Ban on ‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’: Support pours in for Sowvendra Shekhar

The 34-year-old writer, who is a recipient of Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar and is a government doctor, is accused of obscenity and portraying Santhal women in bad light

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter
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NH Web Desk

It’s not only Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, a Jharkhand-based writer, who seems shocked and dismayed over ban on his second book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance by the state government, which followed a legal action by district administration of Pakur earlier this month. Describing the state action as “absurd that sets a dangerous precedent,” as many as 90 citizens from different walks of life have come forward in support of the young and promising writer.

Shekhar, 34, works as a government doctor and is currently attached to the Additional Health Centre in the Pakuria block of Pakur district. His debut novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, won him the 2015 Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar.

His second book is being accused of obscenity and of portraying women of the Santhal tribe— into which the writer himself was born — in a bad light. The book, however, was shortlisted for The Hindu Prize for Fiction 2016.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das recently asked Chief Secretary Rajbala Verma to confiscate copies of the short stories’ collection, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, which was published in 2015 and initiate legal action against him.

“It is strange that this issue is being raised now. There were issues raised in December 2015. It went silent and, in July 2017, protests resumed. This happened after I published an article against Ol Chiki, officially accepted by the Government of India as the script for Santhali. The protesters support the use of Roman script. Could there be a connection; that the obscenity charges against me are a facade,” he was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

Interestingly, the book as well as its Hindi translation both can be purchased online through Amazon and Flipkart.

“We are bewildered and dismayed to learn about the recent banning of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s collection of short stories,” read a joint statement by at least 90 citizens including academics, writers, journalists, doctors, researchers, social workers and human rights activists. “The ban on The Adivasi Will Not Dance is not only deplorable in itself but also adds to a series of dangerous precedents of books being banned on flimsy grounds in India. This ban mania (also targeted at films, events, statements, tweets, foods, relationships and what not) is an ominous attack on freedom, democracy and rationality.”

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental right under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. The same article, admittedly, allows the state to make laws that impose ‘reasonable restrictions’ on this fundamental right, but only based on specific grounds (such as national security or public order), none of which apply in this case,” the statement reads.

“Superficially, it may appear that one of these pre-specified grounds, ‘the interests of decency’ could be invoked to justify the ban. The book does include some sexually explicit scenes, but calling them ‘indecent’ would be extreme prudishness. If books that include love-making scenes were to be banned, hundreds of thousands of novels would have to be banned, not to speak of the Kamasutra. Those who think of sex as indecent are free to read something else,” it adds.

Countering the argument that some stories in the book are “derogatory to Santhal women” especially a story where a Santhal woman consents to casual sex with a policeman in exchange for money, the statement says, “Even if it were true that this story is derogatory, that would not constitute a permissible ground for banning the book under Article 19. Further, the view that the story is derogatory overlooks the fact that it is a work of imagination. The imaginary incident described in the story does not cast any aspersions whatsoever on Santhal women. It is just possible that the story is inspired by some real-life event, but if that is so, it makes the story all the more legitimate.”

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