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'Move to pulp my book foretells worsening free speech in India'

February 11, 2014 23:41 IST

American Indologist Wendy Doniger, the author of “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, whose copies will now be withdrawn by the Penguin Books India following a court-backed settlement with a Delhi-based voluntary group, has come up with an official response.

In the agreement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee, Penguin reportedly had said it "shall with immediate effect recall and withdraw all copies of 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' written by Wendy Doniger" and "shall not publish or distribute the book", according to details available on social media. The group had objected to several "inaccuracies and biases" in it; however, the move by the publisher had attracted sharp reactions from many quarters.

"I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help me in any way they could. I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate,” she said.

“And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit,” she noted.

“They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece -- the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.

“Finally, I am glad that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book. The Hindus is available on Kindle; and if legal means of publication fail, the Internet has other ways of keeping books in circulation. People in India will always be able to read books of all sorts, including some that may offend some Hindus,” she said. 

Image: Wendy Doniger

Rediff Newsdesk