A couple of months ago Penguin India decided to pulp all the copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus. The contents of the book were deemed highly contentious by some people and a person named Dina Nath Batra had challenged the book in the court and in order to avoid legal complications the publishing house decided to pulp all the copies of the book. Clearly the multinational publishing house couldn’t stand behind the book confidently.
Another publishing company Navayana who is known to publish Dalit works has decided not to publish the Sahitya Akademi awardee Joe D’Cruz’s English version of the Tamil novel “Aazhi Soozh Ulagu” (Ocean Ringed World) because of the writer’s open support for Narendra Modi.
The readers of this blog will note that while highly objecting to the contents of The Hindus I have never recommended the banning of the book or pulping it. My recommendation was to counter it with another book or with another paper. This is how works of art, works of intellect must be met with if you don’t agree. Or you can simply ignore it hoping that not many people read it.
Navayana and the person who did the English translation haven’t rejected the book for its content, in fact they say that the content is superb and well-researched. Their problem is the writer’s support for Narendra Modi. This is how the English translator V. Geetha justifies the publisher’s stand:
“I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D’Cruz’s statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can’t forget Gujarat 2002-no one must be allowed to, either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life, and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for a politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation.”
I think she’s making a fair statement (not the “fascist and dangerous” part because here she is simply propagating divisiveness). You don’t want to associate with a person you don’t agree with. This is a highly polarised political atmosphere and the stakes are quite high on different ends of the spectrum. Extreme reactions are bound to happen. But that’s a different issue.
People who were trying to put the plight of both the authors in the same box are missing a big point. Wendy’s problem was intellectual dishonesty, Joe’s problem is his political stand. You may not agree with me, but the sole purpose of Wendy’s book was to denigrate the Hindu religion in every possible way. Her personal biases and agendas had percolated her work.
In Joe’s case he is not spreading his propaganda through his work. He is simply telling the story of the fishermen who live on the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. It is a story that in no way propagates a particular religious or political philosophy. Whatever might be the author’s political views he has not allowed his views to eclipse his intellectual articulation, which, sadly, Wendy allowed. By not publishing his book, the publisher is not harming Joe (there are plenty of publishers available these days and besides, you can always publish on your own), the publisher is harming the story and worse, the publisher is harming the seafaring community whose story can reach a wider audience with an English translation.
Perhaps they were planning to recruit an ideological author into their fold and when they realised that just because the author is writing about an issue they can relate to it doesn’t mean that politically they stand on the same line, they got jittery.