Penguin Books India has agreed to recall and pulp all copies in India of The Hindus: An Alternative History by U.S. scholar Wendy Doniger, raising concerns over freedom of expression in the world’s largest democracy. The move by one of India's major book publishers is a settlement with members of the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan, which has filed civil and criminal cases over the work.
In a conversation with TIME, Shiksha Bachao Andolan president Dinanath Batra explains why he thinks Doniger's book hurts Hindu sentiments and is propagating lies about Hindu deities and national icons. No stranger to controversy, Batra had earlier taken on Indian educational boards for what he says have been distortion of facts and has actively opposed and subsequently stopped the introduction of sex education in Indian schools, saying it was against Hindu culture and religion.
TIME: What are your objections to Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus?
Batra: Her intention is bad, the content is anti-national and the language is abusive. Her agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus.
And you say that because...?
According to her book, when Ramrajya [an idyllic vision of state propounded by Mahatma Gandhi] comes to India, then Christians and Muslims will be driven out of India. We all know that Gandhiji’s vision was about unity; he dreamed of a state where there would be no discrimination based on religion or wealth. Her book will incite hatred among communities. Furthermore, Doniger says [in the book] that when Sanskrit scriptures were written, Indian society favored open sexuality. The jacket of her book shows Lord Krishna sitting on the buttocks of nude women. She equates the shivlingam, worshipped all over India by millions, with sex and calls it an erect penis. She calls Gandhiji strange and says he used to sleep with young girls.
So, it is primarily the juxtaposition of sex and Hinduism in the book that bothers you?
The entire book is objectionable, but yes, that is one of our main objections. She is insulting our gods and goddesses and religious leaders and texts and even our freedom fighters. I don’t have any objection to sex and neither does our religion, as long as it’s within the parameters of religion.
Why does it matter so much to you about what someone writes about Hinduism?
If someone makes a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad, Muslims are outraged around the world. So why should anyone write anything against Hinduism and get away with it? It matters because this book is hurting the sentiments of Hindus all over the world. I am a Hindu. When I read the book, I felt hurt. It hurt my sentiments.
Will you protest against every book that doesn’t fit your idea of Hinduism?
We are against anything that hurts people’s religious sentiments. Our movement is aimed at cleansing distortions from education in India. We have also taken on the Indian educational boards for wrong facts in their textbooks. We will protest against any book that portrays a negative image of our society.
Don't you worry that your objections might seem outdated in today's modern world?
We are not against modernity, but we are against westernization. Max Mueller once said that they conquered India once and that they will do it again but through education. Through westernization, there’s a renewed effort to enslave our country. Hindus all over the world should stand up against this. In the tiny world we live, we have to try and create heaven out of hell.