January 24, 2021
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Dinanath Batra vs Pusillanimous Publishers, Again

Dinanath Batra vs Pusillanimous Publishers, Again
Dinanath Batra vs Pusillanimous Publishers, Again

Publishers Orient Blackswan (OBS), recently received a notice from Dinanath Batra, the convener of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS), for the textbook, Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India by Sekhar Bandopadhyay, a history professor at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, was defamatory and derogatory to the RSS.

Batra had recently been in the news for forcing publishers Penguin to withdraw Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History, and Aleph to undertake that they would reprint her book On Hinduism only after a review by lawyers, independent writers and scholars.

Citing concern for the security of authors, staff and their families, OBS in turn decided that they would do a “pre-release assessment of books that might attract similar reactions” and among the books they decided to hold back from release was Megha Kumar's Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969, and they wrote to her saying that her book would not be released "for the present" until a “comprehensive assessment has been made and advice obtained.”

Kumar, who holds a DPhil and an MSt in colonial South Asian history from Balliol College, University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and a BA from the University of Delhi, and has held the Past and Present Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and taught South Asian history and politics at Oxford, contests the publisher's claims and points out that the book had already been on sale from the OBS website since April 15.

Given the fact that Kumar's book revolves around communal and sexual violence in the Ahmedabad riots of 1969, 1985 and 2002, the political implications of the decision was bound to raise concerns about specific pressure being brought on the publisher.

Writing in the Indian Express, Seema Chishti quotes Mimi Choudhury, publisher, Higher Academic Social Sciences, Orient BlackSwan, as saying:

“We have not withdrawn Megha Kumar’s book. We are simply reviewing it in the wake of a legal notice that was served on us by Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan for a textbook titled From Plassey to Partition… In the context of the legal notice, Orient BlackSwan has decided to identify and review again books — those already published as well as those under consideration.”

“The academic merit of a book is always judged by an established academic in the field. Megha Kumar’s book will be reviewed by an academic; the recommended changes, if any, will be discussed with the author. The book will be published following the review and revision, if any.”

But Kumar underlines that the book had “been printed following thorough peer review and systematic copyediting between June 2013, when the first draft of the manuscript was submitted, and March 14, when the book went to press”.

Chishti quotes Kumar as saying:

“Should these trends gather momentum in the wake of the recent electoral transition — my book is not the first to evoke such a response from a reputed publisher — there will be profound adverse consequences for academic publishing, universities and other educational institutions. Moreover, given the frequency and brutality of sexual violence against women in India, withholding research on this important subject seems particularly damaging.”

Writing in the Hindu, Anita Joshua adds:

Waltraud Ernst, one of the four editors of the series ‘Critical Thinking in South Asian History’, under which Ms. Kumar’s book was published, wrote to the publisher: “I find it very difficult indeed to fathom the severity of what is going on here in regard to what seems to me to be politically motivated interference with academic freedom. I would be most grateful for reassurance that all this has been a mistake.”

When contacted, Prof. Ernst, an adjunct professor at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bangalore, and Prof. Bandyopadhy, who is also a series editor, told The Hindu that under the circumstances it was understandable why the publishers resorted to such action. “What is to be done when the IPC becomes relevant to the way professional history is written?’’ said Prof. Ernst.

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