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Riot book authors hit out at publisher Bloomsbury

Monika Arora, Prerna Malhotra and Sonali Chitalkar claimed that they were anguished at being junked without a formal intimation
The cover from the Twitter timeline of Monika Arora, one of the authors
The cover from the Twitter timeline of Monika Arora, one of the authors

Pheroze L. Vincent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 24.08.20, 01:50 AM

British publisher Bloomsbury, which withdrew a book that blames anti-citizenship-act protesters for the Delhi riots, has received an email from the three authors that calls its decision a breach of contract and says the company is liable to pay damages.

BJP parliamentarian Bhupendra Yadav had on Saturday given the book a “virtual launch”, shortly after Bloomsbury announced it was withdrawing it.


The guests of honour at the event included BJP politician Kapil Mishra, accused by the Delhi Minorities Commission of inciting the February riots that killed 53 people, 40 of them Muslim.

On Sunday the authors --- Monika Arora, Prerna Malhotra and Sonali Chitalkar — emailed Paul Kumar, publisher, special projects, with Bloomsbury India. They underlined that the editing process had gone on for three months and said they were anguished at being junked without a formal intimation.

“This is breach of contract, unethical and unprofessional conduct. This will invite civil and criminal liability and you will be liable to pay damages to the authors for damaging their reputation, disowning them publicly, causing mental agony to not only the authors but to millions of people who believed in you, who wanted to order the book…. Bloomsbury may we tell you that Brown Lives matter and Brown women matter too,” the email said.

“Can we take this liberty to request you to at least inform us officially through email that you have withdrawn/ gone back on the contract, terminated the contract with us, are no longer our publisher?”

Bloomsbury, known for publishing the Harry Potter series, has lately come out with several books that glorify BJP leaders and promote the party’s worldview.

This newspaper is yet to receive a reply to a request for a response to the email from Kumar and his company.

In a statement on Saturday, Bloomsbury India had said: “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.”

In their email, the authors said: “You called us on phone and informed us that you are withdrawing as a publisher from the aforesaid book due to pressure from Bloomsbury UK which in turn was pressurised by the social media campaign etc…. You Bloomsbury finalised the draft of the aforesaid book. Authors and you the publisher mutually suggested many changes and all were incorporated in the final draft which the authors finalised and as a publisher you approved.”

They added: “You Bloomsbury went ahead with the publications, published the books, and gave us 100 hard copies…. The e-card of the book launch was put in public domain. You had full knowledge of this book launch and the guest list. You never objected orally or in writing regarding the guest list or the launch event.”

The authors gave Kumar until 4pm on Sunday to reply. Later in the evening, Arora — a Supreme Court lawyer — tweeted: “No response from @BloomsburyIndia No written communication to authors despite request. Our book can’t be killed People want to buy We have no option but to go with another publisher. Nation must know truth of #DelhiRiotsTheUntoldStory Pls suggest names of publishers.”

Soon after, Garuda Publishers, which published filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri’s Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam in 2018, tweeted that it would be publishing the book on the Delhi riots in English and Hindi.

Agnihotri’s Who Killed Shastri?: The Tashkent Files, published by Bloomsbury, hits the stands next week. Agnihotri has called for a boycott of historian William Dalrymple, who too has been published by Bloomsbury, for allegedly asking the company to drop the book on the riots.

Amid the debate on the freedom of expression that Bloomsbury’s withdrawal of the book has triggered, a post by theatre director and publisher Sudhanva Deshpande is being shared by many as a justification for the call to deny the book the legitimacy offered by a well-known publisher.

Deshpande, managing editor of the CPM-backed Leftword Books, wrote on Facebook on Saturday, before Bloomsbury withdrew the book: “Am I calling for the book to be banned? No. 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?

“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?”

Deshpande added: “Make no mistake about it. This book has nothing to do with the pursuit of knowledge, in which differences of opinion and interpretation are not just desirable, but essential. This book is part of a multi-pronged attack on India’s secular fabric, on the idea of natural justice, on ethics, on rationality, on humanity, and, because we are talking in a publishing context, on knowledge itself. This book has blood on its hands.”

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