New Delhi: When he asks them to bend, they offer to crawl. That is kind of power RSS worker Dinanath Batra has come enjoy over India’s publishing industry. His latest victory, less than four months after his last, has come with the quick and easy capitulation by Orient BlackSwan in response to a flimsy legal notice alleging that one of its books has defamatory content on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.
Batra has earned a formidable reputation thanks to Penguin Books India, a leading publisher in the country, which placed more faith in the might of the Hindu Right than the Indian judiciary when it voluntarily decided to pulp Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History and opted for an out-of-court settlement with Batra in February.
It was a moment that catapulted the octogenarian and his Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (through which he led the successful legal campaign against Doniger’s book) to international fame. “Doniger is gone from India. Both her books are not available anymore,” says Batra, justifiably pleased with himself. He has been receiving a stream of local and foreign reporters at the Saraswati Bal Mandir School he runs in West Delhi ever since news of his latest triumph broke. Dinanath Batra in this photo. Image by Pallavi Polanki Following in the footsteps of Penguin, Orient BlackSwan, a Hyderabad-based publishing house which describes itself as a company that publishes “well-researched academic books by distinguished authors”, has preferred to compromise its own reputation than to anger Batra and his ilk.
“As a worker of the RSS for the last more than 70 years, since the inception of the RSS in 1925, my client Sh Dinanath Batra feels hurt by the false, defamatory and malicious campaign aimed at defaming the national and patriotic organisation,” states Batra’s legal notice sent to Orient BlackSwan regarding Sekhar Bandopadhyay’s Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India. A book that noted historian Ramchandra Guha has described as “the best and most objective account of the period by any historian,” in Batra’s view contains content “amounting to hate propaganda against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh among students.”
The book, which was published in 2004, is part of the Third Year BA history syllabus of the Delhi University. The effect Batra’s notice has had on Orient Black Swan has exceeded his own expectations. “We sent this letter a month back. On receiving this notice, they have started reviewing all their books. That means they feel there is something wrong with their books. We are catching hold of the entire list from the publisher and we will bring those books here. We will have a team that will read them and then if we find anything objectionable we shall again send them notice and proceed according to law,” says Batra.
Among the books Orient Black Swan has decided to “set aside” for “comprehensive assessment” in the light of Batra notice is ¬ Megha Kumar’s recently published Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad Since 1969. Kumar is a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University. Meanwhile, his lawyer Monika Arora has brought him more good news on his legal mission to cleanse history books of ‘defamatory’ content on the RSS. “A local court in Saket has taken cognisance of our petition (against Orient BlackSwan) and has admitted our plea.
Now the case will start. Let us see what happens. Once it has been admitted, the battle is half won,” says Batra, fully intent on proceeding legally against the “children of Marx and Macaulay” as he calls authors who he believes are “defaming Hinduism”. Batra and his Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti first made headlines when he moved court in support of the ABVP-led campaign in 2008 against A K Ramanujan’s essay Three Hundred Ramayanas. The Delhi University in a controversial move that was widely criticised dropped Ramanujan’s essay from the History (Honours) syllabus in 2011. But before Batra began to successfully take on scholars of international repute, his focus was largely on NCERT school text books. “As far as NCERT is concerned, the current textbooks are misleading and full of flaws,” says Batra, who in 2006 had filed a PIL in Delhi High Court raising objection to specific passages in history textbooks. “There were 75 passages that were misinterpretations and defamatory. I went to court and many of these passages were dropped by NCERT. Again they’ve brought new history books. Again we are studying those. There are issues with them too…The condition of the Hindi books is even worse. Have you heard of Hindi books having English poems? There are 180 English words, 170 Urdu words, even Persian poems have been included. We are agitating against those books,” he says. Among the many objections Batra has with NCERT textbooks is their representation of the Hindu epics. “They say they are fiction. Ramayana is history.
They are great books. They are not myths. They are history,” he says. Batra, a former general secretary of the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Sansthan- a network of schools run by the RSS, says he believes in making education “autonomous”. “Education should not be politicised. When governments change, textbooks change. Students have become footballs. Education is a national issue and it should be treated as such,” says Batra even though he defends former HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi’s decision to have history textbooks rewritten during the 1999-2004 NDA regime. With the BJP now at the Centre, Batra says he is hopeful of a review of the education system.
He says he has already met the HRD minister and put forward his suggestions to the ministry. “We have already met the HRD Minister. We have told them that they should revisit and review all the organisations in secondary education – the national open school, the central board of education, the NCERT. The illegalities and irregularities will have to be looked into,” says Batra.
High on his agenda is a review of the school curriculum. “There are three aspects to a book. The intention of the author, its content, and the language used. On all those counts, the NCERT books are problematic. These problems can be solved when we will have writers who are dedicated to this country, who are committed to its culture.”