From this, in today’s Publisher’s Lunch, it looks like Penguin India is getting tetchy in defending its decision to withdraw its scholarly book, “The Hindus,” from Indian marketplace because Indian law forbids publication of anything that hurts the feelings of a religious group:
Penguin India issued a statement earlier today regarding its decision to pull Wendy Doniger’s THE HINDUS from sale in that country after a settlement that ended a four-year court battle. “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.” But, the company said, they have “the same obligation as any other organization 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.”
While Penguin India said it stood by its 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,” section 295A of India’s Penal Code will, in Penguin India’s view, “make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law.” They conclude the matter is “an issue of great significance not just for the protection of creative freedoms in India but also for the defence of fundamental human rights.”
Update: Today the New York Times weighed in, with this article (in a section called “India Ink” — isn’t it an adorable heading? — which reports on Matters Indian):
ANOTHER UPDATE from Publisher’s Lunch on Wendy Doniger, with a link to Doniger’s terrific opinion piece in the New York Times:
Author of THE HINDUS Wendy Doniger writes in an NYT op-ed about the circumstances around the withdrawal of her book in India, saying that “I was in high spirits.’ She explains: “The dormant liberal conscience of India was awakened by the stunning blow to freedom of speech that had been dealt by my publisher in giving in to the demands of the claimants, agreeing to take the book out of circulation and pulp all remaining copies.”
Doniger points out: “If Mr. Batra’s intention was to keep people from reading the book, it certainly backfired: In India, not a single copy was destroyed (the publisher had only a few copies in stock, and those in bookstores quickly sold out), and e-books circulate freely. You cannot ban a book in the age of the Internet.” Nonetheless, a vibrant comments section on the NYT’s site points to still more controversy.