Protests and television debates on the apex court’s decision to OK the publication of a book on Maratha ruler Shivaji, banned in 2004 by the Maharashtra government, has put India back in the spotlight on the question of freedom of expression.
India is secular and a democracy but a country with a billon-plus population — consisting of hundreds of tribes, clans and castes following myriad beliefs — can be pretty fickle when it comes to defining ‘sensitive’ topics and easily susceptible to parochial politics.
The list of subjects considered “sacred” in the country include the extended Gandhi family, Ambedkar, Periyar, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Veer Savarkar and maybe a few thousand more people, said an editorial in the ‘Mint’ daily.
“Shivaji – The Hindu King in Muslim India” by American James Laine was banned after a little known rightwing group ransacked the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, which Laine had mentioned in his acknowledgement. The group alleged the book was derogatory to the Maratha leader.
India has always been accommodative of interest groups with political parties quick in trying to score political points over sensitive topics. Any literary or artistic work on religious, political and historical figures has always endured intense public scrutiny.