South Asia

Penguin India to recall book on Hinduism

Publisher agrees to withdraw all copies of "The Hindus: An Alternative History" which was deemed offensive.

Last updated: 11 Feb 2014 18:15
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The author, Wendy Doniger, was criticised for having a selective approach to writing about Hinduism [EPA]

Penguin Books India has agreed to withdraw from sale all copies of a book that takes an unorthodox view of Hinduism, and will destroy them as part of a settlement after a case was filed against the publisher.

The publisher, part of Penguin Random House, agreed in a Delhi court to withdraw the book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by American scholar Wendy Doniger on Tuesday as part of the settlement reached on Monday.

A copy of the settlement, widely circulated on social media on Tuesday, says Penguin "shall ensure that the book is completely withdrawn/cleared" from India "at the earliest" and within six months.

A group of Hindu academics filed the civil suit in a New Delhi court claiming the book, published in 2009, contained factual errors and parts of it also misrepresented Hindu mythology.

The lead petitioner's original complaint criticised the book for "heresies and factual inaccuracies" and criticised Doniger for having a selective approach to writing about Hinduism.

"She denounced the Hindu Gods and freedom fighters of India," the petitioners' lawyer Monika Arora told Reuters news agency.

Dina Nath Batra, president of the academic group called the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee, said that he was happy with the settlement.

Batra told AFP news agency that the book was only focused on "sex and eroticism", and that, among other alleged inaccuracies, the author tried to portray Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi as a womaniser.

Batra said that Penguin wrote in the agreement that "we respect all the religions so we withdraw the book".

Penguin India refused to comment on the matter.

Freedom of speech

Doniger, 74, a history of religions professor at the University of Chicago, has written extensively on Hinduism. She was not available for comment at the time of publication.

The settlement adds to the list of books that have been banned in India over the years, including Salman Rushdie's critically acclaimed "The Satanic Verses" which is seen as blasphemous by some Muslims.

Batra and his organisation, a registered body with volunteers spread across 26 states, first filed a complaint against the book in 2009 and then sought legal recourse. 

After a civil suit, he filed a criminal case, alleging that a representation of the map of India in the book did not include the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. Misrepresenting the map of India is a criminal offence.

The blurb of the book 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.

After news of the settlement broke on Tuesday, e-copies of the book were being widely circulated on social media in India along with links to websites where the book could be downloaded.

The book's withdrawal triggered anger on Twitter, rekindling a debate on freedom of speech in the world's largest democracy.

"The 'offended' prevail over freedom of speech. Surely gods too great to be so easily upset?" tweeted Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.


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