It was earlier this month that Penguin India made the decision to stop publishing and recall copies of a book titled The Hindus: An Alternative History, by controversial American writer Wendy Doniger, in response to a petition lodged by a complainant in an Indian court. This is not a “banning” of the book in India per se, but perhaps something akin to a banning.
The reason for the book being recalled is that it has upset a section of Hindus, who claim it contains a number of historical inaccuracies, as well as that it sexualises, misrepresents and insults Hindus and Hindu traditions. A chapter by chapter list of the said inaccuracies can be found here.
It should be noted that India has a history of banning books, in particular those that have been consider blasphemous to Muslims, in an effort to pre-emptively reduce the prospect of rioting. The banning of “Satanic Verses” is a case in point. Even the Da Vinci Code was banned in one Indian state and the film banned in several states (for offence to the Christian faith).
Here are three articles giving very different perspectives, from persons sympathetic to Hindu dharma, on the “banning” of The Hindus, I would recommend readers to consider the points in these articles and make up their own minds:
I myself have mixed feelings about all this. On the whole I am simply not for book banning of any sort.
However, having been to a talk by Wendy Doniger, I couldn’t help but notice her smug and mocking tone, supressing her laughter while she shocked the crowd using Freudian psychoanalysis to uncover supressed sexual longings in all the characters in the Ramayana; thus according to Doniger, Hanuman and Lakshman lusted after Sita, while Sita was supressing hidden feelings towards Lakshman (and the list went on). It was clear that the whole thing was just her projecting her own way of thinking onto the characters, and it was all very cock and bull. She also herself behaves very intolerantly to anyone who asked her critical questions, labelling them as “Hindu nationalist” and “right wing” without actually answering their points. Therefore, although she has lambasted India for apparently taking away her freedom of expression, she does not appear to wish to grant freedom of expression to viewpoints not of her own! I do not think of her as a serious scholar of Hinduism at all – the list of factual errors in her “The Hindus” is very long, and nobody should be able to pass of as a scholar in a subject in which they make so many basic mistakes!
I have been to various bookshops in Indian airports and cities, and Wendy Doniger’s books are usually quite prominently displayed. I really wonder about the power equations in the world of publishing that give her books such a prominent position.