The recall of US author Wendy Doniger's book on Hinduism by publisher Penguin Books was received with much outrage. And although the official decision to withdraw the book tilted 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' was made on February 4, the move has created an uproar among readers as well as within the writing community, that is still ongoing.
The backlash from the announcement of the ban has been quite evident on social media. The hashtag #TheHindus was trending, where people showcased their outrage. However the book has not been banned, it has been recalled. This means that Wendy Doniger can seek out another publishing house and sell the book through them.
Wendy Doniger, herself put out a statement on Facebook explaining that she was extremely disappointment with Penguin's actions. One of Penguin's long time writers Arundhati Roy also penned a letter to the publishing house expressing her frustration. She questions 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.
After recieving much intense criticism, the publishing giant released this statement on Friday, February 14.
"Penguin Books India believes, and has always believed, in every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, a right explicitly codified in the Indian Constitution. This commitment informs Penguin’s approach to publishing in every territory of the world, and we have never been shy about testing that commitment in court when appropriate. At the same time, a publishing company has the same obligation as any other organisation to respect the laws of the land in which it operates, however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be. We also have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can.
The settlement reached this week brings to a close a four year legal process in which Penguin has defended the publication of the Indian edition of The Hindus by Wendy Doniger. We have published, in succession, hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of the title. International editions of the book remain available physically and digitally to Indian readers who still wish to purchase it.
We stand by our original decision to publish The Hindus, just as we stand by the decision to publish other books that we know may cause offence to some segments of our readership. We believe, however, that the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code, will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.
This is, we believe, an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights."
(Additional Inputs from Joanna Lobo)