Academics appeal to Penguin India over Hinduism book

Cover of The Hindus Penguin's decision to withdraw the book has been widely criticised

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Top academics have appealed to Penguin India to contest a legal challenge over a book on Hinduism by a US scholar.

A group brought a civil case against Penguin arguing that Wendy Doniger's book "The Hindus: An Alternative History" was offensive to Hindus.

Earlier this month Penguin recalled and destroyed copies of the book, saying it had to respect the laws of the land.

India's laws make it a criminal offence to outrage or insult "religious feelings" in spoken or written word.

Hindu campaign group Shiksha Bachao Andolan brought the civil case in 2011, arguing that Doniger's book contained "heresies" insulting to Hindus.

Penguin reached an apparent out-of-court agreement with the group, details of which were circulated online.

The decision to withdraw the book sparked widespread criticism that the move undermined free speech, with many asking why such a big company had given in to a little-known group.

A group of leading Indian and international academics, including Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Romila Thapar and Martha Nussbaum, have initiated a petition on change.org urging Penguin to "contest the suit against The Hindus through the higher courts, to ensure that a strong precedent upholding freedom of expression be established".

The petition also urged "lawmakers, jurists and the legal bureaucracy" to undertake a revision of Indian penal laws to "protect works of serious academic and artistic merit from motivated, malicious and frivolous litigation".

Wendy Doniger said she did not blame Penguin but added that she was deeply angered and concerned for freedom of speech in India.

Many others in India have added to the chorus of criticism amid growing concern that religious groups are stifling free speech and artistic expression.

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