Two writers and two publishers were arrested in the Indian Panjab for publishing already published materials that are now deemed ‘casteist or derogatory in nature’. In our view, the local government is appropriating the Dalit issue by imposing this sudden censorship on publishing already published texts. We objects to this appropriation and the attempt to edit texts with hindsight, and demand the immediate release of publishers Amit Mittar and Ashok Garg, writers Jagjit Singh and Sukhwinder Singh. Uddari
Will writers’ penning Waris Shah, Bhai Gurdas next after Rajab Ali, to face police action?
An article by Neel Kamal
Times of India
BARNALA: If celebrated kavishar (folk writer) Rajab Ali’s poetry could get writers and publishers behind bars for reproducing it for it being castiest or derogatory in nature, the state action could also be the same against persons penning words from Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah’s works having equally castiest content in few chapters! This is the question doing rounds in the minds of Punjab writers and prominent personalities, who have read works of Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah and eminent Punjabi writer of yore Dhani Ram Chatrik apart from Rajab Ali. The ‘words’ from Rajab Ali’s poetry, which become basis for the arrest of writers and publishers could also been seen in works of other celebrated writers, rue the writers feeling suffocated over the arrests.
It is exactly a week when the two writers and publishers were arrested by Punjab police on the charges of using castiest, derogatory words in two different books pertaining to Rajab Ali. The police had on September 15 arrested the publishers and writers suspecting the books could cause unrest in the state and could lead to rioting or division among communities. Taking the wild imagination of the police head on, the writer fraternity has slammed the state authorities for arresting the writers and publishers only for reproducing the original poetry of Rajab Ali, who had died in 1979. The writers terming the arrests as uncalled for and against the freedom of expression, abuse of law has demanded their immediate release.
Barnala based publisher Amit Mittar, Samana in Patiala based publisher Ashok Garg, village Sahoke in Moga based writer Jagjit Singh and another writer Sukhwinder Singh were arrested on Saturday and are cooling the heels in Barnala and Patiala Jail, waiting to be bailed out.
“The very poem, which allegedly hurt the feeling of dalit community was written decades back by Rajab Ali(1894-1979), whose works have been published by the state run languages department besides various other publishers”, said Shiromani Sahitkar award winner author Om Parkash Gasso.
Many writers and prominent personalities including Institute foe development and communication director and Punjab Governance Reforms Commission chairman Parmod Kumar, Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer Ajmer Aulakh, London based poet Amarjit Chandan, Canada-based writer Navtej Bharti, Professor of Contemporary India Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands Ronaki Ram, Shiromani Sahitkar Om Prakash Gasso, political scientist and historian Harish Puri, writer Nirupama Dutt, Filmmakers Rajeev Sharma, Jainder Mauhar, Daljit Ami, author Satnam, Mushtaq Soofi and Maqsood Saqib condemning government move of arresting the writers have signed a representation to the government demanding their immediate release, arrested under SC/ST act.
Gasso said “these arrests have started debate on the historical books whether they need to be modified of accept it as it is. It is weird that you book a person for editing or publishing pieces in the book which were originally written more than 50 years back. The book was never banned or opposed”. Reprint of the already written words cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered to be a criminal offence. Rajab Ali’ works and the mention of the then used caste names in his poetry have to be understood in the historical context, said Parmod Kumar adding not only Rajab Ali but Waris’ Heer, Bhai Gurdas’ poetry too have words related to various casts”.
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 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, reads the petition made by the signatories. The members of some organizations few days ago had held protest at Moga against the caste based remarks used in the books.
Who was Babu Rajab Ali
Rajab Ali was born in village Sahoke of Moga district and had migrated to Pakistan after partition. He wrote about one dozen kissa and poems about the Hindu mythology, historic figures, Sikh history and heroes like Bhagat Singh, Saka Sirhind. He wrote long poems in Punjabi folklore like Heer Ranjha, Mirza Sahiba, Dulla Bhatti and Sohni Mahiwal. Even more than three decades of his death, still across the rural Malwa region of Punjab, Rajab Ali’s memories and poems are celebrated.