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Finally breaking its silence on the withdrawal of Wendy Doniger's book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, Penguin Books India on Friday blamed the Indian Penal Code (IPC), particularly Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) for its decision.
“A publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular Section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law,” said a statement issued by the publisher.
The statement added that the company has “a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can”.
Stating that it stands by its original decision to publish The Hindus, “just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership”, Penguin India said international editions of Doniger's book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.
Interestingly, even Wendy Doniger opted not to blame Penguin for the withdrawal, but Indian laws. In an e-mail to FE, Doniger stated: “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 Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book.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 added: “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.”
Doniger said in the e-mail that she was glad that in the age of the