When William Dalrymple invited Rajiv Malhotra to Jaipur Literature Festival

As Dalrymple changes his mind on Rajiv Malhotra, JLF attendees must take on Dinanath Batra and the threat to books in India, says Hartosh Singh Bal

william_dalrympleThe Jaipur Literature Festival, or to give it its rightful name this year, the ZEE-Jaipur Literature Festival, has, like every other year, attracted a number of well-known authors. But this year in India is not like any other year. We have a new government in place, and the change from one dispensation to another is reflected in the festival as Tarun Tejpal gives way to Tarun Vijay.

Of course it is not incumbent upon the festival to reflect on this change; politics need not be the stuff of literature. But over the past year, a man named Dinanath Batra—who has the full endorsement of the current dispensation—has had considerable success in ensuring that publishers think more than twice about publishing anything that may annoy the Sangh Parivar, which is but a name for the vast amorphous machinery of Hindutva ideologues that drives the BJP. So even if politics does not concern the festival, its impact on literature should.  

The facts about Batra are well known, but still worth repeating. In February 2014, after a four year legal battle, Batra successfully persuaded Penguin to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, and pulp the remaining copies. Soon after, in March, another publisher, Aleph, received a letter from Batra regarding a different book by Doniger, On Hinduism. Amidst proceedings that spread across many months and much confusion, Aleph—a much smaller publisher than Penguin—was able to ensure that the book was not withdrawn.

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One comment

  • I believe the Indian English Intellectual either does not comprehend the westernized notion of Free speech properly. Just like an author has the right to express their opinions in a book so does a Dinanth Batra have the right to file a PIL in court. Those blaming Dinanath Batra for moving the court cannot claim to be supporters of free speech. This is different from not agreeing with Dinanath Batra’s views though. You have rights to express your views, and Dinanath his; I will defend your right to ridicule the man, make fund of his views and critizes his views in the harshest manner possible; however being the proponent of free speech that I am, will never question his right to access the judiciary. It is unfortunate that books are banned in this country, if you feel so strongly then protest against the article in our constitution that allows banning books, not go after someone who found a constitutionally valid way to lodge his protest. This is not the same as the fanatics who banned Salman Rushdie as the state banned the book. In Batra vs Doniger case, no one banned it, the book was withdrawn by the publisher after a prolonged legal battle.
    Also kindly note that there is a difference between writing a fictional book and something that will influence the curriculum of schools. Being an academic Donigers books have an influence on how Hindusims is taught in a multicultural environment like a US public school. Those who are certified by an academic will have the right to be members in a committee to publish article for a encyclopedia, so it can’t be treated in the same light as a fictional book. The protest is against the ecosystem that ensures that Hinduism is shown in a bad light.

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