'Bankrupt caste politics led to ban on Shivaji book'
Jyoti Punwani, TNN, Jul 30, 2010, 07.28pm IST
Bookshops are afraid to stock James Laine's Shivaj i: Hindu King in
Islamic India, even after the Supreme Court struck down the
Maharashtra government's ban on it. Film-maker Anand Patwardhan, one
of three petitioners who challenged the ban, speaks to Jyoti Punwani :
What prompted you to challenge the ban?
Ambedkar gave us a Constitution. It is up to us to protect its spirit.
Whether it is Ambedkar's Riddles in Hinduism or works by Taslima
Nasreen, we must not allow bullies to dictate what we read. I would
oppose a ban even on books i abhor, like those by Golwalkar and Godse.
The real inspiration and the legal hard work, however, came from human
rights lawyer P A Sebastian. We have won many court battles against
the censorship of my documentaries. In each case, the courts upheld my
right to freedom of expression and the public's right to information.
Naturally when we heard about a book banned under pressure from
right-wing groups, we intervened.
Shivaji is revered in Maharashtra. Didn't you anticipate an adverse reaction?
Bankrupt caste politics led to the ban. An academic book on Shivaji
would have remained largely unnoticed. But our politicians have many
economic crimes to hide and identity politics is a convenient public
diversion. An emotive rumour that Laine had questioned Shivaji's
paternity spread, since no one had actually read the book. A research
institute was attacked, historical manuscripts destroyed, then the
publishers were attacked and books burned. The government, dominated
by the same caste forces that rampaged in the street, banned the book.
Those opposing the judgement have made it a Maratha Vs Brahmin issue.
No one reads the book so the entire opposition to it is based on
hearsay. Incidentally, all the petitioners come from different castes,
Dalit, Maratha, Brahmin, though each of us categorically rejects the
caste system. In fact, the claim that Laine's book is a "Brahmin"
conspiracy against the "Maratha" Shivaji is so hollow, it could not be
articulated even by those who fought for a ban in court. They could
only argue that it would cause enmity between those who admire Shivaji
and those who don't.
When the court asked "Who does not admire Shivaji?" there was no
answer. The attempt to reduce Shivaji's greatness to his paternity
reveals a desire for sacrosanct bloodlines (Vaunsha and Kula). The
very concept of "purity" comes from patriarchal upper castes that had
to establish their long lineage to mythical forefathers. So some
Marathas proudly claim "Shahannau Kula" (96 forefathers) and some
Brahmins maintain immaculate family trees.
Laine himself has no caste axe to grind. He compares texts written in
Shivaji's lifetime where the Brahmin Ramdas is hardly mentioned, with
those written in the Brahminical Peshwa period where Ramdas gains
prominence as Shivaji's guru, to texts inspired by the Varkari
movement, those written by Mahatma Phule, by the British, each with
their distinct motivations. He paints a complex picture of 17th
century Maharashtra where cross-religious alliances were the norm.
This complexity is anathema to those who want to use Shivaji as a
symbol of Hindutva or who appropriate him as a caste hero. This is not
only an injustice to Shivaji, but also to historical and scientific
enquiry. Laine's anatomy of a legend is not the last word on Shivaji.
Nor must it be a word that is forbidden.
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