Publishing house Bloomsbury India Saturday announced that it was withdrawing a book on Delhi riots, after backlash over the announcement of a launch event with BJP leader Kapil Mishra among “guests of honour”.
Titled Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story, the book was due out in September.
The 190-page book, authored by Delhi University teachers Sonali Chitalkar and Prerna Malhotra, and advocate Monika Arora, suggests the riots were orchestrated by “jihadis” and “urban Naxals”, had links with the Islamic State, and involved “professional sharpshooters”. It also links the anti-CAA protests at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh to the riots, and states that “in key areas”, “Muslim mobs” were the instigators.
Mishra had given a speech in Northeast Delhi on February 23, seeking that the protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act be removed from a site in the area, a day before the riots broke out. Between February 24 and 26, 53 people were killed in the violence.
In its statement, Bloomsbury India said, “In view of very recent events, including a virtual pre-publication launch organised without our knowledge by the authors, with participation by parties of whom the publishers would not have approved, we have decided to withdraw publication of the book.”
The virtual event, where the book was “launched” by BJP MP and national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, went ahead as planned. At the event, Yadav said he agreed with the authors that there should be an independent inquiry into “foreign funding”, and criticised the “unnecessary protest” against the book. “It shows that the so-called liberals don’t remain liberal when the truth comes out… Liberalism is actually India’s ideology, which accepts all kinds of ideas.”
Calling the criticism of the book a “campaign against writers”, Mishra said at the launch, “Freedom of expression ke thekedaar ek kitaab se darr gaye hain, yeh kahin market mein naa aa jaye, kahin publish naa ho jaaye (Those claiming to be custodians of the freedom of expression are scared of a book, that it should not come into the market, that it should not get published)… I would like to congratulate the authors that this is the strength of your book that they are scared.” He said no power could stop the book from coming out.
Chitalkar, who teaches political science at Delhi University’s Miranda House college, told The Sunday Express that Bloomsbury India had not sent any official communication to them regarding withdrawal of the publication of the book. She also claimed that the publishing house “ knew about the launch”.
Chitalkar called the incident “our Charlie Hebdo moment”, comparing it to the attack that killed 12 at the French satirical newspaper following the publication of a cartoon on Prophet Mohammed. “The publishers should have spoken to us first. Without even reading, a lobby has pressured the publishers to withdraw a book… We have spoken to both the communities, their people and leaders.”
Malhotra, who teaches English at Ram Lal Anand College, said, “If an international publisher like Bloomsbury comes under Left lobby pressure, it’s a sorry state of affairs. We have brought out truth in our book. The publishers have no problem with the content; the book underwent several levels of scrutiny.”
Unlike Chitalkar, Malhotra said the event was organised by the authors without collaboration with Bloomsbury, and defended their choice to call Mishra. “He has not been convicted or charged. Personally, I feel whatever he said did not trigger the riots. That narrative was manufactured.”
Co-author Arora said the people targeting the book on social media platforms should not be called liberals. “They can’t tolerate Kapil Mishra, they cannot tolerate anyone who doesn’t agree with them… This is not the India where the Congress had the political space and the Leftists the mind space… Because the Modi government has come, all narratives are allowed,” she said.
The book claims the plan for the riots was set in motion in December, when protests against the CAA took place at Jamia Millia Islamia. “There are possibilities that PFI (People’s Front of India) or ISIS might have provided the lists of targeted individuals as most of the targets of Islamic mob snipers were individuals who either belonged to security forces — police, intelligence agencies — or persons belonging to Hindu organisations.”
The authors say, “… in key areas in Northeast Delhi like Shiv Vihar, which saw horrendous violence, the first attack was made by Muslim mobs”.
In its statement saying it was withdrawing the book, Bloomsbury India said the plan was to release the book, “purportedly giving a factual report on the riots in Delhi in February 2020, based on investigations and interviews conducted by the authors”, in September.
It added that it “strongly supports freedom of speech but also has a deep sense of responsibility towards society”.
In his speech at the launch, Yadav raised the anti-CAA protests, and said the starting point was for people to decide if they believe in the Constitution. “The people of Shaheen Bagh who protested, we have no problem with that, people can stage dharnas anywhere. But tell me one speech in which they said the rights of minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan should be safeguarded.”
The BJP Rajya Sabha MP said that, like the book urged, there should be an investigation into foreign funding, their network, and serious thought given to “some people radicalising a particular religion”. “People on the ground do not want to fight, people who are outsiders… make them fight.”
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