Punjab – Statements against the arrest of publishers and editors

September 30, 2012

CO-ORDINATION OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS (CDRO)

Press Statement
29.9.12

Ashok Garg , publisher Sangam Publictaions, Samana and poet editor Sukhwinder Swatantar, and Amit Mittar of Tarak Bharati Publication, Barnala and poet editor Jagjit Singh Sahoke arrested on 15 Sep in two simulataneous FIRS in Samana and Barnala where the two DSPs are also complainants were all out on bail by 29 September. They had been arrested under SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act Sec. 3. 1 (x) and Sec 153 (A) IPC (Promoting enmity between different groups) allegedly for printing collections of late 19th to 20th century poet Babu Rajab Ali containing references to old caste appellation Choorha. While SC- ST Act cases have been withdrawn against Sukhwinder Swatantar and Jagjit Singh Sahoke,a ll four are still accused under S. 153 IPC. The SC-ST Act cases still stand against Garg and Mitter. The anti- democratic nature of the government, electoral and identity politics and the conflicted nature of ‘rule of law’ stand exposed in the current events:

1) The controversy and protests are motivated is obvious from the publications being classics of Punjabi literature prescribed on syllabi.
Moreover, the credibility of those arrested is apparent from the protests against their arrests in which intellectuals as well as several Mazdoor and kisan organisations as well as democratic rights groups such as AFDR, Punjab came out in support. Tarak Bharti Prakashan’s(2006) publications include book s on science, against superstitions, on mental illness, progressive literature, collections of poets, histories of the freedom movement and biographies of heroes like Bhagat Singh, children’s books and translations.

2) By all accounts the four accused have been targeted as they as they are progressive and Left voices supporting rights’ struggles of farmers and labourers across communities. And hence undesirable voices opposing the agrarian and industrial policies, as well as the casteist and communal politics of the ruling government.

3) The continued application of Sec 153 which is applied is a cognisable offence with a punishment of 3 years means constant harassment and intimadition, with the law being used as a means of continuing surveillance and control of ideas and expression.

4) The only reason why charges under SC-ST(P of A) Act against Jagjit Singh Sahote and Sukhwinder Singh Swatantar have been dropped is that it has suddenly dawned on the Punjab police that the two are Dalits and unde the SC/ St Act only non- SCs and non-STs can be accused of atrocities.

5) Local electoral and caste politics over benefits of reservations have played a hand. Allegations of casteism have been made by some Balmiki and Majhabi Sikh (part of the erstwhile ‘Choorah’ community). It is no co-incidence that the current SAD- BJP combine is supported by Balmikis. Balmiki organisations have been agitating for sub-reservations of 12.5% alleging that the benefits of reservation are garnered largely by the Chamar community. The Badal government has assured them of restoration of the sub-reservation. The acts of omission and commission on the part of the administration stand explained.

This case is another instance of a) the muzzling of dissent of any kind b) how existing laws are being used to target them and rewrite past histories so that they remain in sync with dominant political relations. Sections of the IPC eg those on sedition, and S.153 IPC are pieces of legislation under ‘normal’ whose very content is undemocratic are being arbitrarily used all over the country, one of the most recent being the arrest of APCL activists holding a meeting on Telengana, again under Sec 153 earlier this month. In the light of the above

CDRO demands:

1.Dropping of all charges against the accused.
2.Arrest of concerned officers under the SC- ST Act for atrocities against Swatantar and Sahoke, and for wrongful arrest.
3.Arrest of those responsible for filing false FIRs.
4.Removing of S. 153 and all such undemocratic sections from the IPC.

Asish Gupta
Kranti Chaitanya
(Co-ordinators CDRO)

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Press statement regarding arrest of publishers and editors for allegedly publishing anti-Dalit text

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 Tark 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, 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 should look these texts in broader context.

This act of Punjab government is not only against freedom of expression but also abuse of the law and this is not for what this law meant for.

We condemn the government’s move and demand immediate release of all publishers and editors booked under the SC/ST Act.

Signatories:

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

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A press statement by teachers of Punjabi University, Patiala

‘The arrest of editors, publishers has posed threat to academic freedom’

The recent arrests of two publishers and two book editors by Punjab police for reproducing works of Punjabi poet Babu Rajab Ali raises a serious threat to the question of academic freedom. We condemn this thoughtless and irresponsible act of Punjab police and Punjab government.

The Punjab police booked them under the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act because the works of Babu Rajab Ali contained some then used caste names.

However, we believe that Amit Mittar of Tarak Bharti Parkashan, Barnala and Ashok Garg of Sangam Publication, Samana are working to dissiminate the knowledge in Punjabi language. Similarly, editors of the book Jagjeet Singh Sahoke and Sukhwinder Singh Swatantar reproduced the works which were written in the mid of 20th century.

We understand that it is an intellectual bankruptcy of the state government and the Punjab police that the four were booked under the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act. Despite the fact that both the editors were himself, dalits and the publishers are known for publishing pro dalit literature.

It is not a case of ignorance but a case of sheer abuse of the law and of the act, which enacted to ensure the dignity of the dalits. It is a common fact that everyday there are so many incidents of atrocities against dalits but the same government and the same police doesn’t sound so enthusiastic to stop that. Instead of encroaching academic freedom and abusing the law, the Punjab police should pay some heed to stop atrocities against dalits.

We understand that various texts especially classical Punjabi poetry including Waris Shah’s Heer and poetry of Bhai Gurdas and Dhani Ram Chatrik many more contains caste names as it is in Babu Raja Ali’s poetry. So we believe that Indian constitution is a modern document and the texts written much before the existence of the Constitution can’t be looked with the prism of Indian Constitution. If government imagines doing so, it will set a wrong precedent, which will be dangerous for the history, historiography and culture of Punjab. It will be disastrous for academic freedom.

If once the tampering with the history and historical texts start, there will be no end. You will have to demolish the Ajanta and Elora for ‘obscenity’; you will have to change the Waris Shah’ Heer, which is considered the biggest literary work in Punjab literature so far.

So we immediately demand from the Punjab government that FIR should be quashed and the guilty police officers should be booked for the abuse of law.

Issued on behalf of Democratic Teachers Front (DTF), Punjabi University, Patiala by Professor Jaswinder Singh Brar, Professor Lakhwinder Singh, Professor Kesar Singh Bhangoo, Professor Inderjit Singh, Professor Sukhwinder Singh, Dr. Umrao Singh

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Statement against arrest of publishers and editors

JALANDHAR: In a joint press release nine Punjabi book publishers flayed the Punjab government’s move to arrest two publishers and two book editors for publishing the poetry of Babu Rajab Ali.

Flaying the arrest of publishers Amit Mittar of Tarak Bharti Publication Barnala and Ashok Garg of Sangam Publication, Samana and book editors Jagjeet Singh Saho Ke and Swantantar Singh under Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, , the publishers in the statement said that everybody knows that Tarak Bharti Publication, Barnala and Sangam Publication Samana are known for publishing scientific and progressive literature in Punjabi and Hindi languages for past several decades.

They said that everybody knows that Babu Rajab Ali was a famous qissa exponent and a poet. They said that folk tales of Heer Ranjha, Dulla Bhatti, Mirza Sahiba and Bhagat Singh are part of Punjabi folklore. These qissas and poems have been published time-to-time by various state government run publications like Language Department, Punjab and various publications of universities including Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar and Punjabi University, Patiala.

The publishers said that if any contemporary publisher including the state government owned publications reprint the literature of past or classical texts, which contains castes names doesn’t mean the publishers are anti dalit or they want to hurt the sentiments of a particular caste or community. Reproducing old texts is not a crime.

The caste references in Babu Rajab Ali’s poetry should be taken in historical context because these poems are more than half a century old. And the reproduction of these texts by the publisher shouldn’t be taken that they intend to hurt the feelings of a particular community or class.

The arrest of the publishers, who have published hundreds of pro dalit and progressive literature as well, is an irresponsible act of the Punjab government and Punjab police. We take it as a serious attack on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

Such kind of ruthless tactics by the state police and the government will yield serious threat to the creativity in Punjabi literature. This act of the state government and the Punjab police is very dangerous for the future of publication business as well. The publisher will live under uncertainty and threat and no publisher will be able to publish any books in future. We demand the immediate release of publishers Amit Mittar and Ashok Garg and editors Jagjeet Singh Saho Ke and Swantantar.

Signatories

Baba Bhujha Singh Yadgari Publication, Banga,
Punjab Aab Publication, Jalandhar,
Balraj Sahni Yadgari Publication, Bathinda,
Jagriti Publication, Samrala
Dildeep Publication, Samrala
People’s Forum, Bargari, Punjab
Chetna Parkashan, Ludhiana
LokGeet Parkashan, Chandigarh
Chintan Publication, Ludhiana

Released by:

Buta Singh, Baba Bhujha Singh Yadgari Parkashan, Banga (94634-74342)

Kesar Singh Punj Aab Publication, Jalandhar (98140-87063)