Krithi turns the spotlight on freedom of expression

Writer N.S. Madhavan, lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj and cartoonist E.P. Unny at Krithi International Book Fair in the city on Saturday.

Writer N.S. Madhavan, lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj and cartoonist E.P. Unny at Krithi International Book Fair in the city on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat


In recent times, books are outlawed using insignificant laws: N.S. Madhavan

If it was governments that proscribed books in the past, these days the job is executed by the contemporary version of Hitler’s ‘stormtroopers’, observed writer N.S. Madhavan at a programme organised by the H&C Readers Forum on its third anniversary at the Krithi International Book Fair 2018 on Saturday.

Outlining the relatively short history of letters and reading, Mr. Madhavan said a democratisation of reading happened in Malayalam between 1926 and 1956 as a result of the periodic literary meets held by the Sahithya Parishad.

‘Subservient to rulers’

“History shows that most Indian authors, right from those who wrote the epics, remained subservient to the rulers unlike in the West… In the recent times, books were outlawed using rather insignificant laws,” he said, citing the example of The Satanic Verses, which got the axe under a notification under the Customs Act.

Mr. Madhavan said obscenity and potential hurt to sentiments were mostly highlighted as the reasons for demanding a book ban. He said independent India erred from the beginning, as the first amendment to the Constitution sought to restrict the rights of expression granted under the celebrated Article 19, while just the opposite happened in the U.S., with the first amendment further reinforcing the freedom of expression.

Lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj maintained that it was limiting to see Article 19 as endorsing the creative expression of artists and writers. It encompassed the multiple forms of expressions by all sorts of people in society, he said, referring to the unprecedented media conference held by a few Supreme Court judges recently as such an expression.

The problem, he said, was that a large section of the society refused to take on the responsibility to express themselves.

No revolution in the world happened through the judiciary, he said, citing instances of even the apex court endorsing draconian laws, promoting status quo ante. “There’s still some hope left in politics. Despite all their shortcomings, politicians alone have shown the courage to change things for good.”

In a conversation with columnist N.E. Sudheer, cartoonist E.P. Unny said censorship had always existed in some form or the other. “It’s been decentralised more these days, with district and local leaders showing more eagerness to clip writers’ and creative people’s wings.” An ordinariness lent power to news cartoons in the dailies, he said.

40,000 visitors

The book fair was visited by about 40,000 people on Saturday. On Sunday, the 92nd death anniversary of Sreekanteswaram Padmanabha Pillai, Malayalam’s first lexicographer, the modern edition of the Sabdatharavali compiled by him will be gifted to five children from poor families.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 7:30:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/krithi-turns-the-spotlight-on-freedom-of-expression/article22921145.ece

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