Jaipur Literature Festival – Requiescat in Pacem
Did you know that the law had four corners? I didn’t, but whosoever writes press releases for the Jaipur Literature Festival does. Did you know that the ‘ideas can be exchanged and literature loved‘, ‘strictly‘ within these four corners? I didn’t, but whosoever writes press releases for the Jaipur Literature Festival does.
PRESS RELEASE SENT OUT BY THE JAIPUR LITERATURE FESTIVAL, January 20th, 2012
This press release is being issued on behalf of the organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. It has come to their attention that certain delegates acted in a manner during their sessions today which were without the prior knowledge or consent of the organizers. Any views expressed or actions taken by these delegates are in no manner endorsed by the Jaipur Literature Festival. Any comments made by the delegates reflect their personal, individual views and are not endorsed by the Festival or attributable to its organizers or anyone acting on their behalf. The Festival organizers are fully committed to ensuring compliance of all prevailing laws and will continue to offer their fullest cooperation to prevent any legal violation of any kind. Any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken. Our endeavor has always been to provide a platform to foster an exchange of ideas and the love of literature, strictly within the four corners of the law. We remain committed to this objective. [via FirstPost]
Someone who ‘loves literature strictly within the four corners’ of any enclosure seems to me to be like a diligent user of a prison library. I am sure there are many good people in Tihar Prison whose reading habits fit that description, due to the circumstances of their confinement. I did not know that one could describe the proceedings of a literary festival in quite those terms. One learns new things each day.
And by the way, what exactly, in this case, does the literary and legal genius who wrote this press release mean by the expression – ‘falling foul of the law’? The book-that-dare-not-take-it’s-name is ‘banned’ (if that is an expression that can at all be used) by being prohibited from being imported into India under Section 11 of the Customs Act. I am not aware that the provisions of this act have been violated during the proceedings of the Jaipur Literature Festival.
The Ministry of Finance of the Government of India (under whose aegis the Department of Customs and Excise does its job) which had issued the ‘ban’ order on the 5th of October, 1989 had said in a note released to the press that the ‘ban did not detract from the literary and artistic merit’ of the book that it was banning. Reportedly, in its elaboration of why it took this decision, the Finance Ministry indicated that the book “…had been banned as a pre-emptive measure. Certain passages had been identified as susceptible to distortion and misuse, presumably by unscrupulous religious fanatics and such. The banning order had been issued to prevent this misuse.” Apparently, the book was not deemed blasphemous or objectionable as such, but was being placed in the absurd situation of being banned, as pointed out by its author, “for its own good! “– in order to protect it from being misused by others. After all, how can a book of high artistic and literary merit be misused by its author, or indeed, by anyone authorized by the author.
As of now, nothing, in my humble (and perhaps ill-informed opinion) has happened at the Jaipur Literature Festival that can be construed as illegal or out of the ordinary. The ban order itself, as we have seen, does not suggest that the book is anything but of high artistic and literary merit. Some people, who are writers, have read aloud from this work of high artistic and literary merit. Isn’t that what writers and literature lovers are supposed to be doing, especially at a literature festival – writing, reading, talking books, good books ?
The peace has not been breached. The contents of the book have not been ‘misused’ – they might have been if rabble rousers had read it and told people to go and run amok. Or, if they had read from it contrary to the intentions of the author, in order to distort his meaning and purposes. If people who have not read the book, and say they will not read the book, now run amok, those who have read the book cannot be held responsible. If the peace is breached subsequent to this, the responsibility for its ‘breaching’ ought to be seen to lie in the hands of anyone who makes any irresponsible and provocative call to violence or the infringement of the liberty of others. For a condition laden with violence or bereft of liberty cannot be called peaceful. As far as I know, none of the writers who read out excerpts from the literary work in question said anything of that nature. I know them all, they are all, all, peaceable men.
More importantly, no item banned under Section 11 of the Customs Act has been imported. The individuals who read from the literary work that everyone is so exercised about did not have the book in question in their hands. They had not ‘imported’ a banned item into the country. They read from pieces of paper.
Furthermore, fortunately, as of now, as far as my understanding goes, there is no legal provision under Indian law that can criminalize the mere ‘reading’ of the contents of a book that the law prohibits the import of. If you have the book in your possession it may be ‘seized’. But nothing prohibits reading. How can it? One could for instance, read and re-read a passage from a book proscribed by the Customs in one’s memory. Can one not share a memory of one’s experience of literature with friends ? Can one not aid one’s memory by glancing at a piece of paper while sharing a memory ?
The prohibition of ‘reading’ would amount to accepting that there are actions that our legal system would recognize as ‘thought crimes’. We have not come to that pass, as yet. I hope we never will.
No untoward incident has occurred. The situation is tense but under control (isn’t it always, everywhere, anyway, in this wonderful land). The Jaipur Literature Festival can rest in peace. Requiescat in Pacem.