Wendy Doniger has graciously, and generously, agreed to respond to some of the comments at CM. I thank her.
I have followed with great interest the conversation between Conrad Barwa and Qalandar on this website, and the first thing I want to say is how grateful I am for the reasoned, intelligent tone of both sets of comments. It is an enormous relief to be able to eavesdrop on a real argument instead of the mindless attacks to which I am so often subjected. And several of the comments on the Chapati Mystery blog have made me want to get into the conversation too.
I would particularly like to comment on the argument that the cases I cite, of concern for and sympathy with the lower castes, are just a few rare instances, not characteristic of Hinduism as a whole. This is indeed true, and, yes, I did fish them out, the way people who do not just want to say that all the Germans were Nazis fished out people like Schindler and the other “righteous Christians” who were heroes; the fact remains that many Germans, perhaps even most Germans, were Nazis. So too, without apologizing for Hindu attitudes to women and the lower castes, I wanted to lift up a few counter-instances to show that you cannot simply condemn Hinduism outright, as so many Americans want to do, for the cases that always hit the newspapers, of atrocities to Dalits and women. The balance here becomes clearer if you read the whole book, which does set these liberal, hopeful instances against the backdrop of heavy prejudice against women and Dalits. Indeed, what makes the counter cases so heroic is precisely that they are fighting against a powerful culture of oppression.
I try to read the Mahabharata story of Ekalavya as one of very mixed feelings, justifying the caste system even while it raises serious questions about its justice. And, yes, the Dalits today have a problem with Eklavya, and that is in the book, in another chapter, that shows how Dalits in recent years have still used Eklavya but in another way, to say, No, I would not have given them my thumb! So that balance, too, would be more apparent if you read the whole book. There’s a limit to what you can do in 1,000 words; the damn book is 779 pages long!
A few small points:
I take the dog-Dalit metaphor not from the tales of Ekalavya or Yudhishthira but from other texts, such as a story in the Mahabharata [12.115-119] in which a dog wants to be more than a dog and is transformed into a lion and becomes horrible and has to be turned back into a dog. Other stories too. But then I try to read them back into stories in which it is less obvious that they stand for Dalits, but I think they do. I’m not sure they do, but I think they do; I think it’s a fair possible reading.
As for Witzel’s criticisms of my Sanskrit translations, I think it stems from his misunderstanding of the sorts of liberties I took for the Penguin Classic translation of the Rig Veda, where I couldn’t use a lot of footnotes and so had to smooth out a lot of lines in ways that did in fact take me farther from the literal meanings of the words than I would have allowed myself to go were I trying to produce the sort of academic translations that Witzel is looking for. But that really has nothing to do with the issues here. Nor does the criticism that I only translate the ordinary Sanskrit texts that everyone else translates. I wrote a whole (if small) book about the Jaiminiya Brahmana, a much ignored text, and both the Shiva book and the Evil book cite lots of obscure Puranas that have never been translated (or hadn’t been in the 70’s, when I wrote those books). But of course I work on the central texts that other people work on too.
As for the old criticism that I write about sex, look at my CV sometime. I’ve written about 30 books altogether, and about 5 of them deal with sexual issues.
Draupadi ah yes, I’d love to talk about Draupadi. There is a LOT about Draupadi in the book. But really you have to read the book . . .