In what’s very upsetting news to anyone who respects intellectual and academic freedom, Penguin India has agreed to recall all remaining Indian copies of scholar Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History as a result of an agreement with several Hindu groups. The entire agreement was leaked to Scribd and you can read it here. All remaining Indian copies of the book will be destroyed.
First published in 2009, DNAIndia points out that The Hindus was the top bestselling nonfiction book in India that year. Despite that, some groups targeted the book right away. A 2010 petition by the Sarasvati Research Trust claimed the book was “rife with numerous errors in its historical facts and Sanskrit translations.”
Even worse was the legal notice sent by the activist Dina Nath Batra to both Doniger and Penguin India (I’ve put the most horrifying points in bold):
- That it is a shallow, distorted and non serious presentation of Hinduism.
- That it is a haphazard presentation riddled with heresies and factual inaccuracies.
- That it is written with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light.
- That the entire list of the books authored by Doniger concentrate and focus on the negative aspects and evil practices prevalent in Hinduism.
- That the words used by Doniger for referring to various Hindu Gods are highly objectionable.
- That on the book jacket of the book Lord Krishna is shown sitting on buttocks of a naked woman surrounded by other naked women.
- That Doniger depicted Lord Krishna in such a vulgar, base perverse manner to outrage religious feelings of Hindus.
- That Doniger’s approach has been jaundiced, and “is that of a woman hungry of sex.”
I can’t even on that last one. As for Doniger herself, she released a statement through PEN Delhi’s Facebook page. An excerpt:
…I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped. But 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 Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book.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.
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 jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.
Doniger later points out that in the age of the Internet, it is impossible to truly suppress a book and that The Hindus will remain available on Kindle. If you’d like to purchase a copy in solidarity, the link is here.