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Wendy Doniger’s Book On Hinduism Withdrawn By Publisher: Should We Give In To The Whims Of The Banning Brigade?

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By Amrita Roy:

So Penguin India has recalled Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History. After fighting a battle for four years, finally the publishing house gave in to the lawsuit of Shiksha Bachao Andolan and agreed to pulp copies of the book. This sets a very dangerous precedent for the practice of freedom of expression in the country. What are Indians going to have to face after this? Will every person with an opinion which isn’t in line with the status quo be closeted? Will a person who is brave to put forth an opinion be criminalized and hunted down?

Picture Courtesy: Bhavin Patel
Picture Courtesy: Bhavin Patel

Decades ago Kurt Vonnegut faced a similar situation when his novel Slaughterhouse Five was banned and even burned in the furnace of a school for his use of coarse language in the novel. In a low-key letter to the school’s administration, Vonnegut stated that it is the “evil deeds and the lying that hurt” the society instead of the language. And the system has been lying to us. Doniger did not write an “evil” book. She was not lying or maligning Hinduism. She is merely putting her point of view across. If anything, she has written a wonderful book that has been widely acclaimed. The regressive laws, lawmakers, law implementers and the patrons of these regressive laws need to realize that allowing citizens of India to read Doniger’s book will not hurt the culture. Instead it will only broaden perspective and let people think in a different way.

But I doubt that is what the law of the country wants. It doesn’t want people to rise up and speak their mind or form educated opinions on issues of importance. It wants people to be spoon-fed with only the information that is sanctioned by them so that status quo is maintained. Dumbing down a billion strong population is the most pathetic and shameful way of trying to remain in power. This is not Stalin’s Russia or Mussolini’s Italy or Kim Jung Il’s North Korea. This is the largest democracy in the world whose freedom of expression is being tampered with. If you want to remain in power then provide people with the outlets to make choices for themselves. Promote the thirst for education by providing access to quality resources. Let the people decide what is right and what is wrong. Give them access to The Hindus: An Alternative History in bookstores. Let the reader decide whether the book is ethical or not.

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  1. Anmol

    Who the hell is this Wendy Doinger! Ask her to criticize her countrys history and tradition first, and then talk about others. They cannot accept their own faults or handle their country and they have set out to teach history to the rest of the world. Bloody hippocrites!!!

    Criticizing a religion or other country’s majority community traditions is very easy! But believing in them and living with them, developing with them is something India has beautifully done!!

    I am a proud Indian !!

    1. S Murthy

      1)’Developing with those traditions’…..really??? Is this what you call developing with traditions? As long as you are not open minded enough to handle somebody who makes alternative interpretations or sees your traditions differently there is no scope for development at all.
      2)What is with the ‘proud Indian’? This book is not about spreading anti-nationalist sentiments.Just because it talks about a certain religion does not mean it encourages a negative view towards India. Every Indian who has read this book is equally proud of his country.
      3)Talk about hypocrisy after you learn its spelling correctly.(It’s hypocrites and not hippocrites)

  2. Varidhi

    Anmol, I do not really agree with you here. I understand that you might strongly oppose the content of the book – that’s fine- you’re entitled to your opinions. But it doesn’t matter whether the book comes out in India or not. The mere fact is, that if not in India, it will come out somewhere else. And with globalization and the internet, there are copies of it on the internet that can be accessed anytime by anyone. My point is, banning it from certain regions does not scrap the content of the book altogether. Rather, I believe that freedom of speech is fundamental, and by putting this book out in the Indian mainstream, it will actually give somebody the option of contesting the content of the book or arguing for the other side if they do not agree with something that’s been published. Till when will the government restrict what the population can or cannot have access to? China practices restrictive policies all the time; speak with someone from the Mainland and you’ll see the frustration within moments. Do we really want to stoop our levels of freedom to that extent? Just some food for though..

    And Amrita, I think you did a great job with this article. Short, crisp and bang on.

  3. aparnawanchoo

    well worded Amrita. of course, its high time Indian system took their noses out of their aged beliefs and customs. We can’t even gracefully let some controversial opinionated works exist, so much for freedom and right to speech, altering it every now and then as per our conveniences. It’s issues like these that puts our country and the system in a poor light. We got to let such things exist, to be liked or hated lies on the readers. Dumbing down voices or not making an audience available to such works would not solve the purpose, i believe.

  4. ABs

    WEll, Charlie Hebdo magazines are also illegal in India. Protest against their ban as well. But, you won’t, because the point here is that Hinduism is seen as an easy target.

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