Pulping 'The Hindus': Penguin publisher takes U-turn in 15 months

  • Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 13, 2014 08:02 IST

"I am increasingly thinking that perhaps we should take the next injunction we are faced with and really fight it out."

These were the thoughts of a reflective Chiki Sarkar, the publisher of Penguin Books India and editor of some of South Asia's most celebrated-writers, in October 2012. Writing on author and literary critic Nilanjana Roy's blog, who curated a Banned Books Week Journal, Sarkar revealed the nature of discussions at the editorial table when faced with legal injunctions.

Penguin's decision to withdraw and 'pulp' Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History does not fall in the same category, for it was a settlement with the other party, not an order backed by the coercive apparatus of the state. But it reveals the U-turn at the highest levels in the publishing firm from their stated ideals.

Read more: Penguin can't duck this: earns online fury for scrapping 'The Hindus'

Sarkar clarified these were her personal views. While nodding at 'significant legal precedents for overturning injunctions', the publisher quoted a lawyer who suggested this was difficult because 'publishers don't fight hard enough'. Sarkar went on to comment, "This could be true. Legal cases are expensive…Often, I think in matters of free speech, the daily pragmatism of money, effort and time wins out over the big idea."

Read more: Wendy Doniger 'angry and disappointed' after Penguin takes The Hindus off shelves

She said her views were injunctions made things 'costly, time-consuming, and took our energies away from the work we're really meant to do…I wonder whether it means we impose a kind of self censorship on ourselves." The piece, written in a contemplative manner, does not claim to possess final answers. But Sarkar reveals, "My own thinking has become more pragmatic and more belligerent. I think as publishers we should commission what we want and we have enough legal precedent to protect ourselves." She added that while they did not have the 'time and money to wage a constant war', she was veering towards the view that they should take the 'next injunction and really fight it out'.

Read more: It's always a pleasure to burn: why it's easy to 'ban' books in India

Sarkar concluded by saying some questions would be 'resolved pragmatically, some with fervour'. By taking the pragmatic route on Doniger's work – for reasons Penguin has decided not to reveal, and may well be beyond her control – Sarkar turned back on her resolve to 'fight it out', leaving her friends in the publishing industry disappointed.

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