Penguin India Forced to Recall and Destroy Scholar Wendy Doniger's Book The Hindus: An Alternative History

Posted on February 13, 2014

Scholars in India and free speech activists are outraged that Penguin Books India has been forced to recall and destroy all copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at The University of Chicago. Penguin was forced to settle a lawsuit filed by an extremist Hindu nationalist group Shiksha Bachao Andolan (which some refer to as the Hindu Taliban) that threatened Penguin, the author and Penguin's staff with both civil and criminal penalties for publishing a book that insulted the feelings of Hindus. The group has fought against sex education in Indian schools and has forced textbooks to be pulled from schools that the group does not approve. The 2009 book was a number one non-fiction bestseller in India.

The lawsuit was brought under Indian criminal and civil statutes. The lawsuit accuses Penguin and Dr. Doniger of "hurting the religious feelings of millions of Hindus." Dr. Doniger posted a response on the PEN Dehli Facebook page in which she thanks her supporters and criticizes India's laws against free speech.

She says, "I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate. And as a publisher's daughter, I particularly wince at the knowledge that the existing books (unless they are bought out quickly by people intrigued by all the brouhaha) will be pulped."

Dr. Doniger says she doesn't blame Penguin Books, India and credits them for trying to save the book. She says, "Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on 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."

So what is in Dr. Doniger's book that has this group so angry? Her focus in Hindu history is the stories of women, the poor and animals, rather than the wealthy, educated males. Fundamentalists say she dwells too much on the lurid romantic escapades of the gods and goddesses in the Hindu pantheon. In this interview she talks about why she wrote the book, her love for India and Hinduism and how it has affected her spirituality (she is Jewish). Take a look:

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