India: Publisher agrees to destroy book about hindu religion

17 February 2014

Penguin Books India has said that it will destroy all available copies of the 2009-book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ as part of an out of court settlement, reported The Guardian


The book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ written by Indologist Wendy Doniger takes a so-called “unorthodox view” of Hinduism. The out of court settlement has become a major freedom of speech issue in India.

Unlike in the past, where books have been banned by the state – Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ remains banned in India, for instance – here, the publisher, which is the Indian arm of the global conglomerate Penguin Random House, has voluntarily decided to withdraw and pulp a book by a leading scholar in an out of court settlement with a fringe right-wing group.

PEN International has joined New Delhi PEN, All-India PEN and English PEN in a protest against the withdrawal by the publisher, which is the third publication to be recalled in India this year.

In January, Bloomsbury India withdrew ‘The Descent of Air India’ after the former civil aviation minister, Praful Patel, filed a lawsuit against it. Also in January 2014, the Kolkata High Court suppressed publication and distribution of ‘Sahara: The Untold Story’ after a bitter legal dispute.

“PEN is increasingly concerned about a chilling climate of censorship and self-censorship in India, and calls upon the government to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of expression as guaranteed in the Indian constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a state party. It also calls for a reform of Sections 153A and 295A of the penal code,” the organisation stated in a press release.

PEN encourages to send appeals to Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh expressing growing concern about an erosion of freedom of expression in India, calling upon the Indian authorities to take steps to bolster international standards of free speech by reforming Sections 153A and 295A of the Penal Code.

To protect freedom of expression in India, a petition to members of both houses of the Indian Parliament, and the Honorable Law Minister has been started on, calling for the reform of Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Sign the petition

This article in the British paper The Guardian provides an overview of the case:

» The Guardian – 13 February 2014:
Wendy Doniger’s book is a tribute to Hinduism’s complexity, not an insult
Penguin’s decision to destroy The Hindus: An Alternative History panders to an orthodox, bourgeois view of this great religion. Article by Vijay Prashad


“In India freedom of speech is failing on two levels: there are the threats from various groups aimed at writers and then there is a complete failure of government and local politicians and police to protect writers. These prevalent incidents and the situations continue to jeopardize the literary talent in India.”

Cool Age – 19 February 2014:
Wendy Doniger and Freedom of Speech in India
Including 2 minute ‘Newsy’ video clip. Article by Hema Vaishnavi from SRM University, Chennai

Previous reports on the same book:

» The Guardian – 12 February 2014:
Penguin Books India pulps academic book on Hinduism in legal settlement
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Professor Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago drew criticism from conservative Hindus and scholars for its orthodoxy and accuracy. Article by Reuters in New Delhi

» The Guardian – 23 October 2010:
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger – review
Priyamvada Gopal relishes a riposte to Hindu hardliners. Review by Priyamvada Gopal

» Google Books: ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’
“This groundbreaking work elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds, the inner life and the social history of Hindus.”

“India often boasts of the robust health of its electoral democracy. But at least one crucial pillar of its democratic edifice – the right to free expression – is being rapidly eroded, with ominous implications.”

AFP / Financial Times – 17 February 2014:
Freedom of speech shrinks in India, the world’s largest democracy
Publishers under pressure to withdraw contentious books. Article by Amy Kazmin in New Delhi

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