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Ban on Jharkhand writer's fiction: Would govt also prohibit all erotic works, including Kamasutra, ask intellectuals

By Our Representative
Around hundred writers, academics, artistes and professionals have taken strong exception to the Jharkhand government banning young adivasi writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s collection of short stories, "The Adivasi Will Not Dance", calling the decision "absurd", setting "a dangerous precedent."
Interestingly, despite the ban, which was imposed a fortnight ago, the short stories collection is in English and is available online as well as on Kindle.
"We are bewildered and dismayed", the statement, signed among others, by top Booker prize winning writer Arundhati Roy, well-known sociologist Nandini Sundar, tribal rights activist Gladson Dungdung, development economist Jean Drèze, economist Reetika Khera, veteran social worker Stan Swamy, researcher Bela Bhatia, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, ex-editor Xavier Dias and others, says.
"Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. The same article, admittedly, allows the state to make laws that impose 'reasonable restrictions' on this fundamental right, but only based on specific grounds (such as national security or public order), none of which apply in this case", the statement says.
"Superficially, it may appear that one of these pre-specified grounds, 'the interests of decency', could be invoked to justify the ban. The book does include some sexually explicit scenes, but calling them 'indecent' would be extreme prudishness. If books that include love-making scenes were to be banned, hundreds of thousands of novels would have to be banned, not to speak of the Kamasutra. Those who think of sex as indecent are free to read something else", the statement reads.
The statement further says, "It has been argued that some stories in the book are 'derogatory to Santhal women', in particular a story where a Santhal woman consents to casual sex with a policeman in exchange for money. Even if it were true that this story is derogatory, that would not constitute a permissible ground for banning the book under Article 19."
In fact, the statement says that "the view that the story is derogatory overlooks the fact that it is a work of imagination. The imaginary incident described in the story does not cast any aspersions whatsoever on Santhal women. It is just possible that the story is inspired by some real-life event, but if that is so, it makes the story all the more legitimate."
Belonging to the tribal community Santhal, Shekhar, earlier published his novel "The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey" (2014), followed by _The Adivasi Will Not Dance" (2015), both which explore the Adivasi life. Before the ban was effected, a group of adivasis in Jharkhand, where he works as a government medical officer in the town of Pakur, launched an online and offline campaign against him and his writing, which, they claim, objectify and exploit Adivasi women.
According to this campaign, his writings are pure “porn” and run down Adivasi culture. The campaigners burnt down Shekhar’s effigy and copies of both his books at a park in Pakur. A Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer, the campaigners wrote a letter to the Akademi on July 20, 2017, questioning the criteria used to award the Yuva Puraskar, 2015, to Shekhar’s novel.
The citation with the award reads: “Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s 'The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey' is a novel about Santal life written from the perspective of an insider. The narrative weaves the warp and weft of Santal life in an idiom that is fresh, intimate and original. The characters in the novel are life-like and vivid and stay with the readers. His experiment and innovation with language is something that will remain a kind of milestone for new writers…”
The "trial" against Shekhar first started on social media, with a group of adivasis calling his writing about adivasi women nothing but “porn.” They soon called for his ouster from Jharkhand, organised protest marches and burnt his effigy, prompting the government — after the Opposition too rallied against the writer — to ban the book.
The ban was effected after the issue was discussed in the the state assembly, with Chief Minister Raghubar Das directing the Chief Secretary to confiscate copies of the book and start legal proceedings. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Saryu Roy said the government was looking to slap a case on the writer under Section 295 of the IPC, which pertains to injuring or defiling a place of worship and carries a jail sentence of up to two years.

Comments

Uma said…
Are we living in the 18th century or the 21st?

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