Letter To Nbcc

satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ, satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ, yenākramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā, yatra tat satyasya paramaṁ nidhānam - Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6

Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. Through truth the divine path is spread out by which the sages whose desires have been completely fulfilled, reach where that supreme treasure of Truth resides.

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February 1, 2010

Dear Ms. Ciabattari, Ms. Hoffert and NBCC Board members,

Greetings. If you've already received an email from me please disregard this one and accept my apologies. I've experienced some technical problems with my email account that make me doubt whether my earlier message was transmitted.

I am writing about NBCC's decision to shortlist Wendy Doniger's "Hindus: An Alternative History" for your annual nonfiction award.

Normally, I would never presume to question the judgment of people with your breadth of experience and professional credentials. But I am simply astounded, appalled, that this work in particular gets short listed for your national award. If chosen, it would be as if NBCC had handed out an award for "Alternative Standards of Academic Integrity."

I have to ask: Have the members of your team seriously analyzed how rational, well-founded and accurate professor Doniger's "alternative" revelations are?

This book calls itself an alternative "History." It is not titled "Personal Impressions." This is a work of cultural insensitivity, questionable understanding, and playfully juvenile interpretations of some of the most revered Hindu scriptural works. All of which the author offers as a scholarly "alternative" – in effect, passing off a preponderance of fiction as fact! Frankly, outside of Hinduism Studies, I do not know of any other area of academics that is allowed such a degree of inventive latitude.

Let me make it very clear that I do not advocate censorship or restricting academic freedom. I just want to point out that academic "freedom" exercised without responsibility or accountability is tyranny, pure and simple.

Dissenting voices from the Hindu community are rarely given an opportunity to be heard. Our letters and op-eds are routinely rejected by mainstream media. Authorities from within the faith are neither consulted nor taken seriously in evaluating Doniger's liberties with scriptural interpretation and linguistics.

When detractors do make their voices heard, they are characterized as driven by ideology, not substance. Academicians might complain of feeling victimized or threatened for holding certain views. But the real problem lies in the floating foundations of their scholarship, and the fear that their work might not hold up very well under closer scrutiny by insiders. You see, Western Indology no longer is the exclusive preserve of the one-eyed leading the blind. Not since the world got flatter and people began to see farther.

Wendy Doniger has an impressive list of titles and awards to her credit. One more award would neither subtract from nor add to the reality of what she stands for. The point is that her stature should make her answerable to — not exempt from — the highest academic standards.

Scholarship is meant to illuminate. Titillation is for tabloids.

Thank you very much for your patient reading of this email. I sincerely hope that you will reflect dispassionately on the points I have raised.

With best wishes,

Chitra Raman

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