Expectedly, the Gujarat government's ban of the controversial book by Mr Jaswant Singh has been challenged in the High Court of Gujarat today.
On Saturday, V.Venkatesan had an excellent post at the Law and Other Things blog where he had pointed out, inter alia:
Not only the notification is silent on the grounds, but even the so-called justification for the ban as explained by the Gujarat Government's spokesperson is not legally sustainable. None of the reasons cited by the spokesperson, including the alleged attempt to defame Sardar Patel can attract Section 153A or 153B of IPC. If you use the reasoning adopted by the Bombay High Court in the Shivaji book ban case, the Gujarat Government has made its position vulnerable by claiming that all Gujaratis hold Sardar Patel in high esteem. If so, where is the question of promoting enmity between different groups on any ground, as there are no different groups on the question of holding Sardar Patel in high esteem. If the State Government thinks the book is likely to disturb the public tranquillity, it has not claimed so in the notification, let alone its obligation to explain it with some prima facie satisfaction.
However, even if the court rules favourably, it may hardly be grounds for jubilation, as I wrote in the comments section at the LAOT blog:
...even when legal redressal may be possible, publishers of books or exhibitors of films, for example, bow down to the mob pressures. For example, in the case of James Laine's book, if memory serves me right, the publisher decided not to pursue the matter even after the favourable Bombay High court verdict, which in any case was later challenged.
Frankly, looking at how often and easily various hoodlums have made life miserable for assorted groups, I have long felt that we need an Indian equivalent of ACLU:
I don't think PUCL/PUDR etc. have quite fulfilled the role they were set up for or are equipped to, or even wish to, play such a role.
I must admit, though, that I have not even followed ACLU other than very casually, but the little that I have -- in particular its famous stand, "ACLU has no love for the Ku Klux Klan, but does for the First Amendment" -- has always made me wonder why we do not have any such body of progressives in India who are willing to take a principled and uncompromising stand on free speech?
I wonder if LAOT would want to explore the possibility of a sustained campaign, looking into the constitutionality of various bans that are still in force -- I can imagine it would be quite a task to even compile a comprehensive list though we could begin with some of the high profile cases -- and at least to consider the possibilities of figuring out ways of fighting various ridiculous bans?
Or explore how publishers, editors etc could equip themselves to deal with law and order situations that are sought to be created, as the Statesman faced, for example, in Calcutta over the Johann Hari op-ed? I of course ask this as I have a vested interest in clarifying my own thinking over the many intertwined issues in such cases and would love to hear from all of you.
For more on this discussion, see the comments section in LAOT
- Tarunabh Khaitan: Speak, Freedom
- Tarunabh Khaitan: Slapps: Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation
- Rajiv Dhavan: Ban, Burn, Destroy