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Penguin Random House India’s legal team has allegedly removed words like ‘Hindutva’, ‘Sangh Parivar’ and ‘saffronisation’ from Telugu poet Varavara Rao’s latest book Varavara Rao: A Revolutionary Poet, the Quint has reported.
The book, which is yet to be released, will become the first English-translated collection of poems by the 81-year-old Rao, who was arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. He is at present out on medical bail.
Rao’s latest book is an anthology of his poems, which is representative of his six-decade-long literary career.
Rao has been associated with various people’s movements since the 1960s and was arrested in August 2018 for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case.
In 2014, Penguin had withdrawn their own book The Hindus by Wendy Doniger following complaints filed by groups claiming that the book presented a “distorted” view of Hinduism.
Earlier this year, on Ambedkar Jayanti (April 14), Penguin Random House had released a book The Dalit Truth, which it said “analyses the current Dalit status, economically, socially, and politically, the relevance of Ambedkar, and the new path of empowerment to be forged.”
The book, which featured expert views from authors such as Sukhdeo Thorat, Badri Narayan and Bhanwar Meghwanshi; activist and Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani; and academic Suraj Yengde, was stated to be “a symphony of Dalit voices as they call out to the future.”
The publisher also claimed that “the multitude of Dalit truths and their battles against the lies perpetrated by the caste system are reflected in the pages of this book, pointing towards a future filled with promise and prospects for coming generations.”
However, less than a month after the release of The Dalit Truth, Rao’s latest collection of poems has allegedly undergone censorship at the hands of Penguin Random House’s legal team, according to the Quint report.
The report says that the words in question have been removed from the latest edit of Rao’s book and the news outlet speculated that the move has been initiated to avoid getting charged by the government under repressive legislations like sedition or defamation.
Rao has not offered a response because, as someone close to him has said, one of his bail conditions was that he would not talk to the media.
The Wire reached out to senior officials at Penguin Random House India for a comment. This article will be updated as and when they respond.
Incidentally, Varavara Rao: A Revolutionary Poet was subjected to delays last year as well and then, too, the delays were chalked up to an unfavourable legal opinion.
Outlook magazine had reported in November last year that after the delays evoked a strong response against the publishing house on social media, Rao’s nephew, N. Venugopal, had said that he awaits a “favourable, second legal opinion.”
The contract for the book was signed in 2020 and the publisher had then stated that it would be released in mid-2021. However, the contract had provided for a 24-month window for publication.
Venugopal had stated that publishers had time till October 2022 to bring out the book, failing which the “editors can either sue them for breach of contract, or we can make a public issue that they have stopped the publishing.”
Three out of 65 poems were dropped in 2021
On why three of Rao’s poems of the 65 selected were dropped from the collection, Venugopal had cited “legal problems” since they were written while Rao was facing trial.
“There were some legal problems because he is under a case, so the poems that he wrote during the case are sub-judice. That’s why we dropped the three poems. The publishers said because he is in a case, this may lead to trouble,” the Outlook report had quoted Venugopal as saying.
The report also noted that Penguin Random House had published a translated collection of Rao’s letters from prison, titled Captive Imagination, which led Venugopal to say, “Penguin has published his letters from prison in 2010, so if writing from the prison is not a problem, these poems (in the new book) are only re-publications of what appeared in Telugu for the last 60 years.”