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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    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.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora