We are bewildered and dismayed to learn about the recent banning of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s collection of short stories, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, by the Government of Jharkhand. This ban is absurd and sets a dangerous precedent.
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.
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 has been argued that some stories in the book are “derogatory to Santhal women”, in particular a story where a Santhal woman consents to casual sex with a policeman in exchange for money. 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.
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.
Signatories: Aashish Xaxa, Research Scholar; Abhay Xaxa, Research Scholar; Agnes Murmu, Retired Teacher; Ajitha George, Researcher; Akash Poyam, Research Scholar; Alpa Shah, Anthropologist; Anjor Bhaskar Research Scholar; Ankita Aggarwal, Independent Researcher; Anpa Marndi, Assistant Professor; Anumeha Yadav, Journalist; Arundhati Roy, Writer; Ashish Birulee, Photo-Journalist; Ashish Gupta, Research Scholar; Balram, Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand; Bani Hembrom, Doctor; Bela Bhatia, Researcher & Writer; Chayanika Murmu, MBBS Student; Binod Murmu Concerned Citizen; Dheeraj Kumar, Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand; Dula Besra, Concerned Citizen; Dulal Kisku Concerned Citizen; Ghasiram Soren, Literary Activist; Gladson Dungdung, Human Rights Activist; Gouri Chatterjee, Journalist; Gunjal Munda, Concerned Citizen; Harivansh, Member, Rajya Sabha; Harsh Mander, Activist and Writer; Ipil Alma Kisku, Concerned Citizen; Jean Drèze, Development Economist; Judith Hembrom, Social Worker; Kalipda Tudu, Concerned Citizen; Kanika Sharma, Research Scholar; Kanuram Tudu, Teacher; Karamchand Hembrom, Concerned Citizen; Kavita Krishnan, Political Activist; Kavita Srivastava, Human Rights Activist; Khagen Hembram, Concerned citizen; Kritika Pandey, Writer; Kumar Rana, Researcher; Lipika Singh Darai, Filmmaker; Mangal Mandi, Senior Management; Maroona Murmu, Historian; Mast Ram Soren, Concerned Citizen; Meenakshi Munda, Anthropologist; Meghnath, Filmmaker; Miltee Horo, Research Scholar; Nandini Sundar, Sociologist; Nayan Soren, Research Scholar; Neel Mukherjee, writer; Nilay Kumar Murmu, Concerned Citizen; Niraj Lakra, Concerned Citizen; Nora Samad, Social Worker; Peter Martin, Concerned Citizen; Philip Peacock, Theologian; Praveer Peter, Social Activist; Prem Verma, Convenor, Jharkhand Nagrik Prayas; Priyanka Priyadarshini Marandi, Research Scholar; Priyanka Purty, Student; Priyanka Sandilya, Research Scholar; Reetika Khera, Economist; Remalia Hembrom, Social Worker; Rimil Hembrom, Research Scholar; Ruby Hembrom, Publisher; Sanjay Bosu, Human Rights Activist and Writer; Santosh Kiro, Journalist; Savya Sachin Bankira, Student; Seral Murmu, Filmmaker; Shankar Mardi, Concerned Citizen; Shivprasad Singh, Bagaicha; Shyam C. Tudu, Concerned Citizen; Shyamsunder Hansda, Concerned Citizen; Sibdas Baskey, Assistant Professor; Siraj Dutta, Concerned Citizen; Sneha Mundari, filmmaker; Sokhen Tudu, Concerned Citizen; Sovan Hazra, Concerned Citizen; Sripati Tudu, Concerned Citizen; Stan Swamy, Bagaicha; Sudha Bharadwaj, Lawyer; Sujit Kumar Soren, Academician; Susil Mandi, Concerned Citizen; Thalko Majhi, Concerned Citizen; Vijay Kekan, Concerned Citizen; Virendra Majhi, Concerned Citizen; Virginius Xaxa, Sociologist; Vivek Sidam, Research Scholar; Xavier Dias, Former Editor; Wilfred Topno, President, Adivasi Sahitya Sabha, Assam; Wilson Hansda, Concerned Citizen; Zoba Hansdah, Research Scholar.