My book Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969 was printed by Orient BlackSwan in mid-April 2014, and thereafter released online and sold. In accordance with high academic standards and the stipulations of the contract I have signed with the publisher, the book was printed following a thorough peer review and systematic and rigorous copy-editing between June 2013 (when the first draft of the manuscript was submitted) and March 2014 (when the book went to press).
However, on May 19, 2014 the publisher sent me a letter stating that they have received a legal a notice from Mr Dina Nath Batra’s lawyer accusing them of publishing a book -- Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India by Sekhar Bandopadhyay -- that is defamatory and derogatory to the RSS. In light of this legal notice, the publisher had decided to undertake “a pre-release assessment of books that might attract similar reactions”. One of these books is mine.
The publisher added: “In this context, we have been advised by our legal counsel, not to release your book till such comprehensive assessment has been made and advice obtained. In view of the same, the Board of Directors has no option but to withhold releasing your book for the present".
On May 23, 2014 I requested from the publisher details on what this “comprehensive review” actually entails and a precise date for when this review will be completed. On June 5, 2014 the publisher responded stating that they have decided on a “fresh review” of my book to ensure its contents are in compliance with Indian laws.
Orient BlackSwan’s latest letters to me are dated June 5, 2014 and June 13, 2014. The former echoes the sentiments expressed in the May letter, but the latter is more serious. It contains an “opinion” obtained from Senior Advocate Soli Sorabjee, who has advised Orient BlackSwan that my book “may well attract” Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the offence of creating enmity between religious communities.
The publisher’s approach is completely wrongheaded. The “opinion” as quoted appears highly partial, selectively citing precedents in Indian jurisprudence that support the publisher’s position, and failing to cite other judgements which contradict it. Moreover, the letter cites what is clearly only a part of Sorabjee’s “opinion”. It is also highly inconclusive from a legal standpoint: while mentioning cases in which Indian courts have ruled that historical truth is no defence, it fails to clarify how such rulings have any bearing on the contents of my book. Perhaps most importantly, while the letter apparently assumes that my writing is “calculated to promote feelings of enmity” between Hindus and Muslims, the book is in fact clearly a scholarly attempt to understand and thereby help prevent such inter-religious enmity – a fact of which the publisher must be aware. It therefore seems perverse and illogical to conclude that the book requires revising.
Click below to view the correspondence:
Click on the links below for media coverage of the controversy:
NDTV: Left, Right & Centre
Times Now: Newshour Debate
Headlines Today: To The Point
Television Interviews and Debates