The much criticised move by publishing house Penguin India to drop Wendy Doniger's controversial book on Hinduism has brought to the centerstage issues of freedom of speech. And it is not just the media and the readers who have come out strongly against the decision, but also writers' community who have come together in solidarity and condemnation of the action.
And even as Wendy Doniger put out a short statement expressing disappointment, Penguins own prolific writer and well known activist Arundhati Roy penned a letter to the publishing house articulating her frustration. She questions the Penguin's motive and reasons for taking the step, reminding the publishing conglomerate of its long history. “You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least,” she demands.
And even though Roy does not put it out in concrete words, but she does speculates whether to continue further relations with Penguin.
Here is the full text of Roy's letter:
A letter to Penguin India (my publishers)
Everybody is shocked at what you have gone and done—at your out-of-court settlement with an unknown Hindu fanatic outfit—in which you seem to have agreed to take Wendy Donniger'sThe Hindus: An Alternative History off the bookshelves of 'Bharat' and pulp it. There will soon no doubt be protestors gathered outside your office, expressing their dismay.
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.
The elections are still a few months away. The fascists are, thus far, only campaigning. Yes, it's looking bad, but they are not in power. Not yet. And you've already succumbed?
What are we to make of this? Must we now write only pro-Hindutva books? Or risk being pulled off the bookshelves in 'Bharat' (as your 'settlement' puts it) and pulped? Will there be some editorial guide-lines perhaps, for writers who publish with Penguin? Is there a policy statement?
Frankly I don't believe this has happened. Tell us it's just propaganda from a rival publishing house. Or an April Fool's day prank that got leaked early. Please say something. Tell us it's not true.
So far I have had been more than happy to be published by Penguin. But now?
What you have done affects us all.
(Author of The God of Small Things, Listening to Grasshoppers, Broken Republic and other books all of which are published by Penguin India)