Millennium Post

As if pulping has ever stifled books

Penguin’s decision to withdraw Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, a critically acclaimed work of scholarship that has shed light on a number of facets of India’s most-followed religion, is deeply disturbing. The publishing company, one of India’s most reputed, oldest and biggest, should have not succumbed to pressure from fringe groups demanding the book be removed from circulation and its remaining copies be destroyed in six months. This is outrageous since Doniger’s authoritative work on Hinduism illuminates many a dark alley hidden in the labyrinthine mesh of this religion’s texts and rituals, codes and practices, prescriptions and interpretations. If anything, Doniger’s award-winning, luminous and eclectic work of research and passion represents the best of scholarship and lends spark to the dying embers of religion as a subject of academic study, not bordering exactly on theology per se, but as a cultural phenomena, existing in the contact zones between faith and everyday life.

It’s therefore extremely unfortunate that Penguin has bowed to Dina Nath Batra, the convener of Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a tiny tributary of the RSS dressed up as an educational institution, who alleges that Doniger’s book has been ‘written with a Christian missionary zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light.’ Such accusations only bring into sharp relief the appalling state of ideologues and the issues that they would give traction to, thereby creating an atmosphere of severe censorship and curtailment of intellectual liberty. Not very different are the hooligans who desecrate a work of art by India’s best artists and allege that they show disrespect to our gods and goddesses. While such shrill voices will always be shouting from the rooftops, we need to create solid legal edifices to protect intellectual and civil freedoms under all circumstances. Academic studies, however controversial, must be debated, not stifled.
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