That there are morons among us has been proved once again after the Chhattisgarh government has banned Charandas Chor (Charandas the Thief), the iconic play by the late Habib Tanvir. The cavemen of Raipur caved in to the demand made by Satnami Dalit community leader Baldas to prohibit Habib’s satirical work as the latter, a sensitive fellow, felt that the play ‘insults’ the Satnami community’s religious idol Guru Ghasidas. Tanvir’s play, based on the classic folk tale narrated by Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha, deals in the absurdist tradition with the impossibility of being truthful. The adventures of Charandas, a petty thief with a heart of gold, is a darkly comic take on human nature.
But then, Mr Baldas thinks otherwise and believes — 34 years after Tanvir first produced his play — that the playwright was calling all Satnami Dalits thieves. What next? A ban on the Ramayana simply because Valmiki is described as starting off as a bandit (Ratnakar) and thus tarring all members of the Kirata Bhil community? A ban on Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy because the Muslim Prophet is described amid uncomfortable settings? A ban on Munshi Premchand’s short story Shatranj ke Khilari (The Chess Players) because it showcases Awadhis as effete softies?
If the Chhattisgarh government can ban the great literary work of Padma Bhushan Habib Tanvir, a giant of Indian theatre, what chance do lesser writers have of writing freely and growing as creative forces? Someone or the other always gets piqued by some book or the other. And governments here comply without a murmur. The truth is India, with its ‘cottage industry’-demographic understanding of art and literature, doesn’t deserve its great writers. What it celebrates is being the paradise for pen-pushers.