Protest Penguin’s withdrawal of Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History

SANSAD News-release February 20, 2014

Suppression of Wendy Doniger’s book undermines democracy

South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), an organization of South Asian diaspora based in Vancouver, British Columbia, joins its voice to the outrage being expressed by academics, students, writers, intellectuals, and other champions of freedom of enquiry and expression in India and outside at Penguin India’s decision to withdraw and pulp Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History in the face of threats by Hindu right wing forces.

We applaud Arundhati Roy and William Dalrymple for protesting this cowardly act by one of the most powerful publishing houses with a long history of defending freedom of expression and the rights of authors. We applaud the History faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University for issuing a public statement in condemnation of this surrender to the threats of the Hindu right wing determined to construct a sanitized and strait-jacketed Hinduism against the rich multiplicity of traditions that make historical Hinduism. We congratulate the scholars int North American Universities who have issued a statement of condemnation pointing out that this was a victory for the Hindu right wing organizations in India who have been working with their North American counterparts to suppress alliterative voices, often the with violence.

Penguin’s withdrawal of Doniger’s book has a significance beyond the immediate issue of a publisher’s responsibility to defend its authors and uphold the right to freedom of speech. In its failure of spirit it has become complicit in the viciously anti-democratic and anti-minority, particularly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian, agenda of Hindutva in India. By withdrawing its resistance it has become a partner in the ideological program to dismantle the secular democratic identity of India.

Secularism and democracy are ideals inscribed in the idea of India but are forever under stress. Not only has the state been eager to censor and suppress expression, political and social organizations have been only too eager to demand suppression by the state or engage in violent suppression of scholarship or artistic expression that offended their sentiments. Freedom of thought and expression in India is far too often a hostage to offended sentiments. Penguin’s betrayal of Doniger strengthens this oppressive power of “offended sentiments.” As others have pointed out it is not a sufficient excuse for Penguin to declare that it has acted in fear of the law of the land, specifically Section 295a of the Indian Penal Code.

Professor Doniger’s book must be made available to all who wish to read it in India, and all those who disagree with her findings should challenge them with arguments. We urge all who cherish democracy and the freedom of expression that is its essential underpinning to sign the petition of Ananya Vajpeyi of New Delhi, India on addressed to members of both houses of parliament that they revise Sections 153 A and 295 A of the Indian Penal Code governing intellectual and artistic freedoms and the right to self-expression as well as protecting against insult and injury to communities.


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