Jharkhand government has banned the Sahitya Akademi awardee Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s 2015 book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, for portraying the Santhal community “in bad light”. And a civil judge at Delhi’s Karkardooma Court, restrained the sale of Priyanka Pathak-Narain’s new book on Baba Ramdev, titled Godman to Tycoon.
These decisions reveal a few things about our legal system:
- Achieving censorship through law is an almost costless enterprise.
- A strong, judicial commitment to free speech does not exist.
Under Section 96 of the CrPC, any person aggrieved by the government’s order has the right to challenge it before the high court of that State. The legal authority of the government to ban books flows from Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, there are several problems with section 95:
- It allows governments to ban publications without having to prove, before a court of law, that any law has been broken.
- It ensures that the economic burden of a ban falls upon the writer or the publisher.
- It also ensures that while the court deliberates and decides the matter, the default position remains that of the ban.
In an 11-page order, the civil judge of Karkardooma stated that he had given the book a “cursory reading”, and examined the “specific portion” produced by Baba Ramdev’s lawyers in court which he found to be potentially defamatory. On this basis, he restrained the publication and sale of the book.
The solution for this problem is a social reform which:
- Repeals Sections 95 and 96.
- Takes the power of banning books out of the hands of the government, and stipulate that if indeed the government wants to ban a book, it must approach a court and demonstrate, with clear and cogent evidence, what laws have been broken that warrant a ban.