A statement against the arrest of Punjabi publishers and editors for publishing the poetry of Babu Rajab Ali
Names of signatories given at the end; for more details on the campaign, see Whitewashing History
The arrest of two Punjabi publishers and two editors for reprinting old books of poet Babu Rajab Ali which allegedly contained some then used caste names, under the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, is a totally thoughtless, callous and ruthless action taken by the Punjab government.
We understand that Mr. Amit Mittar of Tarak Bharti Prakashan and Mr. Ashok Garg of Sangam and editors Mr. Jagjeet Singh Sahoke from Moga and Mr. Swatantar from Samana, were arrested by the police on September 15 at the behest of the Punjab government. This is absolutely against academic freedom.
Babu Rajab Ali (1894-1979) was a popular poet of Punjab. His poetry published much before the Indepence of India included qissas of Punjabi folktales like Heer Ranjha, Dulla Bhatti, Mirza Sahiban, and Bhagat Singh etc. His works have been published by the state-run Language Department, Punjab, besides various other publishers. A new reprint of those works cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered to be a criminal offence. His works and the mention of the then used caste names in his poetry have to be understood in the historical context.
Making a reference to traditional caste names in academic works cannot be construed as name-calling. Some scholars make it clear in the beginning of their works that references to historical caste names are just for interpretation of the contexts rather for any other purposes. Moreover in the case of the publishers the intention is not at all for the abusive use of the particular caste category. It is in this context that this case needs to be understood.
The Punjab government, in its overzealous thoughtlessness, has entered a wrong territory, as this is not the only text containing traditional caste names. Such a cleansing, as the Punjab government has attempted to carry out, will need doing away with all the classical Punjabi literature containing the traditional caste names. This includes not just poetry by the likes of Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah, Shah Husain and Dhani Ram Chatrik, who are regularly published by various state departments and universities run by the Punjab government, but, the sacred text of Guru Granth Sahib too.
Also, the government should have bothered to inquire from its agencies whether these publishers and writer are really against Dalits or not. All these people are known for producing pro-Dalit and pro-working class literature at affordable prices.
We appeal to the people, whose feelings have been hurt by these books, that they should look at these texts in a broader context.
This act of Punjab government is not only against freedom of expression but is also abuse of the law and this is not what this law is meant for.
We condemn the government’s move and demand immediate release of all publishers and editors booked under the SC/ST Act.
Parmod Kumar, Chairman, Punjab Governance Reforms Commission
Ajmer Aulakh, Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer
Amarjit Chandan, London-based poet
Navtej Bharti, Canada-based writer
Ronki Ram, ICCR Chair Professor of Contemporary India Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands
Om Prakash Gasso, Shiromani Sahitkar
Harish Puri, political scientist and historian
Nirupama Dutt, writer and journalist
Gobind Thukral, veteran journalist
Rajinder Singh Rahi, writer
Pritam Singh, Oxford Brookes University, UK
Rajeev Sharma, Filmmaker
Jainder Mauhar, Filmmaker
Daljit Ami, Filmmaker
Baljit Balli, Editor, www.babushahi.com
Meena Dhanda, head, department of philosophy, University of Wolverhampton, UK
Prabhsharandeep Singh, student, Oxford University, UK
Satnam, author of Jangalnama