The news from India these days is rarely cheery. The country’s long-overdue winning streak in the international press, which saw old clichés upgraded to shiny new high-tech models, ended around 2010. Since then, the headlines have been relentlessly grim: corruption, poverty, political dysfunction, violence against women, mistreatment of maids, and the criminalization of homosexuality. On Thursday morning, the big story was a brawl inside the Indian Parliament, during which a lawmaker used a can of pepper spray against his colleagues.
This week the picture dimmed a little further, with the news that “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” an eight-hundred-page book by Wendy Doniger, an eminent professor of religion at the University of Chicago, would be removed from Indian book shops. Penguin Books India, which first published the book, in 2009, signed an out-of-court settlement with an advocacy group, the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (“Movement to Save Education”), who claim to be defending “the sentiments of Hindus all over the world.” The group had filed a civil suit and multiple criminal complaints against Doniger and her publisher; under the terms of the agreement, which includes a bizarre clause requiring Penguin to affirm “that it respects all religions worldwide,” the publisher will cease to sell “The Hindus” in India, and pulp its remaining inventory.