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Injunctions, defamation suits emerge as new weapons against authors, publishers

As a publisher I find that I have faced pressure and censorship across all political regimes

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Freedom Forge Press

New Delhi, July 11 : A biography that traces Baba Ramdev’s rise from godman to tycoon has been caught up in a legal storm for over 11 months; Amish Tripathi’s upcoming book has been served a legal notice and its launch postponed; a nonfiction account on Bastar by Nandini Sundar came under pressure from a state government; and a critical book on the 2002 Gujarat riots by Rana Ayyub could not find a publisher.

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Those who disseminate ideas through books have had their share of political coercion. “As a publisher I find that I have faced pressure and censorship across all political regimes,” says Chiki Sarkar, publisher of Juggernaut Books.

But now, an insidious method of going against authors and publishers has emerged — of causing delays through the courts. The fear of legal suits and defamation charges has assumed such proportions that it has led to rejections and self-censorship among publishers, industry insiders say.

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In a series of interviews with key people holding top portfolios in some of India’s most prominent publishing houses, IANS ran a reality check on whether or not they have faced issues like self-censorship or pressure from political groups or legal action during the four years of the Narendra Modi government.

“There has only been a few legal cases in the court, but we have not faced any political pressure,” says Kapish Mehra, Managing Director of Rupa Books.

What emerges from these discussions is that political pressures on publishing houses is not “a new phenomenon” — both parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have practiced it. But the legal threat as a weapon to thwart public discourse through books has assumed menacing proportions.

Recently, writer Amish Tripathi was served a legal notice for his latest book “Suheldev & The Battle of Bahraich”. Tripathi announced the postponement of the July 16 launch “due to some circumstances beyond our control”. Earlier, pre-orders were being booked.

The announcement of the book was made at Sonali Bendre’s Book Club in Mumbai and the cover was launched by actor Varun Dhawan, who too has been sent a legal notice.

The book is said to revolve around Raja Suheldev, a semi-legendary Indian king from Shravasti in Uttar Pradesh. In the legal notice sent on June 25, a copy of which IANS has, the sender has accused the author and bollywood actor Varun Dhawan, of hurting “his and his communities’ sentiments”.

“Raja Suheldev is a godly figure among the Rajbhar community. I have received several messages and complaints from members of our community that Amish Tripathi has hurt their sentiments,” Jaiprakash Rajbhar, who sent the notice, told IANS over phone from Mumbai.

Rajbhar, an advocate, said that Uttar Pradesh text books for Class VI clearly point out that Suheldev was from the Rajbhar community. “The author has referred to him as somebody from “other caste”. This is a historical blunder,” he said.

“Moreover, the cover of the book shows Suheldev half naked. A king who is fighting a battle and riding a horse could not afford a piece of cloth to cover his body?” he asked.

On such grounds are objections to work of great artistes being raised. Tripathi and publisher Westland have declined comment on the issue.

Tripathi is a writer of fame and repute. With gross retail sales of Rs 120 crores, his novels include “The Immortals of Meluha”, “The Secret of the Nagas”, “The Oath of the Vayuputras”, “Ram: Scion of Ikshvaku” and “Sita: Warrior of Mithila”.

Sarkar, who started her publishing career at Bloomsbury in London, then worked at Penguin Books India and rose to become India publishing head after Penguin’s merger with Random House, said that Juggernaut has published many politically brave books — “I am a Troll”, “Shadow Armies”,”The Burning Forest” and “Mothering a Muslim”.

“But the book we have run into the biggest legal trouble over — the biography of Baba Ramdev — is a non-political book,” Sarkar told IANS.

The publication and sale of “Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev”, authored by Priyanka Pathak-Narain, has been stayed by the Delhi High Court, after a lower court had lifted a similar order earlier.

Image result for defamation suit against authors Rana Ayyub amit tripathi

According to Baba Ramdev’s petition, the book mentions some details from his past that are “irresponsible, false (and) malicious”. Certain content, Ramdev’s petition said, “had been added without evidence and verification”.

Juggernaut said in its appeal that the book was “truthful, even-handed and balanced consideration of the history of Baba Ramdev, which has been meticulously researched and is based on public and recorded sources, most of which have been in the public domain for years”.

It all began on August 4, 2017 when in an ex-parte order, the Additional Civil Judge at the District Courts of Karkardooma in Delhi asked Juggernaut not to publish or sell the book. The injunction was lifted nine months later in April 2018.

But the freedom was not to last too long. In May 2018, the Delhi High Court restored the temporary injunction. Ramdev’s lawyer had told the court that certain parts of the book were “unfounded and had misleading material which are malicious and scandalous”.

Pathak-Narain, the author had told the court that the contents of the book represented “only reported true facts as gleaned from publicly available documents and contains legitimate and reasonable surmises and conclusions drawn therefrom”.

The next hearing in the case is in August. “We will fight it out up till the Supreme Court, if need be,” says Sarkar.

“The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar” by Nandini Sundar, professor of sociology at Delhi University, who has been writing about Bastar and its people for 26 years, faced covert pressure from the state government to not publish or distribute the book. She chronicled how the armed conflict between the government and the Maoists had devastated the lives of some of India’s poorest, most vulnerable citizens in Bastar.

Fear of legal cases or political pressure often lead to publishers exercising their own version of self-censorship. Journalist Rana Ayyub, who was lately in the news for facing hate and threat messages on social media, could not find a mainstream publisher for her book “Gujarat Files”, an undercover expose of the 2002 riots in the state that claimed the lives of over 1,000 Muslims. She ended up publishing it herself. Ayyub, in a text message from London, expressed her unavailability to respond at present.

Industry insiders say that “legal suits, defamations proceedings and temporary injunctions” were their greatest fear. Injunctions can kill the fate of any book. They say that in eight out of ten cases, where a book can potentially be stayed by a court, mainstream publishers would avoid publishing it — or at least tell the author to remove content or “tone down” portions which are “objectionable”.

(This is first article in the two-part series on freedom in book publishing. Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

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Every citizen must fight the Covid war: Experts

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Bengaluru, Aug 9 : With the government easing more restrictions under Unlock3.0 to further revive the economy since August 1, the war against the Coronavirus pandemic has to be fought by each and every citizen across the country, according to health experts, including epidemiologists.

“As the war against the elusive virus is going to be long and hard, the government alone cannot fight it, and the onus is on each and every citizen to join the battle even after a vaccine is found to treat it,” Karnataka health task force chairman M.K Sudarshan told IANS here.

By enforcing the lockdown since March 25 and extending it up to May 31 with stringent measures, ostensibly, to contain the virus spread, the government managed to control the situation initially and ensured that the country’s woeful healthcare infrastructure was not overwhelmed by lakhs of positive cases.

“The government, its agencies and healthcare warriors have been doing their best over the last 4 months, risking their lives to contain the pandemic, as is evident from the case data during the lockdown and after it was gradually lifted to revive socio-economic activities and restore livelihood.

“The onus to carry on the fight is more on all citizens by wearing masks, sanitising their hands and maintaining social distancing,” asserted Sudarshan, former head of the community medicine department in the state-run KIMS (Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences) hospital in the city centre.

The Karnataka government had set up the 6-member committee in mid-April to analyse the Covid-19 data from the southern state and across the country to study the epidemiology of the virus cases, how different patients got infected, what measures for breaking the chain and suggest changes, if required.

Though testing of swab samples to find who got the virus was less and results took longer time due to shortage of diagnostic labs, the stringent lockdown forced most of the people across the country to stay home, wash hands frequently and maintain social distancing at any cost.

“When lockdown was lifted and unlock 1.0 began on June 1, like a genie coming out of a bottle, thousands of citizens stepped out of houses, violated the norms and exposed themselves to the infection. With people travelling again in cities and states in their vehicles, buses, cabs and autos, select trains and flights, the number of citizens who tested positive soared by the day, as they too contracted the virus for violating the norms such as failing to isolate, quarantine and get treated if they were asymptomatic or get admitted in any designated hospital if they were symptomatic,” noted epidemiologist Giridhar Babu.

For instance, till the lockdown was in force up to May 31, the southern state with 7 crore population had just 3,221 positive cases and Bengaluru only 358 cases out of 1.2 crore (120 lakh) people. By June 30, the numbers shot up to 15,242 for state and 4,555 for the city.

“Within a fortnight by July 14, the cases shot up to 44,077 and 20,969, to a whopping 71,069 and 34,943 by July 19 or 5 days during unlock 2.0 and to a massive 1,64,924 and it is now 69,572 as on August 6 in Unlock 3.0,” Babu recalled.

Babu is also a member of the task force and faculty of the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India.

With hundreds of people returning from most-infected neighouring states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh in cars, buses, trains or flights, the number of Covid cases zoomed in the state, especially in this tech hub by the day as they carried the virus like super spreaders and became a source of local transmission.

“Though a 9-day lockdown was again re-imposed from July 14 to July 22 in this tech city, 4 Sundays in July and night curfew was maintained till July 31, there was no let-up in the cases as they continue to climb, while recoveries also have been going up steadily,” reiterated Babu.

Admitting that lockdowns, shutdowns and night curfew do not reduce the cases but only delay them, noted pediatric cardiologist Vijayalakshmi I. Balekundri told IANS that the only way to be safe from the dreadful pandemic was to do “SMS” (sanitization of hands, mask-wearing and social distancing) as corona virus was a communicable disease and fatal as it attacks the respiratory system (lungs) and affects all other vital organs of the body.

“The onus of winning the war against the pandemic is more on 130-crore+ citizens than anyone else across the country. God helps those who help themselves is an old adage, as each has to take care of himself or herself from being infected by the virus till a vaccine is found, because it is preventable but not curable,” Balekundri said.

The Bengaluru Medical College and Research Institute Emeritus Professor said though all five fingers are not same or equal, they become a force as a fist when together and converge themselves into a weapon.

“Similarly, the thumb is for mask, index finger for washing hands, middle finger for social distancing, ring finger for maintaining toilet hygiene and little finger to avoid travelling to the extent possible or unless warranted,” Balekundri added.

By Fakir Balaji

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Two brick laying ceremonies for Ram: Which one was kosher?

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Modi in Ayodhya

It reflects on the civilizational power of Lord Rama in this ancient land that independent India’s five Prime Ministers involved themselves in the affairs of his birthplace at Ayodhya. Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Narendra Modi and, tangentially, V.P. Singh in between.

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, learnt his early lessons about the limits to his power when the Rama idols “mysteriously” appeared on the night of December 22, 1949 at the spot where the Lord was supposed to have been born and UP Chief Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, refused to have the idols removed despite Nehru’s insistence. Secularism was a fine concept but not at the cost of Hindu faith. In the different approaches to Ayodhya are embedded serious divergences within the Congress on the centrality of Hinduism in national life. Not only was Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, President of the Congress for a record four terms, but he was also a founder of the Hindu Mahasabha. One may quibble on proportions, but there is Hindu Mahasabha in the Congress DNA just as there is the RSS in the BJP.

Nehru was a proud “Pandit” but there was a clear mismatch between his elitist tolerance of Hinduism and the all-pervasive Hindu faith in the make-up of most of his colleagues. It turns out, in retrospect, that Nehru’s secularism was a huge gamble. It would be thrilling if the secular experiment succeeded to a point where my brother Shanney could revisit relatives in Karachi and regale friends in JNU with the observation which became a classic in the 70s: “Nice place”, he said returning from Pakistan, “but too full of Muslims.” Today, this gregarious raconteur finds himself fixed in the pitying gaze of relatives from across the border. I called him in Lucknow on August 5, the day of the Shilanyas. He didn’t say much. It is instructive that the top-down secularism of Nehru and Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk faced eclipse within weeks of each other.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra must be commended for having endorsed the beginning of a Ram temple, but in doing so she may have slighted her father’s memory. Rajiv Gandhi may not have been present at Ram’s birthplace for the first bricklaying ceremony on November 9, 1989, but a foundation stone was laid, at the behest of Rajiv Gandhi’s government under official supervision of the District Magistrate of Faizabad, Ram Sharan Srivastava, a more harassed officer I shall never see. Since I was seated next to him, I could virtually peep into the pit where the brick was to be laid, under instructions from Rajiv Gandhi, his cousin Arun Nehru and UP Chief Minister Narayan Dutt Tewari. It was an underhand, duplicitous operation, totally violative of the Allahabad High Court order which prohibited any construction on “disputed” land. In a show of force, Ashok Singhal of the VHP, the Hindu body leading the agitation for a temple, threatened “rivers of blood”: he would lay the foundation stone on exactly the spot which the temple plan dictated, namely the “disputed” land. Clandestinely, the VHP was allowed to have its say. But Srivastava was to put out a press note that the brick was laid a 100 feet away from the disputed site.

Rajiv was fighting for his life against his once favoured Finance Minister, V.P. Singh’s rebellion, in the 1989 General Elections. He struck a desperate deal with the VHP. The VHP was to press the BJP to pull back its horses in a seat at Faizabad and three in Kerala. The VHP will claim that it had done the Shilanyas where it wanted, in the first place. This double cross too was part of the secret deal. With all these machinations, Rajiv lost the General Elections.

Pranab Mukherjee in his memoirs, The Turbulent Years, has confirmed a gem of a story. A week before the Shilanyas, Rajiv escorted by Home Minister Buta Singh, visited Godman Devrahwa Baba who had a delightful way of blessing his devotees. He dangled his legs from a thatched roof and thumped on the head those he chose to bless, in this case the renaissance Prime Minister of India, eager to know if he should allow the Shilanyas. The Baba, networked in the interstellar spaces, transmitted his message: “Bachcha, ho jane do” (child, let it happen).

The soft saffron that Rajiv adopted by way of electoral tactics came to him from two sources: Indira Gandhi donned this shade during the 1982 Jammu election, this being her gut response to the Khalistan movement. Two years later, the unprecedented majority with which Rajiv Gandhi came to power after Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984 was not attributed to a sympathy wave but a massive Hindu consolidation against “minority” communalism.

This conventional wisdom among Congress senior leaders caused him to open the temple locks in May 1986. Since then the Congress is wasting away, wearing soft saffron, selling its family heirlooms, even as the BJP acquires a shade of saffron as hard as was on show at the Shilanyas in Ayodhya.

Since it is accepted by everybody except perhaps Randeep Surjewala that the Congress is now beyond redemption, the best the Gandhi siblings can do is to recover as a priceless memento that brick which was laid in their father’s name in Ayodhya to start a temple for Lord Rama.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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‘1806 not 1857? History of Indian freedom struggle should be rewritten’

This was the first case involving an Indian who challenged the empire and refused to obey the diktats of the British and the reasons were political, relating to freedom and dignity, says Chandni Bi.

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Agra, Aug 9 : Unfazed by the possibility that her assertions could open up a Pandora’s Box of controversies and trigger a north-versus-south India debate, historian S. Chandni Bi says there is need for a thorough review and rewriting of history of pre-independence India, objectively assessing the role of each region and community.

“Time and again we are told that the 1857 rebellion of sepoys against the British East India Company was the First War of Independence. The sentiment found an echo in the movie ‘Mangal Pandey – The Rising’ which depicts the hero as the first man to rise against the British.

“True, the 1857 rebellion of the sepoys against the East India Company was a major move in the process of evolution of the Indian freedom movement. But, can that be called India’s First War of Independence? If it were to be, were there not similar and much more organised and violent uprisings in different parts of the country against the company rule much earlier?” asks Chandni Bi from Salem in Tamil Nadu, who teaches South Indian History at the Department of History, Centre of Advanced Study, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

As far as the 1857 mutiny is concerned “there seemed to be as many motives for the resistance as the number of people involved in the mutiny. The soldiers of the East India Company refused to use the cartridges and the animal (cow or pig) fat to grease them. The anger was borne out of their religious sentiments. There is nothing to concretely suggest antipathy to alien rule,” she says.

Chandni Bi notes that Indian historians have clear parameters to judge which events qualify for “national status” and which do not. According to her, “The incident should involve a significantly large number of people (a mass movement); the goal should be inspired by a single motive and, finally, (there should be) a feeling of oneness among all sections/stretch of people involved against their common enemy.”

Applying these yardsticks, incidents, revolts or rebellions that occurred before the Swadeshi Movement of the 1920s cannot be described as national. “Hence, to call the 1857 revolt the first war of India’s Independence is wide off the mark and unacceptable,” says Chandni Bi.

On the freedom movement in southern India, she says there were many revolts against the East India Company and the British on either side of the Vindhyas that reflected aversion to alien rule. “There are incidents that took place in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu a half century or more before the 1857 revolt of Mangal Pandey. Veer Savarkar had noted that the Vellore Mutiny of 1806 was similar to the 1857 revolt. Vellore has a fort where the Company kept the successors of Tipu Sultan under arrest. The sepoys and soldiers who were kept under arrest in this fort revolted overnight and freed themselves,” she says.

When a committee headed by Dr S Radhakrishnan was appointed by the Union government to write the history of the freedom movement, the Tamil Arasu Kazhagam, a Tamil nationalist movement in Tamil Nadu, had protested saying that the history of the freedom movement should start with the revolt of Veerapandiya Kattabomman from the land of Panchalankurichi in Tamil Nadu.

“This personality, Veerapandiya Kattabomman was the Palayankarar (ruler) of the Palayam (a political division) Panchalankurichi, who agitated against the Company’s overlordship and refused to pay taxes. He questioned their right over the land. Finally, he was betrayed by a friend and arrested by the Company. There was an open trial for not paying the dues and he was sentenced to death. He dared to kiss the noose of death by himself and refused the touch of the Company’s servants,” says Chandni Bi.

This was the first case involving an Indian who challenged the empire and refused to obey the diktats of the British and the reasons were political, relating to freedom and dignity, says Chandni Bi. Apart from the 1806 Vellore mutiny, similar acts of defiance were reported from Mysore and Kerala, as early as the 1790s. There is a need for rewriting the earlier history of resistance and freedom struggle with all the inputs now being provided by south Indian historians, she says.

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