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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. A
    anu
    Feb 12, 2014 at 5:02 am
    so sad we are turning more and more like our neighbor in the west...
    Reply
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
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