The Hindus: An Alternative History

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The Hindus: An Alternative History
The Hindus, an alternative history.jpg
Author Wendy Doniger
Language English
Published 2009 (Viking Press)

The Hindus: An Alternative History is a book by American Indologist, Wendy Doniger which the author describes as an “alternative to the narrative of Hindu history that they tell.”[1] The book was initially published by Viking Penguin in 2009 and later in India by Penguin's Indian subsidiary, Penguin India,

In February 2014, it was the subject of litigation in India by the group Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samithi, founded by Dinanath Batra (Hindi, literally, "Committee for Struggle to Save Education"), alleging violations of a law which punishes "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any religious community."[2] As a result of the lawsuit, the book was withdrawn from the Indian market by its Indian publisher,[3][4] prompting widespread concerns about the state of free speech in India.[5][6][7]

Book overview and reception[edit]

The book was published in 2009 by Viking/Penguin. According to the Hindustan Times, The Hindus was a No. 1 bestseller in its non-fiction category in the week of October 15, 2009.[8] Two scholarly reviews in the Social Scientist and the Journal of the American Oriental Society, though praising Doniger for her textual scholarship, criticized factual errors in her coverage of British colonialists in India and her lack of focus.[9][10]

In the popular press, the book has received many positive reviews, for example from the Library Journal,[11] the Times Literary Supplement,[12] the New York Review of Books,[13] the New York Times,[1] and The Hindu.[14][15]

In January 2010, the National Book Critics Circle named The Hindus as a finalist for its 2009 book awards.[16] The Hindu American Foundation protested this decision, alleging inaccuracies and bias in the book.[17]

Court case in India[edit]

The book was criticised by Shiksha Bachao Andolan arguing that the work was "riddled with heresies"[7] and that the contents are offensive to Hindus.[18] Certain content and wordings in the book were challenged by Dinanath Batra, the head of Shiksha Bacho Andolan in a lawsuit and the publisher Penguin India agreed to destroy all the existing copies within six months commencing from February 2014.[19] The lawsuit was filed by Dinanath Batra in 2011 under Section 295A of Indian Penal Code which punishes deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any religious community.[19] The publishers blamed the "British vintage Section 295A of IPC" for withdrawal of the books and felt that it was difficult to maintain international standards of free speech in light of this section.[20] The decision of the reputed publisher to withdraw the book by a prominent US scholar was widely criticised and certain thinkers felt that Penguin should have defended the case effectively and uphold freedom of expression.[3][18] There was a Streisand effect on the sales of withdrawn book as some bookstores continued to secretly sell the book, wrapped in brown paper.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Pankaj Mishra, "'Another Incarnation',", in New York Times, April 24, 2009
  2. ^ "Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, Section 295A". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Indian Publisher Withdraws Book, Stoking Fears of Nationalist Pressure". Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Wendy Doniger book 'to be recalled' by Penguin India, BBC, India news, 11 February 2014 
  5. ^ Tobar, Hector (February 13, 2014). "'The Hindus' pulled by Penguin Books India, prompting outrage". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  6. ^ Shainin, Jonathan (February 14, 2014). "Why Free Speech Loses in India". The New Yorker. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Flood, Alison (February 13, 2014). "Penguin's withdrawal of The Hindus causes international outcry". The Guardian. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Top authors this week" Hindustan Times Indo-Asian News Service New Delhi, October 15, 2009
  9. ^ Shrimali 2010, p. 80.
  10. ^ Rocher 2012, p. 303.
  11. ^ James F. DeRoche, Library Journal, 2009-02-15
  12. ^ David Arnold. "Beheading Hindus And other alternative aspects of Wendy Doniger's history of a mythology", Times Literary Supplement, July 29, 2009
  13. ^ David Dean Shulman, 'A Passion for Hindu Myths,' in New York Review of Books, Nov 19, 2009, pp. 51–53.
  14. ^ A R Venkatachalapathy, "Understanding Hinduism" The Hindu March 30, 2010
  15. ^ Raman, V.V. "Doniger, Wendy. The Hindus: an alternative history." CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries Aug. 2009: 2338. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
  16. ^ [1] "National Book Critics Circle Finalists Are Announced" New York Times January 23, 2010
  17. ^ HAF Urges NBCC Not Honor Doniger's Latest Book, as reprinted in LA Times, New Yorker, Sify
  18. ^ a b Soutik, Biswas (14 February 2014). "Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: Penguin India defends decision to recall book". BBC News India. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  19. ^ a b Kapur, Ratna (15 February 2014). "Totalising history, silencing dissent". The Hindu. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  20. ^ Joshua, Anita (14 February 2014). "No Country for free speech, says Penguin". The Hindu. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  21. ^ Praveen, S.R. (16 February 2014). "Streisand effect on Doniger’s book". The Hindu. Retrieved 16 February 2014.