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Bowing to a legal challenge from a Hindu extremist outfit, Penguin Books India has agreed to recall and pulp all copies of American scholar Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History.
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 will destroy all copies of the book, dubbed “disrespectful of Hinduism”, within six months.
The petitions claimed that the book, published in India in 2011, was rife with “errors in historical facts and Sanskrit translations”. Doniger had given a pornographic twist to Hindu objects of worship, they claimed.
Penguin refused comment.
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.
A senior publishing source familiar with the author and the work said when the cases had first come up, Penguin gave a point-by-point rebuttal to all allegations. “Nothing in the book warranted them to have given in. This is also a huge loss of face for the publishers,” the source said.
“Very uneasy about Penguin decision…Ideas and academic studies, however contentious, can’t be handled by censorship,” journalist and political commentator Swapan Dasgupta said.
Publishers’ failure to stand by the works of their writers was a setback to the “larger ideals of thinking, writing, publishing and creativity”, Shruti Debi, a literary agent and former editor of Picador India, told HT.
Historian Ramachandra Guha tweeted, “This is deeply disappointing. Penguin should have appealed in a higher court.”
E-copies of the book were being circulated on social media with links to websites where the book could be downloaded.
Penguin’s decision comes weeks after Bloomsbury withdrew Jitender Bhargava’s The Descent of Air India without consulting the author in response to a case filed by ex-civil aviation minister Praful Patel.