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#FreeSpeech: Penguin India withdraws Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus’


Indian authors, critics and readers have expressed their outrage after Penguin India on Tuesday agreed to withdraw a book on Hinduism by American academic and author Wendy Doniger.

Doniger's 'The Hindus: An Alternative History' was first published in 2009 and caused much disquiet within conservative Hindu circles for its controversial re-interpretation of ancient Hindu texts and mythology, particularly in relation to sexuality and gender.

However, the best seller received widespread critical acclaim and was shortlisted for Book of the Year by India's National Book Critics Circle in 2010.

Penguin India's decision to withdraw the book from sale follows a series of court cases and protests against the company and the author by a number of Hindu organizations in India and the United States, most notably the Hindu American Foundation and the Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF).

IAIF President Narain Kataria was quoted in 2011 as saying of the book: "By giving a pornographic twist to Hindu objects of veneration and worship, Doniger is trying to create the illusion that Hinduism is nothing but a crude immoral religion.

This has the potential to create disaffection, disillusionment and depression in the minds of Hindu children about Hindu Dharma."

According to Aseem Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation, who criticised her work online, "Parallelisms in her book conjure up obsolete anecdotes comparing the sacred stone linga representing Lord Shiva to a leather strap-on sex toy, and Lord Rama, one of the most widely worshiped deities, is psychoanalyzed to have acted out of fear that he was becoming a sex-addict like his father."   

Doniger responded to Mr Shukla in 2013, saying: "(The book) highlights a narrative alternative to the one constituted by the most famous texts in Sanskrit and represented in most surveys in English. 

It tells a story that incorporates the narratives of and about alternative people – people who, from the standpoint of most high-caste Hindu males, are alternative in the sense of otherness, people of other religions, or cultures, or castes, or species (animals), or gender (women)."

Chicago-born Doniger, 73, is one of the most respected Indian scholars in India and is a professor of History at the University of Chicago.  Much of her work is focused on translating, interpreting and comparing elements of Hindu theories through modern contexts of gender, sexuality and identity.

The withdrawal of 'The Hindus' - the book is still available online and is yet to be banned outright in India - has resulted in an outpouring of criticism on social media networks with #TheHindus trending throughout Tuesday.

Respected Indian historian and writer Ramchandra Guha tweeted: "Anwser to a book one doesn't like is another book, not a ban, or legal action or physical intimidation".

Academic Kranti Saran said: "Penguin India caves to right-wing bullies & agrees to pulp, at their own cost, Wendy Doniger's book on the Hindus.  Shocking & disgraceful!" 

Some twitter users had practical advice to those still interested in buying a copy of the book.  "Just ordered "The Hindus" from Amazon.  Feeling smug about forcing @PenguinIndia to take my money for a book I might not've read otherwise", tweeted Alok Prasanna Kumar. 

Another user said simply: "Hindu religion has always been vibrant.  That is why we r different from others.  Being a staunch Hindu means being staunchly secular".

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