Saturday 26 May 2018

Publisher Penguin India destroys copies of 'alternative history' to Hinduism

Writers have condemned Penguin India's decision to withdraw a book on Hinduism from sale
Writers have condemned Penguin India's decision to withdraw a book on Hinduism from sale

All copies of an American scholar's history of Hinduism have been withdrawn from sale in India after pressure from a small Hindu nationalist group.

Penguin India publishing house has ordered the books destroyed.

The group Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, or the Save Education Movement, had objected to religious historian Wendy Doniger's 2009 book, The Hindus: An Alternative History for describing mythological texts as fictional and, thus, hurting "the religious feelings of millions of Hindus," according to a lawsuit filed against Penguin India.

A leader of the group filed the lawsuit in 2010 against the Indian publishing house as well as the New York-based arm Penguin Group. Now Penguin India has said that, as part of a case settlement, it is ordering all Indian sales of the book to cease and all copies to be pulped.

By today, bookstores in the capital of New Delhi were refusing to sell any copies.

The action stunned writers and intellectuals in India, with many wondering how one of the world's oldest publishing houses had given in to demands by right-wing nationalists.

Some worried it was a sign of growing intolerance of dissent in India, with the country's main Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi, campaigning aggressively for this year's elections.

"You have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement," novelist and rights activist Arundhati Roy wrote in a letter to the publisher printed today in the Times of India.

Ms Roy, best known for her Booker-prize winning novel God of Small Things, is also published by Penguin, though she suggested she may rethink the relationship.

"You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least," she wrote, saying the publisher's decision "affects us all."

Ms Doniger is not the first author to be silenced by religious or political conservatives in India. In 2011, the state of Gujarat where Mr Modi has held the top office for 12 years banned Joseph Lelyveld's biography on Mohandas K. Gandhi, after reviews suggested Gandhi had a homosexual relationship.

Ms Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago, said this week she was "angry and disappointed," as well as "deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate."

While regretting that thousands of copies would be pulped, she hinted that Indians would still be able to read the book if they wanted on Kindle or possibly through other online postings.

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