Two writers said yesterday they have asked publisher Penguin to pulp their books and return the copyright, in protest at what they see as its failure to defend free speech.
Penguin ignited the row last week with its decision to withdraw a 2009 book on Hinduism in India, to settle a court battle with activists who took offence at the American author’s depiction of the religion.
New Delhi-based journalist Siddarth Varadarajan said he wanted Penguin to withdraw his own book Gujarat: The Making of a Tragedy since he no longer had faith in the publisher to defend it against critics.
“It is catastrophic for someone in the publishing business to do this,” Varadarajan said.
Author Jyotirmaya Sharma, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad, said he has also written to Penguin, which has published two of his books, asking for his contract to be terminated.
He took exception to Penguin’s stated reasons for withdrawing The Hindus: An Alternative History by US author Wendy Doniger.
“The reply by Penguin citing the compulsions it has in respecting the law of the land is deeply unsatisfactory,” Sharma wrote in an e-mail to Penguin.
“Unjust laws have to be fought and challenged, especially if these are applied and enforced selectively,” he wrote.
Penguin has drawn fire from writers and champions of free speech over its decision to pull the US scholar’s book rather than fight the case.
Although it said it respected free speech, Penguin stated last week it settled the case because it must comply with India’s laws “however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be.”
Doniger has said she was “angry and disappointed” at the decision.
Sharma, whose books focus on Hindu nationalism, said he has threatened legal action against Penguin, part of publishing giant Penguin Random House, if it failed to comply with his requests.
Varadarajan is a former editor of The Hindu newspaper whose book details riots that killed 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.
He said it was an occupational hazard for big publishers to fight such court cases.
Many authors and artists practise self-censorship in religiously diverse India, which is about 80% Hindu, due to tough laws against inciting communal violence and a powerful censor.
India banned Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, which is viewed by Muslims as blasphemous.
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