Penguin India on Tuesday withdrew "with immediate effect" all copies of Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History from "the Bharat (Indian territory)", two weeks after Bloomsbury India decided to withdraw Jitendra Bhargava's book, The Descent of Air India, under pressure from former civil aviation minister Praful Patel.
The news so outraged social media throughout Tuesday that several Twitter users put up links to the e-book version of Doniger's book, leading to thousands of downloads of the book. Ironically, there are probably more people who have read or are reading the book now than would have in all the four years since it was published.
But that's the futility of trying to ban a book in the age of Internet. Or indeed any age -? witness the increased sales of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasreen's Lajja after they were banned.
The publisher has informed a Delhi court, which was hearing a case filed against it, that it would recall and destroy all copies of "The Hindus: An Alternative History".
Penguin India also said that it has settled the matter out of court with the petitioners and agreed to pull off all copies from market.
The court after recording the statement of the publisher and the petitioners disposed of the case.
In Doniger's case, Penguin India's current decision to recall and pulp copies of The Hindus goes back to a 2011 civil suit filed by Dina Nath Batra, convenor of Delhi-based Shiksha Bacho Andolan. In his notice to Doniger, Penguin India and Penguin USA, Batra took exception to the way the book's cover showed "Lord Krishna...sitting on buttocks of a naked woman surrounded by other naked women...in a vulgar, base perverse manner to outrage religious feelings of Hindus". Batra also objected to the way the book emphasised "only those texts which portray linga as erect male sexual organ", Doniger's assertion that "RSS is the militant branch/wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party", and that the Ramayana was politically "to make India free of Muslims and Christians and any others". Batra's legal notice also accuses Doniger of being motivated by "Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light" and being "a woman hungry of sex".
Doniger's book has been controversial ever since it was published in 2009, with several scholars saying her assertions were "unreliable" and "idiosyncratic". But the ban on The Hindus signals a rising intolerance among Hindu fringe groups against perceived slurs on Hinduism by foreign Indologists such as Doniger, a distinguished professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, and Michael Witzel, professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University. In 2011, these groups also succeeded in getting Delhi University to scrap AK Ramanujan's landmark essay on "300 Ramayanas" which referred to the various versions of the epic.
—With inputs from agencies