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SAHMAT Statement on Rohinton Mistry

by Sahmat, 19 October 2010

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Date 19.10.2010

Statement on Rohinton Mistry

We are shocked and shamed by the abrupt withdrawal of the Rohinton Mistry novel Such a Long Journey from the English Literature syllabus of the University of Bombay, on an order from the Vice Chancellor, following an explicit threat from the newly anointed youth leader of the Shiv Sena. This blatant capitulation to the threat of mob violence is a serious assault on the autonomy of our academic institutions and should be condemned by all who stand by basic democratic values. The Vice Chancellor has acted without due attention to the procedures prescribed under university rules. He has to be severely sanctioned for this shocking neglect of his responsibilities to the academic community and to the student body of Mumbai.

We equally condemn Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s thoroughly opportunistic statement denouncing the supposedly ’offensive’ language of the Mistry novel. This indecent haste in seeking a peace treaty with the Shiv Sena – nominally the opposition party in Maharashtra but increasingly seen to be dictating the ruling party’s agenda through its ability to cause havoc on the streets — comes in the wake of Chief Minister Chavan’s statement that his government will not allow the sale of the book on Chhatrapati Shivaji by the scholar James Laine, despite a ruling by the Supreme Court which underlined a Bombay High Court finding that the ban on the book was unfounded and unsustainable under the law.

It is deeply alarming that the freedoms of academic research and artistic expression are increasingly being curbed by the threat of mob violence and through unconstitutional means. Publishers in this country fear printing academic books on Indian mythology, though these are freely available around the world; outstanding scholars like Wendy Doniger decline to attend academic symposia in India because of the constant threat of physical assault; the country’s greatest living artist, M.F. Husain, has been exiled; and certain films are banned from states that are governed by individuals who are seen to be supporters of extremist religious militias. The threat against the Rohinton Mistry novel and its withdrawal from the university syllabus is the latest in this series.

Instead of bowing to these threats, the Central and State Governments should have acted against the groups who use violence and the threat of violence. We take note of the irony that the Maharashtra Government deployed its security forces in strength to ensure the release – per schedule – of the Hindi film starring Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan. That it has now buckled under a similar threat of mob violence by subverting the autonomy of one of India’s oldest and greatest universities is a matter of deep distress.

Issued on behalf of SAHMAT

Ram Rahman, M.K. Raina, Indira Chandrasekhar, Parthiv Shah, Madangopal Singh, N.K. Sharma, Sohail Hashmi, Sukumar Murlidharan