Row Over Book on Delhi Riots: Authors Threaten to Boycott Bloomsbury India

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‘Make no mistake about it. This book has nothing to do with the pursuit of knowledge, in which differences of opinion and interpretation are not just desirable, but essential. This book is part of a multi-pronged attack on India’s secular fabric, on the idea of natural justice, on ethics, on rationality, on humanity’

Shaheen Nazar l Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Publishing company Bloomsbury India’s decision to withdraw a book on Delhi riots has drawn criticism from both liberals as well as right-wing lobbies. While some questioned the publisher’s original decision of publishing a book on such a sensitive issue without due diligence, others tagged its decision not to publish it with ‘freedom of speech’. Several authors who had worked with the publishing company in the past expressed their shock and dismay while other threatened to boycott Bloomsbury India.

The 190-page book titled “Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story” was scheduled to be released next month.

The controversy started after tainted Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra was invited as the guest of honour for the launch of the book on Saturday. The lineup also included a slew of other pro-Hindutva activists, including Nupur Sharma of the web platform ‘OpIndia’ and filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri. The advertisement for the event said that BJP’s National General Secretary Bhupendra Yadav would launch the book.

Mishra is the one whose provocative and communal remarks against anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters is widely believed to have triggered the riots in February that claimed 53 lives and destroyed properties, mostly Muslims’, worth millions of rupees. His name in the guest list triggered protests on social media forcing Bloomsbury India to dissociate itself from the launch and later announcing its decision.

However, the launch event took place despite the publishing house’s decision.

The book, authored by Delhi University teachers Sonali Chitalkar and Prerna Malhotra, and advocate Monika Arora, is being viewed as an attempt to advance the Hindutva narrative that the riots were orchestrated by “jihadis” and “urban Naxals”. The book also links the anti-CAA protests at Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh to the riots, and states that “in key areas”, “Muslim mobs” were the instigators.

In its statement, Bloomsbury India said, “In view of very recent events, including a virtual pre-publication launch organised without our knowledge by the authors, with participation by parties of whom the publishers would not have approved, we have decided to withdraw publication of the book. Bloomsbury India strongly supports freedom of speech but also has a deep sense of responsibility towards society.”

But the controversy that had started with the launch event did not stop here. A number of authors, publishers and human rights activists questioned Bloomsbury’s editorial judgment. They raised questions on how a book could have been written, fact-checked, edited and published so quickly, given the sensitivity of the issue, the fact that the riots took place in late February this year and the police investigation, itself mired in allegations of bias, has not even been completed.

Sudhanva Deshpande, who runs Leftword Books, released a statement saying that the book itself, and not just the event involving Mishra, was the problem.

“I’m asking Bloomsbury, as a leading publisher, to ask itself what editorial protocols permit such a book to be published in such a short time? Are you as publisher not responsible for at least elementary fact checking? Are you as publisher not culpable in playing a part in the architecture of terror being created and deployed by the State and non-State actors to punish the victims of violence, and those who stand up for them?

“Make no mistake about it. This book has nothing to do with the pursuit of knowledge, in which differences of opinion and interpretation are not just desirable, but essential. This book is part of a multi-pronged attack on India’s secular fabric, on the idea of natural justice, on ethics, on rationality, on humanity, and, because we are talking in a publishing context, on knowledge itself. This book has blood on its hands.”

Authors, including those who have published with Bloomsbury India in the past, also expressed their shock. “I’m suspending my working relationship with @Bloomsbury. I’m appalled by Bloomsbury’s decision to platform and support fascist propaganda. I hope book bloggers in this community will give up the free books and do the right thing. This is unacceptable. Don’t be an enabler,” said book reviewer Sumaiyya.

“I’m now ashamed at having contributed to a chapter in a @BloomsburyIndia book. When the history of our times is written, the role of publishers who colluded and published falsehoods to serve current powers will also be noted. Shame on you. You’re no longer a credible publisher,” said author Jayati Ghosh.

Similar reactions came from another set of authors who criticised the publisher for coming under pressure of ‘left-liberals’. Scroll.in reported that at least three authors announced that they were withdrawing their books which were to be published by Bloomsbury India.

India’s Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal, who has published several books, said he will never work with Bloomsbury India again. “A few weeks ago, I had raised the issue of how a tiny cabal controls Indian publishing and constantly imposes ideological censorship,” he tweeted. “We have just witnessed one example of how this insidious control is wielded. I have not read the book in question & have no idea if it is good or bad. However, this is obviously not a quality control problem but about censorship. I commit to never publish a book with Bloomsbury India.”

Retired Indian Administrative Service officer and author Sanjay Dixit, who is releasing a book with Bloomsbury in September, called the censorship unacceptable. “I do hereby announce that I am ending my relationship with them, and will send Bloomsbury a notice to withdraw my book ‘Nullifying Article 370 and Enacting CAA’ due to be released on Sep 20, 2020,” Dixit tweeted. “Let them paint themselves red.”

Jawaharlal Nehru University professor and author Anand Ranganathan said he would return the advance paid by Bloomsbury for his next book, Forgotten Heroes of Indian Science. “A book is an idea, one you may staunchly agree or disagree with,” Ranganathan said. “And an idea cannot be destroyed. It cannot fall victim to threats and blackmail by fascists. Books last because ideas do. This decision by Bloomsbury should be condemned by ALL writers and readers.”

Kanchan Gupta, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, said the English language publishing industry has always been biased towards “politically correct” left-liberal authors.

‘Delhi Riots 2020’ gets another publisher
Following the withdrawal of the book by publisher Bloomsbury India, another publishing house Garuda Prakashan has taken over its publishing, it said in a statement on Sunday.

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