Vamsee Juluri’s Rearming Hinduism: Nature, Hinduphobia, and the Return of Indian Intelligence (Westland, 2014) explains the Doniger controversy from a pro-Hindu, Indian point of view. Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, made the news when the publisher, Penguin India, pulled the title from the shelves to avoid further legal complications in the Indian courts, as many Hindus, and not just those of the far right, found the book offensive. Juluri explains that the book does not amount to an “alternative” history at all, inasmuch as it repeats some of the standard tropes of Victorian-era scholarship, such as the now-discredited Aryan invasion theory and the slander of all of Hinduism as the ideology of caste. Juluri believes that Doniger created a straw man in the male Brahmin, who is to be blamed for the supposed puritanical, misogynist nature of the dharmic faiths in India. Juluri also echoes the chorus of voices who have criticized Doniger and Courtright over the sexualization of Hindu symbols like the Shiva lingam and Lord Ganesha’s trunk. The first half of the book systematically addresses Doniger’s book by showing how caste relations are far more complicated than Doniger avers, as when economically less well-off Brahmins worship lower-caste gurus from wealthier backgrounds. The sexualization of the gods is out of place, given that many devotees see themselves as the parents of the baby Ganesha or Krishna: academic studies that work in the Freudian vein thus come to seem pedophilic. The Aryan invasion theory, currently dying a very slow death, Juluri sees as a projection of Eurocentric belief systems (the Indian as an honorary white person), which, consciously or not, can only attribute greatness to architecture, literature, and other creations by those of Western stock. The book does a good job of showing why so many Indians were up in arms about the Doniger book, not out of some puritanical or fundamentalist stance, but because it perpetuates myths (in the negative sense of the word) about Hinduism that ought to have died a long time ago.
The other goal of Juluri’s work is to show the relevance of Hinduism for today’s world, particularly the belief in ahimsa and the divine in all things. Juluri sympathizes with the animal rights and animal studies movements in academia, and he references Jonathan Safran Foer and Jeremy Rifkin’s criticisms of factory farming and the meat-eating diet. The Doniger fight eclipses the larger issue of how the philosophy of non-harming can become India’s gift to the world. Petty dismissals of Hinduism as “cow worship,” “caste-based discrimination,” and the like run the risk of eschewing the potential solutions that India has for the consumptive lifestyles of America and Europe. By looking to its own scriptural roots and the model of its holy people, Hinduism can offer an alternative to the industrial-scale destruction of life now taking place on our planet. Only by “rearming” Hinduism, that is, by eloquently and forcefully answering the knee-jerk criticisms of the eternal dharma, can the potential of this millennia-old religion come to the fore. Then perhaps, nonviolence (and Juluri is a Ghandian) can come to the fore just in time to avert some of the worst consequences of ecocidal capitalism. The denigration of Hinduism hides the massive irrationality of a world system (built on Western, liberal values) that catapults life itself over the edge of the cliff of overconsumption and climate change.
Juluri’s Rearming Hinduism reads like a living room conversation, offering an apologetic for Hinduism, but never in a condescending or simplistic manner. The aim is always to present Hinduism as a faith that provides hope for the whole world. Juluri writes:
Hinduism after all has never been about us or them; but only about us and them, and that ‘them’ includes not just people of other nations or religions, but also those living beings of different species too. We must restore Hinduism not just for the sake of Hindus, but for all living beings in this world, for the sake of all nature. Though we are not in the business of saving anything or anyone against their will, we can’t help our kindness when we see destructiveness, and self-destructiveness (loc. 367-369).
The book addresses itself mostly to born-Hindus, who grew up in the Indian educational system, but converts will find much to enjoy here as well. Many devotees worldwide, whether or not they came from Indian households, were first introduced to Indian religion and philosophy through vegetarianism or veganism. The fact that the book places ahimsa at the center will appeal to this segment of the Hindu religions. Juluri invites us to think that perhaps the relationship between Hinduism and Western scholarship (and the general public) will enter its most productive phase when Hindus are willing to intelligently defend their belief systems and when adherents of Western “progress” and “civilization” realize that perhaps ahimsa holds the key to a sustainable future.