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Censorship and Self-censorship in India

Tuesday 5 May 2020, by siawi3


Issue 19, Blasphemy, Shuddashar Magazine

Censorship and Self-censorship in India

Wendy Doniger

May 1, 2020

How Many Penguins Can Stand on a Book before It Sinks?[i]

The Attack on The Hindus

In 2009, Penguin Books, in New York, published a book of mine, The Hindus: An Alternative History. In 2010, Penguin India published the book in India, and within months, a man named Dina Nath Batra, a then-81-year-old school headmaster and member of the right-wing RSS movement, brought the first of a series of civil and criminal actions against me, Penguin Group (USA), and Penguin Books India, arguing that my book violated Article 295a of the Indian Penal Code. This law, which had been passed in 1927, at a time of serious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, stated:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.

The original cases prosecuted under this law generally protested insults against Muslims, sometimes Catholics?that is, defending religious minorities against Hindus. But after Indian Independence, in 1948, it began to be used to defend Hindus.

The suit against my book begins:

SUIT FOR DELETION OF DEFAMATORY, DEROGATORY, INSULTING AND OBJECTIONABLE PASSAGES REFERRING TO FREEDOM FIGHTERS OF INDIAN NATIONAL MOVEMENT AND ALSO TO HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES FROM THE BOOK NAMELYTHE HINDUS: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY” […T]he book is a shallow, distorted false and non-serious presentation of Hinduism which contains highly objectionable passages regarding father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi.

It’s surely significant that the freedom fighters come first, before the gods, a clear sign that Nationalism drives this whole business far more than piety.

The territory of 295a is a treacherous no-man’s-land in which to manoeuvre. To prove that one had, or did not have, “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India]” or that one did or did not “insult [] or attempt [] to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class” is a slippery matter. In my case, to take an example, the lawsuit alleged that, “The book also defames youth icon Swami Vivekananda when it states that on being asked what he will eat, Swami Vivekananda replied ‘give me beef.’” To show that Vivekananda did indeed advise people to eat beef, that I didn’t get it wrong or fabricate it, is no defence; to state an unpleasant truth can be hurtful and therefore is still illegal. Perhaps to show that it is widely known that Vivekananda said this, and that therefore by mentioning this fact I didn’t make the situation any worse, nor did I intend to do so, might be a defence. Perhaps not.

Penguin India drafted its lawyers to defend the suit, but after four years, on February 10th, 2014, they abandoned the case, agreeing to cease publishing the book (Williams 2014). This led to two widespread misunderstandings. First, Penguin also agreed to pulp all remaining copies, but?as it turned out?not a single book was destroyed; all extant copies were quickly bought up from the bookstores. And, second, the book was never banned, for it never reached the courts or the Indian government. There was just a lawsuit, and then an out-of-court agreement, between two private parties, the Batra brigade and the publishers.

If Batra’s aim was to stop people from reading my books, his plan certainly backfired… The Hindus always remained available in India, at first in pirated PDFs. It was also available in copies held in the backrooms of Indian bookstores and sold in brown paper wrappers, copies sold in airports, and some sold on the Penguin India website.

But the words “banned” and “pulped” continued to be used to fan the flames of media indignation, even though nothing was banned or pulped. In fact, the announcement that the giant Penguin had crumbled under the assault of a fanatical old man set off an extraordinary wave of angry publicity; newspapers and blogs accused Penguin of cowardice, especially in contrast with their former bravery, in 1960, in defending Lady Chatterley’s Lover from a similar suit. One counter-lawsuit, by Lawrence Liang, claimed that the publisher had violated freedom of speech laws and readers’ rights and, somewhat tongue in cheek, suggested that Penguin change their logo from a penguin to a chicken (Ganz 2014). An author withdrew his book from Penguin; Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie protested loudly.

If Batra’s aim was to stop people from reading my books, his plan certainly backfired.[ii] The Batra publicity catapulted The Hindus to sales I had never dreamt of; it was #9 on Amazon for a while, a writer’s equivalent of a knighthood, or canonisation.[iii] There is, after all, no such thing as bad publicity, as that great philosopher, P.T. Barnum, is said to have said. In addition to the rocketing international sales, The Hindus always remained available in India, at first in pirated PDFs. It was also available in copies held in the backrooms of Indian bookstores and sold in brown paper wrappers, copies sold in airports, and some sold on the Penguin India website.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, (Sir) John Makinson (CBE) was working hard. Makinson had been Chairman and CEO of the Penguin Group from 2002 to 2013 and was then Chair of Penguin Random House. He realised immediately that Penguin Random House had been ill served by its lawyers and had made a serious mistake in signing the agreement with Batra. He hatched a number of ultimately jettisoned schemes to re-publish the book in India, of which my favourite was to smuggle in 2,000 copies in boxes marked SOAP. Makinson was eager to do the right thing by me. Eventually, in November 2014, I flew to London to meet with him; he graciously arranged for the rights to the publication of The Hindus in India to revert back to me.

Ravi Singh and On Hinduism

This cautionary tale shows the difference that a single individual like Ravi Singh can make. It shows that it’s worth fighting, that we, too, might make a difference. But why should publishers have to be heroes?
…Bertholt Brecht said, “Pity the land that needs heroes”

Here I must double back in my story to introduce its hero. When Penguin India took on my book, in 2010, its publisher and editor-in-chief was Ravi Singh (known as “Ravishing” to some of his admirers?just move the final “h” up behind the “S”). Singh took an active hand, helping me to edit the book for Indian readers in a number of significant ways, and removing a map that had Kashmir as a disputed area, since it is against the law to publish such a map in India. When, despite these precautions, the lawsuit arose, Singh marshaled the Penguin India lawyers to fight it and fought hard and cannily. As the case dragged on, and I asked why, someone in the company replied, “They are stalling, trying to keep the book in print as long as possible”?and that was the moment when I knew they thought they’d lose the case. But in 2011, sensing a change in the wind at the publishing house, Singh left Penguin India.

He joined a new company, the Aleph Book Company, in partnership with David Davidar and with Rupa Publications, India. One of the first books that Ravi Singh published at Aleph, in 2013, was a big collection of my essays on Hinduism, called On Hinduism. It was really Singh’s book as much as mine: he conceived it, selected the essays, and worked on it with me, word by word, for many months; I dedicated it to him, and to my father (who was also a publisher). As early as February 14th, 2014, Batra told a journalist that he was “now in the middle of reading On Hinduism by the same author. It is next on his hit-list” (Vishnoi, “‘The Hindus’ Controversy”). On Hinduism had quickly sold out two re-printings, and was still number 2 on the non-fiction bestseller list[iv] in March 2014 when Batra came after it, threatening to take Aleph to court and citing over 30 instances where the book allegedly distorted history and was intended to offend Hindus. Aleph had the benefit of seeing where Penguin had blundered; they knew not to give up. But they made the mistake of trying to negotiate.

At first, Aleph did nothing, and on March 20th, India Today congratulated them, stating that “Aleph stood firm and refused to withdraw [Doniger’s] On Hinduism” (Laskar 2014). But the same article also noted that after Batra “claimed there were several “objectionable passages” in On Hinduism that offended the sensibilities of Hindus, Aleph stated that the book published in early 2013 was out of stock and had not been in print for some time.”

Indeed, Aleph had postponed the third reprint of the book and had, on March 10th, given Batra a written commitment?also released to the media and posted on the publisher’s website?that the book would not be reprinted until his objections to the book had been examined and addressed.[v]

How could this happen? Though founded by two ex-Penguins, Aleph was financed by Rupa Publications, one of the country’s largest English-language trade publishers, chaired by two men widely believed to have strong RSS and BJP connections.[vi] Aleph’s failure to reprint my book, and their willingness to negotiate with Batra, led Ravi Singh to resign from Aleph on April 16th, 2014. The media noted that Singh had “quit apparently in protest against the manner in which Aleph seemed to have yielded to those calling for a ban on Wendy Doniger’s On Hinduism.”[vii]

After that, things moved fairly fast. On April 18th, I wrote to Davidar saying that I wished to withdraw my book from Aleph, as they had violated the terms of our contract by stopping the book and negotiating with Batra; and that I was following my acquiring editor, as authors often do: when Ravi decided to leave Aleph, I decided to leave too. [viii] Aleph then agreed to reissue the book without any changes.

We geared up for action. At Davidar’s request, I wrote out a statement defending the book and prepared a list of responses to each of Batra’s inane objections, to be used in case of legal action. On April 22nd, Aleph replied to Batra’s lawyer (who had sent another note on April 15th), saying, in part:

[W]e find that the sudden anxiety of your client about our edition of the book is unwarranted. [A]s publishers we have to act to protect our rights and also that of the author. […] Please advise your client that any action taken by him will be strongly defended by us at his risk and cost, and he shall be liable for the consequences thereof. We will also strongly defend the rights of the author and our own rights as a publisher as laid out in the Constitution of India that safeguards the right of free expression. We await your response. We would request your client to study the author’s statement, referee reports and impartial reviews of the book in the media and take a broadminded view of the matter, which is in keeping with present trends in society.

And they quietly reprinted 2000 copies and sent them to all the major bookstores.[ix] That book, too, is still in print.

The Birth of Speaking Tiger and the Rebirth of The Hindus

Ravi Singh now formed a new company, Speaking Tiger, and I gave the Indian rights to The Hindus (back) to him. He soon (re)published a new edition and also licensed translations of the book in Tamil and Telugu. Speaking Tiger’s funding partner[x] has a very strong liberal record, and Singh intends to go on publishing all of my books in India. He has already published three more.[xi]

All along, I’ve been flooded with emails from Hindus, in India and elsewhere, telling me how sorry they are that The Hindus has been attacked, how they never heard of me or the book until the fuss began, and then heard and bought a copy and were happily surprised to find how much they liked it. Indeed, the main problem I faced was answering all my fan mail. To that extent, at least, what happened was not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing: the attacks on me and on other authors had been going on for over a decade, but most of the other books that were attacked just sank without a trace. What Batra did catapulted the problem over the top and onto the world stage, where people sprang to my defence and, more important, organised protests against the more general attack on books in India..

The Penguin Affair, or, Too Many Penguins

Since the spark that started the fire was a lawsuit brought against me and Penguin India, I think a closer look at the actions of the publisher may shed light on the broader issues.

After Ravi Singh resigned in 2011, he was replaced by Chiki Sarkar, who had worked at Random House, India, since 2006.[xii] Chiki Sarkar continued to fight for the book; in October 2012 she said, to the media, “I am increasingly thinking that perhaps we should take the next injunction we are faced with and really fight it out” (Jha 2014). But on July 1st, 2013, the publishing giant Pearson, which owned Penguin, merged with another publishing giant, Bertelsmann, which owned Random House, to become Penguin Random House.[xiii] In December 2013, Chiki flew to Chicago and met me, and we plotted various legal strategies to save the book. But in February 2014, Penguin Random House, in India, abandoned the defence of the lawsuit against my book. I did not blame “Penguin India” for dropping the lawsuit. I am, after all, a publisher’s daughter, and as a writer I’ve always depended on the kindness of publishers. I’ve never believed, as many of my colleagues do, that writers and publishers are natural enemies, like snakes and mongooses. I’ve always had particular faith in Penguin?they published my second book, a Penguin Classic (Hindu Myths), way back in 1975, and later two other Penguin Classics of mine (The Rig Veda and The Laws of Manu), and I hoped they’d come through for me in this, too. And indeed, all of them?Ravi Singh, Chiki Sarkar, and Sir John Makinson?fought hard for me, and I am grateful to them.

But I couldn’t have blamed “Penguin India,” even if I had wanted to. For not only was Penguin India blameless?it had published my book and never ceased to defend it?but, by the time of the fiasco, Penguin India was non-existent, having departed this life and (in the Hindu paradigm) been reborn as another company half a year before the case was dropped. Penguin Random House was the one that had thrown in the sponge, not Ravi Singh or Chiki Sarkar. The European directors of Penguin Random House wanted, after the merger, a clean slate in every way, untroubled by anything controversial, let alone a pending legal issue. So I do not blame Penguin India.

The chief villain of the piece is not any publisher but the Indian law that would outlaw any book that said anything at all that might have proved, to adopt the language of the usual disclaimers, “offensive to younger or more reactionary readers”. For 295a is not technically a blasphemy law but a catch-all law so vague that it can and does trap within its shifting coils a number of practices, including blasphemy.


The media kerfuffle has now shifted, rightly, from the Penguin debacle to the broader problems raised by the Indian law 295a and its enforcement by fundamentalist citizens and judges (Doniger 2016). It’s a problem that’s been building in some ways for a century, and it’s not going to be easy to stop it now. I was a symptom, not a cause, of what appears to be just one skirmish in an astonishingly successful war waged by one nasty old man, Dina Nath Batra, against all the historians of India. He went after many other books, particularly textbooks, before, during, and after the period in which he went after me; he even went after the great painter M.F. Husain (Vishnoi, “’The Hindus’ Controversy”). He has sworn that he “will continue to wage ‘war’ against all those who write books like Doniger’s” (ibid.). One of the people who wrote to me called him: Batrasaurus.

The chief villain is … the Indian law that would outlaw any book that said anything at all that might have proved… “offensive to younger or more reactionary readers”. For 295a is not technically a blasphemy law but a catch-all law so vague that it can and does trap within its shifting coils a number of practices, including blasphemy.

The true villain is, I insist, the law. But Dina Nath Batra is also a villain, and has been so for many years. When the BJP came to power in 1999, they instituted a policy of censorship of all the textbooks in India, and the man they put in charge of that project was none other than Batra (Mukherjee/Mukherjee 2001). Batra’s textbook revisions also included the claim “that the Taj Mahal, the Qu’tb Minar and the Red Fort, three of India’s outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, were designed and commissioned by Hindus” (Ramesh 2004). In the BJP schools, students were “told that […] child marriage, jauhar, sati and various superstitions were all due to the fear of the Muslims“ (ibid.). The revisionist histories insisted that the ancient Indians knew about airplanes (Mukherjee/Mukherjee 2001). One Rajasthan government history textbook claimed not only “that ancient India had the nuclear bomb, it even practised non-proliferation by carefully restricting the number of people who had access to it“ (Subir Roy 2001)[xv] (presumably to Brahmins). Other Hindus have argued that the Vedic people discovered America long before Columbus, who was, therefore, actually right when he called the native Americans “Indians“ (Palleres). But the revisionists also demanded that several prominent historians, including Romila Thapar, should be arrested (Mukherjee/Mukherjee 2001). These arguments and several even zanier ones?such as that the myth in which the god Ganesha loses his head and gets an elephant’s head in return proves that ancient Indians had plastic surgery?have more recently been put forth by Narendra Modi, prime minister of India (see Doniger 2018, 159-84).Although I did not know it at the time, it turns out that in 2006, long before The Hindus was published anywhere, Batra had kicked up a fuss when a committee recommended including in a course at the Indira Gandhi National Open University parts of my first book, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva (1973), which had been published by Oxford University Press in India in 1975 (email from Ravi Singh, June 23rd, 2014). I think I particularly annoyed him because I am a woman and because he thinks I write about nothing but sex; the lawsuit referred to me as “a woman hungry of sex” (a phrase that my students, and my son, teased me about). I think the fact that The Hindus was a best-seller[xiv] infuriated Batra (though of course it sold even better after he went after it), and the fact that I presented strong evidence for a form of Hinduism that contradicted the Hinduism that Batra, and the whole Hindutva movement, wanted the world to see.

More significant than what Batra added to the textbooks was what he had taken out. Awkward facts, “like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, were simply left out of some textbooks” (Hasan 2002).

Even to mention?let alone to discuss or explore?beef eating in ancient India, the destruction [by Hindus]of Buddhist stupas and Jain temples, […was] denounced as evidence of unpatriotism and of Christian-Muslim designs (ibid.).

They also deleted passages about the history and function of the caste system. These cuts remind me of those old group photographs that the Soviets used to make, simply erasing people that they had “disappeared.” I took it upon myself to put these faces of Hinduism back into the picture, and that’s where I ran headlong into Batra.

Narendra Modi had endorsed Batra’s books when Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister (Katakam 2014). Indeed, right before the election of Modi, on May 12th, 2014, the New York Times quoted one RSS man who said, “We will convert the whole world into the Aryan race.” (Where have we heard that before?) When an RSS propagandist was asked what changes he hoped to see after the election, “He began by saying that Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, recently withdrawn from publication in India, ‘should not be out in the Western press.’” (Barry, 2014) He called for an overhaul of government textbooks, which he said included insulting language about Hindu gods and excessive praise of the Muslim emperor Akbar.[xvi]

Since Modi’s election, Batra has been a busy boy. Nine books on the importance of Sanskrit culture and the ‘Hindu’ code of conduct have been prescribed by the Gujarat government as supplementary reading for primary and secondary schools and will be distributed to about 40,000 schools across the State. Of these, eight are written by Dina Nath Batra (Katakam 2014).

This has fueled widespread concern that “right-wing ideologues and activists have started the saffronisation of education in earnest” (ibid.). The textbooks speak positively of “cow worship [and]the importance of the swastika”, and “the chapters are filled with politically incorrect and offensive words, racist comments, absurd anecdotes and false theories” (ibid.). It does curdle the blood to think of such a man in charge of the education of young people in India.

Concerns for the Future: Self-Censorship

In June, 2014, in an article entitled, “Falling like Ninepins”, an Indian journalist noted:

Dina Nath Batra must be a happy man these days. If news reports are anything to go by, he only needs “boo” at a publisher and they fall over like ninepins. The latest in this string is Orient Blackswan, which took a decision to have several of its books, about which Batra had not raised an objection at all, “vetted” in a sort of pre-emptive move that some might call self-censorship (Butalia 2014).

Batra had “not even targeted” the book in question (Kumar 2016). He had merely sent a legal notice on another book (Sekhar Bandhyopadhyaya, From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India, 2004), saying that it defamed the RSS. In what can only be construed as panic and a dangerous precedent, Orient Blackswan wrote to Kumar that it was undertaking a “pre-release assessment of books that might attract similar reactions” (ibid.).

Indian historians who have not toed the Batra line, including Romila Thapar, Amartya Sen, and D.N. Jha (whose book, The Myth of the Holy Cow [2002], sets out the abundant evidence that ancient Indians ate beef), have been harassed in various ways. Several Indian publishers now include a clause in which the author must promise to indemnify the publisher if legal action is taken against the volume on some grounds or other (read “religious sentiments”). The adventures at Aleph show that self-censorship need not be the case, but it is, I fear, the prevailing mood in India today. Bullies make cowards.
[This] article on censorship was censored

In August 2014 one journalist wrote, “The recent history of attacks on academics, historians, writers, film-makers and so on, which have taken place under the watch of right-wing regimes, show that the establishment supports these incidents” (Katakam 2014). She quotes a human rights activist who warned, “Unless there is a groundswell of protest from civil society groups, particularly from academics and intellectuals, the future is really going to be bleak” (ibid.).

The likelihood that I might still be in contempt of court from the 2010 criminal case has kept me from returning to India, probably ever again. But far more important is the fact that the threat that students and untenured faculty will be unable to obtain Indian visas (as has happened to several scholars in the United Kingdom recently), or jobs, or tenure, if they offend certain Hindu factions, discourages them from undertaking sensitive research. And publishers may be scared off by the increasing likelihood that they will face expensive?and even possibly violent?opposition if they publish books likely to offend certain Hindus.

A consortium of Indian publishers has gotten together in an attempt to commute the 295a offence from a criminal to a civil penalty. A crucial factor in Penguin’s capitulation was the fear that, if they lost the case, people in the Delhi office might have to serve up to three years of prison time. The hope now is not to abolish 295a?which would apparently be almost impossible to do?but to change it from a criminal to a civil offence, so that the penalty if you lost the case would be a fine rather than prison time. It is a daunting task; the government is “treading carefully on the overall question of freedom of expression but already moving forward quite aggressively on the textbook issue”.[xvii] But other groups in India are hopeful of changing 295a and have also planned other lines of attack, including bringing lawsuits against Batra himself and filing other lawsuits all over India.[xviii] One Indian publisher has brought out a little book called Freedom to Publish (Dutt et al. 2014) subtitled “Defamation and Other Legal Provisions Affecting Publishers and Authors”, written by two young lawyers as a guide for authors and publishers. It’s an e-book that is free.


In their one and only official press statement about The Hindus, Penguin argued that “[we]have a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can”. And Orient Blackswan, too, in their recent self-censorship, cited “security fears for its staff and their families” (“DNA Edit”). You can’t be a hero when you’re gambling with other people’s endangered lives.

I sympathise with the publishers’ concern about physical violence. A news item by Aniruddha Ghosal in the New Sunday Express, New Delhi, February 15th, 2014, just a few days after the media discovered that Penguin had capitulated to Batra, linked the calls for tolerance made by the President of India, as he inaugurated the New Delhi World Book Fair in 2014, with a clash of activists protesting about my book at the Fair. The article said:

Days after Penguin withdrew Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, President Pranab Mukherjee said Saturday that India’s pluralism is its greatest strength and the country’s history and traditions have always celebrated the “argumentative” Indian rather than the “intolerant” Indian. […] Hours later, two sets of protesters?one group comprising students and academics protesting against Penguin’s decision and the other comprising Hindu Sena activists?clashed at the book fair. The police had to intervene to stop both protests.[xix]

These scenes, and an alarming number of others, are chillingly reminiscent of things that happened in Germany in the 1930s, and several newspaper articles likened the Batra attacks to Nazi book-burnings. Violence and vandalism have been, in India, a part of several “protests” against books, authors, and publishers in the past, long before my encounter; goons wielding lathis (wooden canes) are often a threat to physical safety, and the police have done little, if anything, to protect people from them. Publishers and schools that persisted in publishing or using books that had aroused the displeasure of the right-wing moral police have seen their offices ransacked, computers vandalised, staff physically injured.”). Bullying certainly played a major role in Penguin’s decision to settle the case.

This cautionary tale shows the difference that a single individual like Ravi Singh can make. It shows that it’s worth fighting, that we, too, might make a difference. But why should publishers have to be heroes? In his play Life of Galileo (about a man who did stand up for what he believed, against powerful enemies?for a while), Bertholt Brecht said, “Pity the land that needs heroes” (Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat). I fear that India has become such a land. It found a hero in Ravi Singh, and I hope it will find others, before it’s too late.

* * * * *

A final irony: an earlier version of this article of mine was originally slated to be published as part of a book, a collection of articles about publishing in India. But no Indian publisher would take the volume, and gradually it became apparent that no one would take the volume as long as it had my article in it. It is thus itself a further piece of evidence, recursively, of the problem it describes: the article on censorship was censored. I therefore decided to withdraw it from that book and publish it outside of India, to allow the authors of the other articles in the book to go ahead with the rest of the original volume. And so I am very grateful to be publishing it here.


[i] I first told the story of my publishing experiences in India in a 3-page note, “A Response,” in: “Roundtable on Outrage, Scholarship, and the Law in India,” a special issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016. Website, I have updated it here and greatly expanded on the details of my story.
[ii] The book won the 2012 Ramnath Goenka Award from the Indian Express, awarded “to a writer whose published works, through in-depth research and investigation, covers an issue/idea on a scale which newspapers or television channels with their limited space and time cannot aspire to tackle“.
[iii] I took a screen shot of the Amazon website when the book was at #12, and may frame it. I must thank Batra for making it possible for me to make the final payments on my mortgage. And I was invited, for the first (and probably last) time, to write an Op Ed piece for The New York Times and an article for the New York Review of Books. I owe that, too, to Batra.
[iv] According to a Top 10 list drawn up by a leading Delhi-based book store and e-tailer.
[v] The letter stated: “The book which is out of stock with us shall not be reissued until the concerns are addressed for an acceptable resolution of the whole matter. Upon receiving your objections, we sent these to four scholars independently for reviews as this is common practice in such cases. We expect a response from the concerned scholars next week and shall deal with your concerns as required.”
[vi] Kapish Mehra and his father, R.K. Mehra.
[vii] They pinpointed the rift: “While Dina Nath Batra […] had claimed that Rupa Publications had assured him the Doniger book would be withdrawn, Ravi Singh had then told The Indian Express: ‘We are not withdrawing the book and we are not terminating any contract.’ Days later, however, Aleph issued a statement that the Doniger book is out of stock and will not be reprinted until it is reviewed by four independent scholars in the light of objections raised by Batra. […] Sources confirmed that Singh was ‘uncomfortable’ with the way the publishing house was proceeding with the Doniger controversy and felt that it would eventually move in a direction where he would have no say at all” (Vishnoi, “Modi Effect”). The sub-headline was, “Ravi Singh of Aleph ‘Quits’ over Decision to Put Doniger on Hold, Publish Modi Verse.” The article continued: “But when asked about his resignation, Singh told The Indian Express: ‘I’m happy that together with David I set up and nurtured a wonderful company but it’s time to move on now.’ This was echoed by David Davidar, Aleph’s publisher: ‘It is with regret that I would like to announce the resignation of Ravi Singh… I would like to thank him for everything he has done for us and, on behalf of everyone at Aleph, wish him the very best for the future.’ Davidar said in a statement emailed to this newspaper.”
[viii] Romila Thapar [April 22nd] and Amartya Sen [April 28th] submitted letters in defence of the book.
[ix] When the newspapers noticed that the books were in fact openly available, I was besieged with requests for a statement, and finally, on June 13th, I released a statement to the press that said, in its entirety: “True, an objection was raised against some of the content in the book, but the book was not withdrawn or changed, and was only temporarily unavailable when stocks ran out and the reprint was delayed by 2-3 weeks as the publishers attempted to resolve the situation. I am delighted to see that the book is now back in print and available in the bookstores.” The newspapers, of course, said more. The Hindu, on June 15th, reported that a new reprint of On Hinduism was out, and that “copies of the book were spotted in a couple of book shops in the Capital. […T]he author said she was not aware of the fate of the complaint. […] Mr. Batra told The Hindu that he had not heard from the publishers since their March statement and the ‘chapter is closed as they had agreed not to reprint the book without my consent’” (Joshua 2014).
[x] Manas Saikia, Managing Director of Cambridge University Press in India for years until his retirement in April 2014, after which he set up a book distribution company that also supports a couple of small independent publishers.
[xi] The Mare’s Trap: Nature and Culture in the Kamasutra (2015; second edition, 2017, retitled Reading the Kamasutra); The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry (2017); and Against Dharma: Dissent in the Ancient Indian Sciences of Sex and Politics (2018, retitled Beyond Dharma . . . .).
[xii] Her father, Aveek Sarkar, had until then owned a controlling interest in the company, ABP Group, that owned Penguin India.
[xiii] The resulting giant child, Penguin Random House, India, is sometimes also called Penguin Group India. Its CEO, Gaurav Srinagesh, has strong BJP connections.
[xiv] It was on the top of the non-fiction list in India for a while, and remained on it, lower down, for several months.
[xv] Subir Roy 2001. The man who made these changes was Rajendra Singh.
[xvi] He also said he expected the reconstruction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, on a spot where a 16th-century mosque had stood until Hindu fanatics destroyed it in 1992.
[xvii] Personal email communication from John Makinson, August 13th, 2014.
[xviii] Personal communication from Arshia Sattar, September 15th, 2014.
[xix] Another journalist reported: “It wasn’t surprising that when a group of Delhi liberals gathered yesterday afternoon to read out aloud from banned or pulped books outside Penguin’s stall at the Delhi World Book Fair, at Pragati Maidan, a bunch of Hindu Sena members shouted them down. They seemed on the verge of physical assault when the cops intervened.”


Barry, Ellen, “In Indian Candidate, Hindu Right Sees a Reawakening,” New York Times, May 10, 2014.
Bhattacharya, A. K., “Beyond Hindutva Science,” New Delhi Business Standard, 9 June, 2018.
Butalia, Urvashi. “Falling like Ninepins.” In: The Indian Express, June 24th, 2014.
DNA edit: Stop the capitulation.” In: Daily News and Analysis, June 6th, 2014.
Doniger, Wendy. Against Dharma: Dissent in the Ancient Indian Sciences of Sex and Politics The 2014 Terry Lectures at Yale New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018; Beyond Dharma: . . , New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2018.
—- Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Siva. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.
– – – Hindu Myths. Trans. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1975.
———. The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin, 2009 [for the subsequent publishing history, see Wendy Doniger’s essay in this book].
———. On Hinduism. New Delhi: Aleph, 2013; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
——— “India: Censorship by the Batra Brigade.” In: The New York Review of Books, Volume LXI, Number 8, May 8th, 2014, 51-53.
– – – Laws of Manu, The. Trans. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty & Brian K. Smith. Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1991.
———. The Mare’s Trap: Nature and Culture in the Kamasutra. New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2015; second edition retitled Reading the Kamasutra
——— “A Response.” In: Roundtable on Outrage, Scholarship, and the Law in India, of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, June 2016. Website,
—- Rig Veda, The. Trans. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1981.
———. The Ring of Truth, and Other Myths of Sex and Jewelry. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017; The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry, New Delhi: Speaking Tiger, 2017).
Dutt, Savni, Sneha Jain, Saikrishna & Associates Team. Freedom to Publish: Defamation and Other Legal Provisions Affecting Publishers and Authors. The Manas Saikia Foundation, 2014, also available as an e-book from various websites.
Ganz, Kian. “Give up Your Copyright Penguin-Chicken! Lawrence Liang, Readers Serve Legal Notice on Doniger Publisher.” In: Legally India, February 14th, 2014. Website, <>
Ghosal, Aniruddha, in The New Sunday Express, New Delhi, February 15th, 2014.
Hasan, Mushirul. “Textbooks and Imagined History: The BJP’s Intellectual Agenda.” In: South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 3, 2002 (Special Issue: The BJP and Governance in India), 75-88.
Jha, Prashant. “Pulping the Hindus: Penguin Publishers Take U-turn in 15 Months.” In: Hindustan Times, February 12th, 2014.
Joshua, Anita. “Doniger’s book back on the stands.“ In: The Hindu, June 15th, 2014. Website, <>
Katakam, Anupama. “Distorted Lessons.” In: Frontline, August 6th, 2014. Website, <>
Kumar, Megha. Communalism and Sexual Violence in India: The Politics of Gender, Ethnicity and Conflict. London & New York: I.B. Tauris, 2016.
Laskar, Rezaul H. “India Braces for Wendy Doniger’s The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade.” In: Mail Today, March 20th, 2014.
Mukherjee, Mridula & Aditya Mukherjee. “Communalisation of Education: The History Textbooks Controversy.” Delhi Historians’ Group. August 5th, 2001. Website, <>
Palleres, Ricardo. “Who Discovered America?” In: Archaeology Online. Website, <>
Ramesh, Randeep. “Another Rewrite for India’s History Books.” In: The Guardian, June 25th, 2004.
Roy, Subir. “What is History?” In: Business Standard, November 28th, 2001.
Vishnoi, Anubhuti. “’The Hindus’ Controversy: Getting Doniger Trashed Just One of His ‘Battles to Save Hinduism.’” In: The Indian Express, February 14th, 2014.
———. “Modi Effect: One Publisher Quits, Other Spikes.’” In: The Indian Express, April 16th, 2014. Website <>
Williams, John. “Author Resigned to Ill Fate of Book in India,”. The New York Times, February 16, 2014.

Wendy Doniger [O’Flaherty] (BA, Radcliffe, summa cum laude; PhD, Harvard University; DPhil, Oxford University) is the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor Emerita of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and the author of over forty books, most recently The Hindus: An Alternative History, Hinduism (in the Norton Anthology of World Religions), and Against Dharma: Dissent in the Ancient Indian Sciences of Sex and Politics.