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HindustanTimes Wed,03 Sep 2014

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

HT Correspondent and PTI, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 11, 2014
First Published: 15:34 IST(11/2/2014) | Last Updated: 21:41 IST(11/2/2014)

Penguin Books India has decided to withdraw copies of US Indologist Wendy Doniger's book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" following a court-backed settlement with a Delhi-based voluntary group which had objected to several "inaccuracies and biases" in it.

In the agreement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee, Penguin reportedly said it "shall with immediate effect recall and withdraw all copies of the book written by Wendy Doniger" and "shall not publish or distribute the book", according to a leaked document being circulated on Twitter.

The decision drew sharp reactions almost instantly after the document was leaked.

Union minister Jairam Ramesh said this is an "atrocious decision" as the book is "not blasphemous by any means".

"The organisation that demanded Penguin take such action is clearly some Taliban-type outfit. It is distorting and destroying our liberal traditions. I hope Penguin reconsiders its decision and musters up courage to tell this outfit off," Ramesh said.

Historian Ramachandra Guha tweeted, "This is deeply disappointing. Penguin should have appealed in a higher court."

"Very uneasy about Penguin decision on Wendy Doniger book. Ideas & academic studies, however contentious, cannot be handled by censorship," Columnist Swapan Dasgupta posted on the microblogging website.

A tweet by a user named Samir Arora read, "1 more book to read: Wendy Doniger's Hindu: An Alternative History. Why did some push to have it withdrawn? Now I will have to read it".

Ashok Malik in his column for HT wrote in 2010: "Doniger is a well-known American academic who, in 2009, released her book The Hindus: An Alternative History. In part, the book is engaging, its treatment of ancient India is detailed — that period is Doniger's self-admitted strength — but its analysis of modern Hindu currents are perhaps a bit too rushed and dismissive. That aside, there are stylistic angularities that the author is no doubt entitled to but individual readers are free to disagree with.

Doniger has long fought a battle with sections of Hindus for what they feel is her gratuitous attempt to put a "psycho-sexual twist on everything Hindu". As one observer says, this contributes to "eroticisation and exoticisation of our sacred scripture". That is an unexceptionable point. It must be said though it is a contestation of some of Doniger's other work and not quite her most recent book.

Yet, refusing to present a cogent argument, wildcat Internet Hindu groups have instead begun an infuriating campaign against Doniger. It started some weeks ago when the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) in the United States shortlisted The Hindus: An Alternative History for an award."

When contacted on Tuesday, Penguin officials declined to comment on the move.

The publisher reportedly agreed that it will pulp at its own cost "all recalled, withdrawn, unsold copies".

It also reportedly agreed to ensure that the book is "completely withdrawn or cleared from the country at the earliest, within a period nor exceeding six months starting from the date on which this agreement is signed (February 4)".

In 2011, a civil lawsuit was filed against the publisher by Shiksha Bachao Andolan. The book also has two other criminal complaints against it. The petitioners alleged that the book, which focuses on different aspects of Hinduism, has lot of "inaccuracies and biases" and was full of various sexual connotations.

However, the blurb of the "The Hindus: An Alternative History", says it is a definitive narrative account of history and myth that offers a new way of understanding one of the world's oldest major religions. The 800-page book, published in 2009, elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds.

Doniger is regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Hinduism. In her unique and authoritative account, she debates about Hindu traditions become platforms from which to consider the ironies, and overlooked epiphanies, of history.

Doniger's profile on The University of Chicago website states that her "research and teaching interests revolve around two basic areas, Hinduism and mythology. Her courses in mythology address themes in cross-cultural expanses, such as death, dreams, evil, horses, sex, and women; her courses in Hinduism cover a broad spectrum that, in addition to mythology, considers literature, law, gender, and zoology."

A mail request by HT for an interview with Doniger was not immediately answered on Tuesday.

While the move by the publisher to remove the book was largely criticised by people on Twitter, there were a few who supported the decision. "Wonderful — Wendy Doniger's book withdrawn from India!!" read a tweet by a profile called 'Apple Aficionado'. "Wendy Doniger's third rate book - Hindus: Alternate history is finally withdrawn from India" tweeted another user, Sridhar.

Not only did people express their opinion on social networking websites on this issue, they started sharing links from where the full text of the book could be downloaded.

The website downloadthehindus provides the pdf attachment, torrent link and the amazon link from where the book can be downloaded.

Read: When the fringe benefits

Video: Wendy Doniger 'On Hinduism'


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