Arts, Culture & Media

A Hindu history book becomes hot after being recalled in India



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After years of a legal battle, Penguin Books India, a division of Penguin Random House, has agreed to pull its book, "The Hindus: An Alternative History" from Indian bookstores.

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The history book, which its author Wendy Doniger has described as an alternative, Howard Zinn-esque version of the history of Hinduism, has been accused of denigrating Hindus and Hindu traditions.

“It tells an aspect of the history of Hinduism that is unpleasant for a certain type of Hindu, what I would call a fundamentalist Hindu, to accept,” said Doniger, who is a professor of history of religion at the University of Chicago.

The lawsuit against Doniger and Penguin was filed by Dinanath Batra, a leader of the conservative Hindu group, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti. Among their specific accusations is that the book wrongly includes a map of India that excludes Kashmir, the subject of a territorial dispute with neighboring Pakistan.

This isn’t the first time that Doniger has encountered an impassioned and vocal response to her ideas about Hinduism. An egg was thrown at the professor while she was giving a lecture in 2006. In fact, it was that egg that sparked her to write the book in the first place.

“It came out of that situation of conflict, really,” said Doniger.

Now, the resulting conflict between Penguin and Batra’s group seems to be temporarily quelled. In the out-of-court settlement, the publisher agreed not only to recall, but destroy all remaining copies of the book in India.

Still, the recall may be the best thing to happen to the book. Sales are way up in the UK and United States. The paperback has even made the Amazon bestseller list. Not too shabby for a book published back in 2009.

“One of my publishers said if the intention of these gentlemen was to make sure that no one read your book, it has backfired very badly indeed,” said Doniger.