After the pulping of a Wendy Doniger book, here’s another storm in publishing. This time it’s not over content perceived as offensive but over authorial rights. Temple Tents for Goddesses in India, an illustrated monograph on the painted canopies used by the Devipoojaks and some other communities of Gujarat to create sacred spaces, was first published in German in 1982, with Dr Eberhard Fischer, Haku Shah and Dr Jyotindra Jain as co-authors. But the English version that was published some months ago by Niyogi Books, Delhi—a near-replica of the original, barring some editing, an extra chapter, and the additional word ‘Gujarat’ in the title—makes no mention of Shah or Jain.
The statement released on Facebook reads, “This refers to the report by Rajiv Kalkod (“Another Doniger book pulled out”) published in your newspaper today. We are not aware of any such thing except that we are looking forward to the right resolution of the situation.’-Authorised statement of R T Das, Rupa Publications, Regional Manager, South India.”
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.
An ancient law that criminalises opinion has been used to suppress a scholarly work on Hinduism. G Vishnu deconstructs the Wendy Doniger controversy in Tehelka
Some are calling it the silencing of liberal India. After a four-year court battle, Penguin India that had published the The Hindus: An Alternative Historyin 2009, succumbed to pressure and agreed to settle out-of-court with Dinanath Batra, the Delhi-based petitioner who had sought to get the book withdrawn. The 683-page tome of scholarly and allegedly revisionist observations on evolution of Hinduismby Wendy Doniger, a US-based scholar on religions, now stands withdrawn (though it’s available on the Internet).
Days after Penguin decided to pulp American author Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ following an out-of-court settlement, at least two authors hit back asking the publisher to withdraw their books, nullify their contract and pulp their books too in protest.
Academic Jyotirmaya Sharma, who has published two books with Penguin, and journalist and author Siddharth Varadrajan said they are outraged at the leading publishing house capitulating before a fringe outfit called Shiksha Bachao Andolan which alleges that the 2009 book insults Hindus.
Legally India editor Kian Ganz was in an online Q&A today, fielding some excellent and insightful questions on freedom of speech from CNN-IBN’s viewers. The discussion of course comes on the eve of a media storm surrounding the controversial agreement by Penguin to pulp all India-based copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History.
My suspicion for why they did boils down to two different reasons.
1. Fighting a legal case such as this one can take many many years, potentially, and would likely involve at least one appeal to the Supreme Court of India, which is not cheap, nor would winning be a certainty.