Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History is back, and how. Without any cuts, barely 20 months after it was withdrawn not banned from the market by its original publishers Penguin India.The book -which, apart from being erudite, is a delightful quickpaced read returned two weeks ago courtesy Speaking Tiger, a feisty Delhi-based inde pendent publish ing company, founded in September 2014 by Manas Saikia and Ravi Singh.
Singh was Doniger’s editor in Penguin India and now the publishing director for Speaking Tiger.Doniger withdrew the book from Penguin India, though internationally Penguin continues to be her publisher.
`“It is an excellent book and they (Penguin) were very wrong in withdrawing it. It was basically a commercial decision; they did not want to spend money in defending her. It would have been thrown out in High Court, if not there in another court. I have read the book and I am a Hindu myself. I didn’t find anything that was upsetting,“ Saikia said.
He said, “Doniger is probably one of America’s greatest intellect at this time.Not only Hinduism, she knows everything about Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist (religions)…as professor emeritus in University of Chicago, it is a great thing that she spent time writing this book.“
With the prevalent level of intolerance in the country, the retailers are moving discreetly. Most bookshops, and especially the airport outlets, have begun displaying the book in their shelves, though a bit gingerly. In its first edition of the book, Speaking Tiger has printed 7,000 copies. The Hindus was published in 2010 by Penguin and within months of its publication, Dina Nath Batra, an octogenarian school headmaster, filed a civil and criminal suit against the writer and publisher of the tome that it violated Sec 295a of the Indian Penal Code, which forbids “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class“ of citizens.Batra, an RSS pracharak, incidentally was the torch-bearer of the 1999 Vajpayee government to “cleanse“ the history textbooks in the saffronisation project.
Batra’s textbooks and he has penned quite a few were included in the curriculum in Gujarat and Haryana schools this year. When prime minister Narendra Modi recently linked medical science to Hindu mythology, with examples of “plastic surgery“ and “genetic science“ with reference to Lord Ganesh and Karna, his source was Batra’s textbooks.
In February 2014, Penguin India voluntarily told the court that it would withdraw the book from the market and pulp all the other available copies after recalling them from book retailers and distributors within six months.Penguin’s decision received all round flak from the intelligentsia. Doniger is considered an authority on Hindu religion and scriptures. She is a Sanskrit scholar, among other things. The Speaking Tiger website says: “She is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago. She has also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the University of California, Berkeley.“
295A OF IPC AS WMCD IT’S HARD
to imagine how you could write about any subject as sensitive as religion or history without outrag ing someone; such a rule would mean the end of creative and original schol arly thought. Any new idea offends people who are committed to the old idea, which is to say, most people.
Even in the hands of someone as in tellectually challenged as (Dina Nath) Batra, Article 295a is a weapon of mass cultural destruction. FROM AN ARTICLE IN MAY 2014 BY WENDY DONIGER IN NEW YORK TIMES
NEW COVER SPEAKING TIGER’S
website has listed the book among several others; The Hindus is priced at Rs 632, with the original MRP of Rs 799 superscripted. MRP of Penguin’s edition was Rs 1,200. The book cover has changed too; the Penguin edition was a rendition of Krishna and gopis designed by Elsa Chiao and credited to Santi Arts, In dia. The new cover is that of an Ardhanarishvara bronze idol.