How should publishers respond to protests for and against the publication of the same essay?

In 2011, three Indian scholars called on OUP India to re-publish an essay which had been denounced by Hindu extremists. Less than two weeks later, the publisher reversed its earlier decision not to re-publish.

Speaking at this event on the politics and culture of non-state censorship in contemporary India, historian Dr Ramachandra Guha condemned OUP India’s decision to stop publishing Three Hundred Ramayanas, an essay by scholar A K Ramanujan. The decision followed protests among right-wing Hindu groups who claimed the text was offensive because of its multiple versions of the epic story of Rama and Sita. At the event, Guha described OUP’s decision as “rather short-sighted”. He added that OUP’s decision gave Delhi University “an excuse” to withdraw the essay from its undergraduate history syllabus. The next speaker, Dr Nandini Gooptu, a reader in South Asian politics at the University of Oxford asked: “Why is OUP India so afraid?”, noting that this was not the first time the publisher had caved in to protests by extremists. The final speaker, Dr Faisal Devji, a reader in modern South Asian history at Oxford, said: “The precedent  set by this is not about this essay or one of two essays but it’s about publishing in India, freedom of thought and expression in India.” All the speakers called on OUP India to reprint the essay without delay, and less than two weeks after the event, the publisher announced its would republish the text once more.

This event was organised by the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy in collaboration with the South Asia Studies Seminar.

(Main image: photo by patrikmloeff under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence.)

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

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