Before I take up each and every major point of the highlighted parts of Prof. Doniger’s interview, let me talk about something that is fundamental to Hindus’ writing. The fact is that before the arrival of European minority from Danube via Iran, the shady but meaningful relative consciousness was present even in the pre-biological-consciousness India and the highest among that aware group was called Brahmin- creation of Rama.
Rama had to invent the Brahmin caste to continue his preaching and uphold the meaning of dharma. Brahmins explicitly, including the highest priests, do not remember this, leave alone celebrating this.
The other is the invocation of Krishna’s words to Arjuna. Let’s read a following hymn from Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11, hymn 48, Translated by Juan Mascaro):
'Neither Vedas, nor sacrifices, nor studies, nor benefactions, nor rituals, nor fearful austerities can give the vision of my Form Supreme. Thou alone hast seen this Form, thou the greatest of the Kurus.'
Still Arjuna went to hell if Mahabharata is to be believed. If Hinduism is understood properly then even a small oration from Ishvara can lead the listener towards the path to salvation and therefore to the heaven.
Krishna showed his supreme form and taught Gita to Arjuna but still Arjuna went to hell. Why? For that one needs to understand the complex dynamics between Brahmins and Kshatriyas of the time. The fact is that privilege of writing was mostly confined to a single caste and Brahmins never wrote history and therefore, these two factors should be kept in mind while analyzing Hinduism.
Now let us analyze Prof. Doniger’s interview more precisely. While writing introduction of translation of Manusmrti; ‘The laws of Manu’, Prof. Doniger starts with the following sutra from Apastamba:
'Right and wrong (dharma and adharma) do not go about saying, ‘Here we are’; nor do gods, centaurs, or ancestors say, ‘This is right, that is wrong.’
This gives subjective interpretation of dharma a place in Hinduism but still one has to be careful before cherishing it. Therefore, if agreed, one is free to interpret dharma and adharma in his and her own way among the possibilities accepted by mainstream Hinduism.
One view is of Prof. Doniger, though she cannot be said to following dharma or its reverse and other is that of everyone else. Therefore, what matters is statistics. She confuses religion with politics and forgets that it was a completely different time when mainstream Hinduism was written: when competing ideologies explicitly damaging to dharma did not exist despite of Buddhism and Jainism.
Now it is a completely different world; interacting one nobody should forget that Hindus got their dominance back after more than a millennia. Dharma's biggest attribute is the continuity with change. In order to survive Hindus had to compete even with Buddhism and Jainism and only route known to them was Brahmanism and related ritualism.
Hindus had had a fight with ‘liberty’ since the times of Siddhartha and Mahavira and even before while at the same time it is also a fact that Hinduism had been more Centrist than Rightist since ancient times. But Hindus still had objection and abhorrence for other ideologies.
They had to have so in order to save themselves from conversions. Domination of Buddhism in the subcontinent at the time of arrival of Islam would have meant dead end for Hindus. Should Hindus have died just to promote and sustain openness, liberty and freedom of expression? Capitalism and democracy would not have taken that shape in Asia as they have today had Hindus not a majority in India and also in the South Asia.
The argument is not that of religious purity; majority of Hindus have never been pure by thoughts but the question is if the world around you is changing shouldn’t you, more so, if your religion permits so? The argument that Hindus as a group are rejecting the imports and acceptance of ideas is totally wrong. They are in fact importing more Western ideas and are trying to localize them in Indian contexts. Sure, they are decoupling more with Muslims in relative sense.
Now as far as eating, wearing and touching habits are concerned let’s read the following hymn again from Gita (Chapter 14, hymn 5):
“Sattva, Rajas, Tamas - light, fire and darkness - are the three constituents of nature. They appear to limit in finite bodies the liberty of their infinite Spirit."
Krishna then after careful deliberation divides these three properties as per Varna and they include everything: thoughts, foods, drinking, clothing etc. Before one reacts he and she should be careful that such thinking and behavioral divisions are the biggest contributions to Hindu consciousness after the creation of pre-biological-consciousness era’s Brahmins’ relative consciousness by Rama. If followed fully, they define ancient Hindu nationalism.
Sure, Hindus no longer can follow Krishna fully. But then there was only one way possible for Brahmins and Kshtariyas while facing competition - to follow Krishna: Rama was hidden Ishvara for most of the time. This had ultimately led to Hindus being victorious in the end when only native demographics are considered. Now having yielded so much so as far as Hindus are concerned and after majority of Hindus adapting to modern times and changing world, why so much fuss about Hindus’ behavior now?
As far as Hindus being tolerant of alternate sexual behavior is concerned there are not many proofs either. While Hindus might have accepted Shiva as Androgynous and also other lesser important similar gods but at the same time one needs to understand that Hindus were the biggest dreamers and most imaginative people on earth.
They could dream anything: the supercomputers, bottom surgeries, Frankenstein, trans-gender lives, weird moral and ethical behaviors; literally anything in ancient times. It does not mean that when faced with real time situation they would accept all those possibilities which present moral dilemma to them. The fact is that homosexuality is damaging for the continuity of life on earth. Homosexuals should not be supported; nor should they be persecuted.
Now I raise questions without answering them explicitly. Should Hindus ignore whatever is happening in the outside world? Isn’t the political Right a natural defense in a world where rising conflicting consciousness, inflation-dictated derivative economic competitions and unhindered imports are norms rather than exceptions?
It is fully agreed that Hindu Right does offend a significant majority of Indian Muslims but still there are so many aspects of a political movement. Prof. Doniger wants to say that whatever she does not like must not exist - in fact it should vanish.
According to her Hindu Right is wrong and Left is right. I think that Hindu Right has sound reasons to exist but Left too has different reasons to be a valid political and social choice as far as India is concerned. It is no contradictions as different people have different requirements and they are at different stages of developmental criteria. So, both can exist.
I end this argument with a quote from Nietzsche again from her introduction to translation of Manavadharmasastra:
To set up a law-book of the kind of Manu means to concede to a people the right henceforth to become masterly, to become perfect – to be ambitious for the highest art of living. To that end, the law must be made unconscious: this is the purpose of every holy lie.
True that even today Hindus’ non-id dominated behavior is many times controlled by unconscious but that is more defensive than aggressive. The time has changed a lot since Nietzsche said so.
Hindus have moved a lot of distance forward and they as a group no longer want to dictate the upper caste domination so brutally and explicitly. What they fear is the world around them and beyond.