A group of prominent citizens Thursday expressed strong concern over Maharashtra’s plan to enact a law to prevent defamation of iconic figures, terming it an attempt to gag the freedom of expression.
The Citizens’ Initiative for Peace (CIP) said here that the proposed law by the state government would impose new gags and restrictions on books to be published.
‘This is clearly antithetical to the spirit of free and rational inquiry and fundamental democratic values,’ said the CIP, a conglomeration of city-based NGOs, individuals and social groups.
It said that even in the past there were violent agitations against books and other literature, including Babasaheb Ambedkar’s ‘The Riddles of Rama and Krishna’.
The CIP’s statement comes in the wake of the state government’s plan to enact a law banning defamation of iconic and historical figures in the wake of the raging controversy over American author James Laine’s book, ‘Shivaji – A Hindu King in Muslim India’.
The book by Laine, a professor of religious studies, was published in New York and New Delhi in 2003.
The ban on the book, which contains alleged derogatory remarks about Maharashtra’s warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, was lifted by the Supreme Court last week. This sparked a statewide controversy and led to pandemonium in the ongoing session of the Maharashtra legislature.
The CIP decried the attempts by certain political forces to whip up parochial passions and issue threats of violence over the order delivered by the Supreme Court in favour of freedom of conscience, rational inquiry and free speech by confirming the Bombay High Court’s order lifting the ban on the book.
‘The CIP, strongly committed to democratic values, including the right to free speech and dissent, expresses strong distaste of attempts at muzzling of discordant voices through intimidatory tactics,’ the statement said.
The signatories to the statement include: Asad Bin Saif, Jatin Desai, Madhav Menon, Sudhir Badami, Sukla Sen and others.