about the “antiquated” nature of their religion.

Rather than being grateful and profusely thanking Doniger for “re-educating” them, the Indian system actually took the side of a solitary Hindu retired school teacher and penalized Penguin. No wonder New York Times, Wall Street Journal and their cohort were enraged. And they poured their anger in a series of articles each condemning India & its stupid system in morally indignant & colonially arrogant overtones. 

4. How does the American system protect America from similar “scholarly” exercises of free speech?

Books like Doniger’s are quite common in many parts in the world. For example, we have seen passages from “scholarly works” in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East & South East Asia, anti-Jewish passages that come across as very similar to some anti-Hindu passages from Doniger’s book, in our opinion & that of many Hindus. Tom Friedman of the New York Times has written in the New York Times about what he considers as “hateful speech” from such Middle Eastern “scholars” and publicly asked Muslim moderates to criticize and disavow these “scholarly” anti-Jewish works. (of course, Mr. Friedman has NEVER published a single word of protest again defamation of Hinduism to our knowledge or asked any moderate Christians-Jewish leaders to criticize such defamatory works).

But it is nearly impossible to find such “scholarly” anti-Jewish works in any book store in our “freedom of speech” protecting America. Because no American publisher would ever publish or distribute such books in America, in our opinion, no matter how “scholarly” they might be in the eyes of the Middle East. The outcry, the retribution against that American publisher would be financially & reputationally catastrophic. Other American authors would boycott that publisher and authors of books previously published by that publisher would write to the management to terminate their relationship.

This, folks, is the genius of America. The American system makes sure that deeply offensive books don’t find any distribution or patronage in America. And American media management have a unerring sense of what they, as a group, should tolerate in America and what they should not.

The other side of this American genius is to ensure that all media, at least the preponderant majority of media in USA, is in true-blue American hands. Virtually no American, in a statistical sense, reads any non-American newspaper and very few Americans watch non-American media channels, except for the small portion that watches BBC. America understands clearly that mind share of Americans must be all-American or at least preponderantly so.

That is why the American system of tolerating free speech doesn’t ever have to face the problem the Indian system faced with the “scholarly” Doniger book.

5. Why does India face issues like Penguin-Doniger?

Because, unlike proud to free America, India is still a mentally obedient society. While Americans are proud of their culture & system, “English-Educated” Indians are ashamed of their culture and system. While America doesn’t tolerate foreign owned media within America, India is dominated by foreign media organizations. CNN, CNBC, Viacom  have huge market share in India and Indian networks like NDTV have large American ownership. We recall reading an American article that claimed that 61% of Indian TV is owned by foreign Christian & Muslim entities.

With their financial purses and global clout, foreign media, mainly American & British, have hired legions of “English-educated” (“EE”) Indians to ensure their dominant mind share in India. Actually, a majority of elite EE-Indians are either paid, retained by US-British entities or are desperate to be paid or retained by US-British entities. And virtually all of them parrot views that they think are necessary to be considered for hiring by US-British entities.

So when the New York Times led US media launched their attack on India in defense of Penguin-Doniger, they already had a ready army of “his master’s voice” type EE-Indians to toe their line. Go through the list of “Indians” who have written publicly against what happened to Penguin-Doniger and you will find they fit into the above mould.

America’s media class is intensely protective of America’s system & contemptuous of India while India’s EE-Indian class is ashamed of India and intensely desirous of being hired by American media. This is why America hardly ever faces a freedom of speech case like Doniger’s while India faces such cases all the time.  

6. Freedom of Speech or Acts of Hate?

Are we being unfair to the New York Times & their cohort? Could it be that NYT is equally dismissive of religious feelings of all religions? Not so, as we found. A recent NYT article by a John Anderson about a film on Jesus discussed the need for sensitivity when religious feelings are involved. As this article wrote about the new Jesus film:

  • “Filming the Passion is fraught with peril. So is the casting of a personage whom millions of Christians consider divine.”

So NYT writers & editors take great pains to be sensitive to discussions of a personage whom millions of Christians consider divine. Contrast this with how NYT writers & editors describe personages that hundreds of millions of Hindus consider divine:

  • Ganesh is probably the most beloved of Roop (Vibhuti, or Representation) of God in Indian Culture & Dharma. No other Roop evokes love and devotion as Ganesh does. He is worshiped by all as Vighna-Hartaa or remover of obstacles and as the Deliverer of Buddhi. Yet, NYT & WSJ always and ONLY refer to Ganesh as “Elephant-Headed god”, the most minor of many names of Ganesh.
  • Hanuman is probably the most loved personage from Indian epics. Children all over the world love stories about Hanuman. He was named Maruti at birth because he was the immaculate conception of the Divine Wind, Marut. He is worshiped all over India as the epitome of intelligence, strength, power and unswerving devotion to Shri Ram, the Avatar of God on earth. Every Indian poem & story begins by hailing him with these attributes. In contrast, all NYT, WSJ & virtually all US articles ONLY describe him as a Hindu “monkey god”. 

The above may be factually correct but they are exactly like describing Jesus factually as say, “seditious  convict Christian god-son”. NYT would never do that because that would offend the deep feelings of millions of Christians. But offending deep feelings of hundreds of millions of Hindus world seems to be standard operating practice at the NYT, as we demonstrated for the past several years.

Talking of standard operating practices, let us consider what we consider to be the most heinous of all US media practices, a New York Times practice that the Board of Directors of The New York Times Company are aware of:

  • The New York Times uses capital letters when describing religious figures of importance to almost all religions. The capital “S” is always used when a Christian Saint is named; capital “P” is always used when a Prophet is named; capital “M” is always used even for a generic word like mother when naming the famous Indian citizen Teresa.
  • In contrast, the NYT (& virtually all US media) always & ONLY uses the small diminutive “g” when naming Divine Hindu Avatars. In other words, every Christian Saint, every Jewish or Muslim Prophet is deliberately treated as a higher religious figure than every Divine Hindu Avatar or Roop of God. Even a mortal Indian Christian woman named Teresa is considered as deserving of greater religious respect than Shri Ram, Shri Ganesh, Shri Hanuman and every other Divine Avatar of God.
  • In addition, NYT has NEVER, as far as we know, ever described Jesus with a Christian prefix, Never ever described Mohammed with a Muslim prefix. In contrast, EVERY description of Shri Ram, Shri Ganesh, Shri Hanuman and every Divine Avatar is always described with “Hindu” prefix as in “Hindu god Ram”, “Hindu god Ganesh” and so on.   

Are these acts of free speech or are these deliberate practices to inflict pain and deep hurt to “religious sentiments” of Hindus? Should this entire discussion, including the discussion of the Penguin-Doniger book, be in the arena of hate speech and not in the freedom of speech space? Absolutely so, in our opinion.

The Penguin-Doniger case is only a tip of the huge iceberg of deliberate collective acts of defamation & vilification of Hinduism, especially of what is philosophically & spiritually great and unique about Hindu Dharma.

7. Appropriate defense for poor resource-less Hindus against huge globally dominant US media companies?

Look at huge investment banking firms on Wall Street. Can you imagine fighting any of these globally powerful giants if they hurt you financially? Individual Americans are virtually defenseless against these behemoths who can deploy armies of lawyers to keep you in court for years till you run out of money.

The genius of American democracy found a sensible pragmatic way to level this field – a legal innovation called Class Action Lawsuits. Under this procedure, individual Americans can band together and sue huge these Wall Street behemoths as a “class” of victims, The potential collective damages are so large that powerful law firms join the legal war on behalf of ordinary Americans. The damages of a class action lawsuit are often in billions and the biggest of Wall Street firms pale at the thought.

Why can’t the Indian legal system create such a way especially against foreign media firms? Imagine the fright of Penguin when faced with a class action suit on behalf of all Hindus. A tiny 10 cent damage per Hindu would amount to 100 million US Dollars. Just one such verdict or one financial settlement pre-verdict would send chills down the corporate spine of any publisher or media giant.

Forget Penguin. They are small fry. What about the New York Times or WSJ? These global media giants are whom the Penguins of America-Britain follow. Why can’t  Hindus collectively launch a class action type lawsuit in India against deliberate anti-Hindu practices like the ones we described in Section 6 above?

Frankly, Hindus do not need to wait until class action lawsuits get admitted in the Indian legal system. Ellen Barry of the New York Times admitted in print that “Section 295a of the Indian penal code … applies to “malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings”. Would Ms. Barry also admit that NYT’s practices including those we described above in Section 6 cause “outrage to religious feelings of Hindus”? We think she would but only in private under promise of non-attribution. 

But are these NYT practices “malicious” and are they “intended” to “outrage religious feelings” of Hindus?  We are not lawyers and these legal distinctions in the Indian legal system are beyond our ken. But going back to our discussion about lawsuits against Wall Street firms, we recollect that legal test of “fraud” in investment practices also depends on “intent”. While proving “intent” is hard, it is often done by plaintiff attorneys via demonstration of deliberateness, persistence of malpractices and general acceptance of such practices by senior management. And Wall Street firms find the danger of being convicted of “fraud” intolerable. That is why most such lawsuits are settled before the final verdict is delivered, just as Penguin did in the Doniger book case.

The New York Times Company is a smart organization with deep resources. They know and know well that their practices cause deep religious offense and hurt. So why does the New York Times maintain its practices which, to their own knowledge, cause deep outrage to the religious feelings of Hindus? Because, in our opinion, “converting” Indians to their definition of “modern” meaning Christian-Jewish thinking is their cherished mission, their “white man’s burden” as it were. And secondly, because they know that Indians are just too obedient to western giants, too scared to act and too ashamed of their own culture & religion due to 1,000 years of continuous defeat and occupation.

That is why a frail 84-year old retired headmaster named Dina Nath Batra caused so much fright in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the sections of US media that have feasted on their unfettered freedom to defame Hinduism. Their bet remains that Mr. Batra is that rare Indian that other Indians will merely applaud without joining him in the fight. And they may be right.

We salute the solitary courage of Shri Dina Nath Batra and admire his dedication to the fight to protect Hinduism from defamation. His action makes all Hindus proud and frankly ashamed of their own cowardice.

Finally, in the tradition of this Blog, we invite frank and candid feedback from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Penguin, others in US media or those in the EE-Indian space. If we have been unfair to them in their opinion, we would like to know. Any response received for attribution will be printed verbatim. 

Send your feedback to Or @MacroViewpoints on Twitter

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