Author Wendy Doniger reacts to Penguin India’s decision to withdraw and destroy the remaining copies of her book, The Hindus: An Alternative History in compliance with an out-of-court settlement with a Hindu right wing group
By Team FI
Author Wendy Doniger, in her statement, defended the publisher and stated that Penguin India had agreed to bring out the book despite its controversial subject and fought the case for four years. Doniger said that it was the law of the country that caused the trouble since the law has made publishing a book that offends Hindus a criminal offence. She also expressed her anguish at how this affects free speech in the country.
Shiksha Bachao Andolan, allegedly a Hindu right wing group, had filed a criminal suit in 2011 seeking a ban on the book – The Hindus: An Alternative History by arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus. One of the offending sentences in the book, according to Shiksha Bachao Andolan is the statement that Ramayana is a work of fiction.
An out-of-court settlement was reached between the group and the publisher on February 4, the terms of which was leaked to the media. As per the settlement, Penguin India has six months to recall and pulp the remaining copies of the book and stop its further publishing.
Here is the full text of the statement issued by Wendy Doniger:
I have had literally hundreds of requests for interviews, in various
media, and I can’t do them all. So here is a statement that you may use. I hope
it’s enough; it’s the best I can do right now. I intend to write a longer article for
publication in a couple of weeks.
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. 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quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to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.
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 jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter
how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book. An example at random,
from the lawsuit in question:
‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by
declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical
contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who
lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian
Penal Code (IPC). ‘
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.
Yours with gratitude for your courage and compassion,