What happened in the last couple of weeks in India, in the world of books, sends an alarming and chilling message to the forces of democracy in the country.
Books by Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara, Clara Zetkin, Baburam Bhattarai, Vaskar Nandy, Li Onesto and Anand Swarup Varma are under no official ban. There is no juridical or executive prohibition against their publication, distribution or readership – anywhere in the country. But the police authorities, more often than not, operate above the law of land. This is what happened at the Chandrapur book fair in Maharashtra. With total impunity the local police officers assumed the power of censorship, of arbitrarily deciding selling what book commits a "crime". Forty-one books were seized, and the owner of the Stall was put through three days of harsh interrogations.
All the details of what happened to the stall of Daanish Books, and to its owner Ms. Sunita Narayan are there in the Press Statement, made by a large number of publshing and distributing houses, appended below.
After three days of harrowing ordeal, Sunita was allowed to go, but not before she was charged under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act of 2004. This is what the Section states:
(Note: Section 18 of the said act reads as follows:
18. Whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites or knowingly facilitates the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.)
Sunita has also been told in the written Notice: "As and when and wherever police asks you, you will present yourself for the purpose of investigation of the crime. If you fail to do so appropriate action will be taken against you."
During the course of interrogations Sunita was asked, among other things, as to why she was selling the books of Bhagat Singh when the country had already become independent! It is indeed odd. People all over the country have already started the year-long commemoration of Bhagat Singh's centenary which would culminate on his 100th birthday on September 28, 2007. Many people receiving this note may not know that Bhagat Singh was a revolutionary, and he was hanged by the British colonials when he was only twenty-three. One could type his name on google, and by going to the Wikipedia free encyclop[edia would know more about his life, his work, and his martyrdom. This is what Bhagat Singh wrote in his prison notebook shortly before he was hanged: "There cannot be any peace between the oppressed and exploited and those who ride on their backs. There cannot be any compromise between classes; time has come to bring an end to classes. There cannot be justice until those who create wealth control the product of their labour".
This is why Bhagat Singh is alive among the people, while the state would like to block him away.
Just the other day, in the Greater Vancouver area of Canada, under the auspices of the Rationalist Society there was a huge commemorative meeting, marking the beginning of the year-long rememberance. About 400 people had packed the Ravi Banquet Hall. There were songs, drama skits, and speeches. The October 20th Press Statement from New Delhi was read out. A resolution was unanimously adopted by the assembly to condemn the seizure of books, the charges laid against Ms. Sunita Narayan, and to express solidarity with her, with Daanish Books, and with the entire community of progressive publishers
Dear friends, Sunita is back home in Delhi. But the matter is not over. Not only there is a threat hanging over her head, there are also indications, through newspaper articles, that the police is planning to widen its net to include publishers, authors and printers all over the country.
We want you to be aware of all this. And we want your support and solidarity. Charges against Sunita may have to fought in legal courts.
You could write to Ms. Sunita Narayan directly at : "Daanish Books" <[email protected]>; you could also write back to SANSAD, and we will transmit it to her.
Many thanks for your attention.