We, the undersigned, are appalled by the recent settlement reached between Dina Nath Batra for the Shiksha Bachao Andolan and Penguin Books India, to cease the publication of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History (Penguin USA 2009; Penguin India 2010), and withdraw and destroy remaining copies of the book on Indian territory.
This case is only the latest in a long series of outrage against freedom of expression. Academic, intellectual and artistic expression of any kind is becoming increasingly hazardous in India. What has happened to Professor Doniger and many other scholars before her can happen to any one of us at any time. Indian laws and legislation governing the freedom of expression not only fail to protect us from harassment and intimidation, but in fact prevent us from doing our work in a respectful, fair and democratic environment.
More worrying, the laws dealing with insult and injury to the sentiments of groups and communities (organised around religion, caste or any other form of identity) are routinely used to curb the freedom of expression, both within the legal justice system and in public discourse more generally.
In our view, the way to respond to ideas one dislikes is not to censor them but to produce better ones. Such was the practice of India’s great intellectual traditions in the past. Litigation like this, undertaken in the name of defending those traditions, in fact profoundly demeans them.
We make the following demands:
1. That there be a reform of Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code—governing intellectual and artistic freedoms and the right to self-expression, as well as protecting against insult and injury to communities, and the incitement of communal hatred. We ask that lawmakers, jurists and the legal bureaucracy include necessary provisions in these laws to protect works of serious academic and artistic merit from motivated, malicious and frivolous litigation.
2. That Penguin Random House at the highest levels of management and decision-making continue to contest the Legal Demand # 254/LN/0310 up to the higher courts, so that a good precedent upholding freedom of expression is established, and in future publishing houses, including Penguin India, are able to publish works and support their authors without the threatening prospect of litigation, fear and censure.
We believe that writers, scholars, artists, and publishers the world over will stand in solidarity with the author Wendy Doniger. To endorse our demands, append your signature to this statement. We intend to send our petition along with all the signatures collected to the appropriate authorities in the Government of India.
Ananya Vajpeyi , Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi; Sheldon Pollock , Columbia University, New York; Partha Chatterjee , Columbia University, New York; Laurie Patton , Duke University, North Carolina; Romila Thapar , Jawaharlal Nehru University (Retd.), New Delhi; David Shulman , Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel and others.
The petition can be signed at: http://thne.ws/1lOiSfd