After massive backlash, Bloomsbury India withdraws publication of contentious book on Delhi riots

The book’s authors were part of a ‘fact-finding team’ associated with RSS and BJP, which went to Kathua in J&K after the rape of an eight-year-old girl in 2018, and gave a dodgy report

After massive backlash, Bloomsbury India withdraws publication of contentious book on Delhi riots

Ashlin Mathew

After a massive backlash online for publishing a book on the Delhi pogrom by Sonali Chitalkar and Monika Arora, Bloomsbury, on Saturday, announced that they are withdrawing the publication of the book, titled ‘Delhi Riots 2020’.

The decision came a day after the publishing house faced severe criticism over an event for the release of the book, which claims to be an "explosive revelation of the plot behind the riots". The guest list included the authors, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri and OpIndia editor Nupur Sharma. The advertisement said that BJP’s national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav would launch the book.

The event was supposed to be attended by Kapil Mishra, whose incendiary speech targeting those protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens had triggered the pogrom in north-east Delhi on February 24. The violence had left more than 55 persons dead, several handicapped for life, injured and their life’s savings burnt or looted by the predominantly Hindutva mob. The speech was also marked by Facebook as ‘hate speech’, though it did not take it down immediately.

Initially, Bloomsbury India, had denied that it was holding an event to launch a book on the communal violence and stated that it was not being organised or sponsored by the publishing House. According to reports, authors of the book did not inform the publishing house about the event, which they claimed was scheduled to be held on Saturday.

On Saturday, Bloomsbury India stated the book's publication was being withdrawn "in view of very recent events including a virtual pre-publication launch organised without our knowledge".

"Bloomsbury India had planned to release ‘Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story’ in September, a book purportedly giving a factual report on the riots in Delhi in February 2020, based on investigations and interviews conducted by the authors. However, in view of very recent events including a virtual pre-publication launch organised without our knowledge by the authors, with participation by parties of whom the publishers would not have approved, we have decided to withdraw publication of the book. Bloomsbury India strongly supports freedom of speech but also has a deep sense of responsibility towards society,” stated the publishing house.

National Herald sent questions regarding the decision to acquire the book to Bloomsbury India. We asked if the publishing house knew about the antecedents and the prior work of the authors, especially their involvement in the Kathua case. NH wanted to know who the commissioning editor was for the book and what was the fact-checking process at the publishing house. This story will be updated as and when we get a response.

The authors, Sonali Chitalkar and Monica Arora, were a part of a ‘fact-finding team’ associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bharatiya Janata Party, which had gone to Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir after the rape of an eight-year-old girl in 2018. The team’s report was at variance with what was found by the official investigating team. The team’s report questioned why the child had only abrasions and no injuries. The report ignored the findings of the medical board that the victim was drugged, and hence had fewer injuries.

They, instead, questioned the composition of the investigating team and alleged that many Hindu villagers had to leave Rasana village, the scene of the crime, “due to harassment by the crime branch”.

Several journalists and writers took to Twitter on Friday to express their outrage over the book and protested the publishing house’s decision to invite Mishra as the chief guest.

Author and poet Meena Kandasamy tweeted, “The literary world must take a stand. This is not about Cancel Culture. This is about defending literature from fascism. This is about standing up against religious divide, hate speech, Islamophobia and false history.”

Criticising the publication of the book, Leftword Books editor Sudhanva Deshpande stated “I’m asking Bloomsbury, as a leading publisher, to ask itself what editorial protocols permit such a book to be published in such a short time?” he said in a Facebook post. “Are you as publisher not responsible for at least elementary fact checking? Are you as publisher not culpable in playing a part in the architecture of terror being created and deployed by the State and non-State actors to punish the victims of violence, and those who stand up for them?” asked Deshpande.

“This book has blood on its hands. Bloomsbury, you can still salvage something here. Say you made a mistake and withdraw the book. Otherwise, really, your reputation is in the sewer,” added Deshpande.

Journalist and The Caravan’s political editor Hartosh Bal wrote, “Facebook changes standards in India to cater to the [Narendra] Modi govt, but this is way beyond, one of the main perpetrators of the violence against Muslims in Delhi is the guest of honour?”

Stanly John, who is a Bloomsbury India author, tweeted, “Protesting Bloomsbury India’s decision to publish a book on Delhi riots the launch of which would be attended by riots-accused Kapil Mishra and the fake news factory Opindia’s Nupur Sharma tomorrow. It’s a shame.”

Historian Audrey Truschke gave a historical context. “For those not up-to-date on Indian politics, a rough Western equivalent is this: Nazis commit a pogrom against Jews, then blame the Jews for it, and an international publishing house platforms and profits from this anti-Semitism,” tweeted Truschke.

On February 23, Kapil Mishra, after holding a rally against the protestors of CAA and NRC, had given the Delhi police three days to clear the protestors from Jafarabad in north-east Delhi. The next day, communal violence broke out in several parts of the area. The police were accused of inciting the riots, helping the rioters and inaction. Calls to the police helpline went unanswered for several days. In multiple chargesheets, the police claimed that Muslims had organised the violence to harm their own community.

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