NEW DELHI: The authors of the book ‘Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story’ filed a complaint of cheating against Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt Ltd, two news portals and some others on Thursday. The complaint was filed under Sections 403, 405, 406, 409, 415, 420, 425, 426 of IPC for criminal breach of trust, cheating, mischief and misappropriation of property.
It alleged that the publisher “deliberately, willfully with dishonest intentions expunged the work, effort and skill” of the author. The complaint names news portals The Quint and Newslaundry, academic Nandini Sundar, authors Aatish Taseer, William Dalrymple, Meena Kandasamy, journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani and activist Saket Gokhale, apart from the publisher of the book.
One of the authors and main complainant, Monika Arora, later took to Twitter saying Delhi Police Commissioner SN Shrivastava had assured “strict action”.
Bloomsbury had withdrawn the book recently after a controversy erupted over its online launch as the authors had invited as ‘guest of honour’ BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who had allegedly has played a role in inciting violence through his speech in northeast Delhi against anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters.
The riots broke out a day after his speech. The complaint accused Sundar and the news portals of illegally accessing a PDF version of the book. It alleged that those named engaged in a “venomous campaign” on social media “to kill the book by pressurising, intimidating, bullying and blackmailing the publisher”.
After details of the complaint emerged, Kandasamy tweeted, “We will not allow literature and publishing to platform hate.” Calling the complaint “a joke”, Gokhale said, “This is an attempt at intimidation by BJP-linked authors using Central agencies bcoz we spoke against their vile book full of lies & minority-blaming on the Delhi Pogrom.”
He said he would file a complaint with the Maharashtra Police on the contents of the book.
The complaint alleged that those named engaged in a “venomous campaign” on social media “to kill the book by pressurising, intimidating, bullying and blackmailing the publisher”.
After details of the complaint emerged, Kandasamy tweeted, “We will not allow literature and publishing to platform hate.”
There have been allegations that several leaders, including Mishra, made inflammatory speeches targeting anti-citizenship law protesters before the violence broke out in Northeast Delhi on February 23.
Later, Bloomsbury after facing a massive backlash on social media withdrew itself from the book, saying the virtual launch was "organised without its knowledge".
The book found a new publishing house in Garuda Prakashan the very next day.
According to the complaint, signed by Arora, Bloomsbury "wilfully with dishonest intentions expunged her work and also leaked a PDF version of the book in public to hamper any future sales".
"The present complaint seeks investigation. For being the publisher of my authored book and having deliberately, willfully with dishonest intentions expunged my work, effort and skill thereby diminishing my goodwill, reputation and standing, without my knowledge and consent rescinded from performing its obligations under the terms of the agreement dated 29.5.2020 and leaked a PDF version of the book in public to hamper any future sales," read the complaint.
Contrary to what Bloomsbury India had claimed, the complaint said that an e-poster of the book launch event in question with the list of "confirmed speakers" was sent to the publishing house and that they had acknowledged it too.
It alleged that the publishers withdrew only after being pressured by its parent company Bloomsbury UK.
"The book launch event was widely publicized on social media platforms with full knowledge of the Publisher. 100 physical copies of the book were delivered as per the terms of the agreement by the Publisher to the Author on 1. 8.2020. On the date of the launch, at 3:30 PM, the Publisher phoned the Author to say that it was considering withdrawing the book on account of pressure of its parent company, and from certain other persons on social media," it added.
In the complaint, Arora claimed that a "venomous campaign" emerged on the social media and a "group of individuals/ propagandists'', whom she referred to as 'Urban Naxal Gang', "conspired and went all out to kill the book by pressurizing, intimidating, bullying and blackmailing the publishers".
She also put out tweets by activist Saket Gokhale, along with journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani and poet Meena Kandasamy, all named in the complaint, alleging that they were congratulating one another for being able to put a stop on the release of the book.
The complaint also accused media houses The Quint and NewsLaundry, and professor-activist Nandani Sundar for critiquing the book and attempting to discredit the authors' work based on a leaked or "stolen" PDF copy of the book.
"How in the world would they have got their hands on the book if not for this unauthorized circulation. As on date, there is no other physical copy in existence except for those 100 copies that had been delivered to me. Thus, despite knowing such a version was 'stolen property' neither the aforesaid media houses nor Ms Sundar chose to take any appropriate legal measures to bring it to the notice of authorities," it said.
Some individuals who have been named in the complaint have reacted to it through tweets.
"I'm actually glad this has happened. This should remove all doubt, in anyone's mind, that these were not independent writers at all, but a state-sponsored syndicate, dedicated to whitewashing the role of certain BJP leaders in the Delhi Riots," tweeted Taseer.
"This is an attempt at intimidation by BJP-linked authors using Central agencies bcoz we spoke against their vile book full of lies & minority-blaming on the Delhi Pogrom. This complaint is a joke. But the one I file about the contents of the book with @DGPMaharashtra won't be," tweeted Gokhale.
"Wow. Just learnt this. Now coming after us with state machinery. We will not allow literature and publishing to platform hate," tweeted Kandasamy.
Book saw light of day
After Bloomsbury Publishing India announced withdrawing the book, Garuda Prakashan had stepped in to publish it. Gardua claims itself to be “a platform where stories that bring forth the perspective and narrative of the Indian civilisation can be told”.
(With PTI Inputs)