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Days after withdrawing Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History over a legal battle with a Hindu extremist outfit, Penguin India released a statement on Friday saying that is under obligation "to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be".
As part of a settlement with Dinanath Batra of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee who had filed a civil suit and two criminal complaints, Penguin had said that it will destroy all copies of the book , dubbed "disrespectful of Hinduism", within six months.
The petitions had claimed that the book, published in India in 2011, was full of "errors in historical facts and Sanskrit translations". They also claimed that Doniger had given a pornographic twist to Hindu objects of worship.
"Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual's right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin's approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate," the publishing house said in the statement.
"At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can."
Penguin defended itself by saying that it did fight the four-year legal battle and stood by the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus.
"We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership."
A history of religions professor at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, Doniger, 74, is regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Hinduism.
It added that the Indian Penal Code's section 295A will make it difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.
"This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights."
Penguin said that international editions of the book will be available physically and digitally to Indian readers.
Penguin's decision to pulp Doniger's book came weeks after Bloomsbury withdrew Jitender Bhargava's The Descent of Air India without consulting the author in response to a case filed by former civil aviation minister Praful Patel.