Intolerable surrender

With the publisher’s cave-in on Wendy Doniger’s book, the republic of ideas and debate shrinks again.

Published:February 12, 2014 2:01 am

With the publisher’s cave-in on Wendy Doniger’s book, the republic of ideas and debate shrinks again.

With a stroke of the pen on a legal document, the publisher, Penguin India, has committed to “recall, withdraw and pulp” all copies in the country of Wendy Doniger’s encyclopaedic and cautiously titled bestseller, The Hindus: An Alternative History. The commitment was made in an out-of-court settlement with a Delhi-based group called the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, which had dragged the publisher to court, claiming to be affronted by various aspects of the book, including nudity on its cover and its reading of changing renditions of the Ramayana narrative.

Capping four years of isolated agitations (in the United States, where Doniger is based, and India) against her analysis and the analytical tools she brings to her academic work, Penguin’s insupportable surrender to a legal petition is a chilling reminder of our progressively shrinking resolve to collectively contest assaults on free speech and debate.

It is a bewildering turn for the Indian arm of the publishing house that derives great pride for having pushed the envelope for free speech in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial in 1960s Britain. When a publisher does not defend to the last its writer’s right to be read — the book is available in overseas territories, so the pulping is not based on a rethink on the merits of the book — the republic of ideas and debate is in trouble. However, it is crucial to see the political and administrative landscape in which this development has come.

Prominent sections of the establishment in India have long abdicated their commitment to a defence of the written word, forsaking the liberal strategy of allowing a text to be contested legally — and legally alone — on whatever grouse, and instead even abetting intimidation as a tool for bringing censorship. It is to India’s shame that it was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Since then, through the vandalisation that hounded a scholarly biography of Shivaji out of circulation, the message has been clear.

The recent withdrawal by Oxford University Press and Delhi University of an essay by A.K. Ramanujan was a capitulation to expressions of intolerance by rightwing Hindutva groups similar to those aflutter about Doniger’s analysis.

The message they send is that contested analyses and narratives will not be challenged in debate, but debate on anything that agitated groups perceive to be unaligned to their puritanical, artificially compact worldview will be suffocated. They have got their way.

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  1. A
    aasare
    Feb 13, 2014 at 10:32 am
    If u are so much in awe of the book, y dont u pick up and publish it? Anyone can give this empty useless gyan
    Reply
    1. A
      aasare
      Feb 13, 2014 at 10:32 am
      If u are so much in awe of the book, y dont u pick up and publish it? Anyone can give this empty useless gyan
      Reply
      1. A
        AP
        Feb 12, 2014 at 1:22 am
        1. Write down such book about Islam and publish it and see what happens.2. The writer has not put the details based on any research or data analysis. it is just an idiosyncrasy.Putting baseless and outrageous comments about a something which may hurt peoples feeling is not the right.For example,, a statement in this book - "Ramayana was politically to make India free of Muslims and Christians and any others" is indication of a third cl mentality and shows that intentions of writing this book are not honest.
        Reply
        1. A
          AP
          Feb 12, 2014 at 1:22 am
          1. Write down such book about Islam and publish it and see what happens.2. The writer has not put the details based on any research or data analysis. it is just an idiosyncrasy.Putting baseless and outrageous comments about a something which may hurt peoples feeling is not the right.For example,, a statement in this book - "Ramayana was politically to make India free of Muslims and Christians and any others" is indication of a third cl mentality and shows that intentions of writing this book are not honest.
          Reply
          1. A
            anu
            Feb 12, 2014 at 5:02 am
            so sad we are turning more and more like our neighbor in the west...
            Reply
            1. R
              Rohit Dhakras
              Feb 13, 2014 at 7:25 am
              D. N. Batra has invoked Article 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits insulting religious communities, for successfully argue for banning the present book. And guess what is the history of this Article?It was imposed by the British in order to shield Islam from criticism. The reason for its enactment was the murder of Pandit Lekhram in 1897 by a Muslim because Lekhram had written a book criticizing Islam.And therein lies the tale. Our "Secular" parties and press have followed the British to the dot. I sincerely regret this withdrawal of the book. But would those deploring this guarantee that our "secular" government would not ban a publication critical of Islam? Is criticism of Islam allowed in our "secular" country? Observing past history I believe our "secular" press has woefully failed on this measure. I believe they have lost the right to criticise this latest disaster...
              Reply
              1. R
                Rohit Dhakras
                Feb 13, 2014 at 7:25 am
                D. N. Batra has invoked Article 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits insulting religious communities, for successfully argue for banning the present book. And guess what is the history of this Article?It was imposed by the British in order to shield Islam from criticism. The reason for its enactment was the murder of Pandit Lekhram in 1897 by a Muslim because Lekhram had written a book criticizing Islam.And therein lies the tale. Our "Secular" parties and press have followed the British to the dot. I sincerely regret this withdrawal of the book. But would those deploring this guarantee that our "secular" government would not ban a publication critical of Islam? Is criticism of Islam allowed in our "secular" country? Observing past history I believe our "secular" press has woefully failed on this measure. I believe they have lost the right to criticise this latest disaster...
                Reply
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                  Akshay
                  Feb 13, 2014 at 9:31 am
                  It is so sad to see Indians carrying Hindu names, love to flaunt that they are secularists and so they do not mind anyone bashing Hinduism.Look at a Muslim ...I salute every Muslim for his deep religiosity for his religion.He simply cannot stand anyone criticising his religion . The bottom-line is that one cannot play someone else's game by his/her own rules. So, does Lord Ganesha's trunk symbolize a limp phallus to Hindu believers? No, of course not. The symbolism and iconography related to Lord Ganesha is captured well in the Wikipedia entry on Ganesha. But influenced by Prof Paul Courtright's (an author) far-fetched claims, even the Baltimore Museum seemed to buy into Courtright's interpretation: that "Ganesha's trunk represents a 'limp phallus' so that Ganesha would not have with his mother, Parvati, in compeion with the 'hard ' of his father, Shiva." Do the secularists enjoy such lurid obscene sentences in such so called 'great books'?
                  Reply
                  1. A
                    Akshay
                    Feb 13, 2014 at 9:31 am
                    It is so sad to see Indians carrying Hindu names, love to flaunt that they are secularists and so they do not mind anyone bashing Hinduism.Look at a Muslim ...I salute every Muslim for his deep religiosity for his religion.He simply cannot stand anyone criticising his religion . The bottom-line is that one cannot play someone else's game by his/her own rules. So, does Lord Ganesha's trunk symbolize a limp phallus to Hindu believers? No, of course not. The symbolism and iconography related to Lord Ganesha is captured well in the Wikipedia entry on Ganesha. But influenced by Prof Paul Courtright's (an author) far-fetched claims, even the Baltimore Museum seemed to buy into Courtright's interpretation: that "Ganesha's trunk represents a 'limp phallus' so that Ganesha would not have with his mother, Parvati, in compeion with the 'hard ' of his father, Shiva." Do the secularists enjoy such lurid obscene sentences in such so called 'great books'?
                    Reply
                    1. J
                      Javed
                      Feb 12, 2014 at 1:48 am
                      This rise of Fascism in India must be stopped. Writers and artists must protest against this - and other bans on literature. How can these writers and publishers hold yet another literary festival and look us readers in the eye again?!
                      Reply
                      1. J
                        Javed
                        Feb 12, 2014 at 1:48 am
                        This rise of Fascism in India must be stopped. Writers and artists must protest against this - and other bans on literature. How can these writers and publishers hold yet another literary festival and look us readers in the eye again?!
                        Reply
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                          DR SUDHA
                          Feb 13, 2014 at 10:55 pm
                          Scholarship does not enle any one to hurt the sentiments and write perversely .what we need is not scholarship alone BUT character. and in depth under standing.Just b cos I am intelligent I am not enled to write any thing and justify with my cunning eloquence.Get over the slavish atude of any thing west and western ideas . especially our media personnel and so called pseudo intellectuals.can you write any non sense about the queen of England and Sonia hi and get away ???. un criticized ?/ all under the excuse of freedom of speech ?
                          Reply
                          1. D
                            DR SUDHA
                            Feb 13, 2014 at 10:55 pm
                            Scholarship does not enle any one to hurt the sentiments and write perversely .what we need is not scholarship alone BUT character. and in depth under standing.Just b cos I am intelligent I am not enled to write any thing and justify with my cunning eloquence.Get over the slavish atude of any thing west and western ideas . especially our media personnel and so called pseudo intellectuals.can you write any non sense about the queen of England and Sonia hi and get away ???. un criticized ?/ all under the excuse of freedom of speech ?
                            Reply
                            1. P
                              prodeeptoc
                              Feb 12, 2014 at 5:23 am
                              Why do we need somebody to pinpoint and show us that "this is what u can't read?" and "this is what u can?" or "this is truth?" and "this is false?" why can't we be the masters of our own choice and have the liberty- which as a matter of fact what our Consution provides- to read, comprehend, accept or as a matter of fact- reject, if i don't like / agree to what i just read. do i sense here a false pride and a jealousy on the part of the people voicing against the book that she is a "foreigner" and had the "audacity" to write on this subject- i am not sure.all the writers over the centuries who have delved into abstract topics (if i m at the liberty to use this word) like religion, mythology, history, indology et al have repeatedly purported that there can in fact be no single universal "truth" about hinduism. the truth will transform itself with time, perspective and and the comprehensibility and open-mindedness (or lack thereof) of the writer. I have read her other books and have found them very informative and most importantly she refers and takes references heavily from other authors, articles and books some infact being written by other indian scholars of immense repute. i am a hindu and rather than being angry, i owe a lot to her that her books as well as books by other indian scholars that it has given me a better understanding of my religion.felt bad but can't blame penguin india- they have to do business here after all. as a matter the ban has actually boosted my interest in the book (sic)and most importantly, i don't know and understand what the groups are celebrating about. just got a copy of the BANNED book on my mail from a friend and looking forward to devour it.. the book in pdf and ebook formats is available for free downloads and much like me a lot are going to do the same.
                              Reply
                              1. P
                                prodeeptoc
                                Feb 12, 2014 at 5:23 am
                                Why do we need somebody to pinpoint and show us that "this is what u can't read?" and "this is what u can?" or "this is truth?" and "this is false?" why can't we be the masters of our own choice and have the liberty- which as a matter of fact what our Consution provides- to read, comprehend, accept or as a matter of fact- reject, if i don't like / agree to what i just read. do i sense here a false pride and a jealousy on the part of the people voicing against the book that she is a "foreigner" and had the "audacity" to write on this subject- i am not sure.all the writers over the centuries who have delved into abstract topics (if i m at the liberty to use this word) like religion, mythology, history, indology et al have repeatedly purported that there can in fact be no single universal "truth" about hinduism. the truth will transform itself with time, perspective and and the comprehensibility and open-mindedness (or lack thereof) of the writer. I have read her other books and have found them very informative and most importantly she refers and takes references heavily from other authors, articles and books some infact being written by other indian scholars of immense repute. i am a hindu and rather than being angry, i owe a lot to her that her books as well as books by other indian scholars that it has given me a better understanding of my religion.felt bad but can't blame penguin india- they have to do business here after all. as a matter the ban has actually boosted my interest in the book (sic)and most importantly, i don't know and understand what the groups are celebrating about. just got a copy of the BANNED book on my mail from a friend and looking forward to devour it.. the book in pdf and ebook formats is available for free downloads and much like me a lot are going to do the same.
                                Reply
                                1. S
                                  sairama
                                  Feb 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm
                                  Sorry to say, i have no interest in whatever is written in the book. Talk of surrendering the free speech is a non sense. She has written something that is objectionable to group of people. Human beings are unique they don't have the same thought on everything. They have gone to court to settle the dispute. Publisher and the author did not back the book and they made a settlement to remove it. If the author truly believed in whatever she has written with facts, she should have defended the case leave alone the publisher. Please don't say Freedom of Speech is restricted. I wont buy the in this case. Nothing comes free, you need to fight for whatever you believe.
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    sairama
                                    Feb 14, 2014 at 4:37 pm
                                    Sorry to say, i have no interest in whatever is written in the book. Talk of surrendering the free speech is a non sense. She has written something that is objectionable to group of people. Human beings are unique they don't have the same thought on everything. They have gone to court to settle the dispute. Publisher and the author did not back the book and they made a settlement to remove it. If the author truly believed in whatever she has written with facts, she should have defended the case leave alone the publisher. Please don't say Freedom of Speech is restricted. I wont buy the in this case. Nothing comes free, you need to fight for whatever you believe.
                                    Reply
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