Sunday, February 23, 2014

Fwd: "Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of defamation" - Monika Arora, legal counsel for SBAC against Penguin India

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From: sri venkat
Date: Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 9:28 AM
Subject: "Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of defamation" - Monika Arora, legal counsel for SBAC against Penguin India

“Freedom of expression does not mean freedom of defamation” – Monika Arora, legal counsel for SBAC against 
Penguin India
Anuj Agrawal On February 18, 2014

Monika Arora 
“It may be news for you and everyone else but for us it was a simple case,” Monika Arora says with an almost bemused smile, “I simply cannot understand why there is such a big hue and cry.” It is roughly a week after news first broke of Penguin India’s agreement to withdraw copies of Wendy Doniger’s book, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” and Arora seems genuinely surprised at the volume of attention this story was given, both by the national as well as the international media.

Arora was the legal counsel for the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee (SBAC), the organisation that had first approached courts in 2010, following the publication of Doniger’s book. The SBAC had claimed that portions of the book were defamatory, untrue and insulted the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs. The relief sought by the SBAC was the deletion of those portions of the book that were untrue and defamatory.

Four years later, while the trial was at the stage of cross-examination, Penguin India agreed to completely withdraw the book from the Indian market, something that Arora and the SBAC had never asked for. Once this agreement was made public, it evoked some strong reactions, with Penguin author Arundathi Roy writing an open letter asking Penguin to identify what “terrified” the publisher.

“The problem is that Hindu bashing sells,” says Arora, the measured pace of her words belying her apparent irritation. She minces no words when it comes to the likes of Roy, claiming that “leftist intellectuals” are prone to mistake “Hindu bashing” for secularism. “Had a similar book been written about any other religion,” she says, “I wonder if these intellectuals would have supported it.” As for worries that this spoke poorly of India’s committment to the freedom of expression, Arora counters it with the argument that freedom of expression does not include the freedom of defamation.

“Doniger has a history of defaming Hindus,” says Arora, “and the book is filled with factual errors but just because she is white, we don’t question these things.” Some of the errors that SBAC had sought to remove from the book include the statement that Rani Jhansi was loyal to the British, that Mahatma Gandhi advised people to eat beef, and that the shiv lingam was a representation of the erect male sexual organ. And it is at this point that Arora appears to become truly upset, “Doniger’s book is nothing but porn.”

It was not only Arundathi Roy who chose to issue a public statement on this issue. Wendy Doniger also made a public statement, stating that the real culprits were neither the SBAC nor Penguin India but rather the Indian law that, “that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher”

And it is with this particular contention that Arora has a problem with.

“This law has existed since way before 2009,” she says in reference to Section 295A, “it certainly didn’t deter international publishers then so why is it suddenly being raised now?”

“Rule of law mandates that no one should be above the law,” she adds, “and if this is what [S.295A] states than what is all this hue and cry for?”

Another aspect that Arora has taken a strong exception to is the manner in which her clients have been portrayed. “My clients have been called fascists, Modi-supporters and this is ridiculous!” she says, “I mean just because you talk about Hindusim doesn’t automatically mean you belong to a certain political camp!” Worse, as per Arora, her clients were educated, law-abiding citizens. “One of them is a former Ambassador, another an academician, the third a historian,” and her voice appears to be tinged with pain, “they are not some illiterates who retaliate with violence.”

Arora has had a fairly interesting career of her own. As a student, she was the Secretary (and later the President) of the Delhi University Students Union. “This gave me the confidence to speak I suppose,” she says about her student days, “there were times when I was addressing an audience of lakhs.” It may have been this stint that pushed her towards law, and she took up the law degree from Delhi University.

More than a decade into the profession, she seems to have found her passion. “Law allows you to get relief for any person wronged by law,” she says, “and that is what is so fascinating about law.” Over the years, she has appeared in a number of public interest litigations, including litigations against the Delhi Bar Council, Delhi University and the Delhi government.  “Anything of public interest,” she says, “inspires me to work.”

sent from samsung galaxy note, so please excuse brevity


Rajiv Chandran said...

In future instead of agreeing to publishers withdrawing books - litigants should insist that they publish the errata as well as rejoinders (e.g. like the one Vishal Agrawal has written on 'The Hindus') on their own cost - or else let the entire legal process complete with attendant criminal convictions. Allowing Penguin to withdraw the book has allowed them and Wendy to play victim and boost sales elsewhere - which was somewhat avoidable.

souixsie said...

Thank you, Ms. Arora. Why don't the grand poohbahs of secularism get worked up over the Western ban on holocaust deniers or the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Freedom of speech does get regulated in the sanctified West. There are pressures brought to keep Korans from being desecrated in the US, and many stalwarts of press freedom balked at publishing the Danish cartoons. Few Hindus, on the other hand, would wish to have this loathsome book by Doniger banned. They would be happy if other academics took her sloppy and infantile analysis to task; but instead there was a closing of the ranks to keep the Hindu "fundamentalists" at bay. No such concerns for freedom of expression when texts that attack Jewish or Muslim traditions get proscribed, is there?