I recently saw a judgement of the Bombay High Court (RV Bhasin v. State of Maharashtra, January 6, 2010) on censorship of a book. The judgement is important as it deals with our freedom of speech and expression. A book was banned by the government through an official Notification in 2003. Normally, any story about censorship in Maharashtra involves books being critical of Maratha heroes. This case is however, different.
The reasons given for banning the book were that the book made “several derogatory and false statements about Muslim religion, Muslim community, Mohammed and Muslim priests’. Interestingly, the book has already sold 10,000 copies since publication (!!), which is a huge number for our country. The notification also contained excerpts from the book, and I am quoting parts of the Notification below:
“(The Book)….has made derogatory and false statements on page number 4 referring to Muslim religious Book Quran that, Muslims should kill Kafirs (Non – Muslims) and if they do so it is stated on page number 4 that, they would be given 72 beautiful girls and 72 handsome youth….where-ever Muslims are ruling other religious people be killed and on page number 10 thereof it is stated that, Muslims do not consider and accept other religious people equal to them and that where-ever Muslim population is less they are increasing it in an attempt to make themselves equal with others….”
““Islam declares to its followers where political governance is in the hands of the believers, they are to act and crush any counter idea and where it still lacks political control then to lie on wait for the moment when through all other means, Darul-Herb gets converted into Darul- Islam.”
“Muslims do not and cannot accept any non-believer as equal to them and hence Modi of Gujarat too right when he cautions Indian people UNITE to safeguard themselves from the Muslim invasion who are waiting only to convert India from Darul Herb to Darul Islam and now openly say and believe in HAM PAANCH – HAMARRE PACCHIS.“
I am sure regardless of what views people hold, the assertions made in the book hardly seem novel. I did however want to point them out for the sheer venom the arguments seek to exhibit. When the case came up before the Court, the lawyer for the author of the book made a number of technical and substantive arguments. I have summarised below the ones I consider the most important ones:
1. The applicant was not aware of the Notification till when his office was raided. The Notification must be set aside as the applicant was not given a hearing.
2. The Notification states in substance that in the opinion of the State Government, certain passages of the book as reproduced in the schedule were false and derogatory and “might have been” written without taking into account `Muslim sentiments’.The Notification gives no basis, reason or grounds for the State to come to the aforesaid opinion.
3. The motive of the applicant in writing the book was to bring home to society certain features and facets of Islam of which readers might not have been aware. The book is not intended to promote feelings of enmity or hatred among classes of persons or to cause insult to any particular class or community.
4. The bonafides of the applicant are clear from his statement at page 99 that we are a secular nation and from the fact that he has avoided reference to some of the `more provocative’ Ayats.
5. Freedom of expression is not founded on the wisdom of the opinion or the amount of research put in before it is expressed; nor is it dependent on the quality of the literature, the art or the speech. It is founded on the inherent human right to express one’s views and is subject to a limited deterrent that this shall not be permitted if it is aimed at social unrest, hatred, etc.
6. What has been stated in the book is not untrue or unknown and is borne out by the recent events and publication in the media. The concept of global jihad; the desire for Islamisation of India, the belief of Muslim leaders that all Muslims are born Mujahids and they expect all true believers to give completely their possessions and persons to jihad even in this day and age have been published and circulated in newspapers. These are
common perceptions of Indian society.
These, and one may make provocative arguments on either side, seem to be the gist of the justifications the author made in support of what he had written. I shall write about the judgement of the Court tomorrow.