Penguin blames IPC for ‘Hindus’ book withdrawal

February 14, 2014 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

New Delhi, February 14, 2014: Says the British-vintage Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code made it very difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression.

Wendy Doniger

Under fire from authors and the publishing fraternity for giving up easily in the legal battle over American Indologist Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, Penguin Books India on Friday said it stood by its decision to publish her book but maintained that the British-vintage Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) made it very difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression.

Breaking its silence three days after word spread that it had entered into an out-of-court settlement with Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti — which had moved the court against the book on grounds of “distortion” aimed at “denigrating Hindu traditions” Penguin India said: “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”.

Flagging the problems arising out of certain laws, Penguin India said: “The IPC, 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.”

As for the criticism that it gave up too soon by agreeing to settle at the lower court stage itself, the publishing house underscored that the settlement reached this week brought to a close a four year legal process “in which Penguin defended the publication of the Indian edition” of the book.

Maintaining that Penguin remains committed to every individual’s right to freedom of thought and expression, the statement said it was this commitment that informs the publishing house’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.”

Several leading authors including Arundhati Roy, Hari Kunzru, Ramachandra Guha and William Dalrymple — all of whom have published with Penguin — had come down heavily on the publishing house for caving in. The India chapter of PEN International — a global community of writers across 100 countries — had on Thursday said: “Choosing to settle the matter out of court, instead of challenging an adverse judgement, narrows India’s intellectual discourse and significantly undermines freedom of expression”.

Given Penguin’s place in the global publishing industry, the out-of-court settlement made international news and the U.S.-based National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) had a day earlier urged Penguin India to “reconsider its deplorable decision” to remove The Hindus from circulation in the country. Describing the move as a “de facto act of self-censorship”, NBCC said this was incompatible with the traditions of free inquiry that are necessary for democratic institutions to function.

Ms. Doniger, herself, has been full of praise for Penguin; stating that other publishers had quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort Penguin made to save this book. “Penguin India took this book knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit.”

According to Ms. Doniger, Penguin India was 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 hindu

Enter Google AdSense Code Here

Comments are closed.