New Delhi: Denouncing Penguin’s decision to withdraw US scholar Wendy Doniger’s book, authors and activists Saturday said it is a campaign to drown all questioning voices and prepare the ground for a chauvinistic and communal presentation of history and culture.
In a statement Saturday, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) said the “surrender” of the publisher in an out-of-court settlement, which involves the withdrawal of Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’ and the pulping of its copies, has rightly “aroused much disquiet.”
The statement has been signed by Irfan Habib, C P Chandrasekhar, Mridula Mukherjee, M K Raina, Ram Rahman, Jayati Ghosh, Zoya Hasan among others.
“The event has, however, a still more sinister aspect. It is, clearly an early salvo in the renewed campaign to drown all questioning voices and prepare the ground for a full-fledged chauvinistic and communal presentation of our history and culture with no quarter allowed to dissenting voices,” the Sahmat statement said.
“The next step, as some newspaper reports already suggest, is to extend the net of censorship and use government machinery, wherever available, to extend to school and college textbooks the same kind of misinformation, chauvinistic claims and denigration of other religions and cultures that we had seen during the past BJP-led regime at the centre,” it said.
“It is, therefore, necessary not only to condemn what has happened in regard to the ‘Hindus, an Alternative History’, especially the pusillanimity of the publisher, but also to redouble our vigilance in regard to what is still to come,” Sahmat said.
Meanwhile, author and journalist Siddharth Vardarajan tweeted that he along with Jyotirmaya Sharma “have asked Penguin to pulp our books and revert copyright so we can deal with any would-be bullies on our own terms.”
In his letter to Penguin, Vardarajan said he found “most unconvincing”, the statement released by the publisher which said it was taking the decision to withdraw the book as it has a moral responsibility to protect its “employees against threats and harassment”.
“As an author I no longer have the confidence that Penguin will stand by my book ‘Gujarat: the making of a tragedy’ published by you in 2002- in the event that some group or individual should decide to demand that it be withdrawn because they feel it violates 295,” Vardarajan said.
He asked the publisher to cancel the contract and pulp all remaining copies of his book and revert copyright for the book “so that I may freely distribute it electronically without the fear of any future arbitrary withdrawal by Penguin in the face of pressure from the sort of intellectual bullies who have managed to have their way with Prof Doniger’s book.”