Banned book: The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani HarperCollins, 1998
Status: Injunction against the book in 1998
So the same kind of people who sneered at an Indian government for suppressing Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and thereby “appeasing” an over-sensitive minority are now in the business of book-banning too.
Penguin Books India’s craven decision to pulp its edition of US academic Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History is another example of publishers wilting without putting up a fight in court, in this instance to test the assertion by one Dina Nath Batra, of a Hindu nationalist outfit called Shiksha Bachao Andolan, that it insulted the feelings of a religious group.
The publisher is part of Penguin Random House, controlled by Germany’s Bertselsmann and Britain’s Pearson, perhaps the biggest force in world publishing. Presumably Mr Batra’s funding for litigation was not unlimited. Penguin could have well afforded to test his claim that the book fell afoul of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, making it a threat to civil order.
In previous cases of book suppression, usually on grounds of anticipated defamation, it was hard not to have some sympathy for publishers hopelessly outgunned by the legal firepower wielded by ultra-rich plaintiffs.
In the case of my book The Polyester Prince, about the Reliance patriarch Dhirubhai Ambani, my main surprise was that HarperCollins India, under Renuka Chatterjee, had the chutzpah to even attempt to publish. Threats to seek injunctions in every high court across India, and some heavy phone calls, got the edition pulped. The injunction, obtained without contest from a junior beak in the Tis Hazari court house, was a superfluous coup de grace. Ambani’s sons had the grace not to attempt the same with Roli Books’ updated version, Ambani & Sons, and let it stand or fall on its merits.
In a second case, the former civil aviation minister Praful Patel was not so nimble, and launched an action to have a book about his handling of Air India, by the airline’s former executive director Jitendra Bhargava, withdrawn from circulation. Before even trying to take the case up from the Mumbai metropolitan magistrate’s court, and argue the defamation issues, Bloomsbury India issued an abject apology and agreed to withdraw all copies from sale.
Taking on Big Money is always risky—look at the way Russian oligarchs and others go “defamation shopping” to London, where even starting a defence costs £200,000 (a single copy sold or downloaded will establish jurisdiction). But even before they are hit with the full force of the Internet or the cost of London barristers, India’s publishers are wilting badly. In the Olympian heights of the Supreme Court of India, the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech is recognised. It might help if this is passed down to lower benches.
As for Mr Batra and his shock at Indian gods and goddesses being seen through overly erotic lenses, at least he mounted a legal case. But it comes after the disgraceful hounding of the painter M.F. Husain out of India. Penguin’s capitulation will encourage the intolerant to think they can get their way without a fight.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT