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Books As Crime

By Subhash Gatade

30 October, 2006

- (As of now Sunita Narayan, owner of Daanish Books, Delhi stands accused under the section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Ordinance, 2004 for committing the ‘offence’ of selling legally available literature. Everybody is aware that it is the same act which was introduced as replacement to dreaded POTA. Sunita who is a familiar face in gatherings of social and political organisations busy organising book exhibitions was questioned for over 14 hours by the Chandrapur police.)

-( ‘So you are the little woman who wrote the book that made this great (American) civil war'
-Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin)

Bruno Fulgini, a non descript employee at the French Parliament, would not have imagined in his wildest dreams that his tedious and boring job at the Parliament library, would lead him to treasure hunt of another kind.

Today he finds himself metamorphosed into an author and editor, thanks to the sudden discovery of old files of the Paris police, which provided details of its surveillance work done way back in 18 th century. In a report filed by AFP, Mr Fulgini tells us that 'Beyond criminals and political figures, there are files on writers and artists. In some cases, they go far in their indiscretions.'( The Statesman and The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 26 th September 2006)
An edited version of these old files, focussing themselves on the writers of those times, has recently come out and is making waves. The said book 'Writers' Police' gives details of the way in which greatest writers of late 18 th century who were living in Paris at that time were kept under surveillance.

Definitely even a layperson can understand that the whole exercise was not part of wreaking of vengeance by a frustrated writer who had joined the police force as some senior officer. Neither the police was keen to understand the impact of the actual lifestyles of the writers on societal mindset nor did it cared how a particular author would help unleash a new hairstyle on the block.

In fact the Parisian police had a very specific agenda.

It was clear to these protectors of internal security of a tottering regime that the renowned literati then viz. Victor Hugo, Balzac or Charles Dickens, might be writing fiction, but their sharp focus on the hypocrisy of the aristocrats or the livelihood issues of ordinary people is adding to the growing turmoil in the country. They knew very well that they might be writing fiction for the masses but it is turning out to be a sharp political edge that hit the right target and is becoming a catalyst for change.

While the Parisian police was engaged in tracking down the daily movements of the writers, its present day counterparts in Maharashtra especially from the Chandrapur-Nagpur region have rather devised some 'easier' and 'shortcut routes' to curb the flow of ideas.And for them it is also immaterial whether the writer in question was alive or dead.

The recent happenings at a book stall put in by a well known publisher 'Daanish Books' at the Deeksha Bhoomi of Dr Ambedkar in Nagpur are a case in point.A random list of books which the police perceived to be 'dangerous' and which it duly confiscated from their book stall makes intersting reading. According to a widely circulated email :

"The books seized by the police for containing dangerous , anti state material include books like Marathi translation of the Thoughts of Bhagat Singh, Ramdeen Ka Sapna by B.D. Sharma, Jati Vyavastha- Bhartiya Kranti Ki Khasiyat by Vaskar Nandy, Monarchy Vs Democracy by Baburam Bhattarai, Nepali Samargaatha: Maowadi Janyuddha ka Aankhon Dekha Vivaran (The Hindi edition of eminent American Journalist Li Onesto’s celebrated book Dispatches from the People’s War in Nepal, Translated by Anand Swarup Varma), Daliton par Badhati Jyadatiya aur Unka Krantikari Jawab, Chhapamar Yudhha by Che Guevara and books on Marxism and Leninism and people’s struggles. "
One gathers that if by their sixth sense these police personnel perceived that the writers scribblings may lead or add to 'social anarchy', they had no compunction in even confiscating such books even though such books are freely available in the market and have not been banned or declared offensive by any state agencies

The Chandrapur-Nagpur police did not remain content with mere confiscation of legally available books but saw to it that the owner of the publication Ms Sunita was put to three days of intense questioning by the Anti--Naxalite Special Task Force. It is clear that if friends around the world had not put in tireless efforts and pressure would not have been exerted by international community on the Maharashtra State Government, Ms Sunita would been sent behind bars under some draconian provisions of the 'Unlawful Activities Prevention Act'.

As the email further adds, the whole incident raises pertinent questions about .".. [o]ur rights vis a vis the State, as an individual citizen of a ‘free country’, as publishers and finally as readers? "

It was noteworthy that a press conference was held on the 20 th October which was attended by leading publishers as well as human rights organizations. Talking about the seizure of books and the consequent questioning the Press statement rightly said :

They are books that are publicly available everywhere, and which civil society in any country with secular ideals should justly be proud of. The police raid clearly smacks of arbitrariness and barbarism, and is a denial of the right to free speech and propagation of ideas. In no democratic country can the police usurp the right to decide what will be read or published by people, and the fact that the police of Chandrapur has got away with it without any censure from the political leadership in the state of Maharashtra or from the officialdom is a cause for major worry.

Ofcourse as an aside it may be told that while the Maharashtra Police considers selling of books as 'crime' it has no qualms in protecting perpetrators of communal elements or for that matter quite a few 'dirty Harrys' in its midst. It is the same Maharashtra police which preferred to look the other way when RSS-Bajrang Dal activists were killed in a bomb blast in Nanded and a well knit conspiracy to instigate communal riots was exposed.

Coming back to the 'Writers Police' , it is clear to everyone how all those meticulous efforts put in by the police to curtail the free flow of ideas proved futile.And how French revolution of those times emerged as a beacon of hope for thinking people across the world. Rather it could be said that all those efforts at surveillance became a precursor to the storming of the Bastille.

Can it then be said that India is on the verge of similar transformatory changes and the Maharashtra polices' efforts at 'criminalising writing' are an indication that ruling elite of our times is fast losing ground.

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