India: Two writers intimidated, threatened, attacked and censored

1 November 2017
Writers Kancha Ilaiah & Hansda Showvendra Sekhar have suffered long-term intimidation by government and non-state actors over their literary works.
Photo: Writers Kancha Ilaiah (left) & Hansda Showvendra Sekhar (right)/Facebook & PEN International respectively


Kancha Ilaiah
On 24 September 2017, organizations of the Indian caste Arya Vysya held protests in different parts of the southern state of Telangana and in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, burning effigies of writer Kancha Ilaiah and asking for a ban of his book “Komatollu Samajika Smagglarlu” (Vysyas are social smugglers). That day, Ilaiah filed a police complaint alleging threats to his life because of his book, reported NDTV.

The writer told police that four people attacked his vehicle in Parkal, a town in Telangana, while he was driving, after attending a function in Bhupalpally. The incident escalated when Arya Vysya’s protestors and members of the Dalit communities raised slogans against each other outside the police station where Ilaiah was filling the complaint. The episode ended with the protesters leaving the place and Ilaiah being escorted by a police officer.

Two days later, T.G. Venkatesh, member of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), issued a fatwa against the writer, seeking his public hanging. Venkatesh later regretted his actions, explaining to newspaper The Hindu that he was “carried emotionally” when making his statement, but warned that things will get out of control if the book is not banned. Due to the escalation of threats, the writer put himself under self-imposed house arrest until 4 October.

Attacks against Ilaiah and his book continue, however. On 12 October, police in the city of Malkaigiri, Telangana, registered a criminal case against him, following the direction of a local court, for “promoting enmity between groups based on religion (section 153A, Indian Penal Code), imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integrations (section 153B, IPC), and acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class (section 295, IPC)”, reported The Hindu.

The complaint was filed by a 22-year-old Dalit student who stated that “Ilaiah’s book targeted not only the Arya Vysya, but the entire Hindu religion”, reported Indian news source The News Minute.

On 14 October, the Supreme Court quickly dismissed the case stating: “When an author writes a book, it is his or her right of expression. We do not think that it would be appropriate under Article 32 of the Constitution of India that this court should ban the book/books”, reported The Hindu.

On 28 October, police put the writer under house arrest in Hyderabad, who was scheduled to take part in a public meeting addressing the suppression of freedom of expression by local governments. Police said he would be arrested if he attempted to attend the meeting as there was no permission for the event, reported The Indian Express.


Hansda Showvendra Sekhar
The government of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand banned the sale of Hansda Showvendra Sekhar’s book “The Adivasi will not dance” for allegedly denigrating Adivasi culture and for hurting the dignity of women of the Santhal tribe, reported newspaper Hindustan Times on 12 August.

On 4 August, readers threatened the writer by burning his effigy and copies of his book in Pakur, Jharkhand, where the writer works as a governmental doctor, according to PEN International. The organization reported that the campaign of harassment and intimidation on social media against the writer has been ongoing since 2015.

In assembly on 11 August, legislator Sita Soren, from the state political party JMM (Jharkhand Mukti Morcha), alleged that the language used in his book was in bad taste and called for a ban. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Saryu Roy said the book carried objectionable content and that the government would take legal proceedings against the writer. That evening, Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das directed authorities to ban the book, seize all copies of it and start legal action against the writer, reported The Times of India.

In addition, authorities decided to suspend Showvendra’s governmental job, reported Frontline.

Showvendra’s book is a collection of short stories that highlights the plight of the Santhal tribe, especially women, who are subjected to sexual exploitation when they migrate to other states for work.

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