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The Hindus: 'Not A Ban, But A Surrender'

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Today's Developments

The legal notice sent by Dina Nath Batra to Wendy Doniger, Penguin Group (USA) Inc. and Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd:

Read from Outlook archives:

This is not a case of a ban, or censorship or overt or covert governmental or judicial censorship, this is a case instead of moral policing and an abject surrender by Penguin India, in abdication of their responsibility to stand by their author and fight the legal battle.

Salil Tripathi in the Mint: Penguin’s disappointing surrender

Last night I asked Doniger what she thought about her publisher’s decision. Deeply concerned, she told me: “Penguin has indeed given up the lawsuit, and will no longer publish the book. Of course, anyone with a computer can get the Kindle edition from Penguin, NY, and it’s probably cheaper, too. It is simply no longer possible to ban books in the age of the Internet. For that, and for all the people who have expressed outrage over this, I am deeply grateful.”

I also asked Penguin for its response. At the time of writing, Chiki Sarkar, Penguin’s publisher, had not replied.

Some of the reactions and discussions on Twitter:

SHORT TAKES
06 Mar 2014, 09:01:06 PM | Buzz

Wendy Doniger in the NYT: Banned in Bangalore

What is new, and heartening, this time is that the best are suddenly full of passionate intensity. The dormant liberal conscience of India was awakened by the stunning blow to freedom of speech that had been dealt by my publisher in giving in to the demands of the claimants, agreeing to take the book out of circulation and pulp all remaining copies.

I think the ugliness of the word “pulp” is what struck a nerve, conjuring up memories of “Fahrenheit 451” and Germany in the 1930s. The outrage had been pent up for many years, as other books, films, paintings and sculptures were forced out of circulation by a mounting wave of censorship.

My case was simply the last straw, in part because of its timing, just when many in India had begun to view with horror the likelihood that the elections in May will put into power Narendra Modi, a member of the ultra-right wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

If Mr. Batra’s intention was to keep people from reading the book, it certainly backfired: In India, not a single copy was destroyed (the publisher had only a few copies in stock, and those in bookstores quickly sold out), and e-books circulate freely. You cannot ban a book in the age of the Internet. Its sales rank on Amazon has been in single-digit heaven. “Banned in Boston” is a selling label.

12 Feb 2014, 11:31:14 PM | Buzz

Ashok Malik in NDTV: Op-ed: Wendy Doniger failed most by her publisher

This is particularly disconcerting because many suspect India is one long and determined legal battle away from ending the epidemic of intolerance that began with the ban on Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses in 1988. If a publisher were to stand up for the right to free expression and agree to fight it out in court right up to the Supreme Court, it would send a message and set a precedent. Unfortunately, if the publisher itself takes the line of least resistance, then the only non-fiction that will be seen as safe enough to release in India will be bland hagiography.

12 Feb 2014, 11:24:18 PM | Buzz
Shougat Dasgupta meets the 84-year young Dinanath Batra, the man behind the petition against Doniger: Dinanath Batra: Here comes the book police:
 
Batra says he is wedded to India’s core idea—unity in diversity. He insists that he does not discriminate between religions, that he will take on anyone who offends any religion. Indeed, he takes offence when his lawsuits are linked to the agenda of Hindutva. “Is it”, he asks, “Hindutva when we object to Bhagat Singh being described as a terrorist?” The first of Batra’s 10 lawsuits (by his own count) was against the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for up to 75 “objectionable passages” from various textbooks. It was, he says, the only battle he has lost, though he takes some solace in the fact “that those passages are being removed in newer editions”.

Perhaps, most notoriously, Batra was among those who moved the Delhi high court in 2008 to rule on dropping A.K. Ramanujan’s famous essay on the many, culturally specific versions of the Ramayana from Delhi University’s history syllabus.

15 Feb 2014, 02:40:56 AM | Buzz

Mukul Kesavan in the Telegraph: Penguin's Day In Court  - Pulping the Hindus

The settlement between Penguin and the Shiksha Bachao Andolan can’t be treated like the resolution of a private legal dispute. It is a public precedent and every author and publisher in India will have to live with its consequences. The principal consequence is this: the spectacle of one of India’s largest English trade publishers caving at the first stage of the legal process will encourage cruising bigots and demoralize other publishers and writers. If a book written by a distinguished academic not living in India, published by one of the great imprints of the world, can be scrubbed so easily, what chance does an unknown Indian writer have, given that she is more vulnerable to intimidation, has less recourse to public sympathy and is likely published by a smaller firm without Penguin’s resources?

If Penguin refuses to give The Hindus its day in court and remains silent on its reasons for withdrawing and pulping the book, it should redesign its logo to reflect its new Indian avatar. That much-loved upright bird should be retired and replaced by a prone tandoori penguin: plucked, headless and quite dead.

15 Feb 2014, 02:37:02 AM | Buzz

Jonathan Shainin in the New Yorker: Why Free Speech Loses in India:

In January, Bloomsbury India announced that it would voluntarily withdraw copies of “The Descent of Air India,” a book about the failing state-owned airline, written by Jitender Bhargava, who is one of its former executive directors. The cause was a criminal-defamation suit filed by Praful Patel, a minister in the current Congress Party-led government, who is widely blamed for wrecking the national carrier during his earlier tenure as India’s aviation minister. Bloomsbury declined to fight the case, and instead tendered an apology to Patel. Their surrender was lamentable, but, if they concluded that their chances of prevailing against a powerful minister in a trial court were minimal, they were surely not wrong.

The Indian legal system is not only favorable to plaintiffs alleging offense or defamation; it also grants powerful litigants the ability to suppress books before they are even published. In December, the Indian finance conglomerate Sahara—whose founder, Subrata Roy, is barred from leaving the country while courts resolve a series of legal and regulatory challenges against his firm—obtained an order from the Calcutta High Court blocking the publication of a book about the company. Sahara had filed a thirty-million-dollar defamation suit against the book’s author, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, the deputy managing editor of Mint, India’s most respected business newspaper.

 

15 Feb 2014, 02:31:23 AM | Buzz

What Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Penguin India wrote in 2012: Banned Books Week: Chiki Sarkar, from the publisher’s desk

We may have significant legal precedents for overturning injunctions but there are two things that make it difficult.  First – that a nationwide injunction can be placed from anywhere in the country and not all courts are equally diligent in assessing the claims of the injunction. This might make an Indian more ‘trigger happy’ than if he were elsewhere. Arindam Chaudhuri worked out of a small court in Assam, Jayalalitha from her home state.

Second, Sai reckons us publishers don’t fight hard enough. This could be true. Legal cases are expensive. We’ve probably spent more on the Jayalalitha book than we would have ever made on it.  Often I think in matters of free speech, the daily pragmatism of money, effort and time wins out over the big idea.

13 Feb 2014, 09:12:59 PM | Buzz

Arshia Sattar in the Bangalore Mirror: A shameful capitulation

By withdrawing the book, Penguin seems to have forgotten (or has chosen to ignore) that fact that selling books nurtures ideas, hopes and aspirations. Books build dreams, they show us new horizons, they make us better human beings. Penguin has acted like any other corporate commercial entity, one that recalls a defective or troublesome product and plans to go on with business as usual.

Penguin's unexpected and unconscienable behaviour, this betrayal of all its writers, has not only tarnished its own reputation, it has weakened the position of all publishers in the country. The hands of the cultural vigilantes have been strengthened, they know that unspecified threats of violence and a garbled statement of hurt sentiments are more than enough to bring a proud house to its knees.

13 Feb 2014, 04:44:35 PM | Buzz

Ramachandra Guha in the Times of India: Our Fear of Freedom: Doniger's is just the latest case of courts, publishers, politicians failing to protect artistic rights

The first, and arguably fundamental, mistake in this regard was the decision by Rajiv Gandhi's government in 1989 to ban Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses on the grounds that it offended 'Muslim sentiment' (India, in fact, banned Rushdie's book even before Iranians and Pakistanis had done so). At the time, historian Dharma Kumar wrote that the ban was "a sign of the government's weakness. In a secular state blasphemy should not in itself be a cognizable offence; the President of India is not the defender of any nor of all faiths".

Rajiv Gandhi's pusillanimous act emboldened the bigots of all religions (and regions).

12 Feb 2014, 11:09:57 PM | Buzz

Kenan Malik in the Hindu: Changing landscape of free speech:

In 1989, after the fatwa, Rushdie was forced into hiding for almost a decade. Translators and publishers were assaulted and even murdered. In July 1991, Hitoshi Igarashi, a Japanese professor of literature and translator of The Satanic Verses, was knifed to death on the campus of Tsukuba University. That same month another translator of Rushdie’s novel, the Italian Ettore Capriolo, was beaten up and stabbed in his Milan apartment. In October 1993, William Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, was shot three times and left for dead outside his home in Oslo. Bookshops were firebombed for stocking the novel. And yet, except where there were state bans, Penguin refused to withdraw the book.

Peter Mayer was the CEO of Penguin at the time. He was subject to a vicious campaign of hatred and intimidation. “I had letters delivered to me written in blood,” he remembered. “I had telephone calls in the middle of the night, saying not just that they would kill me but that they would take my daughter and smash her head against a concrete wall. Vile stuff.” Yet neither Mayer nor Penguin countenanced backing down. What was at stake, Mayer recognised, was “much more than simply the fate of this one book. How we responded to the controversy over The Satanic Verses would affect the future of free inquiry, without which there would be no publishing as we knew it, but also, by extension, no civil society as we knew it.”

12 Feb 2014, 12:18:37 AM | Buzz

Way back in 2010, Ashok Malik wrote in the Hindustan Times: When the fringe benefits:

If the Husain dénouement was tragic, the Doniger episode is turning out to be comic. If a book award judge received these letters, and knew nothing about the context of the controversy, he would probably fear for the author as the victim of a hate group attack. Far from being an unsympathetic student of Hinduism — which is obviously how Internet Hindus see her — Doniger would come out resembling Joan of Arc...

...there is a hard question for the BJP. How quickly can it delink itself from Internet Hindus and their offline equivalents? A party that seeks to build broad-spectrum opposition unity in Parliament on governance issues can do without such viral downloads.

12 Feb 2014, 03:38:43 AM | Buzz

Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express: Silencing of liberal India

Liberal India has been silenced because the one institution that needs to protect it constantly fails: the courts... A law that signals that it is open to banning books will incite mobilisations to ban books. If the state gives the category of taking easy “offence” such aid and succour, offence will be easily taken...For example, the Bombay High Court judgment on the Bhasin case upheld the idea that it is “no defence that the writing contains a truthful account of past events or is supported by good authority.” Courts uphold the idea that the criticism of religion must only be “academic”, whatever that means. Lampooing is part of legitimate criticism...

...Wendy Doniger could not have damaged Hindus. But if Liberal India dies, Hinduism will die as well.

 

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