Penguin is gearing up to receive and pulp all the recalled books of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, after it settled on Monday with the Delhi-based Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti which draged the leading publisher to court for ”hurting Hindu sentiments”.
Well, Penguin better prepare to receive other titles too because of its action. Prominent intelligentsia from Bangalore, miffed with the publisher’s abject capitulation, have begun a movement on Wednesday, asking each participant to send back one book each, published by Penguin.
Anmol Vellani, founder and former executive director of India Foundation of Arts, who is spearheading this civil protest in the city, says: “Readers need to make it clear to Penguin that they are upset about this (withdrawal of Wendy Doniger’s book) decision.” In a heart-wrenching move which will find resonance only with genuine book-lovers, he’s parted ways with his “most precious book” from his home library: The Trial by Franz Kafka, along with a note of protest.
Vellani’s civil protest has caught on like wildfire on the social media networks with more people joining the movement. Vellani’s statement on FB urges people to: Imagine what would happen if everyone couriered one Penguin book from their personal collection to the publisher’s office. Spread the word. I am sending my book tomorrow, with a note of protest. It’s a little drop but all of you could make it an ocean.
“If one book is banned because somebody says that it hurts the sentiments of Hindus it has to be proved in court,” says Vellani. “We should not give into this kind of browbeating and public censorship by various forces.”
Among the scores of people who have joined the movement are theatre personalities Kirtana Kumar and Abhishek Majumdar who have also couriered Penguin their ‘fury and protest’. Kumar’s pick is Shobhaa De’s Surviving Men. “Earlier it was only the government banning books. But, in this case the publisher has outdone the government. It is disappointing,” says Kumar, who believes that sending back books to Penguin is “a sound form of civil protest”.
Theatre director Abhishek Majumdar’s book Three Plays was published by Penguin. And his personal copy of his own book is on its way to the Penguin office in New Delhi with a strong protest letter. A furious Majumdar says: “It’s contradictory for an organisation that is supposed to educate to ‘stop’ books (from reaching the readers). A publishing house is not an FMCG company. It is ridiculous that Penguin even had an out-of-court settlement.” Majumdar concludes: ”As a writer, I don’t want to be published by a publisher that doesn’t stand up for its writers.”
Author and mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik had said in a 2009 interview with Wendy Doniger that anyone who is serious about studying Hinduism needs to study her works because for ”over 40 years Doniger has been researching, translating and commenting on Hindu scriptures and stories”. Over an email interaction with Bangalore Mirror, Pattanaik said that people have a right to their point of view. “People have a right to get upset and publishers have a right to withdraw books. We are living in a world where everyone has a point of view, but very little generosity and consideration and inclusive spirit. Don’t forget our Supreme Court does not believe the LGBT community has human rights.” He frets, “There is no point running to courts in this country.”
Author Vikram Sampath who has read Doniger’s book “cover to cover” says that right from editing to the veracity to dates “it speaks poorly of somebody of Penguin’s stature to have published a book like this. Lot more due diligence should have been given before they went into print. However, if the publisher does not have faith in the integrity of the work they have published, it is a pity”. Sampath believes that an answer to this book by Wendy would be publishing another book that would put things in perspective.
As far as the protest against the book, he says: “It’s not a researched or nuanced response by Indians as many aren’t well read about Hinduism.” People believe that Penguin has set a dangerous precedent by its action. Sampath believes that people will shy away from writing. “Each book takes five to six years of research and hard work. Authors might start rethinking if they should do this or stick to chicklit fiction,” he says.
Vellani strongly believes that this civil protest ”has got to bite them (the publisher) where it matters. I urge others to join this protest. I urge readers to stop buying Penguin books and authors to refuse to publish with Penguin. Authors already on the Penguin list are in a difficult place and I have some sympathy for their complete silence.” As far as Vellani is concerned he is vowing that he is not going to buy another book published by Penguin, and will not be patronising them.
When contacted, Penguin responded via email saying: Penguin India is not commenting at the moment.