Books

'Freedom of Speech': ‘Delhi Riots' Writer Was Lawyer for Petitioners Who Sought Cuts in Wendy Doniger Book

Lawyer Monika Arora had represented petitioners from 2011 till Doniger's book on Hinduism was pulled by Penguin in 2014.

New Delhi: Monika Arora, one of the writers of the book on the Delhi riots which Bloomsbury has withdrawn, had been advocate for petitioners who had called for passages in Wendy Doniger’s book on Hindus to be removed in 2011. Doniger’s book was eventually withdrawn by Penguin Books India in 2014.

The withdrawal of the University of Chicago scholar’s book had triggered anger on Twitter, resulting in the same debate that is afoot now – on freedom of speech and expression.

Arora, who since Bloomsbury’s move has tweeted on how “free speech and acceptance of all opinion” have been curtailed, now finds herself on the other side of the debate.

Arora’s book on the February riots in Delhi, which she co-wrote with Sonali Chitalkar and Prerna Malhotra, garnered criticism after it emerged that BJP leader Kapil Mishra was among those releasing it. Mishra’s speeches before the riots are believed to have incited the violence.

A poster for the book launch.

Many have also questioned the distinct bias the book appears to take against Citizenship Amendment Act protesters, along with the uniqueness of how quickly it was brought to print even though investigations into the riots are still ongoing amidst allegations of distinct favouritism against Delhi Police.

Also read: Jamia: For Delhi Police, India’s Top Central Varsity is a Free Hunting Ground for FIR 59/20

The book will now be published by Garuda Books.

Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, published in India in 2011, had been held to great scrutiny. A complaint was filed by seven petitioners to remove objectionable passages from it. Among them was Dinanath Batra, who is noted for his legal crusade against perceived affront to Hinduism by authors.

The original complaint criticised the book for “heresies and factual inaccuracies” and criticised Doniger for having a selective approach to writing about Hinduism, Reuters had reported then.

“She denounced the Hindu Gods and freedom fighters of India,” Monika Arora had told Reuters shortly after Penguin had pulled the book in 2014.

The legal notice said Doniger was incorrect in describing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s militant wing.

In an interview with Rajiv Malhotra, who wrote the book, Academic Hinduphobia: A Critique of Wendy Doniger’s Erotic School of Indology, Arora questions as to why anyone would go against Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. The section deals with “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs.”

Arora also mentions in the interview that Batra did not attempt to get the book banned but wanted the passages that irked him removed. She says in the interview that the criticism to Penguin pulling Doniger’s book was imposed by international media and Leftist scholars within the country.

Countering criticism of the ban on Doniger’s book, Arora had also written in Malhotra’s blog in 2014, “…[T]his lynch mob and intolerant pseudo-secularists in the name of freedom of expression are crying from rooftops and demanding freedom of defamation.”

She further writes of ‘the likes of Arundhati Roy’, “…[T]hese champions of freedom of expressions have took upon them their favorite agenda to attack all those who do not agree with them and who dare to talk in favour of Hindus or the Freedom Fighters of this country. They are the likes of the American President who openly declared “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists” (sic).”

Six years later, on Sunday, Arora’s tweets took a slightly different tone. To one Twitter user, she said, “we will work together against Intellectual fascism, throttling of voices and threats to freedom of expression by issuance of DIGITAL FATWAS by international left lobbies. We have a right to speak and right to write…”