A University of Chicago scholar’s “alternative history“ of Hinduism will be barred from India by its publisher — and its existing copies pulped — to settle an extensive legal battle launched against the tome by a conservative group there.
Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” is a 2011 book from the longtime divinity professor and noted Hinduism scholar “that offers a new way of understanding one of the world’s oldest major religions,” according to its publisher.
Critics of the text, however, decry it as an objectionable, incorrect and illegal representation of Hinduism.
That prompted the New Delhi-based Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee to lodge multiple complaints against Doniger and The Penguin Group publishing giant, in a case that underscores the clout of India’s religious society while prompting concerns about the status of free expression in the rapidly-developing country.
Doniger, in a statement posted on social media, expressed anger and disappointment at the settlement.
“And I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate,” she said.
Monika Arora, a New Delhi-based lawyer representing the conservative Hindu activists, said that under the court settlement, Penguin Books India would withdraw the book from publication and the plaintiffs would withdraw their case.
A scanned copy of the purported settlement agreement was posted online this week, but U.S. and India-based representatives of The Penguin Group did not speak publicly or respond to requests for comment about the case.
Arora verified that the settlement agreement distributed online was accurate. The document says Penguin will withdraw the book from Indian shelves within six months, and destroy any unsold or recalled copies of the book at its own expense.
Doniger’s critics, in part, said the book contained factual errors and violated a section of India’s penal code that criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Such acts, which the law says can be spoken or written, are punishable with up to three years imprisonment and fines.