Demand to Reconsider and Revise Sections 153a and 295a of the Indian Penal Code to Protect Freedom of Expression in India: Concerned Academics and Public Intellectuals

Statement by Concerned Academics and Public Intellectuals: Ananya Vajpeyi, Sheldon Pollock, Partha Chatterjee, Laurie Patton, Romila Thapar, David Shulman and many others

We the undersigned are appalled by the recent settlement reached between Dina Nath Batra for the Shiksha Bachao Andolan and Penguin Books India, to cease the publication of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History (Penguin USA 2009; Penguin India 2010), and to withdraw and destroy remaining copies of the book on Indian territory.
This case is only the latest in a long series of outrages against freedom of expression. Academic, intellectual and artistic expression of any kind is becoming increasingly hazardous in India. What has happened to Professor Doniger and many other scholars before her can happen to any one of us at any time. Indian laws and legislation governing the freedom of expression not only fail to protect us from harassment and intimidation, but in fact prevent us from doing our work in a respectful, fair and democratic environment.
More worrying, the laws dealing with insult and injury to the sentiments of groups and communities (organized around religion, caste or any other form of identity) are routinely used to curb the freedom of expression, both within the legal justice system and in public discourse more generally.
In our view, the way to respond to ideas one dislikes is not to censor them but to produce better ones. Such was the practice of India’s great intellectual traditions in the past. Litigation like this, undertaken in the name of defending those traditions, in fact profoundly demeans them.
We make the following demands:
1. That there be a reform of Sections 153A and 295A of the Indian Penal Code—governing intellectual and artistic freedoms and the right to self-expression, as well as protecting against insult and injury to communities, and the incitement of communal hatred. We ask that lawmakers, jurists and the legal bureaucracy include necessary provisions in these laws to protect works of serious academic and artistic merit from motivated, malicious and frivolous litigation.
2.  That Penguin Random House at the highest levels of management and decision-making continue to contest the Legal Demand # 254/LN/0310 up to the higher courts, so that a good precedent upholding freedom of expression is established, and in future publishing houses, including Penguin India, are able to publish works and support their authors without the threatening prospect of litigation, fear and censure.
We believe that writers, scholars, artists, and publishers the world over will stand in solidarity with the author Wendy Doniger. To endorse our demands, append your signature to this statement. We intend to send our petition along with all the signatures collected to the appropriate authorities in the Government of India.

Ananya Vajpeyi, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
Sheldon Pollock, Columbia University, New York
Partha Chatterjee, Columbia University, New York
Laurie Patton, Duke University, North Carolina
Romila Thapar, Jawaharlal Nehru University (Retd.), New Delhi
David Shulman, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

and many others

This Petition is available on the Change.org website for others to access, sign and circulate widely.

4 thoughts on “Demand to Reconsider and Revise Sections 153a and 295a of the Indian Penal Code to Protect Freedom of Expression in India: Concerned Academics and Public Intellectuals”

  1. The second point asking Penguin to reconsider their decision is very pertinent. As to the first point the courts were only giving a fair trail and not come to a judgement yet. Using words like harrassment and intimidation is meaningless in this case as this was an extremely civil case where the Dinananath and Monika had provided a point by point rebuttal on the inaccuracies and errors in the book. The petition is implying that the errors and innaccuracies in the book are settled issues, objectively arrived at, rather than the result of subjective Eurocentric bias, shoddy scholarship and even shoddier peer-review. This whole line of this request to reconsider IPC sections undercuts the very basis of the debate with arrogance and ignorance of the other persons viewpoint.

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    1. If it was a “civil case”, then how come it was being prosecuted under the Indian Penal Code, 1861?

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  2. Sections 153 and 295 were hotly debated in the Constituent Assembly, and many members wanted these expunged. But for reasons of realpolitick they were retained. Sixty-four years later, those Assembly debates should be carried forward.

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  3. These are indeed the laws from the 1920’s British rule which “free” India did not have the guts to repeal ! (See http://neetinair.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/nair-ieshr-sec295a.pdf for some history )

    At least one of the signees, Ms Romila Thapar, would know that these draconian laws draw their continued sustenance and justification from the First Amendment to the Constitution of India. This was Nehru’s draconian response to control the dissemination of a critical article written by Mr Romesh Thapar before the 50’s (Romesh was Ms Romila Thapar’s brother, coincidentally); the article was disliked as it found fault with Nehruvian policies ! And the Courts upheld the author’s freedom of speech. And hence the 1st Amendment !

    I am certain that Prof Thapar would agree with me that the protest should squarely be directed at the First Amendment itself, as well as the archaic offshoots viz S.153A, 295A and the “modern” yet retrogressive S.66A of the I.T.Act — another piece of draconian law.

    Thank you.

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