Thursday, February 13, 2014

Book withdrawal in India criticised for limiting freedom of expression

Cover of the book withdrawn by Penguin India
NEW DELHI (AA) – Publishing house Penguin India's decision to withdraw a book considered offensive to some Hindus was criticised by Indian campaigners on Thusday.
University of Chicago Professor Wendy Doniger's book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, was withdrawn as part of a court-backed legal settlement between Penguin India and right-wing Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan (Save Education Organization). 
Ram Puniyani, from the All India Secular Forum, an NGO which promotes inter-communal harmony, criticized the decision for impacting freedoms in India. 
 “The pulping of the book Hinduism by Doniger as a part of the out-of-court settlement once again shows the shrinking liberal space in the face of rising communal politics,” Puniyani told AA.
The book, published in 2009, prompted legal action from the right-wing group in 2010. They claimed the book “insulted” the Hindu religion and “promoted enmity” between groups.
Puniyani said that the right-wing organization led by Dinanath Batra supports Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who gave birth to India’s main ppposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Their objection to the book shows that their claim that Hinduism is most tolerant is for saying’s sake. The RSS vision of Hinduism is very narrow and Brahmanical,” Puniyani said. “Doniger’s work is a well-researched scholarly work.” 
Puniyani said this was not the first example of communal forces succeeding in getting books banned. “This episode also reminds us of book bans of Taslima Nasreen, Salman Rushdie and hounding of M.F. Hussain,” he said.
“If the publishers of the stature of Penguin can be made to buckle to ferocity of this politics with religious identity, one should know that matters can go to any extent to wipe out our plural and diverse heritage,” he said.
Arundhati Roy, a Booker-prize winner writer whose books are published by Penguin, wrote an open letter to the publishing house on Thursday, demanding to know why Penguin withdrew the book.
“Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are?” Roy wrote.
“You have published some of the greatest writers in history. You have stood by them as publishers should, you have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement,” Roy wrote.
A collection of 27 writers and academic signed a press statement also describing the move as “pulping intellectual freedom”. 
Rakesh Sharma, an independent documentary film-maker told AA that the “settlement” could set a precedent for the future.

“In Mumbai, a play was withdrawn last week upon Hindutva brigade objections. Today, the target is a book. Our films, especially political documentaries, have always been on the radar. ‘Objectionable’ paintings, exhibitions and installations have been routinely vandalized in the last decade,” said Sharma.
Anadolu Agency, February 13, 2014

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