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Dinanath Batra forces publisher to 'set aside' book on Ahmedabad riots

In yet another case of supposed right-wing censorship, a book titled 'Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969' by Dr Megha Kumar has been withheld by its publishers - Orient Blackswan - as part of a 'pre-release assessment of books'.

Orient made this decision soon after a notice, dated 16 May, was issued to the publishers by Dinanath Batra, an RSS pracharak and head of Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, against another of its books.This one  titled "From Plassey to Partition : A History of Modern India," published over a decade ago. Batra first made news in 2013, when Penguin India withdrew Wendy Doniger’s book, 'The Hindus: An Alternative History', from India as part of an out-of-court settlement with his organisation.

The cover of the book - Communalism and Sexual Violence -

The cover of the book - Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969.  Courtesy: Orient Blackswan website

What is notable, however, is that while the publishers claim it is being reviewed as part of a pre-release process, the book had already been listed on its website in April.

In fact, a cached version of the webpage priced the book at Rs 675, where it describes the book as offering, "an in-depth, grassroots-level analysis of three riots that occurred in Ahmedabad city, Gujarat, in 1969, 1985 and 2002, respectively, paying close attention to the unique economic, social and political dynamics at work in different neighbourhoods in each particular instance of conflict. "

According to a communication reportedly sent from OBS to Kumar, a Rhodes scholar from Oxford University, the Board was legally advised to undertake a pre-release assessment of books that could potentially offer grounds for legal action based on Section 295-A of the IPC -- the colonial era law that has been the basis of past censorship moves, and threats of legal action made by the Batra-led SBAS against Doniger's book.

According to The Hindu, Kumar was also informed that her book -- which deals with communal and sexual violence in the Ahmedabad riots of 1969, 1985 and 2002 -- would not be released until a “comprehensive assessment has been made and advice obtained.”

Mimi Choudhury, publisher, Higher Academic Social Sciences, Orient BlackSwan, defended the decision, saying, "We are simply reviewing it in the wake of a legal notice that was served on us by Dina Nath Batra of Shiksha Bachao Andolan for a textbook titled From Plassey to Partition... In the context of the legal notice, Orient BlackSwan has decided to identify and review again books — those already published as well as those under consideration," she told the daily, further adding that "the book would be reviewed by an academician and changes, if any, would be discussed with the author."

A dismayed Kumar, however, told Express, “Should these trends gather momentum in the wake of the recent electoral transition — my book is not the first to evoke such a response from a reputed publisher — there will be profound adverse consequences for academic publishing, universities and other educational institutions. Moreover, given the frequency and brutality of sexual violence against women in India, withholding research on this important subject seems particularly damaging."

The similarities between the Doniger and Kumar cases certainly are cause for concern, especially the reasoning offered by both publishers.

"Citing concern for the security of authors, staff and their families, OBS said the assessment would include examining the possibility of legal proceedings, especially under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), being filed against them and the company," The Hindu report states.  Orient's reasons for its decision are very similar to those offered by Penguin when it pulped Doniger's book citing concerns about a drawn out legal case, and risks posed to Penguin employees.  At the time of the pulping, many Penguin critics warned that such a defense would soon become an excuse for routine self-censorship. Orient Blackswan appears to be proving them right.