Be ready for encores of Wendy Doniger's 'The Hindus'

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 - 5:18pm IST | Agency: DNA
The next time an author lands Penguin India publisher Chiki Sarkar in a court, expect her to conserve legal fee and get out of the way

Chiki Sarkar, the publisher of Penguin India, hasn’t been her communicative self on Twitter. Not a word so far on what prompted her capitulation over scholar Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, and a humiliating settlement to pulp all unsold copies.

Do I attribute Sarkar’s silence to moral cowardice? Or is it on the advice of her lawyers until the raging controversy recedes – never mind the daring and disappointment that Doniger and her interviewer have expressed? Or is it that the publishing czarina has a stated position on Lakshmi versus Saraswati that most of us haven’t read?

On that and a fast forward on what Sarkar might do next, I commend her detailed editorial line available in a blog written on Gandhi Jayanti, 2012.

Here the proud heiress of the Ananda Bazar Patrika Group mentions injunctions that have gone relatively unnoticed. For example, Siddharth Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned had a chapter on Arindam Chaudhuri, the founder of the IIPM business school, which was excerpted in Caravan. “Chaudhuri secured an injunction from a small court in Assam and we had to publish the book without the chapter.”

The second was a biography of a Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalithaa: A Portrait. Here, Jayalalithaa took out an injunction after an excerpt appeared in Outlook. The book has never been published.

The blog states Sarkar’s “hunch” that injunctions against books are (will continue to be?) more common in India than (in the) UK or USA. Also, that overturning of injunctions is more difficult here because “a nationwide injunction can be placed from anywhere in the country and not all courts are equally diligent in assessing the claims of the injunction”.

 “This might make an Indian more ‘trigger happy,’ than if he were elsewhere,” Sarkar argues. 

Then comes a clear forecast on what she might do the next time protesters take her to court. “....reckons us publishers don’t fight hard enough. This could be true. Legal cases are expensive. We’ve probably spent more on the Jayalalithaa book than we would have ever made on it.  Often I think in matters of free speech, the daily pragmatism of money, effort and time wins out over the big idea.”

And here’s why ‘the pragmatism of money, effort and time’ will win: “We live in a country that has seen major free speech victories (and lawyers on the whole) feel confident about overturning injunctions related to free speech. (But) my views as a publisher have been usually the opposite. Injunctions make things costly, time consuming, and take our energies away from the work we’re really meant to do. And so we try and avoid them as much as possible. Apart from the fact that we don’t fight hard enough for them, I wonder whether it means we impose a kind of self censorship.”

“My own thinking has become more pragmatic and more belligerent. I think as publishers we should commission what we want and we have enough legal precedent to protect ourselves. The problem is that none of us have the time and money to wage a constant war.”

So much for disappointment expressed by Salil Tripathi and public intellectuals like Swapan Dasgupta and Ramchandra Guha.


Rohit Bansal is CEO & co-founder, India Stratgey Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting. He tweets at @therohitbansal.

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