We are deeply shocked and concerned at the incidents involving arbitrary confiscation of books from the Daanish Books stall at the Chandrapur Book Fair and the subsequent illegal detention, harassment and interrogation of Sunita Narayan by the Chandrapur police. Sunita Narayan is owner of Daanish Books, a reputable publishing house of progressive literature and a member of the Independent Publishers Group (IPG).
On October 15, a contingent of 70 armed policemen surrounded the Daanish stall for over three hours and made a list of some 200 books which they found 'objectionable' and 'anti-national'; after the intervention of the Superintendent of Police Mr. Ravindra Kadam, they finally seized 41 titles. Later, an offence was registered against Sunita Narayan under the section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Ordinance, 2004, which was introduced as replacement to dreaded POTA and she was questioned for over 14 hours by the Chandrapur police. Along with her, Vijay Vairagade, a local social activist and his 17-year-old son were also questioned. Sunita was allowed to go after her 3-day ordeal on the condition that she will have to present herself as and when the police summons her. This was only after protests were registered at the local as well as national and international levels.
It may be noted that none of the books seized by the police-among them those authored by Clara Zetkin, Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara, Baburam Bhattarai, Li Onesto, Anand Swarup Varma, Vaskar Nandy-is banned or declared offensive by any state agency. 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.
Similarly, a few weeks back, the performance of a play dealing with the history of Mumbai mills was forcibly stopped in Nagpur and the theatre group harassed.
We are also concerned with the increasing menace of vigilantism by right wing groups in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Orissa, and the tacit or open support provided to them by the state agencies. This spells danger to the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to read, write, publish, disseminate and perform.
The intimidation of Sunita Kumari is unacceptable in a democratic society and must be strongly condemned, and the officials responsible for it should be held accountable and made to apologise.
On behalf of Independent Publishers' Group (IPG) and Independent Publishers'Distribution Alternatives (IPDA):
Daanish Books (Dhruva Narayan)
LeftWord Books (Sudhanva Deshpande)
Navayana (S. Anand)
Samskriti (Madhumoy Sengupta)
Stree-Samya (Mandira Sen)
The Book Review Literary Trust (Chandra Chari and Uma Iyengar)
The Little Magazine (Antara Dev Sen)
Three Essays Collective (Asad Zaidi)
Tulika Books (Indira Chandrasekhar)
Tulika Publishers (Radhika Menon)
Women Unlimited (Ritu Menon)
Zubaan (Urvashi Butalia)
Critical Quest (Josna)
Gallerie Publishers, Mumbai (Bina Sarkar Ellias)
Granth Shilpi Prakashan (S.B. Rai)
Madhyam International (Kavaljit Singh)
Permanent Black (Rukun Advani)
Prakashan Sansthan (Harishchandra Sharma)
Rajkamal Prakashan and Radhakrishna Prakashan (Ashok Maheshwari)
Rupa & Company (Rajan Mehra)
Seagull (Naveen Kishore)
Vani Prakashan (Arun Maheshwari)