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In the ongoing debate between Rhodes scholar Dr Megha Kumar and her publisher Orient BlackSwan regarding her book on sexual violence in Ahmedabad during the communal riots there in 1969, 1985 and 2002, the publisher has told the author she would be “required to revise paragraphs”.
Pulling the book back after putting it up for sale on their website and selling copies in April this year, as a peremptory response to the Shiksha Bachao Andolan’s petition against another book on Indian history they published, Orient BlackSwan said Kumar’s book may attract Section 153A of the IPC. The publisher said the author would “be required to revise” portions of the book and they would intimate her about it.
Orient BlackSwan had told The Indian Express on June 2, 2014 that they are in the process of responding to Shiksha Bachao Andolan founder Dina Nath Batra’s objections to another book on modern India called From Plassey to Partition by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, published more than a decade ago. The publishers said they were “reviewing” the book on Ahmedabad despite no attention being drawn to it.
Quoting former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, the publishers, in a letter to the author last week, said, “In view of the tone, tenor and provocative language in many parts of the book, Section 153A of the IPC may well be attracted… it is no defence to a charge under this section that the writing contains a truthful account of past events or is otherwise supported by good authority. Adherence to the strict path of history is not by itself a complete defence to a charge under this section.”
When contacted, Mimi Choudhury of Orient BlackSwan said they remain committed to “publishing books of academic quality and to defending its authors”.
“If, however, our lawyers advise us that certain books may, in part or full, be likely to be seen as violating one or more provisions of the law, we will, in pursuance of our sense of responsibility and commitment to our authors, pause and assess. As publishers, we are not above the law as it stands on the freedom of expression,” Choudhury said.
On the issue of Bandyopadhyay’s book, Choudhury said, “We have responded to the legal notice served on us by Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan for a textbook titled From Plassey to Partition. We have asserted the quality of its scholarship and have not agreed to make any changes. We will not withdraw From Plassey to Partition.”
Kumar said she was surprised the publishers were quoting selectively from Sorabjee’s opinion on judgements and interpretations. “The letter apparently assumes that my writing is ‘calculated to promote feelings of enmity’ between Hindus and Muslims, the book is in fact clearly a scholarly attempt to understand and thereby help prevent such inter-religious enmity — a fact of which the publisher must be aware. It therefore seems perverse and illogical to conclude that the book requires revising,” Kumar said.
Soli Sorabjee could not be contacted for a comment.