Culture Wars

Pulp this as well, readers tell Penguin as they mail their favourite books back to publisher

'We have to hurt them at the bottom line,' says the man who devised the campaign.

As outrage spreads about Penguin India’s decision to pulp Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, on pressure from a Hindutva group, the founder of an arts organisation mailed his copy of Franz Kafka’s The Trial back to the publisher. It was accompanied by a note that read, “Pulp this as well.”

“One had to make a point which was very concrete and material,” Anmol Vellani, founder of philanthropic organisation India Foundation for the Arts, told “If you send back a book which you respect, it is a choice that you consciously make. This should matter to Penguin because you are their reader.”

Vellani outlined his plan of action in a series of Facebook updates. At the time of publishing, 53 people had shared his original status promising to mail in their favourite books to Penguin too.

“People are disappointed for two reasons," said Vellani. "One is that Penguin has a lot of muscle. It is one of the biggest publishers in the world and it has the capacity to fight legal battles. It has also historically stood up for authors and freedom of expression. Its responsibility as a publisher is therefore greater. If it were a smaller publisher, it would have mattered less.”

Vellani acknowledges that returning a single book is just a symbolic gesture. “We have to hurt them at the bottom line,” he said. “That means we as readers have to stop patronising them, we should stop attending their book launches, and authors, on whom Penguin relies for its sales, should also boycott them.”

Arundhati Roy, all of whose books have been published by Penguin India, is among the authors to criticise the withdrawn of 'The Hindus'. She wrote an open letter to Penguin declaring that she is no longer certain she will take her future works to them.

In 2009, the Pink Chaddi Campaign had adopted a similar strategy to Vellani's. After members of the Shri Ram Sene attacked women in a Mangalore pub, people across India mailed pink underwear to the headquarters of the Hindutva group on Valentine's Day. The campaign's Faceboook group had 57,000 subscribers before it was taken down.

"This campaign will have a longer gestation period," said Vellani. "It might be slow in the beginning, but as more people get to know about it, I hope Penguin will be forced to take notice."

Penguin India was unavailable for comment.

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