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Right-Wing Nationalists Burn a Copy of the Kama Sutra for Being ‘Objectionable’

They also threatened to burn down any bookstores stocking such “vulgar” material.
SJ
Mumbai, IN
August 30, 2021, 12:09pm
kamasutra exhibitio
A woman looks at paintings as she visits the exhibition 'The Kama-Sutra: spirituality and erotism in Indian art,' at the Paris' pinacotheque on October 1, 2014. Photo for representative purposes only by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images.

On August 28, members of the right-wing Hindu nationalist militant group, Bajrang Dal, burnt a single illustrated copy of the Kama Sutra in the Indian state of Gujarat for having “objectionable” content. The Kama Sutra is an ancient Hindu Sanskrit text that stipulates and guides how men and women should behave with respect to their courtship, marriage, sexual union, and more. 

A dozen workers from the Bajrang Dal – part of the same parent organisation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – burnt the book as a protest against the “vulgar” depiction of the Hindu god Krishna, which they said hurt their religious sentiments. Their main beef with the book was that it showed “Hindu deities in vulgar positions.”

“Hindu gods and goddesses are portrayed with vulgar poses, and Bajrang Dal will not be able to bear this misbehaviour with Hindu religion,” a member of the group can be heard saying in a video that has gone viral. “We are going to burn this book outside in protest. We are giving a warning to every bookstore owner that if you do not show respect to the Hindu dharma, today it's a book being burnt, tomorrow it can be a bookstore.”

The Kama Sutra is one of the most widely read books in the world on the subject of sexuality and is often considered a manual on sex positions, weaving in poetry and love advice as well. Like many works of ancient literature, the Kama Sutra can be read a few different ways: You can view it as a window into the mind-set and customs of a bygone era, or you can take it to be a straightforward how-to guide to pretzel sex. Over the years, the book has been adapted into several versions by authors, poets and illustrators. 

The book that was burnt was titled The Illustrated Kama Sutra, and was a version of the one originally written by Sanskrit philosopher Vatsyayana, featuring illustrations by artist Utsav Bhattacharya. 

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While many social media users felt the violent actions of the political group were unwarranted, some felt they were right to oppose the book’s depiction of the Hindu deities. 

While burning the book, the group’s members chanted “Jai Shri Ram” and “Har har Mahadev,” which are Hindu greetings that have now morphed into a battle cry often associated with religious violence and lynch mobs. 

Latitude General, the bookstore which they broke into, has yet to file a police complaint. A representative from the store chain told The Indian Express that they decided to stop stocking the book in question following the militants’ threats. 

This isn’t the first time Hindu nationalists have taken aggressive action against a depiction they found problematic. In 2017, a painting from the 12th century poem Gita Govinda, which featured an illustration of the Hindu god Krishna intimately embracing his consort Radha in a bower of leaves, also came under fire. A man who had shared its picture on his Facebook page then got booked by the police for non-bailable offences.

The Bajrang Dal is an armed organisation formed to protect their interpretation of Hindu heritage. They are known for vehemently opposing cow slaughter, interfaith relationships, and public displays of affection by couples. Its members have been known to beat up couples for holding hands or going on dates in public places. 

Most recently, they justified harassing a Muslim dosa seller for naming his eatery in the city of Mathura “Srinath Dosa Center,” which they believed was misleading people by using a “Hindu name.”

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