Free Press Journal

‘India becoming an illiberal democracy’


New Delhi: Taken aback by one publisher’s decision to withdraw US scholar Wendy Doniger’s book from India, a group of intellectuals today surmised that the country had become an “illiberal democracy” and was headed towards self-censorship.

“I think that the action taken by (the publisher of Doniger’s book) Penguin is symptomatic of the larger problem of freedom of speech being stifled in the country.

“It is exactly the kind of thing that many of us have been concerned about for a long time,” Akhil Sibal, senior lawyer and son of Congress MP and Union Minister Kapil Sibal, said today.

He was participating in the debate, ‘Is India becoming an illiberal democracy?’, hosted by the Foundation of Media Professionals here today. The event saw participation from writers, lawyers, university professors and media professionals.

Doniger’s book recently came under attack from a Delhi- based group, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (SBAS), which compelled Penguin to last month recall and pulp copies in India of her book, ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’.

The same group had said it would also take legal recourse against another publisher who had brought out Doniger’s book in 2013.

Noted historian Mridula Mukherjee said, “The battle is to keep the democratic space open. If you want to keep the democratic space open for yourself, you must allow democratic space to others.

“Books are not the only realm, film producers and artistes are also being harassed,” said journalist and author Siddharth Varadarajan.

“Sadly, we are seeing increasing instances where I feel that my right or the right of everybody here to read books, watch movies, go to art exhibitions is being curtailed.

“The answer to whether India is becoming an illiberal democracy is ‘yes’,”  he said.

Senior lawyer Aman Lekhi, husband of BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi, however, had a different view.

“(The withdrawal of Doniger’s book) is in fact the celebration of liberalisation since a person has resorted to the legal process to get justice for his individual self,” he said.

Lawyer Apar Gupta and newspaper editor Kushan Mitra were among others who participated in the debate.