A former Delhi University professor’s attempt to explain alleged “distorted views” of Western scholars about Hindu gods and rituals has landed him in trouble with the Rajasthan government ordering an FIR against him for “insulting” the gods.
Professor Ashok Vohra, former head of the department of philosophy at Delhi University, has now written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his intervention and urging him to “keep the registration of an FIR against me in abeyance until the written lecture is read by some competent scholar to determine the import of its content”.
Vohra attended a seminar on ‘Dharmik Samvad: Adhunik Anivaryata’ (Religious Dialogue: The Need in Contemporary Times), organised by the philosophy department of the Mohan Lal Sukhadia University (MLSU) in collaboration with the Indian Council of Philosophical Research on December 3.
At the seminar, Vohra said western scholars were constricted by their environment and so they analysed Hindu gods and goddesses through uni-dimensional reading of Hindu religious symbols and idols. He cited, among others, the works of clergyman Norman Macleod, Indologists M A Sherring and David Kinsley among others.
He also referred to Paul B Courtright’s 1989 book ‘Gane’sa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings’ and his analysis of Lord Ganesha’s elephant head “from a psychoanalytical perspective”. It was during this explanation that Vohra courted controversy though he underlined “I have deliberately used the translation used by Courtright. One can see how tenuous the proof is”.
Following a representation by the ABVP and the RSS, Rajasthan higher education minister Kalicharan Saraf ordered the MLSU administration to file an FIR against Vohra.
“I have read his script… this sort of vulgar, obscene language for Hindu gods and goddesses will not be tolerated, not in Rajasthan,” Saraf told The Indian Express.
Told that Vohra said he only wanted to explain the skewed understanding of Hinduism by western scholars, Saraf said: “Will a thief ever admit that he is a thief? I have asked the VC (vice chancellor) to file an FIR and have asked the principal secretary to find out who organised this seminar and invited such nuisance-creating people.”
When his comments were sought, Vohra said he had not received any communication from either the Rajasthan government or the university.
“People should either remain quiet or be ready to be discarded by both sides. If you don’t say something critical about Hinduism, don’t expect grants from foreign institutes. And if people in India don’t understand your arguments, you should be ready to go to jail,” Vohra told The Indian Express.
Professor Sudha Chaudhary, head of department of the philosophy department at MLSU, called the episode “an attempt to hegemonise the university’s intellectual autonomy”.
“Where will a free flowing exchange of ideas take place if not within the academic ecosystem of a university?” she said.