Penguin India has agreed to withdraw American Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History from the Indian market following an out-of-court settlement with Delhi-based complainants, who had moved the court alleging “distortion” aimed at “denigrating Hindu traditions.”
While a scanned copy of the settlement was circulating on the Internet since morning, Penguin India remained non-committal. “We have nothing to say,” was the official line with senior members of the publishing house refusing to confirm or deny the veracity of the document.
Ms. Doniger said she was “deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate.”
However, she was full of praise for Penguin’s efforts to save the book. “Penguin India took this book 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.”
The publisher, she said, was finally defeated by the “true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence 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.”
As word got around, Penguin India came in for flak. Describing the decision as “atrocious,” Union Minister Jairam Ramesh said: “The book is not blasphemous. She is a scholar without any political agenda. The organisation that demanded Penguin take such action is clearly some Taliban-type outfit. It is distorting and destroying our liberal traditions.”
Swapan Dasgupta, who describes himself as “politically conservative,” tweeted: “Very uneasy about Penguin decision on Wendy Doniger book. Ideas & academic studies however contentious cannot be handled by censorship.” In its 2011 case, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee (SBAC) said the book intended to defame Hindus and denigrate Hindu traditions.
As per the February 4 settlement posted on social media by SBAC, Penguin India has agreed to that the book is “completely withdrawn/cleared from the Bharat (Indian territory) at the earliest and within a period not exceeding six months.”
Penguin India has also given an undertaking that it “respects all religions worldwide.” It has got an assurance that all civil and criminal cases/complaints would be withdrawn.