The authors of the book Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story on Thursday filed a criminal complaint against several individuals and publications for “criminal breach of trust, cheating, mischief and misappropriation of property”, Bar and Bench reported.
The complaint was filed with Delhi Commissioner of Police SN Shrivastava and the cyber crime cell against Bloomsbury India, which withdrew publication of the book, news websites The Quint and Newslaundry, academic Nandini Sundar, writer Aatish Taseer, activist Saket Gokhale, journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani, authors William Dalrymple and Meena Kandasamy and other “unknown persons”.
According to the principal complainant, author Monika Arora, publishing house Bloomsbury India leaked a PDF version of her book, allegedly to “hamper any future sales”. She claimed “illegal receipt and retention of stolen property” by Nandini Sundar, The Quint and Newslaundry “knowing and having reason to believe the same to be stolen property”.
Arora alleged that Taseer, Gokhale, Sherwani and Dalrymple indulged in “criminal intimidation and statements creating and promoting hatred, enmity and ill will between classes” and “pressurised the publisher into withdrawing the book”.
The book Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story by Monica Arora, Sonali Chitalkar and Prerna Malhotra, was to have been published by Bloombury India in September. But the firm received vociferous criticism on social media when it was discovered that Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kapil Mishra had been invited to address the launch event.
Before the violence that killed 53 people and left hundreds injured in North East Delhi broke out on February 23, Mishra had made a provocative speech warning that if the police failed to clear a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, his supporters would do so.
Following the controversy, Bloomsbury withdrew the publication of the book. It refuted claims that it had organised the event with Mishra.
In response to the publisher’s decision, at least three authors announced on August 23 that they were cancelling book deals they had signed with Bloomsbury, . The next day, the authors of Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story said they had found a new publisher.
Riots book author Arora said that on August 22, the publisher called up just half an hour before the event and said that it was considering withdrawing the book on account of pressure from its parent company Bloomsbury UK, and “from certain other persons on social media”.
“While the book launch event was live, a statement came to be issued by the Publisher that it had decided to withdraw the book,” Arora said in her complaint. “The book was taken down from the Amazon website, by which time it had already become the number one Bestseller in the ‘Political’ category. This left a large number of interested readers high and dry as they were left with no other medium/platform to place their booking orders.”
Despite repeated pleas from her, the publisher refused to budge, Arora said.
The author claimed that the maximum sales of any book usually occur on the date of its launch. “The Publisher through deliberate and dishonest means attempted to scuttle the Author’s voice, freedom, reputation and goodwill by rescinding from its obligations on the date of the launch,” the complaint said. “The Publisher gave in to pressure and intimidating tactics of certain individuals having a despicable agenda who had not even read the contents of the book, and who did not want the book to see the light of the day or let the truth of Delhi riots be shown to the people of India.”
Arora also claimed that a group of individuals known as the “Urban Naxal Gang” on social media went all out to stop the publication of the book by “pressurizing, intimidating, bullying and blackmailing the Publisher”. The author attached tweets to prove her point.
Arora said that on August 27, she was informed that a PDF copy of the book was circulating online. She said articles were then published by The Quint and Newslaundry “critiquing the book and attempting to discredit my work”. “I even received a legal notice from Ms. Nandini Sundar questioning the Foreword and one chapter of the book,” Arora said.
Arora added: “The Publisher till date has not returned the final text of the book to the authors along with any of the previous drafts. The author’s copyrighted material and intellectual property is still in the publisher’s possession. No official communication has been made by the Publisher to the Author explaining its actions.”
‘Complaint absurd’: Nandini Sundar
Academic Nandini Sundar on Thursday called the complaint “absurd”. She said that the chief guest at the launch had himself tweeted on August 22 that “the book is public now.”
“Monika Arora, who was best situated to judge whether these reports were based on ‘stolen property’ has chosen to keep quiet about it till now,” Sundar said. She added that if Arora and Bloomsbury have not complained about “stolen property”, there was no reason for her to “take appropriate measures” to bring the leak to the notice of the authorities.
“A few days ago, one of the book’s co-authors was on NDTV discussing the contents and expressing her inability to have fact-checked the foreword,” Sundar said. “She said nothing about ‘stolen property’ at the time, nor did she or the other co-authors immediately file a complaint about the ‘theft’ with the police.” Sundar added that while Arora does not deny that the “stolen” book contains inaccurate statements about herself, she, exercising restraint, just brought these statements to the authors’ notice.