Freedom of voice: Fact or fiction?

  • Nanki Singh, None, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Nov 03, 2014 17:48 IST

Censorship, freedom of expression, idea of offence, an atmosphere of intolerance, the relationship between authors and publishers, legal, political and social aspects of publishing…were some of the many points that were raised, discussed and debated as part of the panel discussion ‘Publishing in the time of diktat’.

Giving us a peep into the world of publishing, the many challenges that publishers face, dilemmas of authors, the current state of the publishing industry, panellists Karthika VK, publisher and chief editor of Harper Collins Publishers India, Ravi Singh of the new publishing house Speaking Tiger, Urvashi Butalia of Kali for Women and author Kiran Nagarkar put forward many absorbing perspectives on the topic, with poet and novelist Anjum Hasan, being the moderator of the evening session at CLF.

"We live in an atmosphere of intolerance, and it’s increasing and across the spectrum, be it the creative arts or even the arena of sports. Is this attitude an indication of narrowing imagination? Can this idea of offence be turned into something productive?" questioned Anjum, asking panellists if they had personally been in a situation where they decided to not go ahead with the publishing of a book with a potential to create controversy and how they faced this moral dilemma.

(L-R): Anjum Hasan, Kiran Nagarkar, Urvashi Butalia, Karthika VK and Ravi Singh during the session. HT Photo

Ravi Singh said though he had not been in such a situation, he knew it could happen. “So there are many aspects that you carefully look at before a book is accepted, and when it is, you have to stand by it.” Karthika pitched saying that they lived by laws of libel, defamation, etc, and lawyers assisted in the process.

“If you are on solid ground, there is no cause for concern, and this can be seen in the fact that we have published books like ‘Modi and Godhra’, ‘Hindu Hriday Samrat’; a lot depends on the context.”

Urvashi Butalia reflected on how smaller publishers could not afford lawyers, and most of the time depended on their own judgment for publishing a book.

“When I faced a situation where a police complaint was filed against us, I have to admit the threats were scary. On top of my head was not freedom of expression, but the safety of my colleagues,” said Urvashi.

Talking about how his play ‘Bedtime Stories’ was not allowed to be staged, Kiran felt that censorship was a competitive matter, where there was a cache someone wanted to exploit.

Anjum took the conversation to Wendy Doniger’s book, ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’, and Penguin’s decision to withdraw the book. A notice was also served to Aleph Book Company, the publisher of Doniger’s previous book, ‘On Hinduism’, demanding that the publisher withdraw this book too.

“Publishers have to work and come together to talk to the opposition and do it with honesty and transparency. And if there is a threat of violence, it should be made public,” added Ravi.

Kiran agreed and talked about how authors and publishers should pool resources to deal with any kind of pressures to withdraw a book. Authors supporting other authors, the importance of writers’ associations, the role of the Internet and the freedom it gives authors to reach to readers, self censorship…the voice.

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