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The decision by Penguin India to withdraw all copies of the controversial book on Hinduism by Wendy Doniger is not an act of government censorship. It is a private agreement by the publisher in response to a case against it in the courts.

But that does not make the action any less disturbing. One does not necessarily have to agree with her analysis of Hinduism to see that it is wrong to deny a scholar her right to say what she wants to. It is a further indication of a growing intolerance in Indian society across its several fault lines.

Independent India began on the wrong foot. The number of books banned in the 1950s is far higher than in any subsequent decade. The number of bans has actually fallen in subsequent decades. But we are now seeing a revival in the belief that people need to be protected from books that the self-appointed guardians of culture deem to be harmful.

A confident society should actually welcome ideas that challenge its assumptions.

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