Freedom of expression is definitely compromised in our country when it touches upon sensitive topics like religion. The latest one to do so is a controversial book by Wendy Doniger – “The Hindus: An Alternative History”, hence the publisher Penguin Books India has decided to withdraw all published copies.
The news came into light after the copy of the agreement signed by Penguin got leaked on Scribd. The leaked agreement states that with immediate effect Penguin India shall,
Recall and withdraw all copies of the book, Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, from Bharat (Indian territory.)
The agreement also states that the book has to be withdrawn from all territories of ‘Bharat’ starting at the earliest and latest within six months of the agreement being signed. Further Penguin needs to ‘submit that it respects all religions worldwide‘.
The agreement has been drawn between Penguin and a group called Shiksha Bachao Andolan based in Naraina Vihar in New Delhi. In 2011, the group had filed a civil suit against the company over the book. In addition to the civil case, there have been two criminal cases filed on the same matter, one being in 2010 and another in 2013.
In the course of four years, the Shiksha Bachao Andolan group had slammed the book on the grounds that it had insulted Hindus and hurt religious sentiments by declaring the mythological epic Ramayan as a fiction.
While Penguin decided to crack under pressure, Wendy defending the publisher stated that, “They were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”
The American scholar is disappointed with this event but at the same time she is glad that in the age of Internet, it is no longer possible to suppress a book. True! With leading media houses covering the story, the event was already trending on Twitter since yesterday. Keywords like Hindus and Wendy Doniger have been trending all day on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Twitter which became the battleground between supporters of freedom of speech and Shiksha Bachao Andolan group, also saw tweets that encouraged people to download a free copy of the book.
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) February 12, 2014
This isn’t the first case where freedom of speech has been curbed. Recently Jitender Bhargava, author of ‘The Descent of Air India’ witnessed a rude shock when his publisher Bloomsbury Publishing India withdrew the book from the market and destroyed all available stock without even informing the author.
This was done following a case filed by former Civil Aviation minister, Praful Patel who is now leader of Nationalist Congress Party and a union minister, that the contents of the book are defamatory; Bloomsbury even issued a newspaper apology to the Minister for the embarrassment caused.
To overcome this injustice Bhargava has chosen to go digital and release an e-book of the controversial book, and to communicate this, he has chosen Facebook.
Freedom of speech is being challenged today globally but Internet and social media are clearly making the difference.
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