Banned book: The Lives of Sri Aurobindo Penguin, 2008
Status: A temporary injunction against the book since 2008
A good lawyer can always find a section that was meant for one purpose and put it to work for another. Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 , forbids “acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”. The British Crown, in the years after the Revolt of 1857, had every reason to want to prevent religiously motivated violence in its new empire. What the creator of the ipc meant by “acts intended to outrage religious feelings” is for the courts of India to determine.
I’m no lawyer, but I do know that Indian judges do not always accept arguments for book-banning that are based on Section 295A. Searching almost at random on Indiankanoon.org, I find that in 2005 the Calcutta High Court ruled that Taslima Nasrin did not, in her book Dwikhandita, intend to “outrage the religious feelings of any Indian community”.
We will never know whether the Delhi High Court would have taken a similar stance in regard to complaints against Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, because her publisher, Penguin India, settled the matter out of court. In a statement, Penguin says it’s all the fault of Section 295A, as if the complainants’ assertion that the book outraged Hindu feelings was proven.
Penguin adds that it has a “moral responsibility” to protect its employees “against threats and harassment”. That’s more to the point. It’s ironic that a law intended to prevent religious violence is being cited by people who not only menace Penguin’s officers with legal punishment (up to eight years in jail) but also apparently issue threats (of what sort exactly?) against its employees.
Who is to decide what constitutes outrage? The complainants claim that Doniger’s statement that the Ramayana was “a work of fiction, created by human authors” hurt the feelings of millions (really?) of Hindus, thus breaching Section 295A. Sri Aurobindo is often held up by the Hindu Right as a great son of Bharat, but in his writings on the Hindu epics, he never suggested that the Ramayana was anything but the poetical creation of a human author. For him it was enough that Valmiki was a supreme poet.
I know a little bit about legal harassment. In 2008, criminal charges were brought against me under Sections 295A and 499 (defamation) in two district courts in Orissa by two individuals who claimed to be offended by a book about Sri Aurobindo I had published in New York. Both cases were stayed by the Orissa High Court.
A few months earlier, another person filed a writ petition against me, my Indian publisher (Penguin), and five state and central government entities in order to prevent the scheduled publication of the book here. That case is still sub judice.
In 2009, the mother of the petitioner in that case filed a writ petition before the Madras High Court demanding that the Government of India deport me forthwith. The High Court dismissed that petition.
In 2010, a case mentioning me was filed in a Pondicherry court against the institution that hosts me in India. That case too is sub judice. I’m still in India, and I published two books last year, but I could have got more work done if I hadn’t had to draft so many affidavits for my lawyers.
Is there any solution to the problem of outrage (real or manufactured) over books, films, paintings, authors, artists, institutions, and so forth? One possibility is what we call tolerance.
Another is the cultivation of a pluralistic attitude. The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote of the problems of people who grew up accepting a certain account of their mythology when they are confronted with a different version. He added, however, that it was possible for people to see that “accounts which are not the same can be true at the same time”. That is what is meant by pluralism.
Those whose business it is to manufacture outrage will always turn away from the path of pluralism, but the rest of us do not have to accept their narrowness.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT