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Doniger blames Indian laws as Penguin’s ‘banned’ book sales skyrocket | Join LI ed Kian Ganz in live chat on CNN-IBN website at 5pm

The media, in India and abroad, has predictably had a field day over the settlement Penguin India entered into to recall and destroy all India-based copies of Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, against which a religious organisation filed criminal and civil cases.

The Mint carried an in-depth interview by Shougat Dasgupta with Dinanath Batra, one of the petitioners behind the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee that launched the petition to ban the book.

Doniger, meanwhile, released a statement blaming Indian laws for the self-censorship by her publisher:

I was thrilled and moved by the great number of messages of support that I received, not merely from friends and colleagues but from people in India that I have never met, who had read and loved The Hindus, and by news and media people, all of whom expressed their outrage and sadness and their wish to help me in any way they could.

I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher’s daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped.

But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit.

They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece—the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.

An example at random, from the lawsuit in question:
‘That YOU NOTICEE has hurt the religious feelings of millions of Hindus by declaring that Ramayana is a fiction. “Placing the Ramayan in its historical contexts demonstrates that it is a work of fiction, created by human authors, who lived at various times……….” (P.662) This breaches section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).’

Finally, I am glad that, in the age of the Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book. The Hindus is available on Kindle; and if legal means of publication fail, the Internet has other ways of keeping books in circulation.

People in India will always be able to read books of all sorts, including some that may offend some Hindus.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the book has shot up in the best seller lists of US-based online marketplace Amazon:

The paperback edition of “The Hindus” shot up Amazon’s best-seller list within a few hours on Tuesday, ranking No. 480 by mid-afternoon. The title had 77 customer reviews, earning an average rating of 2.5 stars out of 5. The book has sold about 11,000 hardcover and paperback copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks around 85% of physical book sales in the U.S.

Legally India editor Kian Ganz will chat on CNN-IBN’s website at 5pm about freedom of speech and the book ban. Please click here to join and to ask questions.

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