News / Asia

    Outcry Follows Publisher's Withdrawal of Hinduism Book

    A Hindu holy man stands at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati during the annual traditional fair of Magh Mela, in Allahabad, India, Feb. 14, 2014.
    A Hindu holy man stands at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati during the annual traditional fair of Magh Mela, in Allahabad, India, Feb. 14, 2014.
    Anjana Pasricha
    In India, a decision by publishing house Penguin to withdraw a book on Hinduism by an American scholar has been slammed by literary and academic circles. While worries are being expressed about cultural intolerance, the publisher has blamed Indian law for its decision. 
     
    The promotional material for Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, calls it a new way of understanding one of the world’s oldest religions.  Doniger is a well-known U.S.-based scholar of religion.
         
    But Dina Nath Batra of the conservative Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan (Save Education Movement) finds the book vulgar and offensive. He launched a legal battle against it four years ago saying it demeans Hindu gods and national icons.

    Batra questions Doniger’s intentions and accuses her of hurting the religious feelings of millions of Hindus. He said the book is full of historical inaccuracies.  

    In an out-of-court settlement this week, Penguin Books India agreed to withdraw the book from India and pulp remaining copies.

    The decision raised an outcry in literary and academic circles where the agreement was called an attack on free expression.   

    Backlash

    Bangalore-based author Vikram Sampath said Penguin’s decision will discourage a lot of authors handling two subjects that have become “holy cows” in India: history and religion.
     
    “What is it that we can put in years and years of our hard work and research into and then realize that one day the publisher himself or herself abandons you in the wilderness?" Sampath asked. "There is an increasing trend of intolerance towards works of art and books and films where there is a very rude minority which is determining what needs to be written and told and screened and so on."

    Author Vikram Sampath himself has been at the receiving end of intimidation by conservative groups. He says he has been shouted down during lectures and his effigy burned by those angered by his writings on an Indian historical figure, Tipu Sultan.

    Under attack from prominent authors about “caving in” to a fringe group, Penguin pointed to an Indian law that makes it a criminal offense to offend the sensibilities of a religion.

    In a statement, the publisher said it was obliged to respect the law of the land where it operates however "restrictive and intolerant" it maybe. Penguin said this law will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression. Wendy Doniger also called the law the "villain of the piece.”

    While Dina Nath Batra resorted to the courts to have the book withdrawn, fundamentalist groups - both Hindu and Muslim - have been using other tactics to protest works of art they find objectionable.
     
    Salman Rushdie’s prize-winning book The Satanic Verses was banned following violent protests by Muslim groups. In 2012 he was prevented from even speaking at a literature festival in Jaipur. The late Indian artist M.F. Husain was forced to leave India and live overseas after Hindu groups angry with his depiction of Indian gods filed a number of court cases against him.

    Gujarat state has banned Joseph Lelyveld’s biography of Indian freedom fighter Mohandas Gandhi after some reviews said the book implied that Gandhi had a homosexual relationship.   

    Artistic freedom

    Authors and academics call this a worrying trend, saying such attacks are shrinking the space for alternative viewpoints and artistic freedom.

    "I don’t think it is really offensive," said Kumkum Roy, a professor of ancient history at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. She has reviewed Doniger’s book.

    "There are differences of emphasis, there are some omissions which could have been addressed, but none of these can justify a withdrawal of the book. And the other things are matters of perspective, where I would acknowledge that there can be differences," she opined.

    "Unless we have a public discussion about differences, it can be an absolutely stifling atmosphere for the academics and it will kill the academic atmosphere in the country."

    Roy said she is heartened by the outcry over the book’s withdrawal in literary and academic circles as well as in mainstream and social media.

    But Hindu groups like the Shiksha Bachao Andolan are unfazed by that outcry.

    Dina Nath Batra vows to wage more such campaigns against books that he says offend Hindus or contain historical inaccuracies. He said he next plans to target another one of Doniger’s books on Hinduism.  "We have won the battle, we have to win the war. It is a fight for my life,” he stated.

    Authors and writers like Vikram Sampath are equally adamant that they will not be circumscribed within the walls of what offends and what does not.  He says it is important for the literary community to unite and stand up against such censorship, because tomorrow it could be “me."

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Nielsen's, Sina Weibo Team Up for Closer Look at Chinese Social Media

    US-based rating agency reaches deal with China's Twitter-like service to gauge marketing effectiveness on platform which has more than 200 million users

    Despite Cease-fire, Myanmar Landmine Scourge Goes Unaddressed

    Myanmar has third-highest mine casualty rate in the world, according to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which says between 1999 to 2014 it recorded 3,745 casualties, 396 of whom died

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: rajendran from: india
    February 17, 2014 11:11 PM
    The improvement of laws of the land in the direction of better human values, ethics derived from being more in line with international standards of free expression has been overdue.

    by: NareshG from: INDIA
    February 15, 2014 5:39 AM
    Speaking ill of others/religious values, or to openly denigrate one’s religious and belief, sentiment and sensibility --- or to distort the historical facts and figures at whim do not fall under the perimeter of ethics of any writers, if they do then they are devils, should be do away with. There are a hordes of potty & uncreative writers being snugged by reputed publishers who write filths and sleazes which are of zero creativity and values. Creativity does not mean maligning the other communities.

    When I look at the kind of books being published by Penguin or the articles published by INDIAN media I feel too low since I can’t allow my children to read such dirty and misleading stuff with biased ideas/ information. Mr Mehta, Arundhati, Ramachandra Guha .---- all there so-called intellectual are creating havoc in the country. They have no morals, so they write that which are illogical but still go around arrogantly.

    by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
    February 14, 2014 5:39 PM
    Confucius (wise man) said stay away from the gods.

    by: chukwuemeka ukor from: lagos, Nigeria
    February 14, 2014 4:28 PM
    No group or any individual hás any right to try to ostracise or sensor any worthwhile author that wrote a good book.people should limit their mind on most of all these old religious stories and concentrate on practising astral travelling.Thats the ónly way out to spiritual emancipation.

    by: Joseph Effiong from: Uyo - Nigeria
    February 14, 2014 2:02 PM
    Is it fair to write something that tarnished someone's image or belief in the name of book publishing ?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora