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Freedom, Religion & Literature in India

February 24, 2014

The past few weeks have seen a quiet storm build up. In the eye of the storm is Penguin India and Wendy Doniger’s “Hinduism: An Alternative History” and a bunch of offended religious sentiment people.

Penguin India announced a couple of weeks ago that they would be withdrawing and pulping (an innocent term for destroying) all copies of the book. There was no court order banning the book but there was a case filed against it in 2010 by Shiksha Bachao Andolan.

I had not heard about the book and perhaps would have continued in ignorance if not for this announcement by the publisher. 

The argument of the petitioner was the book hurt religious sentiments, had wrong facts and thereby would case “fear and alarm among that their religion and religious beliefs are not safe any more and can be trampled with and denigrated, distorted & insulted and hence  you have intended to induce and incite them to commit offences against the State and against Public Tranquility.”

This is not the first time a book has been banned due to these reasons. But there always was a court order behind such bans and withdrawals. I am looking for Penguin’s reasoning behind the withdrawal but can’t seem to find any. But there definitely is not a court order behind this move. 

The lack of clear reasoning makes this act more scary than a court order. The move seems to be another in a growing list of things that are going against the Freedom of Speech and Expression in India. From being arrested for innocent tweets and Facebook status messages to creating cartoons on figureheads, the mantra of intolerance seems to be on the rise in India.

What seemed to be funny articles have suddenly acquired a darker meaning. Kochi – the state that was all about the proletariat suddenly announced they were seizing all t-shirts and other things with Bob Marley’s photographs on them. Why? Because Bob Marley apparently promotes weed.

Goa – the party destination of India and Gokarna, the alternate refuge for hippies, have more complaints about police raids and harassment. Cops claim that this is done to ensure the safety of the tourists, given the rise in number of rapes and murders. Hashish / Charas / Ganja – the drug of our gods have suddenly taken a more sinister meaning.

Is there a reason behind this intolerance in the country? Is the story of Wendy Doniger and Penguin just a wake up call that most of us will not heed?

**

In researching the story about Doniger and Penguin, I visited the website of the petitioner – Shiksha Bachao Andolan. 

Their description was as follows (though in Hindi) – Important role of education in national reconstruction is the goal . The overall development of the personality of the nation’s citizenry is the key role of education in any country . Education structure , curriculum – curriculum qualitatively , access and conform to the culture of the country , there has been public discussion on issues of education . Despite being the largest component of student academic world on various aspects of education debate has been kept away from him . Education for the nation re-building seminar on the role of students in an innovative effort being through education, culture, regeneration trust . This seminar is for pupils and students for students .

I came across another article on NDTV at the same time, which talked about factual errors in government-prescribed textbooks of school children. You can read the story here.

Impressionable children are being allowed to read wrong facts about Indian history. Facts and figures. Straight forward dates. And there are organizations which are worried about adults reading an interpretation of myth, religion and religious texts. Interpretations and analysis from which they are allowed to draw their own conclusion. 

I wonder if Wendy Doniger had  been an Indian, would there have been a similar riot? Foreigners are increasingly  been given the stink eye in India. Ask any foreign correspondent who has been working in Delhi in the past couple of years. 

Paranoia or truth?

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