Penguin, Wendy Doniger blame 'intolerant' Indian laws for withdrawal of 'The Hindus'

Written by Ivinder Gill | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 14 2014, 22:03pm hrs
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 Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book.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 piecethe 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 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 wrote.

The decision to withdraw the book was the result of Penguin's agreement earlier this week with Delhi-based group Shiksha Bachao Andolan, which had filed a civil suit against the publisher over the book in 2011. There were two other complaints against the book, one filed in 2010 and another in 2013. The main contention of all petitioners was that the book insulted and offended Hindus and Indians. The issues ranged from factual errors, mis-translations, maps and dates to use of psychoanalytical tools while viewing Vedic, Hindu and Indian gods.

About a month back, Bloomsbury India had recalled 'The Descent Of Air India' by Jitender Bhargava following an out-of-court settlement between Praful Patel and the publishing firm.