India: Writers Defend Best-Selling Book
In 2009, Penguin published The Hindus: An Alternative History by American Indologist Professor Wendy Doniger. The book became a number one bestseller in the non-fiction category in India and received positive reviews in the international media. It has also been subject to criticism, including an online petition highlighting supposed factual inaccuracies and calling for the immediate withdrawal of the book, signed by more than 10,000 people.
In 2011, Dinanath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan filed a case against the publisher, claiming that the book was offensive to Hindus and therefore in violation of Section 295A of the Indian penal code, which prohibits “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” According to the petitioners’ lawyer, on February 10, 2014, the publisher agreed to withdraw the book and to pulp recalled, withdrawn, and unsold copies at their own cost.
Our colleagues at the PEN All-India Center in Mumbai and the PEN Delhi Center are gravely dissapointed by the news, and have released the following statement:
PEN’s India Centres in Delhi and Mumbai are deeply concerned about the reported decision by Penguin India to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s scholarly book, The Hindus: An Alternative History. Choosing to settle the matter out of court, instead of challenging an adverse judgment, narrows India’s intellectual discourse and significantly undermines freedom of expression.
We do not know why Penguin took the decision and expect the publisher to be transparent about the circumstances in which it made the decision, which comes at a time when Indian publishers have faced waves of threats from litigants, vigilante groups, and politicians. Siddharth Deb’s The Beautiful and The Damned was published without its first chapter because of a lawsuit. Bloomsbury India withdrew from circulation Jitender Bhargava’s book, The Descent of Air India. Sahara Group is suing Tamal Bandyopadhyay, author of Sahara: The Untold Story. Foreign publishers have not distributed an English translation of The Red Saree, a book loosely based on Sonia Gandhi’s life.
PEN Delhi, which is under formation, and the PEN All-India Centre in Mumbai, are committed to free speech and expression. The removal of books from our bookshops, bookshelves, and libraries, whether through state-sanctioned censorship, private vigilante action, or publisher capitulation are all egregious violations of free speech that we shall oppose in all forms at all times.
The PEN All-India Center and PEN Delhi Center have also published a statement on behalf of Professor Doniger.