Three years after the Bombay high court lifted the ban on the controversial book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, the Supreme Court upheld its verdict on Friday, dismissing the state’s plea that the book could promote social enmity.
Coming on the heels of the Centre’s affidavit in the apex court rebutting Maharashtra’s demand for the amalgamation of Marathi-speaking villages of Karnataka, the decision might foment regional passions in the state.
The book has been in trouble for allegedly making derogatory references to Maharashtra’s icon Shivaji.
“I, personally, and the state government also feel that the ban should continue... We are seeking the opinion of legal experts on approaching the court to ensure the ban continues,” home minister RR Patil said.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray has warned against selling the controversial book. “Let them dare to keep the book in the stalls. We would deal with it in MNS-style,” Raj said. The Sambhaji Brigade, an organisation of Marathas that was at the forefront of the agitation against the book, has threatened to stage demonstrations across the state.
Written by American author James Laine, the book was banned on January 15, 2004, under section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The section empowers a state government to order a ban on books if they contain material that can lead to a breach of peace and tranquillity, and cause communal tension.
A bench of justices DK Jain and HL Dattu held that the section could not be invoked on some bland allegations and mere apprehensions. Maharashtra’s counsels Shekar Naphade and Sanjay Kharde had argued that the state was well within its powers to take necessary action to avert any public order problem.
It’s learnt that the apex court has issued certain guidelines for prohibiting books and other such material by state governments.
The state government had approached the apex court after the Bombay high court lifted the ban on the book on a petition filed by advocate Sanghraj Rupawate, documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, and social activist Kunda Pramila in 2007.
The HC had said that the notification issued by the state government was not sustainable in the light of the apex court’s order that had quashed criminal proceedings against Laine over allegations that the book promoted social enmity.
Laine, a professor of religious studies, had tendered an apology before the HC saying the controversy was unfortunate and unintended.
It was banned after cadres of the Sambhaji Brigade ransacked the office of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) in Pune on January 5, 2004. Laine had done some of his research at the institute.
In 2007, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray ordered party workers to burn Laine’s book on Shivaji. “If this book comes out in the market, burn it wherever you find it. This is my order,” Thackeray had said.
Pune-based history researcher Ninad Bedekar told DNA on Friday that researchers in the city were appalled by the Supreme Court’s decision.
According to Bedekar, a group of researchers and the then Pune member of Parliament Pradeep Rawat had written to the Oxford University Press (OUP) on November 10, 2003, (a copy of which is with DNA) asking them to immediately withdraw the book from the market.
“Manzar Khan, managing director, OUP, had replied to the researchers in a letter dated November 21, 2003. It read: “OUP, India, expresses sincere regret at the statements referred by you in the book. Our intention was not to hurt anyone’s feelings and we have already issued instructions to all our offices in India for the immediate withdrawal of the book from circulation.”
Another researcher, Pandurang Balkawade, said: “We fail to understand why, despite such foolproof evidence, the state government failed to make any headway in the courts. We feel the evidence was not used at all.”
With agency inputs