Curbs on 'The Hindus' ignites row in the US

Curbs on 'The Hindus' ignites row in the US

Penguin India's decision to withdraw from  publication and pulp copies of an American professor's book on Hinduism  in an out of court settlement has ignited a fiery debate here on freedom  of the speech in India.

The reactions have ranged from anger to sadness to jubilation depending  on which side of the debate one is in.

If the influential New York Times branded it "Muzzling Speech in India", an Indian-American author and activist called it a "moral victory" for  Hindus.

Pulping of "The Hindus: An Alternative History" by Wendy Doniger, who  teaches Hinduism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, "is only  the latest assault on free speech in India", the Times said in an  editorial Friday.

"The publisher's move is likely to encourage more demands for  censorship," it said, suggesting "the wanton abuse of laws restricting  speech is creating a climate of fear" and "enemies of free speech have  pledged to get even more books banned".

Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the  Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a leading think tank, who earlier  worked as a top official in the State Department's South Asia Bureau, was more circumspect.

In an article last week on "The Limits of Speech in India", Ayres wrote  that Penguin's decision "came as sad news" to her. "One of the great  things about India, in my view, is the wonderful acceptance of vigorous  disagreement."

But now "it is getting harder to reconcile the India that symbolises  robust democracy, pluralism on a grand scale, and the lessons of  tolerance, with another India tiptoeing to avert hurt feelings", she  wrote.

Doniger herself declined a request to talk about her until she has "had  time to catch my breath", but she told the New York Times last week that  she expected the book to meet trouble in India.

Noting that "she wasn't the only author to face scrutiny by Hindu  fundamentalist groups", Doniger told the Times that "right now people are  really worried about what's happening in India" and that has spurred  "this tremendous outpouring of indignation" about the fate of her book.

In her book, Doniger said she wanted "to tell a story of Hinduism that's been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks".

The author told the Times she "had no plans officially to protest the  decision in India" and expressed gratitude for the a good run the book  had there.

In the US too, the controversy has sent the book shooting toward the top  of Amazon's best seller ranks.

Meanwhile, Dinanath Batra, president of Shiksha Bachao Andolan, the  group that had initiated legal action against Penguin, told Time magazine why they objected to Doniger's book.

"Her intention is bad, the content is anti-national and the language is  abusive. Her agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of  Hindus," he was quoted as saying.

New Jersey entrepreneur and author Rajiv Malhotra, founder of The  Infinity Foundation who has questioned the "eroticisation" of Indian  texts by Western scholars, called the Penguin decision a "moral  victory".

Doniger is now "anticipating trouble" with a forthcoming Norton  anthology of primary Hindu writings, due out in November, of which she is the editor.

"It's not me, I'm collecting these texts," she told the Times. "It's the  texts these people won't like."

"I've made a point of putting in a lot of them, so people will see  Hinduism is both the thing Batra and company say it is and what I say it  is."

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