Penguin India publishing house has said that "intolerant and restrictive" Indian laws forced it to remove a book from sale after a conservative Hindu group objected to it.

Penguin's decision earlier this week to pull and pulp all copies of historian Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History shocked writers and intellectuals in India, with some worrying it was a sign of rising intolerance against dissent in the country.

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Doniger defended Penguin India in a statement, saying the publisher had battled for four years against a lawsuit filed by the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, or the Save Education Movement.

The group objected to the book's describing mythological texts as fictional and, thus, hurting "the religious feelings of millions of Hindus," according to the lawsuit which also named Doniger and the New York-based arm Penguin Group Inc as defendants.

Penguin India said it "believes, and has always believed, in every individual's right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution," according to a statement from the company.

It warned, however, that India's Penal Code "will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold
international standards of free expression."

The code, specifically section 295A, threatens up to three years imprisonment against those who "with deliberate
and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens in India, by words, either
spoken or written ... insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class."

Penguin India said that in settling the four-year lawsuit it was obliged "to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be."

Penguin India said that international editions of the book would remain available.

Source: Agencies