“If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don't even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that's the job of dressmakers.” – Saadat Hasan Manto
Couple of weeks ago, when a Delhi-based lecturer started a campaign against author Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, I had phoned him and assured him that I had faith in his writings. We, the authors, are always soft targets of both the moralists and the academics. That day, while talking to Hansda, I could sense the sadness caused by the ongoing online abuse in his voice. He had told me that some people were trying to instigate others in the name of obscenity in his book. I had told him that similar people had campaigned against my novel, and we have to fight it bravely. In the past, Urdu authors Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai had also faced it.
After talking to Hansda, I was also concerned that the jealous moral brigade might try to use politicians to make things worse, and today, in the morning that fear of mine came true. I read that the Jharkhand government has decided to ban a collection of short stories written by him, The Adivasi Will Not Dance published in 2015, on the ground that it portrayed the Santhal community in a “bad light”. TheWire.in reported that Chief Minister Raghubar Das on Friday (August 11) evening asked Chief Secretary Rajbala Verma to seize all available copies of the book, and initiate a legal proceeding against Hansda. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Sita Soren has alleged that the book was derogatory to Santhal women, and demanded a ban on the book. BJP MLA Laxman Tudu said that the book was insulting to Santhal women and hence, action must be taken against the author. The objection is that Hansda had shown how poverty forces a woman to go to bed with someone for securing food.
I firmly believe that Hansda has exposed the ugly face of our society, which the political system and puritans want to conceal from the world. I experienced what Hansda is currently going through for my first novel Nakhalitan Ki Talash (The Search of An Oasis). In 2005, MLAs in Maharashtra Legislative Assembly had labelled my novel ”obscene”, and then the Home Minister of state, RR Patil had given similar instructions to the police to investigate the allegations. As a result, police had raided my house at 5AM in the morning, and they had taken me to the police station as though I was a hardcore criminal.
The allegation – that the woman is depicted in a “bad light” – is nothing but an excuse to harass authors. In most of the cases, jealousy, and a puritan mindset are behind such allegations. The moral brigade and politicians target literature because authors trespass on their territory and break the facade into pieces so people can understand that they have been forced to live in an ugly system. If this is a crime, we writers are born to do it. I have done it and I stand with Hansda for being one of us.