A fabulously useful resource from South Asia Citizens Web: a list of responses to Penguin’s withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book in India, with many quoted in full.
Prominent sections of the establishment in India have long abdicated their commitment to a defence of the written word, forsaking the liberal strategy of allowing a text to be contested legally — and legally alone — on whatever grouse, and instead even abetting intimidation as a tool for bringing censorship. It is to India’s shame that it was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Since then, through the vandalisation that hounded a scholarly biography of Shivaji out of circulation, the message has been clear.
The recent withdrawal by Oxford University Press and Delhi University of an essay by A.K. Ramanujan was a capitulation to expressions of intolerance by rightwing Hindutva groups similar to those aflutter about Doniger’s analysis.
The message they send is that contested analyses and narratives will not be challenged in debate, but debate on anything that agitated groups perceive to be unaligned to their puritanical, artificially compact worldview will be suffocated. They have got their way.
I did not know that about the essay and OUP. Wtf?
Hindutva’s ideologues have led often violent movements to ban works of art and academia — like MF Husain’s paintings and James Laine’s book on Shivaji.
What is surprising is Doniger’s publishers, Penguin India, buckling and agreeing to pulp her book. This reflects the growing power of bullying self-appointed censors, with governments, politicians and courts seldom standing in their way. If the law is trying to protect religious sentiment, the irony is that it is Doniger’s work — not Batra’s — that celebrates Hinduism. She appears to make the case that sex was treated by Hinduism as a natural, beautiful part of life, not to be treated with guilt and shame as Semitic religions may demand. This can hardly be construed as an attack on Hinduism. But by attacking Doniger’s work for discussing sensuality in Hindu life, her opponents display a Victorian hangover with a Taliban temperament. Persistent attacks like these, and supineness of authorities, raise the question whether democracy — and India’s future as a nation-state — can survive without freedom of expression.
For an answer, look to Pakistan. Indian laws which forbid offence to any religion mimic Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, and Hindutva is perhaps the only force in the world driven by Pakistan envy today. If we go down the path of hurt sentiments and incentivising professional offence takers, we will soon have no defence left against the radicalism tearing Pakistan apart.
Imagine wanting to be like Pakistan.
Penguin was unarguably in a position to fight a longer legal battle in defence of Wendy Doniger’s right to be read, and by implication the right of every Indian to choose what she wants to read. That the publisher allowed itself to be browbeaten into submission by a little-known outfit that saw no contradiction in its own sweeping slander of the author — among other things, the petitioner called her “sex hungry” — is a comment on the illiberalism incrementally taking India in its sweep. To an extent this was unavoidable because the churn in Indian politics was inevitably leading to a heightened awareness about community identities and group rights. However, sensibilities have become so susceptible to hurt that virtually anything written can be contested and asked to be withdrawn. The intolerance, visible especially on the social media, is towards anything seen as modern and forward-looking, with the unofficial censors assuming the right to attack and abuse at will. This twin intimidation — of censorship combined with licence — has flourished all the more in a political environment increasingly supportive of moral policing and guilty of an almost kneejerk willingness to ban books. The Maharashtra government banned Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, under pressure from vandals who attacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in protest. More recently, cartoon depictions of B.R. Ambedkar had to be withdrawn from NCERT text-books. A quarter century after The Satanic Verses, the written word seems to be more and more under threat.
The treatment meted out to Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen must top any list of shame, from their books being banned to their being personally hounded. They provide august company for the likes of James Laine — run afoul of Marathi chauvinists not once but twice in the past decade for his books on Chhatrapati Shivaji, with both works being banned — and Joseph Lelyveld whose book on Mahatma Gandhi was banned in Gujarat in 2011. The best that can be said for the state is that it is equal opportunity in its cravenness, willing to back obscurantists of all stripes. If it quailed at the prospect of angering hardline Muslim elements with Rushdie, Nasreen and R V Bhasin, it has accommodated Christian outrage when it comes to the Da Vinci Code and the self-appointed guardians of Hinduism who took outrage at Ramanujan and Doniger.
Livemint.com February 12 by Salil Tripathi
…in the next edition of her book, [Doniger] might scrutinize more what happened to some followers of Hinduism that they abandoned the faith’s proclaimed tenets of tolerance, and embraced the intolerant strains of other faiths, compared to which their own faith, they claimed, was superior. Or at least different from the monotheistic religions where notions like blasphemy were tossed around to silence opponents. That is a political question, and the ease with which the Indian state acquiesced to the loud mobs that shout “we are offended!” has only made it easier for obscure groups to turn to courts. And these courts, all too willingly, admit petitions drawn from Victorian-era sections of the penal code, such as 153A and 295A, which give a licence to anyone to complain that his or her feelings are hurt, that communal harmony may get disrupted, that hatred is being incited.
But no book razed a mosque; no books entered a railway station or five-star hotels and killed people; no book blew up crowded bazaars; no book looked the other way when crowds extracted revenge on other communities over real or imagined wrongs. People did that; and those people have rarely been brought to courts to face charges. Instead, the author is asked to narrow her imagination, or to swallow his words. This is the infantilization of India.
And there’s a lot more. An excellent resource. Thank you, SACW.