Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  The latest twist in the Aleph-Wendy Doniger case

Weeks after publishers Penguin India withdrew copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History by American scholar Wendy Doniger, there was confusion on Wednesday whether a previous book by the same author had been withdrawn by its publisher.

The Times of India reported on Wednesday that booksellers in Karnataka had been told by publishing imprint Aleph Book Co. to return all copies of Doniger’s On Hinduism, a hefty volume of essays published last year.

It appeared to be a preemptive measure in response to threats of legal action by Delhi-based Dinanath Batra and his group Shiksha Bachao Andolan, protests by which had forced Penguin to withdraw The Hindus: An Alternative History.

Repeated attempts by Mint to contact Aleph founders R.K. Mehra of Rupa Publications India and David Davidar by phone and text messages elicited no response.

A statement was released by Aleph on Wednesday afternoon on Facebook, referring to the report. It said, “We are not aware of any such thing except that we are looking forward to the right resolution of the situation." The statement was attributed to R.T. Das, regional manager of South India for Rupa.

An employee of Blossom Book House in Bangalore confirmed over the phone that “a manager representing Aleph" had telephoned the shop “yesterday (Tuesday) morning and asked us to send back copies of On Hinduism". The shop didn’t have any copies to send back.

However, Anuj Bahri, of the popular Delhi bookshop Bahrisons, said via a text message that no such call had been made to Bahrisons and that there had been no communication of any kind from Aleph regarding Doniger’s book. Two other Delhi bookshops, Midlands and The Book Shop, said much the same thing.

Batra, whose protests last month forced Penguin to recall and pulp all copies of Doniger’s The Hindus, said on Wednesday, “Yes, we served a legal notice two or three days ago to Aleph to withdraw this book."

The book On Hinduism, he complained, “just like Doniger’s other book, is derogatory towards our gods and towards Hindutva."

He was unimpressed by the controversy generated by The Hindus, which has been available on the Indian market since 2009 and is still available to buy online. “What controversy? So many people are saying so many things. Some may be not in favour. But I have received so many favourable comments and letters." He said he was not against freedom of speech but will take whatever legal recourse is necessary to “protect" his faith from the “malign, colonial intentions of ill-wishers".

Last month, Batra said in an interview that he would turn his attention to Aleph and On Hinduism next.

Aleph did not display On Hinduism at its stall during the recent World Book Fair in Delhi. Protestors disrupted a reading from Doniger’s The Hindus by teachers and students from Delhi University and the Indian Institute for Mass Communication on 16 February, the first day of the book fair. A substantial police presence was necessary, according to newspaper reports, to keep order.

Doniger herself has supported Penguin India’s action in settling out of court. In a statement about her publisher’s decision to pulp The Hindus, she maintained that Penguin India was “finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense 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 a book."

In an email, the Sankritist Sheldon Pollack, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia University, New York, wrote that he wished he “had some light to shed on the matter instead of just questions".

He added, “In an election year, does the Bharatiya Janata Party/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh want to seem tough on those insulting Hindus to win votes, or could that backfire and the electorate be offended by the attack on freedom of expression?"

Prakash Sharma, of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, when contacted for a profile of Dinanath Batra some weeks ago, said that “the VHP is following as Batraji leads. Anybody who insults our tradition and culture will not be tolerated."

Batra insisted, back then as well as on the phone on Wednesday morning, that he does not condone threats or violence but only legal means to stymie and have withdrawn or changed books and texts of which he does not approve.

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