Hindutva notes from WEIT blog/2014/02/17/hindutva-notes-from-weit-blog/

Hindutva notes from WEIT blog

I am hampered in the area of Hindutva research, here’s a piece by the blogger at Why-Evolution-Is-True:

No free speech in India

India is one of my favorite countries in the world: it’s filled with friendly and ambitious people (whose poverty often stifles their aspirations), it’s beautiful, diverse, and, of course, the food is wonderful. I’ve been there half a dozen times, and will return this next winter.

India is also is supposed to be the world’s largest democracy, but that monicker is getting a severe trial. For India is retrogressing due to conservative ultra-Hindu elements that are taking over the government.

It is likely, for example, that soon the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will take over the government. The BJP is a conservative party based on Hindu nationalism and the philosophy of Hinduvata, an ideology that wants, in effect, to create a Hindu theocracy. Its advocates have destroyed mosques, built Hindu temples on those sites, and attempted to enforce Hindu morality and ideology on other groups. This is a disasterous policy in a country that is largely multicultural, with many religions including Islam, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. Right now the more liberal Congress Party controls the Indian government, but it’s predicted that the BJP will win the next election.

The latest misdeeds of the BJP and its right-wing adherents—but something that speaks badly for all of India—is the country’s attempt to censor books in a way that would be unheard of in, for instance, the U.S. Indian law allows prior censorship if someone claims that an upcoming publication may damage then, and it also allows books to be censored if they offend religious feelings. Further, litigation about censorship is difficult, for, as everyone in India knows, even simple court cases about more trivial issues can drag on for years.

That is why Penguin Books (now merged with Random House) has decided to pulp and withdraw from publication in India a scholarly book by my Chicago colleague Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History. Doniger is an immensely respected scholar of religious history, and well known at my university. Her book was published in 2009, and a legal notice was filed buy a right-wing Indian a year later. The complaint, according to a New Yorker piece ”Why free speech loses in India“,

. . . alleged that the book “is a shallow, distorted, and non-serious presentation of Hinduism … written with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in a poor light … The intent is clearly to ridicule, humiliate, and defame the Hindus and denigrate the Hindu traditions.” Citing a passage in which Doniger refers to Sanskrit texts written “at a time of glorious sexual openness and insight,” the complaint declares that her “approach is of a woman hungry of sex.”

The New York Times adds that the complaint alleges that Doniger’s book was “written with a Christian missionary zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light.”

The main complaint, then, seems to be that Doniger presents part of Hindu history as a time of openness about sex: something offensive and, I suppose, “colonialist” to advocates of Hinduvata. And the publisher, Penguin India (presumably following the instructions of Penguin/Random House worldwide headquarters), agreed not only to remove the book from bookstores and pulp the remaining copies, but signed an agreement that ”includes a bizarre clause requiring Penguin to affirm ‘that it respects all religions worldwide’.”

That’s simply too much, for Penguin is my publisher (they put out WEIT in the U.S. and will also publish my next book), and I am appalled. Doniger herself and Penguin India blame Indian law, which would tie up Penguin in expensive litigation for years, but really, there is an important principle at stake here. The world’s largest democracy should have a free press, not one in which people are censored for offending those of other faiths. Let us not forget that The Satanic Verses is still banned in India.

And that’s not all: there are several other cases of censorship in recent years.
◾According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, ”Indian publisher withdraws book, stoking fears of nationalist pressure:

“In January, Bloomsbury India withdrew copies of ‘The Descent of Air India’ [a book about the national airline] against its author’s wishes, and published an apology to a Congress-allied government minister who came in for heavy criticism in the book. In December, the Supreme Court granted a stay of publication of ‘Sahara: The Untold Story,’ an investigation of the Indian finance and real estate conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, until a lawsuit filed by Sahara Group’s chairman was resolved.”
◾As the New Yorker reports, “In December, the Indian finance conglomerate Sahara—whose founder, Subrata Roy, is barred from leaving the country while courts resolve a series of legal and regulatory challenges against his firm—obtained an order from the Calcutta High Court blocking the publication of a book about the company. Sahara had filed a thirty-million-dollar defamation suit against the book’s author, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, the deputy managing editor of Mint, India’s most respected business newspaper.”

There are many to blame here. Doniger generously faults not her publisher, but the Indian legal system, which bans books offending religious sentiments. There is also the Indian court system, which, if you know India, is the worst flowering of the famously labrythine bureaucracy of that land. And Penguin/Random House should have fought this out to the end, or, if they had decided to fold, at least not agreed to sign some ridiculous statement that they won’t “respect all religions worldwide.” That’s an unwarranted privileging of religion, something that no secular publisher should ever do.

Indian authors have fought back (read Vikram Seth’s letter in The Hindu, or the letter to the Times of India by Arundhati Roy, another Penguin author. Roy’s letter, called “A letter to Penguin India (my publishers),” mirrors my sentiments exactly:

Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the oldest, grandest publishing houses in the world. You existed long before publishing became just another business, and long before books became products like any other perishable product in the market—mosquito repellent or scented soap. You have published some of the greatest writers in history. You have stood by them as publishers should, you have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why? You have all the resources anybody could possibly need to fight a legal battle. Had you stood your ground, you would have had the weight of enlightened public opinion behind you, and the support of most—if not all—of your writers. You must tell us what happened. What was it that terrified you? You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least.

I will of course also protest to Penguin, for this decision was made at the highest levels, but my protests will be futile, as the agreement is a fait accompli. I am certain that my Indian academic friends are embarrassed, for this stuff should not be happening in a country I almost see as my adoptive land.

With the BJP’s election imminent, things are only going to get worse, and there are dark times ahead in India—at least for free speech, which is, after all, the soul of a democracy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s