March 22, 2011 By

Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus”: Penguin India Defends Decision to Recall Book

Penguin India’s decision to recall and destroy copies of a book on Hinduism by a prominent US author has triggered widespread criticism.

w_0The book which is a scholarly work on Hinduism is written by Wendy Doniger and titled The Hindu: An Alternative History. It had been a subject of a legal challenge claiming that the text was offensive to Hindus. The decision to withdraw the book sparked off condemnation that it restricted free speech and the company, despite being one of the top publishers, is facing criticisms for giving into the demands of a little known Hindu group. Penguin defended its decision saying that it had to respect the laws of the land, in which it operates, even if they were “intolerant and restrictive”. In a statement released two days after the controversy broke, the company said that it had a moral responsibility to protect its employees against threats and harassment.

Hindu campaign group Shiksha Bachao Andolan brought up a civil case in 2011 against Penguin India, arguing that the book contained “heresies” insulting to Hindus. The company reached an out-of-court agreement with the group there after which it agreed to recall and pulp all copies and ensure that the book was completely withdrawn or cleared from the country within six months. India’s Penal Code makes it a criminal offence to deliberately outrage or insult “religious feelings” by spoken or written words, putting Penguin India in a vulnerable legal position.

Penguin warned that such laws “will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression”. Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy wrote an open letter to Penguin, earlier this week asking it to explain why it “caved” in. She argues this marks a “dismaying shift showing submission to a growing attitude of intolerance”.  Journalist and author Siddharth Varadarajan and Jyotirmaya Sharma also asked Pengine to revert the copyright they hold over the book.

Wendy Doniger said she did not blame Penguin but added that she was deeply angered and concerned for freedom of speech in India.

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