Home / Industry / Wendy Doniger’s book withdrawn to protect employees, follow law: Penguin

New Delhi: Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd on Friday echoed Wendy Doniger, the American author of The Hindus: An Alternative History, blaming the Indian penal code for its decision to withdraw and pulp the book.

In a statement, it also hinted for the first time that its employees faced “threats and harassment" over the book that some Hindu right wing protesters claimed insulted Hindus.

“We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence ot some segemens of our readership," Penguin said in a statement.

“We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295 (A) of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law."

The restrictive law, Penguin said, is “an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative fredoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights."

At the same time, the publisher said, it had an obligation to respect the laws of the land. “We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can."

Penguin, which has been fiercely criticised for withdrawing The Hindu, said it has “always believed in even individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution."

Doniger, whose book was withdrawn from bookstores following a four-year legal case between Penguin and a small number of Hindu right-wing critics, also said on Wednesday that Section 295 (A) rather than Penguin was to blame for the publisher’s controversial move.

The American academic said she is “deeply troubled" by the move’s implications for free speech in what she called India’s “steadily worsening political climate."

“As a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books will be pulped," said Doniger. But she refused to blame Penguin Books for its decision to withdraw and pulp copies of The Hindus... after protests by right-wing groups.

Instead, she said in a statement released on Wednesday, it is Indian law that is to blame.

“I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate."

But, she added, “Penguin India took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit."

“They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against the book," Doniger said.

An example of such accusations, she said, was the allegation by her critics that her book “has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction."

The book breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code by contending that “placing the Ramayana in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who lived at various times."

However, the author said she was “glad" that it was no longer possible to suppress books in the age of the Internet. “The Hindus... is available on Kindle; and if legal means of publication fail, the Internet has other ways of keeping books in circulation."

“People in India will always be able to read books of all sorts, including some that may offend some Hindus," she added.

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