No free speech in India

India is one of my favorite countries in the world: it’s filled with friendly and ambitious people (whose poverty often stifles their aspirations), it’s beautiful, diverse, and, of course, the food is wonderful.  I’ve been there half a dozen times, and will return this next winter.

India is also is supposed to be the world’s largest democracy, but that monicker is getting a severe trial. For India is retrogressing due to conservative ultra-Hindu elements that are taking over the government.

It is likely, for example, that soon the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will take over the government. The BJP is a conservative party based on Hindu nationalism and the philosophy of Hinduvata, an ideology that wants, in effect, to create a Hindu theocracy. Its advocates have destroyed mosques, built Hindu temples on those sites, and attempted to enforce Hindu morality and ideology on other groups. This is a disasterous policy in a country that is largely multicultural, with many religions including Islam, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism.  Right now the more liberal Congress Party controls the Indian government, but it’s predicted that the BJP will win the next election.

The latest misdeeds of the BJP and its right-wing adherents—but something that speaks badly for all of India—is the country’s attempt to censor books in a way that would be unheard of in, for instance, the U.S. Indian law allows prior censorship if someone claims that an upcoming publication may damage then, and it also allows books to be censored if they offend religious feelings. Further, litigation about censorship is difficult, for, as everyone in India knows, even simple court cases about more trivial issues can drag on for years.

That is why Penguin Books (now merged with Random House) has decided to pulp and withdraw from publication in India a scholarly book by my Chicago colleague Wendy Doniger, The Hindus: An Alternative History.  Doniger is an immensely respected scholar of religious history, and well known at my university. Her book was published in 2009, and a legal notice was filed buy a right-wing Indian a year later. The complaint, according to a New Yorker piece “Why free speech loses in India“,

. . . alleged that the book “is a shallow, distorted, and non-serious presentation of Hinduism … written with a Christian Missionary Zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in a poor light … The intent is clearly to ridicule, humiliate, and defame the Hindus and denigrate the Hindu traditions.” Citing a passage in which Doniger refers to Sanskrit texts written “at a time of glorious sexual openness and insight,” the complaint declares that her “approach is of a woman hungry of sex.”

The New York Times adds that the complaint alleges that Doniger’s book was “written with a Christian missionary zeal and hidden agenda to denigrate Hindus and show their religion in poor light.”

The main complaint, then, seems to be that Doniger presents part of Hindu history as a time of openness about sex: something offensive and, I suppose, “colonialist” to advocates of Hinduvata.  And the publisher, Penguin India (presumably following the instructions of Penguin/Random House worldwide headquarters), agreed not only to remove the book from bookstores and pulp the remaining copies, but signed an agreement that “includes a bizarre clause requiring Penguin to affirm ‘that it respects all religions worldwide’.”

That’s simply too much, for Penguin is my publisher (they put out WEIT in the U.S. and will also publish my next book), and I am appalled. Doniger herself and Penguin India blame Indian law, which would tie up Penguin in expensive litigation for years, but really, there is an important principle at stake here. The world’s largest democracy should have a free press, not one in which people are censored for offending those of other faiths. Let us not forget that The Satanic Verses is still banned in India.

And that’s not all: there are several other cases of censorship in recent years.

“In January, Bloomsbury India withdrew copies of ‘The Descent of Air India’ [a book about the national airline] against its author’s wishes, and published an apology to a Congress-allied government minister who came in for heavy criticism in the book. In December, the Supreme Court granted a stay of publication of ‘Sahara: The Untold Story,’ an investigation of the Indian finance and real estate conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar, until a lawsuit filed by Sahara Group’s chairman was resolved.”

  • As the New Yorker reports, “In December, the Indian finance conglomerate Sahara—whose founder, Subrata Roy, is barred from leaving the country while courts resolve a series of legal and regulatory challenges against his firm—obtained an order from the Calcutta High Court blocking the publication of a book about the company. Sahara had filed a thirty-million-dollar defamation suit against the book’s author, Tamal Bandyopadhyay, the deputy managing editor of Mint, India’s most respected business newspaper.”

There are many to blame here. Doniger generously faults not her publisher, but the Indian legal system, which bans books offending religious sentiments.  There is also the Indian court system, which, if you know India, is the worst flowering of the famously labrythine bureaucracy of that land.  And Penguin/Random House should have fought this out to the end, or, if they had decided to fold, at least not agreed to sign some ridiculous statement that they won’t “respect all religions worldwide.” That’s an unwarranted privileging of religion, something that no secular publisher should ever do.

Indian authors have fought back (read Vikram Seth’s letter in The Hindu, or the letter to the Times of India by Arundhati Roy, another Penguin author. Roy’s letter, called “A letter to Penguin India (my publishers),” mirrors my sentiments exactly:

Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the oldest, grandest publishing houses in the world. You existed long before publishing became just another business, and long before books became products like any other perishable product in the market—mosquito repellent or scented soap. You have published some of the greatest writers in history. You have stood by them as publishers should, you have fought for free speech against the most violent and terrifying odds. And now, even though there was no fatwa, no ban, not even a court order, you have not only caved in, you have humiliated yourself abjectly before a fly-by-night outfit by signing settlement. Why? You have all the resources anybody could possibly need to fight a legal battle. Had you stood your ground, you would have had the weight of enlightened public opinion behind you, and the support of most—if not all—of your writers. You must tell us what happened. What was it that terrified you? You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least.

I will of course also protest to Penguin, for this decision was made at the highest levels, but my protests will be futile, as the agreement is a fait accompli. I am certain that my Indian academic friends are embarrassed, for this stuff should not be happening in a country I almost see as my adoptive land.

With the BJP’s election imminent, things are only going to get worse, and there are dark times ahead in India—at least for free speech, which is, after all, the soul of a democracy.

72 Comments

  1. Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    And that that’s the same company that published The Satanic Verses… weird.

    In your letter to them, I would suggest reminding them that this does not follow the companies mission statement of being brave. (Yes, that is one of the company’s ideals.)

  2. Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    “it respects all religions worldwide”

    Get the BJP to sign such an agreement!

    /@

  3. Jeffrey
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Here in South Africa we have the Gupta family, members of the Sahara group, with many sports stadiums now having the prefix “Sahara” in front of the stadiums old names.
    They have the state president Jacob Zuma in their pocket to the extent that when one of the Gupta family got married in South Africa, a plane carrying hundreds of wedding guests from India was allowed to land at a military airbase with no customs and excise checks on the passengers. It caused a huge rumpus here in SA, where it is rumoured that the Gupta’s have the country’s cabinet ministers at their beck and call.
    The Sahara group are toxic.

  4. Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    This sets a very bad precedent for the publishing world.

    Now, the pro-censorship crowd can always just point to Penguin if anyone opposes them and say “if Penguin went along with it, why not you?”.

    I hope it is not too late to reverse this terrible, cowardly decision.

    • steve oberski
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      If one is going to single out a single point in time, one very bad decision that can be blamed for the present situation, it would have to be the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons and the cowardly refusal of our media to republish those cartoons under threat of religious reprisals.

      You can be sure that if those cartoons had appeared in mainstream print and video media this sort of self imposed censorship would happen far less frequently if at all.

  5. Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    The Kindle Edition of this has recently disappeared from amazon US and UK websites (but seems to be still there on the Canadian one). Are they afraid that people in India might buy the Kindle edition internationally?

    If so, Penguin are actively helping the censorship, the Indian lawsuit should have no leverage outside India. To my mind they should set the Kindle price to as low as possible and try to flood India with e-copies.

    Jerry, as a published Penguin author with an influential website, how about an open letter to Penguin suggesting a zero-price Kindle Edn?

    • Mark Fisher
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Hello Coel,

      I was successful buying the book for my Kindle from the US Amazon site, around 10:45 eastern time, Feb 17. So, I guess that something changed. The paperback version is also listed. The book has a high percentage of negative comments. They are amusing, as to be expected.

      • Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        Hmm, weird. If you click the link to amazon.com in Jerry’s post above, do you then see a kindle edition? I don’t.

        • Mark Fisher
          Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          Weird indeed. I click on the Amazon link in Jerry’s post above, and I see the books – Kindle for $12.79, Hardback for $212.40 (!!), and Paperback for $15.

          Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, et al, work in mysterious ways.

          Maybe you can go to Amazon independently and do a search on “hindus alternative history” which is what I did. May Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, et al, be with you!

          • Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

            So have they disabled it just for non-US IP addresses?

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

              Seems to work fine from here at .com.

              No kindle on uk, though.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      To my mind they should set the Kindle price to as low as possible and try to flood India with e-copies.

      … and within hours to days either the Indian courts, or lawyers acting for one of the complainants in this case, or other similar ones, would be treating you and the management of Penguin (India, or international) as conspiring in contempt of court.

  6. Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    While I think that both democracy and a free press are good things, they are not the same thing. If freedom of the press is reduced by a democratically elected government then some might not like it but it is not undemocratic.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Yes Phillip it’s democratic but experience shows that it leads inevitably to the death of democracy since it leads to the tyranny of the majority. What’s to stop the BJP from passing a law that makes Islam an insult to Hinduism? Nothing.
      How do you suppose that will turn out?

    • darrelle
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      That is obviously true, but misses the point. I have never seen or heard anyone claim that democracy and a free press are the same thing. That would be a rather blatant category error.

    • kraut
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      “If freedom of the press is reduced by a democratically elected government then some might not like it but it is not undemocratic.”

      What is the difference between your statement and claiming that a democratically elected government dismantling a democratic state (as had happened in Germany, and to some extend in Russia at present)is not undemocratic?
      So by your definition any act by a democratically elected government – i.e. institutionalized racism – is completely ok and follows the rule of democracy? Which rules of democracy?

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        That was my point in that many if not most people have a naive understanding of democracy which is that the majority rules. This has been tried repeatedly and has failed every time.
        The majority gains control and the first thing they do is to suppress the minorities. Then it’s downhill after that.
        The only successful democracies are the ones that place individual human rights enshrined in the Constitution above the need of any ephemeral majority to bully their neighbours.
        In other words, the rule of law above the rule of the mob.

        • kraut
          Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

          Thanks for clarifying. Unfortunately – even with a constitution and the rule of law things can easily go sideways.
          Constitutions can be changed to the detriment of the minorities, and laws can be implemented to suppress unwanted opinions or minorities.
          There is no functioning democracy conceivable without the constant vigilance of the public.
          When – as in the US – the public decides that security overrides other laws, you are on the way to a nice well rounded dictatorship.

    • Gordon
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Dictatorships of the majority are not democratic. Democracy also involves a proper respect and support for civil liberties, human rights and so on as well as respect for the institution itself (no vote rigging etc).

  7. Georges Melki
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to comment on the text as received in the email, which sometimes doesn’t make sense. Here’s hoe the third paragraph reads in the email:
    “It is likely, for example, that the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), it is a conservative party based on Hindu nationalism and the philosophy of Hinduvata, an ideology that wants, in effect, to create a Hindu theocracy.”
    But when I read the original on this page, I found it to be OK! So no problem…

    • Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Yes, I sometimes publish my stuff before I’ve gone over it carefully, but I do reread it and often find errors. Note to readers: if you see typos, send me an email alerting me to them. It is much appreciated.

      Thanks.
      PCC

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 17, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Since you asked:

        Her book was published in 2009, and a legal notice was filed buy a right-wing Indian a year later.

        I have to say, though, that a), I usually read right over typos as the context carries the meaning, and b), I find the incidence of typos on WEIT amazingly small compared to the sheer amount of content you produce each and every day. So I would normally not bother to point out any little goofs on the theory that you have better things to do with your time after posting than to go back & edit. :)

  8. Georges Melki
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    hoe = how, of course!

  9. CM
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    **with many religions including Islam, Jainism, Parsi, and Buddhism. **

    Parsi is not a religion. Zoroastrianism is the religion. Parsis are people who follow the religion.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    This means there could be a lot of banned books in India as there are a lot of people following a lot of different religions; someone is bound to be offended sometime!

    • kraut
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      It is easy – ban any books on religion and nobody gets offended.

  11. Steve
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    As someone living in India, this is completely unsurprising to me (if anything i would have been shocked if Penguin continued its legal fight and won). This has generally been the trend- censoring anything that is deemed “offensive” by any religious or political party. It has been extended to movies, TV shows, books, magazines, paintings and even social media posts. While the Hindu extremists and their parties are to chiefly blame for all this, other religions are also not far behind (consider that India was one of the first countries to ban The Satanic Verses- and that too by the “liberal” Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress led government).
    Also it gets violent many times- whether its beating up women who dress “improperly” or drink, harassing couples who celebrate Valentine’s day , vandalising stores that sell greeting cards, burning churches and killing christians who are suspected of converting hindus. And of course these religious parties are the chief reason behind the demonisation and criminalization of gays (something all religions can agree upon- when they are not killing each other of course).
    But in the past few years there has been a general trend amongst the public (atleast the more enlightened ones)to stand up to religious bullying. Most newspapers and people condemned the archaic laws against homosexuality and generally the police have been effective in preventing these religious people from attacking women/couples. Also it seems Wendy Doniger’s book has been a favourite download in india after all this circus (i dont think most people even knew about its existence prior to this)

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Also it seems Wendy Doniger’s book has been a favourite download in india after all this circus (i dont think most people even knew about its existence prior to this)

      So the Streisand effect works in India too.

  12. kraut
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    PS – and include books on history, politics, science, literature. Someone is bound to have their religious sensibilities unpleasantly disturbed.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

      I personally get offended by cookery books. Can I join in with the fun?

  13. Sastra
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    This is an ongoing problem, not something new.

    I’ve long been a fan of Meera Nanda, an Indian philosopher of science (and secular humanist) who has pointed out over and over that the belief that Hinduism is perfectly consistent with science is seriously mistaken. But this dogma leads to the sort of oppression, theocracy, and pseudoscience you get when religion merges with nationalism and thinks it can pass as “secular” and compete rationally with other views. It can’t — and so it seeks to control expression.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Which is why any attempt to reconcile science with a particular religion must fail. If science proves (your religion here) to be true then (their religion here) must be false and may be suppressed. If my religion is true then an insult to my religion is blasphemy and must be suppressed whereas insult to your religion is mere commentary and protected by freezepeach.

  14. Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry, with your new book coming out, and especially considering its topic, you might want to reconsider using Penguin as your publisher. After all, they’ve just issued an official announcement that they’re hostile to works such as yours, and that that’s a global corporate-wide position.

    I understand there may be contracts signed and all that sort of thing, but their action very reasonably indicated they’ve either broken it or they negotiated in bad faith.

    …but I’m no lawyer….

    b&

    • Scote
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      It is pretty hard to blame Penguin in this case.

      “But I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Other publishers have just quietly withdrawn other books without making the effort that Penguin made to save this book. Penguin, India, took this book on knowing that it would stir anger in the Hindutva ranks, and they defended it in the courts for four years, both as a civil and as a criminal suit.”

      They fought this for 4 years before giving in. The government was determined to force them into stopping publication. They faced *criminal charges* that would have sent individuals from Penguin to jail – in harsh Indian jails – and most rational people would make the same choice as Penguin did in the end.

      • Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        Penguin’s proper response as a corporation would have first been to spirit out of India anybody at risk for criminal prosecution, and then call up the Prime Minister’s office and tell Dr. Singh, in no uncertain terms, that Penguin and all its affiliates cannot do business in a country with laws such as this and that they’ll close up shop in short order if it doesn’t get fixed.

        And then follow through.

        Instead, they’ve shown that they care more about short-term profits than the long-term viability of not only their industry but the very civilization that makes any industry possible.

        It’s not too late for Penguin to make things right, but it’s looking rather likely that the proper response to Penguin’s “Fuck you!” to their authors is an hearty, “Oh yeah? Well, fuck you, too!”

        b&

        • Scote
          Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Ben, that’s ridiculous.

          It is wholly unreasonable for you to suggest that a four year long fight isn’t enough and that Penguin should have subjected its employees to criminal charges, then, somehow, illegally smuggled them out of the country (to where, exactly? They are **people**, Indian nationals who have lives and families in India.)

          • Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

            If we weren’t discussing an existential threat to the freedom of the press, I’d agree with you.

            But wars have been fought, including in India, over matters such as this. My proposal is far less extreme, wouldn’t you agree?

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Scote
              Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

              “If we weren’t discussing an existential threat to the freedom of the press, I’d agree with you. “

              It isn’t the duty of Penquin employees to go to Indian jails over this. It is unreasonable of you to demand it, “existential threat to the freedom of the press” notwithstanding.

              If you feel so strongly about bucking Indian blasphemy laws I encourage you to go to India and put your own but on the line for a jail term in an Indian prison by publishing the book on your own. Heck, I’ll even contribute to your IndyGoGo campaign to raise funds for your one-way airfare.

              I’m totally against the unreasonable blasphemy laws in India, but I also understand people making the rational decision to go to jail in India over this.

              • Posted February 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

                By that logic, I shouldn’t speak out against any injustice unless I’m on the scene actively involved in it. The Catholic Church’s African AIDS genocide, Muslim fatwas against cartoonists, North Korean slave labor camps — none of it; just keep my mouth shut until I’m on the ground there doing something.

                Pardon the expression, but fuck that noise.

                Change doesn’t happen without those on the ground doing what’s necessary, but it also generally doesn’t happen until the masses express their own desire for change. And, guess what? I’m one of those masses expressing desire for change.

                I don’t think any publisher should do business in India until the situation is resolved, and I think everybody associated with Penguin should seriously consider if they wish to continue that association.

                If the choice here were between being free to publish and jail, I’d pick jail. My forebears did likewise. If Indians wand freedom of expression, and if they want to be respected by those who value freedom of expression, they’re likely going to have to overcrowd the Indian jail system, or do something else equally unpleasant.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Scote
                Posted February 17, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                “By that logic, I shouldn’t speak out against any injustice unless I’m on the scene actively involved in it.”

                Not at all, Ben. That is a strawman.

                I never said you shouldn’t criticize **India** or hypersensitive religionists over the horrible, free-speech stifling blasphemy laws. What I criticizes was your entitled Criticism of Penquin Publishing for not risking criminal convictions that would lead to jail time in Indian jails.

                You were imposing your values on other people to fight your fight as opposed to objecting to the oppression of the Indian law. Penquin fought for four years, and only just gave in under genuine threat of criminal prosecution. Your idea that they should buck criminal prosecution and then somehow illegally smuggle Indian nationals subject to conviction out of the country, leaving their friends, family and lives behind, was an unreasonable position to impose on others. Risking an indeterminate time, or any time, in an Indian jail is too much to demand of a publisher. It is not, however, too much to **volunteer** to do, and to lead by example, which you are welcome to do.

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 17, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Instead, they’ve shown that they care more about short-term profits than the long-term viability of not only their industry but the very civilization that makes any industry possible.

          I love you Ben, but…I have to agree with Scote that that’s ridiculous. ;)

          So many liberals expect corporations to uphold various ethical principles, when corporate culture is all about profit-making. In the competitive corporate environment no one firm can afford to take a stand on principle that affects the bottom line. (Much as I wish that weren’t the case.)

          I might also point out that traditional publishing houses are on the verge of becoming an endangered species as it is…

          • Posted February 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

            The thing is, if we don’t hold corporations to the same standards as we hold each other, the people running those corporations will happily continue to use this artificial excuse for their profoundly anti-social behavior.

            If it would be evil, or at least distasteful, for a natural person to do something, why should we just shrug and roll our eyes when a corporate person does the same and worse?

            b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

              Yes, but we can’t do it corporation by corporation, or we’re just asking one firm to commit suicide. Regulation is the only answer but since every conglomerate is multinational these days I have no idea how we’re ever going to achieve that.

              We could at least demand certain standards for companies when they operate in the US–but like that’s gonna happen with the current congressbozos…

              • Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

                If the publishers won’t stand up for freedom of the press, why should the publishers expect to have anything to publish save for official tracts?

                That’s what sets this case apart. Penguin can pull out all the stops to prevent this gangrene from spreading, even if it means cutting off one of their own feet…or they can rest certain in the fact that they’re digging their own grave (and are going to pull in an awful lot of other people with them).

                b&

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

          Penguin’s proper response as a corporation would have first been to spirit out of India anybody at risk for criminal prosecution,

          I’ve worked in cases where corporations have spirited people out of the country, and out of countries with extradition treaties with the original country, to prevent them from facing criminal charges resulting from their killing of their own employees. (They substituted $5 O-rings from a “make-your-own O-ring” kit for manufacturer’s own spares at $150 ; the equipment was vessel safety critical, it failed and one of their employees was killed as a result.)
          Do you really want to promote this sort of behaviour?

          • Aldo Matteucci
            Posted February 18, 2014 at 1:30 am | Permalink

            Of course, true and tested. This is what was done with the President of Union Carbide, after a leak killed thousands in Gophal. And if you want a historical analogy: the Boxer rebellion was triggered in part by the extraterritoriality of missionaries in China, and of their charges.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted February 18, 2014 at 4:03 am | Permalink

              Good examples ; I didn’t know that UC people had been got-the-fuck-outta-Dodge, or even outta-Bhopal. But I’m utterly unsurprised to hear it happened.
              It is a depressingly familiar “colonialist” attitude. And after generations of manning the armies of colonialist Britain around the world, it was an unpleasant shock to many Scots to be treated as “tartan Arabs” by incoming Septics when the oil fields opened up. We are (mostly) trying to be less obnoxious ourselves, but it’s hard.
              Which reminds me of something I’ve got to talk to the Safety Officer about.

          • Posted February 18, 2014 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            In order to shield people from prosecution for murder? Of course not.

            In order to preserve the freedom of the press? Absolutely.

            I’d also fully support the country in question yanking the company’s licenses and charters and what-not and seizing all their remaining in-country assets after pulling a stunt like that for whatever reason.

            But, again: if the publishers won’t take an existential stand in defense of an existential threat, who will?

            And why should anybody do business with them if they won’t?

            b&

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Good point. If Penguin has promised the Indian authorities to stop disrespecting religion worldwide then they have in effect promised to not publish Jerry’s book. Sounds like a breach of contract to me.
      On the other hand, if they do publish then the Indians can go after them for breach of promise and maybe take whatever assets they have there.
      Penguin is in a tight spot here.

  15. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Jerry, as usual – there are many sides to the story.

    People have been killed in India over such religious issues, so the caution of the law is understandable, if regrettable.

    Religious emotionalism is growing worldwide, so Penguin’s behavior is not surprising.

    It would be an error, however, to see religious sentiment as being at the core of the Indian problem, or elsewhere for the matter. Though the language may be one of religion – in order quickly to mobilize the masses – the true story is one of greed, injustice, corruption. Religion is an epiphenomenon.

    India is a good case in point. Though Gandhi declared himself a follower of Hindi principles, he had a scant knowledge of their content. Kathrin Tidrick has shown that Gandhi arrived to many of his beliefs through theosophism and the Esoteric Christian Union. We have here a case of “Occidentalism” (Buruma – Margalit). The theocratic trend in India mirrors the “Emperor-Shinto” of pre-WWII Japan, and Khomeini’s Revolution.

    Amartya Sen has compared human development statistics of China and India, and India country is lagging far behind. Female literacy is just over 50%. Roy has shown that by official counts 10% of the Indian population have been displaced by dams and other public projects. The “Tribals” are being robbed of their land all over the country, and are taking up arms. No wonder that 30% of India is threatened by all sorts of revolt against injustice. No wonder that over 50’000 people have been killed by military/paramilitary groups in Kashmir.

    Development is the key issue, in India and elsewhere. Yes, religion is being used to get politicians to the trough ahead of others. After the wars of religion in France, Henri IV wanted every family to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday. The best advice then – and now.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      People have been killed in India over such religious issues, so the caution of the law is understandable, if regrettable.

      It seems to me that pandering to and thus encouraging an extreme sensitivity to any perceived sleights against honor (religious, national, or tribal) is unlikely to diminish the violence, but will only serve to increase it.

      The antidote is free expression of ideas — thus fostering a culture which values the intelligent ability to exercise self-control and restraint over the passionate ability to seek revenge and retribution.

      • Aldo Matteucci
        Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Sastra,

        you are proposing wholesale vaccination with “free speech”. As you know, vaccines are always attenuated, so I’d be careful with the dosage in India, or other places.

        In theory, free speech is good. You need to see the context, though, which is one of extreme income/wealth inequalities, education, and much else. Tipping points of violence are easily, too easily reached. Ms Doniger’s book is excellent (I’ve read it), but it addresses an elite. Is its distribution worth possible bedlam, which could involve Christian minorities for instance, or even you, if you just happened to be in the wrong place, but easily recognizable as a forengi?

        Furthermore, free speech as you define it came to the US very late – I’d suspect not before the 60es, and then (self-censorship is king in the US, just look at what’s happening to Finkelstein). Grant other countries the same length of time the US took for itself.

        • Sastra
          Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

          So you are in favor of Penguin Books withdrawing the publication of Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History … because it may cause possible “bedlam?” Do I understand you correctly here?

          If so, when do you think the people of India will be able to handle it? Best guess.

          • Aldo Matteucci
            Posted February 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

            Rethorical question, not an argument.

            A gas stove Hindu pilgrims were using to cook food exploded on a train to Gujarat, killing people. In the bedlam resulting from the rumor that it has been attacked by Muslims, over 2000 died gruesome deaths. This is the reality now.

            Missionaries have been killed over the Danish cartoons in Africa.

            Surely, between the Scylla of total censorship and the Carybdis of total freedom there is room for reasoned compromise?

            • Sastra
              Posted February 17, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

              I asked 2 questions which were not rhetorical, but real questions:

              Are you in favor of Penguin Books withdrawing the publication of Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History because it may cause violence?

              And if so, then what is your best guess as to when the people of India will be able to handle the publication of such books?

              • Aldo Matteucci
                Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

                Between “favor” and “object” there is the wide wide ocean of discernment (Francis I is belatedly bringing this dimension to the fore). By framing the question as either/or you are being rhetorical.

                “If not now, when”? is a rhetorical question too. As a student of evolution – and this is the topic on this blog – you should know that contingency and path-dependent outcomes is what’s ahead. It has been so for billions of years. Won’t change now. I do, however, believe in silent (and unexpected) transformations.

              • Sastra
                Posted February 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

                Aldo Matteuci wrote:

                By framing the question as either/or you are being rhetorical.

                Unfortunately, real life entails that Penguin Books is in fact doing either one or the other — unless you have some idea on a halfway measure. My question wasn’t rhetorical. Your answer, on the other hand, wasn’t an answer. Again.

                “If not now, when”? is a rhetorical question too.

                I asked for your ‘best guess,’ since you seemed to think you had a nuanced understanding of what the poor Indians could and couldn’t be expected to handle.

                I do, however, believe in silent (and unexpected) transformations.

                I think your strategy needs work.

            • Posted February 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

              I fail to comprehend the linkage between profoundly lax enforcement of blindingly obvious public transit safety standards and scholarly censorship.

              If you’re trying to suggest that Indians are too primitive to handle modern civilization, I’d suggest even more strongly that that’s a most highly offensive and unfounded suggestion. They might have a bit of catching up to do, but there’s no reason they can’t do so right quick.

              They are humans, after all, and they’ve got some amazingly impressive achievements to show for their abilities.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Aldo Matteucci
                Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

                You may profit from reading: W. Berenshot: Riot politics – Hindu Muslim violence and the Indian state.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      It would be an error, however, to see religious sentiment as being at the core of the Indian problem, or elsewhere for the matter. Though the language may be one of religion – in order quickly to mobilize the masses – the true story is one of greed, injustice, corruption. Religion is an epiphenomenon.

      Only took till comment 15 for this argument to appear…

      Epiphenomenon or not, religion is the entity with which all the censorship, repression, etc., is being justified. That makes it an immediate cause and thus an immediate target. If we could ever take religion out of the picture the same animosities might well persist but the tap-dancers defending them would have a much harder time coming up with the pseudo-virtuous rationales that presently give religions so much of a pass on the international stage.

      • Aldo Matteucci
        Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        (Diane, remember, it’s a global village, and time zones count.)

        Of course, one has to deal with the epiphenomenon, but one has to “see what’s hidden” (Bastiat 1850), and address the underlying cause, lets you get blowback. As outsiders, our contribution is to unveil the hidden, rather than join the boo/hooray crowd (Ayer) – pick your side.

        Given the cultural and social context of India today, given the silent influence of fundamentalist religiosity worldwide impacting on the South Asian continent, I’d be wary of picking this fight, particularly at a time when BJP might be swept into power by the incompetence of the incumbents.

        Ever since Plato, Western thought has been imposing its “ideal” flavor of the day on reality. The outcome has been mixed at best. The Pope had to write Charlemagne begging him not to slaughter all the heathenly Saxons – he also wanted a few souls to convert.

        I’m slightly worried by the dogmatic tinge of some of the comments to this post. I do not see much difference between the Ten Commandments and the Ten Human Rights – when in both instances transcendental origins are postulated and instant/non-negotiable implementation is demanded (oh yes, we are going through an inflationary phase with HR at the moment, the number may have grown beyond ten by the time you read this).

        Our Platonic origins makes us see the world as “comparative statics” – no sense of time and timing. The Chinese believe in “silent transformations” (that’s what happens to you when you age). Humanity’s self-domestication process is 100’000 years old and more. We still have lots of work to do. And we aren’t likely to be through by the next w-e.

        • Posted February 17, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

          Given the cultural and social context of India today, given the silent influence of fundamentalist religiosity worldwide impacting on the South Asian continent, Id be wary of picking this fight, particularly at a time when BJP might be swept into power by the incompetence of the incumbents.

          You make the case all the more strongly that now is not the time to abandon the principle of freedom of the press. Censorship has only ever served the tyrants and oppressors; it has never served the purposes of an healthy society.

          Indeed, it may only be freedom of the press that has the power to stop the tide of oppression you predict is gathering. Even if not, paving the path for the future tyrants to walk on with your own bones is hardly a winning strategy.

          Cheers,

          b&

  16. gowthamkumar104885120
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    It is true that there are foreign funded Christian missionaries in India that aim to convert people to Christianity. However, it is wrong to blame all works of literature as works by Christian missionaries with a hidden agenda. It is equally wrong to blame all Indians as bigots.
    Perhaps we should recognize that Indians have a point here. Indians are not as open about sex as you would imagine. We are never allowed to have sex before marriage. If New York times newspaper decides to post sexually explicit material on the front page without any warning on grounds of freedom of the press, I wonder if that will go well with all of the US population without invoking any criticism. Indeed, you are not allowed to be unclothed in public in the streets of US. Please think about it before assigning blame.

    • CM
      Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      **It is true that there are foreign funded Christian missionaries in India that aim to convert people to Christianity. **

      Nothing wrong with that. Freedom of religion also means freedom to proselytize.

      **It is equally wrong to blame all Indians as bigots.**

      I do not think that is what the post implies. It only deplores the lack of freedom of speech in India.

      **Perhaps we should recognize that Indians have a point here. Indians are not as open about sex as you would imagine. We are never allowed to have sex before marriage.**

      No, Indians do not have a point here. The book is not talking about extra-marital (nothing wrong even if it did that) sex in the current society. So it should not offend (being offended is not an excuse to stifle free speech anyway) your conservative outlook on sex. The book only talks about sex in ancient society.

    • Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      You will apologize for saying that I accused all Indians as bigots. Did you even READ that post?

      And yes, some Indians are culpable for banning a book that is, after all, not about sex, but mentions an era when Hinduism was less sexually respressive than now.

      And, if you don’t apologize for accusing me of bigotry, you’ll never post here again.

  17. Posted February 17, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Is there a way to share this?

  18. Thanny
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    This is the problem with the colloquial equation of “democracy” with “free country”. A democracy is not a free country. It’s just a place where the tyranny of the few (or the one) has been replaced by the tyranny of the majority.

    An explicit declaration of certain rights is required to make a free country, and those granted in India don’t go far enough.

    In the sense that most people mean when they say a country is a democracy, India is no democracy.

  19. Matt Bowman
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    It is a shame that the book has 2.5 stars on Amazon. The book has been reviewed 137 times, 78 giving 1 star. Most of the reviews are ridiculous. One compares the book to Mein Kampf. Several give it one star because Doniger has never traveled to India (I’m not sure whether that is true or not). I will be reading the book.

  20. Posted February 17, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Petition here: Reconsider and revise Sections 153 (A) and 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code to protect freedom of expression in India!

    /@


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