Sunday, March 02, 2014

Wendy Doniger's mischievous twist

"The Hindus: An alternative history", a book written by Wendy Doniger was recently withdrawn by its publishers, Penguin Books India. The decision was in response to a petition filed by an "aggrieved person" in a court of law. There was no orchestrated violence to browbeat the publishers; the book is not a recent one; neither is the petition.

The publishers' decision has been criticised as a surrender to lumpen elements. Whether this criticism is valid or not, withdrawal of the book, to the extent it was not entirely voluntary, is an infringement of freedom of expression and therefore whatever or whoever coerced the publishers deserves condemnation.

Having said this, it is unfortunate that the author has issued a statement that is tendentious and mischievous. The mischief is contained in a sentence (noticed hereunder in colour):

" I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I
received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I
have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media
people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help
me in any way they could. 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. And as a publisher’s
daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless
they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be
pulped. But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just
quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to
save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir
anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the 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 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"

The author ought to know that the law under reference is meant not to protect the Hindus alone. A historian supposedly researching Hindus can indulge in this kind of misinformation only at the cost of her credibility.

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