Senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan and political scientist Jyotirmaya Sharma have cancelled their contracts with Penguin India to protest against the publisher’s decision to pulp Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. Their decision has won the applause of book lovers, angry with Penguin for succumbing to right-wing forces.
The move follows a legal notice sent to Penguin on Friday by two readers — writer and media practitioner Shuddhabrata Sengupta and anthropologist Aarti Sethi— for violating free speech provisions and reader rights.
There has been widespread criticism of Penguin India’s decision agreeing to pulp Doniger’s book following an out-of-court settlement with Dinanath Batra, who had filed a petition against the book in court.
Read: Penguin blames Indian laws for pulping Wendy Doniger's The Hindus
In an email to Penguin publisher Chiki Sarkar, Sharma, political scientist at University of Hyderabad, demanded that his books — Hindutva: Exploring the idea of Hindu Nationalism and Terrifying Vision: MS Golwalkar, the RSS and India — be ‘withdrawn and pulped’.
“There was a time when writers, publishers and readers performed this role of challenging the insolent might of unjust regimes and unreasonable laws. It doesn’t seem to be the case anymore,” Sharma wrote.
Read: The legal system is the obvious villain: Rana Dasgupta on Penguin's withdrawal
Varadarajan also wrote to Sarkar, demanding the cancellation of his contract, the ‘pulping’ of all remaining copies of his book Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy, and return of copyright so that he could freely distribute it electronically ‘without the fear of any future, arbitrary withdrawal by Penguin in the face of pressure from the sort of intellectual bullies who have managed to have their way with Prof Doniger’s book.”
Pointing out that no judge or court had pronounced Doniger’s book as a violation of any section of Indian law, Varadarajan said an appeal could have been filed in that eventuality. In a statement on Friday, Penguin had said Indian laws had forced its hand in the case.
Read: Pulping 'The Hindus': Penguin publisher takes U-turn in 15 months
Penguin India has been at the receiving end of backlash from writers and academics, notably Arundhati Roy. Speaking on the sidelines of the second Patna literature festival, educationist Neena Jha said, “Just because Penguin wanted to avoid a legal battle, they blinked, depriving readers who enjoy diverse views.” Applauding Sharma and Varadarajan’s move, she added, “Penguin’s move was unhealthy, the reaction is healthy. This is the correct way to protest.”
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