Under fire from authors for easily giving up on the legal battle over American Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, Penguin Books India on Friday said it stood by the decision to publish her book but maintained that the British-vintage Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) made it difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression.
Breaking its silence three days after reaching an out-of-court settlement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samithi, which had moved the court against the book alleging “distortion” aimed at “denigrating Hindu traditions,” Penguin said it remained committed to every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression and “we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate.”
At the same time, Penguin said, 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 also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can.”
Flagging the problems arising out of certain laws, Penguin said: “The IPC, 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.” The publisher said the settlement was reached after a four-year legal process “in which Penguin defended the publication of the Indian edition.”
Ms. Doniger was full of praise for Penguin, saying other publishers had withdrawn books without making the effort Penguin made to save this book.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,” she said.