Controversy over books on Hinduism by religion scholar Wendy Doniger continues to grow. Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History, first published in 2009, was recalled and pulped by Penguin Books India last month in response to charges it violated the Indian penal code, which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.” Meanwhile, the American Academy of Religion has issued a statement expressing concern about political interference with free inquiry, and Penguin Random House expressed support for protests against the recall and destruction of the book.
Now a second Indian publisher has denied it is withdrawing a second, different book by Doniger, On Hinduism. Aleph Book Company in New Delhi responded on Facebook to a March 5 report from the Times of India. “We are not aware of any such thing,” said the authorized statement from Aleph and partner Rupa Publications. Aleph was founded in 2011 by former Penguin Canada president David Davidar.
Oxford University Press is publishing On Hinduism this month in the U.S. It has world rights except in South Asia. “Professor Doniger’s work has been vetted according to the press’ standard review protocol and we are pleased to be its North American publisher,” said Niko Pfund, president, OUP US. “For anyone seeking a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Hinduism, this book is a must read,” wrote PW in its review of the 672-page book.
Even as reports emerged regarding the second Doniger title, the AAR issued a statement adopted by its board of directors earlier this week in response to the pulping in India of The Hindus: An Alternative History. “If governments block the free exchange of ideas or restrict what can be said about religion, all of us are impoverished,” said the academy in its statement. Doniger is a former AAR president and the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and author of more than 30 books.
Jack Fitzmier, executive director of the AAR, said that of the 150 program units of the academy, a number were devoted to the study of Hinduism or comparative religions, so that a potential exists for a rippling chill on scholarly inquiry on the topic. The AAR has almost 10,000 members who specialize in the study of religions. He also said that programming about this incident was being discussed for the group’s annual meeting, to be held in San Diego in November.
Penguin India has explained its decision to pulp The Hindus by saying it has a responsibility to follow the law of the land and protect its employees from harassment, noting it was involved in four years of legal action to defend publication of the book. Activist Dinanath Batra had brought suit against Penguin about the book, saying it was riddled with heresy and inaccuracy. He told the Indian business publication Mint last month after the Penguin settlement that he intended to take action against Aleph’s publication of On Hinduism.