Dumb Things That Islamists Say About Hinduism – On “Idols” and “Idol Worship”

According to sectarian proselytizers who never studied the Vedas and don’t know Sanskrit, Vedas are actually against Hinduism and are guiding us towards Islam.

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Anti-Brāhminism: Is It Justified?

Is there a rational, logical, evidence-based case for the theory that Brāhmins are collectively elitist, privileged, oppressive, or exploitive?

Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Parama Puruṣa of the Vedas, in His earthly pastime as a Kṣatriya King, honoring His saintly devotee Sudāma
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Casteism is Incompatible with Hinduism

The Supreme Lord of the universe dwells within every living being regardless of temporary, external attributes such as caste, race, and sex. Hence, the śāstras teach us that injuring any living being is equal to trying to injure Him.

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Classical Hinduism and the #MeToo Movement – Why T.M. Krishna is Right, and Why He is also Wrong

T.M. Krishna’s admission of cowardly failure to support a sexual abuse victim explains his current and passionate support of the #MeToo movement. His support has lead him to blame “conservative” and “oppressive socio-cultural dogmas” for the prevalence of sexual abuse and apathy towards its prosecution, implying that Hindu culture is to blame. His comments reveal that he is oblivious to the fact that truly conservative Hindu ideals ensconced within mainstream Hindu literature are strongly averse to predatory sexual behavior. As such, he fails to appeal to our “Hinduness” as a strategy for dealing with predatory sexual behavior, thus missing an effective strategy for preventing and prosecuting sexual abuse. Therefore, we must lay blame for sexual abuse in India where blame is actually due – on the degeneration of conservative, Hindu values.

hanumAn visits sItA in ashoka-vana (1)
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Hinduphobia Implicit in Audrey Truschke’s Criticism of Śrī Rāma

The Non-Apology That Failed to Impress the Hindu Community

One week after the incident, Audrey Truschke of Rutgers University remains oblivious to the point that she defended a racist, colonial-era stereotype about Hindus, and then she deliberately distorted a sacred Hindu epic in order to normalize discussion about that very prejudice.

In a pretentious, meandering, and ultimately feeble defense of her previously distorted Rāmāyaṇa translation (published on The Wire on 4/25/2018), Professor Audrey Truschke of Rutgers University doubled-down on a left-wing argument (which we previously wrote about here) that alleged misogyny in Hindu literature is somehow responsible for the prevalence of rape in India. By arguing that Hindus were unreasonably averse to this “criticism,” she was, in effect, premising her argument on the assumption that Hindus are predisposed to misogyny and rape.

Just to be clear on the significance of her position, it would be similar in principle if she asked Mexican-American immigrants to be open to the “criticism” that they bring drugs and rape into the United States. Notably, while there are Indian academics who defend Professor Truschke’s opinions, there are even Hispanic-Americans who defend President Donald Trump’s prejudiced statements. These facts do not make the comments any less prejudiced in nature.

The phenomenon of stereotyping Indians as rapists is nothing new. The stereotype has its origins in the literature of the British colonial period during which Indians were depicted as beastly and uncivilized:

“Such rape narratives typically involve “savage brutes” assailing delicate white victims, reinscribing myths of racial superiority and validation for a civilizing mission in India.” [1]

Over 150 years later, little has changed, for the West continues to thrive on media reports that portray Indian men as rapists:

The narrative of Indian men and Indian culture as violent and oppressive, particularly in terms of the systematic subjugation of women, was the primary frame which structured news media coverage during the period of the present study. It was consistently reported that India was home to a ‘rape culture’ or ‘rape problem’ of a magnitude unparalleled in the West. This “endemic of sexual violence and harassment” was reported by many to stem directly from the inherent “savagery” of Indian society and the propensity towards sexual violence posited as a common characteristic of Indian men. India was presented as a “hospitable terrain for backward ideas to flourish”, with these “backwards ideas” supposedly serving as the catalyst behind those instances of gang rape reported as “common place in India”, where violence against women was taken to be “embedded in India’s families”. [2]

While this kind of biased journalism supports a Western, chauvinistic agenda, it distorts reality. The fact remains that rape is not an exclusively or characteristically Indian problem. The actual facts about rape and its prevalence, as determined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, tell a very different story. According to the data, India’s per capita rape reporting is 18.39 per 1 million population, which is well behind the rape capital of the world (South Africa at 1,324 per million), Sweden (at 625 per million), the United States (at 274 per million), and Germany (at 94 per million). [3] India is nowhere in the top 10 countries for rape prevalence and never has been. Nevertheless, the biased reporting and sensationalist, yellow journalism has perpetuated derogatory stereotypes that affect Indians and Hindus today. One painfully demeaning example was that of the Indian student who was denied an internship in 2015 at Leipzig University by a German professor who brazenly stated that,

“Unfortunately I don’t accept any Indian male students for internships. We hear a lot about the rape problem in India which I cannot support. I have many female students in my group, so I think this attitude is something I cannot support.” [4]

In the wake of the controversy, an Indian origin lecturer who spoke up in support of German educational opportunities nevertheless admitted that, “in Germany, after the Nirbhaya case, Indians are increasingly confronted with questions about India’s rape situation.” This shocking admission raises the question:

Why should anyone have to confront questions about crimes with which they have had no personal involvement, based solely on the fact that the perpetrators share the same cultural background as they?

In a civilized society, blame is assigned individually, not collectively. Assuming an attitude about criminal behavior based solely on one’s cultural background is the textbook definition of prejudice. Thus, Audrey Truschke’s insinuation that Hindus are collectively guilty of condoning rape, is itself an unfounded prejudice. It is precisely in this context that one can appreciate the problems with Swathi Vadlamudi’s attempt to “Hinduize” India’s rape problem, and with Audrey Truschke’s pleas for Hindus to accept such a racist “criticism” as valid.

Sītā’s objections to Rāma’s behavior were not an accusation, even implicitly, of misogyny. In the disputed text in question, Sītā twice addressed Rāma as a “hero,” circumambulated Him, and then declared her everlasting devotion to Rāma [5], an impartial reader will agree that this is not consistent with considering Him to be “misogynistic pig.” When Professor Robert Goldman of U.C. Berkley, whom Truschke previously referenced, denounced this “loose, colloquial translation,” it was clear that the Rutgers professor could no longer maintain the pretense of learned expertise. One might therefore have expected Truschke to experience a moment of clear insight, retract her claims, and apologize for the implicitly prejudiced belief that she was trying to normalize with the distorted translation.

But instead, she played the victim card, referencing the “avalanche of hate” she experienced on Twitter. Evidently, she expected logical and well-argued rebuttals on Twitter, a a social media forum that is not known for scholarly discussions. She then called out as a member of the “Hindu Right,” the Tampa-based, Hindu IT professional who reached out to Professor Goldman for his views on the matter. Apparently, the basis of this objection was her implicit belief that no reasonable person could disagree with her views, and thus any disagreement could only be due to right-wing political leanings. Also, we are told that this sinister member of the right-wing Hindu conspiracy should never have posted his e-mail exchange with Goldman publicly, because, “That Professor Goldman and I have different opinions on how to further succinctly encapsulate Sita’s remarks is not a cause for surprise but rather fodder for productive discourse and debate. Professor Goldman’s e-mail was a private message to an individual, and, as such, its content and tone were perhaps not well calibrated to express the view that divergent interpretations are a matter of scholarly disagreement.”

Or, in other words, he shouldn’t have done it because it embarrassed her. Professor Goldman wrote that Audrey Truschke’s “arguably failed translation” was “extremely disturbing but perhaps not unexpected,” and that her reading of the passages was “in her own highly inappropriate language.” He further characterized Truschke’s translation as “anachronistic,” “utterly vulgar,” “wildly inappropriate,” and “quite shocking.” In the 21st century, it is hard to believe that someone skilled enough to use e-mail would be unaware of the possibility that his e-mail could be forwarded or even published online. Suffice it to say that while Goldman might temper his words in public for political purposes, there is no reason to think that his words in a private exchange did not reflect his true feelings on the subject. Those words leave one to conclude that Audrey Truschke’s “productive discourse and debate” would never occur. And why should it? Her “misogynistic pig” translation was not based on a “scholarly difference of opinion.” It was simply wrong, and it contradicted the very clear statements of the original text in which Sītā continued to venerate Rāma even while she objected to His feigned cruelty.

Though she appears reluctant to admit it, Audrey Truschke glossed over the point that Sītā was not attacking Rāma as a “misogynist.” She was objecting to His indifference and arguments against taking her back [6]:

किं मामसदृशं वाक्यमीदृशं श्रोत्रदारुणम् ।
रूक्षं श्रावयसे वीर प्राकृतः प्राकृताम् इव ॥ वा.रा. ६.११६.५ ॥

“O valiant Rāma! Why are you speaking such harsh words, which are violent to hear for me, like a common man speaking to a common woman?” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.116.5) [translated by Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy]

Any casual reader can note that Sītā’s question was premised on the view that Rāma was not a common man, and as such, would not have been expected to speak like that. In fact, the text itself indicates that Rāma’s indifference was merely an act, one that did not reflect His true feelings on the matter [7]:

अनन्यहृदयां भक्तां मचत्तपरिवर्तिनीम् ।
अहमप्यवगच्छामि मैथिलीं जनकात्मजाम् ॥ वा.रा. ६.११८.१५ ॥

“I also know that Sītā, the daughter of Janaka, who ever revolves in My mind, is undivided in her affection to me.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.15) [translated by Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy]

इमामपि विशालाक्षीं रक्षितां स्वेन तेजसा ।
रावणो नातिवर्तेत वेल मिव महोदधिः ॥ वा.रा. ६.११८.१६ ॥

“Rāvaṇa could not violate this wide-eyed woman, protected as she was by her own splendour, any more than an ocean would transgress its bounds.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.16) [translated by Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy]

Rāma explicitly stated that He acted the part of a cruel and doubting husband only to convince everyone else of Sītā’s devotion [8]:

प्रत्ययार्थं तु लोकानां त्रयाणाम् सत्यसंश्रयः ।
उपेक्षे चापि वैदेहीं प्रविशन्तीं हुताशनम् ॥ वा.रा. ६.११८.१७ ॥

“In order to convince the three worlds, I, whose refugee is truth, ignored Sītā while she was entering the fire.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.17) [translated by Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy]

न च शक्तः सुदुष्टत्मा मनसापि हि मैथिलीम् ।
प्रधर्षयितुमप्राप्यां दीप्तामग्निशिखामिव ॥ वा.रा. ६.११८.१८ ॥

“The evil-minded Rāvaṇa was not able to lay his violent hands, even in thought, on the unobtainable Sītā, who was blazing like a flaming tongue of fire.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.18) [translated by Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy]

नेय मर्हति चैश्वर्यं रावणान्तःपुरे शुभा ।
अनन्या हि मया सीता भास्करेण प्रभा यथा ॥ वा.रा. ६.११८.१९ ॥

“This auspicious woman could not give way to the sovereignty, existing in the gynaecium of Rāvaṇa, in as much as Sītā is not different from me, even as sunlight is not different from the sun.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.19) [translated by Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy]

Here, critics will likely argue that Rāma’s testing of Sītā’s chastity represents an entrenched, gender-based, double-standard in Hinduism. The argument being that it was Sītā whose fidelity was being tested, and not Rāma’s. However, that unscholarly hypothesis does not stand the scrutiny of evidence. First, it was not Rāma who was kidnapped and made to sit in the home of a member of the opposite gender, threatened with violence unless He agreed to marry His captor. Second, and most importantly, Sītā’s devotion is not that of an ordinary wife to an ordinary husband, and revealing its divine, other-worldly character was the whole point of the text and of this episode in particular.

As a matter of common sense, fidelity to one’s husband does not make one immune to fire, and there is no other story in the Hindu canon in which a wife’s fidelity is depicted as being superior to the destructive effects of fire. Moreover, an ordinary, human wife cannot boast of the ability to destroy her enemies with merely a glance. Yet, this other-worldly ability was clearly expressed by Sītā in the text [9]:

असन्देशात्तु रामस्य तपसश्चानुपालनात् ।

न त्वां कुर्मि दशग्रीव भस्म भर्मार्ह तेजसा ॥ वा.रा. ५.२२.२० ॥

“O Rāvaṇa I can reduce you to ashes through the fire of my chastity. But I do not have Rāma’s permission and I want to preserve my power of asceticism even though you are fit to be consigned to the flames.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 5.22.20) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subba Rao]

Sītā’s grief due to separation from Rāma was real. Her nearly one year of captivity, during which she was threatened with death should she refuse to comply with Rāvaṇa’s lusty desires, would easily meet the dictionary definition of “terrorism.” But the text indicates that, despite having the ability to free herself, Sītā never considered doing so, because she did not have Rāma’s sanction to act in this way.

This kind of uncompromising dependence on one’s Lord’s wishes, even in the face of certain destruction, is not the attitude of an ordinary human woman. Rather, her devotion would be (and historically has been) understood in the broader Hindu tradition as that of a surrendered and ever-liberated devotee of Viṣṇu. That this is so is suggested in the text in several places, most notably the above verses in which Rāma states that Sītā is inseparable from Him as “sunlight is not different from the sun.” Elsewhere she is compared with Lakṣmī, in a not-so-subtle hint as to her divine identity (Sītā is commonly understood in Hinduism as an avatār of goddess Lakṣmī). [10] Her resistance to fire further supports the perception that she possessed a divine body, which again would be seen as the result of her pure and uncompromising devotion to the Supreme Lord.

As for Rāma Himself, there is no doubt that the text identifies Him as the Supreme Lord Nārāyaṇa Himself [11]:

अक्षय्यं मधुहन्तारं जानामि त्वां सुरेश्वरम् ।
धनुषोऽस्य परामर्शात् स्वस्ति तेऽस्तु परंतप ॥ वा.रा. १.७६.१७ ॥

“From the fact of You having (not only) seized (but also strung and drawn) this bow (of Lord Viṣṇu, which could be strung none else) I conclude You to be (no other than) the imperishable Lord Viṣṇu (the suzerain Lord of gods), the Slayer of the demon Madhu. Let everything be well with You, O chastiser of foes!” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 1.76.17) [translation published by Gita Press]

स हि देवैरुदीर्णस्य रावणस्य वधार्थिभिः ।
अर्थितो मानुषे लोके जज्ञे विष्णुस्सनातनः ॥ वा.रा. २.१.७ ॥

“For, entreated by the gods, seeking the destruction of the haughty Rāvaṇa, the eternal Lord Viṣṇu (Himself) was born on the mortal plane as Śrī Rāma.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 2.1.7) [translation published by Gita Press]

सर्वलोकेश्वरस्यैवं कृत्वा विप्रियमुत्तमम् ।
रामस्य राजसिंहस्य दुर्लभं तव जीवितम् ॥ वा.रा. ५.५१.४३ ॥

“Rāma is the supreme lord of all worlds, a lion among kings. Having pained Him it is very difficult for you to sustain your life after offending Him to this extent.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 5.51.43) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala & V.V. Subramaniam]

अक्षरं ब्रह्म सत्यं च मध्ये चान्ते च राघव ॥ ६.११७.१४ ॥

लोकानां त्वं परो धर्मो विष्वक्सेनश्चतुर्भुजः ।

“You are the imperishable Brahman (the Absolute), the Truth abiding at the beginning, in the middle, as well as at the end (of the universe), O scion of Raghu! You are the supreme Law operating in (all) the worlds. Your forces (in the shape of Your controlling agents) are spread all round; You are the four-armed Lord (Śrī Hari).” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.117.14) [translation published by Gita Press]

इदानीं च विजानामि यथा सौम्य सुरेश्वरैः ।
वधार्थं रावणस्येह विहितं पुरुषोत्तमम् ॥ वा.रा. ६.११९.१८ ॥

“I now recognize You to be the Supreme Person, duly dispatched here in disguise by the rulers of gods for the destruction of Rāvaṇa, O gentle one!” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.119.18) [translation published by Gita Press]

The Vedic tradition does not consider Nārāyaṇa to be one among many other gods of equal stature. On the contrary, He is explicitly identified in the Vedas as the Supreme Entity [12]:

सहस्रशीर्षं देवं विश्वाक्षं विश्वशम्भुवम् ।
विश्वं नारायणं देवमक्षरं परमं प्रभुम् ॥ महानारायणोपनिषद् ९० ॥
विश्वतः परमं नित्यं विश्वं नारायणँ हरिम् ।
विश्वमेवेदं पुरुषस्तद्विश्वमुपजीवति ॥ महानारायणोपनिषद् ९१ ॥
पतिं विश्वस्यात्मेश्वरँ शाश्वतँ शिवमच्युतम् ।
नारायणं महाज्ञेयं विश्वात्मानं परायणम् ॥ महानारायणोपनिषद् ९२ ॥

“The Lord Who has a thousand heads, Who has His eyes everywhere, Who works out the good of all the worlds, Who is the immutable and the Supreme Lord, Who is the bestower of the fruits of all the deeds, is Nārāyaṇa Who is all this universe. He is the most supreme and the eternal on account of His being in everything. This universe is Nārāyaṇa, Hari. All this universe is puruṣa alone. This universe lives on account of that puruṣa. Nārāyaṇa is the master of the universe. This paramātman is the ruler of Himself. He is the eternally auspicious and He is acyuta or unchanging. This Nārāyaṇa is the highest object to be known. He is the innerself of all. He is the supreme object of attainment or the highest goal.” (Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad, Draviḍa-pāṭha, 90-92) [translated by Dr. N.S. Anantha Rangacharya]

Thus, in the culture in which the Rāmāyaṇa was told, Sītā’s uncompromising devotion to Rāma would not be regarded as merely ideal wifely behavior. Her actions would instead be seen, and indeed are still seen, as transcendent devotion to a Supreme Person Who projects, pervades, and sustains the universe, and Who is eternally pure and free from the defects seen in ordinary human beings. Thus, there was no question of misogyny in the Puruṣa who is “sivamacyutam” (unchangingly pure and auspicious), as misogyny is a form of hatred which has its roots in the guṇas of prakṛti (the contaminating modes of matter), which influence ordinary human beings but which He transcends and is unaffected by [13]:

वेदाहमेतं पुरुषं महान्तम् । आदित्यवर्णं तमसस्तु पारे । 

सर्वाणि रूपाणि विचित्यधीरः । नामानि कृत्वाऽभिवदन् यदास्ते । तै.आ. ३.१२.७. ।

“I know the mighty Supreme Being, whose colour is like the Sun, beyond the reach of darkness. He the Omniscient One, Himself creates all the manifold forms and calls them by various names.” (Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 3.12.7) [translated by Rama Ramanuja Achari]

For the author to identify Rāma as Nārāyana further supports the premise that neither His actions, His devotion, nor even His devotees can be correctly judged by ordinary human standards. Their actions have to be understood as divine acts, unconditioned by the typical human failings of anger, passion, and ignorance. Thus, to a Hindu, any insinuation of impure motives in Rāma would be seen at best as childish ignorance of His divine status as revealed in the text, or worse, as an unforgivably deliberate, calculated attempt to distort the text by ignoring the underlying religious assumptions upon which it is based.

Obviously trying to skirt this issue, Truschke alluded to “pre-modern and modern thinkers who have offered harsh assessments of Rama and his behavior,” along with the “widely accepted scholarly (meaning, non-Hindu scholars in academia) view that the deification of Rama is a rather late development in the Ramayana tradition and not original to the core of Valmiki’s text.” But this line of argument is short-sighted and self-defeating. If she wants to argue that Hindus inherited a misogynistic attitude from the Rāmāyaṇa, then it logically follows that the discussion must focus on how Hindus actually understood the Rāmāyaṇa. The fact of the matter is that Rāma was always understood to be an avatāra of Viṣṇu, and there is no evidence of an ancient Hindu tradition in which He was remembered merely as a great human subject to the influence of the guṇas of prakṛti. There is no manuscript of the Rāmāyaṇa, scientifically validated as to its antiquity, which lacks the multiple ślokas attesting to Rāma’s supremacy. Truschke therefore has to decide which angle she wants to argue. Either she can discuss the Rāmāyaṇa as Hindus understood it – as a text about the avatār of the Supreme Person who is free from all faults, or she can discuss the academic view of the story as that of an extraordinary human figure. She cannot have it both ways by arguing that Rāma is incorrectly regarded by Hindus as a Supreme Person free of all faults, and yet Hindus would interpret His actions as those of a human being subject to the conditioning of matter.

In suggesting that Rāma was seen as a misogynist, Audrey Truschke, for all of her scholarly credentials, has offered nothing of value in understanding the Rāmāyaṇa as it was written, nor as it was understood by Hindus for centuries. She deliberately glossed over the Rāmāyaṇa’s treatment of Rāma as a Supreme Being free of impure motives, ignored the significance of Sītā’s uncompromising devotion to Him, resurrected an ugly colonial stereotype of Hindus as having a rape culture, and unconvincingly tried to pin this stereotype on a false “misogyny” narrative that is not supported by the text itself. Hindus have a long history of regarding Rāma as a Supreme Person unaffected by the kind of behaviors that are subject to influence by rājo-guṇa and tamo-guṇa.

It is unfortunate that His critics cannot make the same claim about themselves.

[1] “Unspeakable Outrages and Unbearable Defilements: Rape Narratives in the Literature of Colonial India” Pamela Lothspeich. Michigan State University.

[2] “The Racialisation of Rape Narratives in British Media Coverage of the Delhi Rape.” Scarlett Cockerill, Jan 5 2016.

[3] “German professor cites India’s ‘rape problem’ in rejection of Indian applicant.” Abby Phillip, The Washington Post, March 9, 2015.

[4] ibid.

[5] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa,  Yuddha-Kāṇḍa, Sarga 116, ślokas 5, 12, 23, and 25. The entire chapter, indeed, the entire text is worth reading to get a full idea of the context of Sītā’s unconditional devotion to Rāma.

[6] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.116.5 available online at http://www.valmikiramayan.net/utf8/vr_index.htm

[7] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.15-16 available online at http://www.valmikiramayan.net/utf8/vr_index.htm

[8] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.118.17-19 available online at http://www.valmikiramayan.net/utf8/vr_index.htm

[9] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 5.22.20 available online at https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/

[10] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 7.49.3-6:

तस्य भूयो विशेषेण मैथिली जनकात्मजा ।
देवताभि स्समा रूपे सीता श्रीरिव रूपिणी ॥ वा.रा. १.७७.३१ ॥

“Sītā was an embodiment of Lakṣmī (goddess of wealth). In beauty she was like a goddess. Born in the city of Mithila as daughter to Janaka, she was always especially dear to Him.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 1.77.31) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subba Rao]

तया स राजर्षिसुतोऽभिरामया समेयिवानुत्तमराजकन्यया ।
अतीव राम श्शुशुभेऽभिरामया ।
विभु श्श्रिया विष्णुरिवामरेश्वर: ॥ वा.रा. १.७७.३२ ॥

“Rāma, son of Rājaṛṣi Daśaratha, united with the most charming princess, shone like Viṣṇu, Lord of the gods in the company of Lakṣmī.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 1.77.32) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subba Rao]

अदृष्टपूर्वा भगवन् कस्याप्येषा महात्मनः ।

पत्नीश्रीरिव सम्मोहाद् विरौति विकृतानना ॥ वा.रा. ७.४९.३ ॥
भगवन् साधु पश्येस्त्वं देवतामिव खाच्च्युताम् ।
नद्यास्तु तीरे भगवन् वरस्त्री कापि दुःखिता ॥ वा.रा. ७.४९.४ ॥
दृष्टास्माभिः प्ररुदिता दृढं शोकपरायणा ।
अनर्हा दुःखशोकाभ्यामेका दीना अनाथवत् ॥ वा.रा. ७.४९.५ ॥
न ह्येनां मानुषीं विद्मः सत्क्रियास्याः प्रयुज्यताम् ।
अाश्रमस्याविदूरे च त्वामियं शरणं गता ॥ वा.रा. ७.४९.६ ॥

“‘A noble lady, never seen by us before, spouse of some noble one, akin to the Goddess of wealth (Śrī) cries loudly in despair near the banks of the river, with distorted face. Sir, pay attention to her, who seems as if a goddess came down to the earth, and certainly not deserving pain or sorrow in a pitiable state, as if deprived of her husband and very much in sorrow as we see her. In our opinion she is not an ordinary woman (but a divine one). So kind and respectful treatment should be paid to her by your honor, as she is near by your hermitage and has taken refuge in you.’” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 7.49.3-6) [translation published by Gita Press]

[11] Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa translated by Gita Press and also available online at https://www.valmiki.iitk.ac.in/

[12] Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad translated by Dr. N.S. Anantha Rangacharya and published by the Academy of Sanskrit Research in Melkote, India. This text is part of the Kṛṣṇa Yajur-Veda and is considered canonical in the Vedāntic tradition.

[13] Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 3.12.7. This is part of the famous Puruṣa-sūkta which is commonly chanted in Hindu temples today and is widely understood to be about Nārāyaṇa. The mantra in this case clearly refers to His being above tamas, which is commonly understood to refer to the guṇas of prakṛti, namely miśra-sattva, rājas, and tamas.

Śrī Rāma is not a “Misogynistic Pig”

How a Rutgers University professor defended anti-Hindu prejudice, and learned the bitter taste of swallowing her own foot

A controversy erupted on Twitter recently when a Rutgers University Indologist claimed that Sītā criticized Rāma as a “misogynistic pig.”

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The context that set this up began with two highly publicized rape cases in India in which the alleged perpetrators were nominally Hindu. In response to them, an Indian journalist published a cartoon caricature in which an imaginary Sītā tells an imaginary Rāma that she was glad to have been kidnapped by Rāvaṇa instead of one of Rāma’s devotees. The implication being that Rāma’s devotees (in other words, Hindus) are forgiving of rape or predisposed to committing the atrocious act:

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This drew a predictable response from a member of the Hindu community who rightfully pointed out:

“There is nothing wrong in expressing her anger at Kathua incident and in fact, we, too, share her feelings,” said complainant Sagar, according to the Hindustan Times. “But where is the need to draw Hindu gods into the incident? How does it bring justice to the rape victims? Assuming that a Hindu had committed the crime somewhere in Kathua, how is it justified to blame millions of devotees of Lord Rama?”


What the complainant objected to was the characterization of an entire religious community with unfavorable attitudes based on the actions of a few.

In modern civil discourse, this is known as “prejudice.”

Yet, rather than acknowledging and addressing the prejudice, Audrey Truschke of Rutgers University instead tweeted in response to the cartoon controversy that Hindus had become averse to “criticism.” She then tweeted the above comments about Sītā criticizing Rāma, evidently to make the case that Hindus need to be more open-minded to the “criticism” that they are, as a class, favorably inclined towards rape. Because, evidently, in her mind, the acts of two individuals might somehow be representative of the attitudes of over 1 billion people who share the same religious background…

It hardly needs to be stated that Hinduism as a religious doctrine is highly intolerant of rape, and thus so its followers. The two main epics of Hinduism, the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, center around destructive wars that were started after a powerful villain mistreated a woman and then met with an untimely end as a result. Regarding the former, the author writes that the Kauravas, who had previously attempted to poison Bhīma, murder the Pāṇḍavas in fire, and usurp their wealth, had never sealed their destruction until they insulted Draupadī:

अथाब्रवीन्महाप्राज्ञो विदुरः सर्वधर्मवित् ।

एतदन्तास्तु भरता यद् वः कृष्णा सभां गता ॥ महा २.८१.२९ ॥

“It was then the greatly intelligent Vidura spoke thus. ‘This will prove the destruction of the Bharata race, namely the dragging of Kṛṣṇā (Draupadī) into the Sabha.’” (Mahābhārata 2.81.29) [translated by M.N. Dutt]

The Rāmāyaṇa also documents that Sītā would be the cause of Rāvaṇa’s death, referring to his abduction of her and subsequent destruction:

एषा वेदवती नाम पूर्वमासीत् कृते युगे ।

त्रेतायुगमनुप्राप्या वधार्थं तस्य रक्षसः ॥ वा.रा. ७.१७.४३ ॥

उत्पन्ना मैथिलकुले जनकस्य महात्मनः ।

सीतोत्पन्ना तु सीतेति मानुपैः पुनरुच्यते ॥ वा.रा. ७.१७.४४ ॥

“She who was known as Vedavatī in her former birth in Kṛtayuga, appeared again in the Tretāyuga as a daughter of the high-souled Janaka in the line of the kings of Mithila for bringing about the destruction of that Rākṣasa. Since she came out of a furrow (Sītā), she is called ‘Sītā’ by human beings.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 7.17.43-44) [translated by Gita Press]

It is hard to see how one can imply that Hinduism is forgiving of rape, when Hindu epics, cherished by even the common Hindu people, chronicled the downfall of powerful Kings due to their mistreatment of women.

Empiric data also fail to support the notion that Hindus are more accepting of rape than the average human being, contrary to the implied criticism of cartoonist/journalist Swathi Vadlamudi and her devoted defender from Rutgers University. United Nations data on the prevalence of rape, collected from 65 countries during the 2003-2010 time period, reveal that the United States has consistently had a 14 times higher incidence of per-capita rape cases than India, placing it at the #11 rank for police-recorded instances of rape compared to India’s position of #51. Of course, rape is always an atrocious act regardless of how frequently or infrequently it occurs, but the point remains that ascribing rape-friendly attitudes towards Indians cannot be rationalized based on objective evidence.

EDIT 4/27/2018: Since this writing, a user of a Saudi internet service provider edited the statistics on India’s rate prevalence, falsely increasing the per-capita incidence of rape for India from 1.8 (where it had consistently been for the past 7 years) to 109.8. Here is the evidence of the tampering:

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 2.49.57 PM.pngThe IP address of the user corresponds to that of someone using a Saudi internet service provider. Clearly, there is a politically-motivated (or perhaps religiously-motivated?) desire on the part of some unscrupulous parties to misrepresent the magnitude of India’s rape problem. As such, here is a source that cannot be edited, and which testifies to the point made above that India’s rape reporting is far lower than that of the United States, with about 1.8 cases per 100,000 population compared to America’s 27.3 cases, making for a nearly 15 times difference. Although rape reporting does not take into account under-reporting, which is a pervasive problem in every country regarding this crime, the fact remains that we have no objective reason to assume that India’s under-reporting is more or less than that of any other country. As such, we must be honest in reporting that the empirical data support the view that India remains near the low end of per-capita incidence of rape.

When neither the textual tradition nor criminal data can support an hypothesis of Hindu culture being forgiving or accepting of rape, one is left wondering why the two are linked in the minds of some left-wing Indian intellectuals. The only remaining possibility is prejudice, and it disturbs one to consider that the phenomenon of depicting Indians as lusty, beastly, and amoral creatures is disturbingly reminiscent of White colonialist prejudice, which continues to pervade the minds of left-wing Indian intellectuals of today with its toxic perceptions of Indian culture.

But such concerns are of no interest to Audrey Truschke, who “loosely translates” the Rāmāyaṇa as indicating that Sītā called Rāma a “misogynistic pig.” Because she allegedly said that, Hindus must be open to the possibility that deep down inside, they are really rapists at heart.

Except that Sītā never said that. She never said anything that even vaguely resembles that.

Let us consider the context of the Agni-Parikṣa incident in the Yuddha-Kāṇḍa of the Rāmāyaṇa to which Truschke refers. Rāvaṇa has just been defeated and Sītā, after nearly 10 months in captivity during which she was terrorized with constant threats of execution, is overjoyed at the thought of being reunited with her husband. But upon seeing her, and in complete contrast to the joyful expectations of the assembled devas and vānaras, Rāma feigns indifference to her and tells her that she may go wherever she likes.

किं मामसदृशं वाक्यमीदृशं श्रोत्रदारुणम् ।

रूक्षं श्रावयसे वीर प्राकृतः प्राकृतामिव ॥ वा.रा. ६.११६.५ ॥

“Why do You, like a common man, address to me, O hero, such unkind and unbecoming words, which are (so) jarring to the ear, as a common man would do to an ordinary woman?” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.116.5) [translated by Gita Press]

Is it logical to assume that Sītā would address her husband as a valiant (vīra) one if she had thought Him to be a hater of women? When she is convinced that Rāma will not take her back, instead of accepting another husband as He had invited her to do (see 6.116.21-23), she orders Lakṣmaṇa to prepare a pyre, and prior to entering it, she circumambulates Rāma which is a traditional sign of respect to one’s Lord:

अधोमुखं स्थितं रामं ततः कृत्वा प्रदक्षिणम् ।

उपावर्तत वैदेही दीप्यमानं हुताशनम् ॥ वा.रा. ६.११६.२३ ॥

“Walking clockwise (as a mark of respect) about Śrī Rāma, standing with His head bent low, Sītā (a princess of the Videha territory) approached the blazing fire.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.116.23) [translated by Gita Press]

Then we see Sītā praying as follows:

यथा मे हृदयं नित्यं नापसर्पति राघवात् ।

तथा लोकस्य साक्षी मां सर्वतः पातु पावकः ॥ वा.रा. ६.११६.२५ ॥

“As my heart never turns away from Śrī Rāma, so may the god of fire, the witness of the world, protect me on all sides.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 6.116.25) [translated by Gita Press]

So just to be clear, Audrey Truschke, who claims to have summarized parts of the Rāmāyaṇa “accurately and in colloquial English,” believes that Sītā was doing pradakṣiṇam of, and declaring her eternal love for, a man she addressed as a hero but whom she actually thought of as a “misogynistic pig.”

It’s not even remotely sensible to hold to such an opinion, but Truschke doubled-down on her distorted reading of the text by alleging it to be “colloquial English” and proceeding with her agenda to address the question of “Why and how did  Hindu stories become offensive to some modern Hindus?” The implication being that she knows Hindu stories better than Hindus do, thus creating her springboard for starting a debate on what she perceives as Hindu misogyny and rape culture.

Unfortunately, the issue here is that Hindus stories don’t offend Hindus. It is opportunistic and politically-motivated distortions of the stories which do.

As Truschke made it a point in her Twitter account to repeatedly endorse the English translation of Professor Robert Goldman:

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…a member of the Hindu community reached out to Professor Goldman to get his opinion on Truschke’s “loose translation.” The subsequent email exchange with Professor Goldman was published on Swarajyamag.com and was, needless to say, less than flattering of Audrey Truschke’s “loose and colloquial” translation:

“Thanks for your message. I find it extremely disturbing but perhaps not unexpected to learn that AT (Audrey Trushcke) has used such inappropriate language and passed it off as coming from Valmiki. Neither the great poet nor we used anything like such a vulgar diction and certainly Sita would never have used such language to her husband even in the midst of emotional distress. Nowhere in our translation of the passage do we use words such as you mention AT as using.

When she refers to the “critical edition” she is referring to the Sanskrit text of the Ramayana as reconstructed by the scholars at the Oriental Institute of Baroda. We have, of course translated the whole text but she is in no way quoting our translation but giving her own reading of the passage in her own highly inappropriate language.

Sita is, of course distressed by Rama’s words when she is first reunited with him after her captivity. But her speech is dignified and moving. We have tried to capture her level of diction in our translation which nowhere uses either an anachronistic term like “misogynistic” or the utterly vulgar and wildly inappropriate term “pig”. Quite shocking, really. It seems as if she is superimposing her own feelings on the poetry of the Adikavi. It has nothing to do with our translation.”

Professor Goldman’s penultimate sentence hit the proverbial nail on the head. It was certainly not the case that Sītā thought of her Lord Rāma as a “misogynist.” Rather, it was Audrey Truschke, wanting desperately to lecture the heathen Hindus about morality and gender relations, who tried and failed miserably at co-opting the Rāmāyaṇa into her imaginary narrative of Hindu misogyny. Truschke of course, claims that she is all about the “middle ground,” which is to say cultivating knowledge and ignoring hate:

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Well, this author attempted to counter her hateful assumptions about Hindu men with specific knowledge on Twitter, in particular the ślokas and arguments given above, always without making any threatening or obscene remarks. What was the result? You can see it below:

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This writer is left with the impression that Truschke was never interested in engaging in civil debate with knowledgeable Hindus based on facts and evidence. Rather, she was trying all along to shock lay Hindus into a heated flame-war in which she could then cast herself as the victim trying to fight fanaticism and misogyny. Her deliberate attempts to provoke lay Indians in public, in a medium in which restraint would likely not be observed, all the while avoiding serious evidence-based discussion of the text with those capable of it, smack of disgusting, self-serving motives which are unbecoming of a scholar and of the institution that she represents.