Right-wing protesters on Saturday disrupted a session — on the first day of the New Delhi World Book Fair at Pragati Maidan — where American Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History was being read by teachers from Indian Institute of Mass Communication and other members of Delhi University.
Led by the Hindu Sena, some members of the group threatened the students and teachers for reading from a book that they said vilified Hindu gods and goddesses.
Heavy police presence at the venue prevented the situation from getting out of hand even as the placard-wielding disrupters made disparaging comments about those reading from the book and threw pamphlets at them.
IIMC Associate Professor Anand Pradhan said the session was organised in support of freedom of expression.
“We are raising our voice against the way the right-wing forces are trying to curb freedom of speech and expression. It is shameful that a prominent publishing house like Penguin Books India has capitulated by withdrawing Doniger’s book. Eventually, it is the reader’s prerogative whether they want to accept or reject a particular book. It is not a question of supporting a book but to speak against the way different type of State and non-State actors are trying to ban freedom of speech and expression.”
Speaking against the growing intolerance in the country, IIMC Associate Professor Amit Sengupta said Ms. Doniger’s book was withdrawn simply because someone in the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samithi, which took Penguin India to court, raised objections.
Noting that this Taliban-kind of mentality would not work, Prof. Sengupta cited past instances when books were banned. “Under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists, Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen’s book was banned by the West Bengal government. Similarly, James Laine’s book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India was also banned. Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah was banned by Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Tomorrow, the RSS might demand that Romila Thapar’s A History of India and D.S. Jha’s book Holy Cow: Beef in Indian Dietary Traditions be banned. Why should any publishing house cave in to such demands?”
He said Ms. Doniger’s book was available across the world. “No one has asked that books written by German dictator Adolf Hitler or Golwalkar be banned.”
Neena, one of the protesters supporting the Hindu Sena, said Penguin had withdrawn the controversial book because it denigrated Hindu gods and goddesses. “I am not a member of Hindu Sena but am protesting against the reading because we do not want lessons in history from a Hindu-hating author like Doniger. Why were these liberal voices quiet when The Red Sari, a book about Sonia Gandhi, was banned? As part of the settlement between the two parties, accepted by the Saket district court, Penguin Books India announced that it would withdraw all copies of the book from all Indian stores.”
Vishnu Gupta of the Hindu Sena said: “How can the police stop us from expressing our opinion, while allowing them to read excerpts from the withdrawn book which has hurt the sentiments of Hindus?”