Press statement regarding arrest of Punjabi publishers and editors for allegedly publishing anti-Dalit text:
The arrest of two Punjabi publishers and two editors for reprinting old books of poet Babu Rajab Ali which allegedly contained some then used caste names, under the Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, is a totally thoughtless, callous and ruthless action taken by the Punjab government.
We understand that Mr. Amit Mittar of Tark Bharti Prakashan and Mr. Ashok Garg of Sangam and editors Mr. Jagjeet Singh Sahoke from Moga and Mr. Swatantar from Samana, were arrested by the police on September 15 at the behest of the Punjab government, is absolutely against academic freedom.
Babu Rajab Ali (1894-1979) was a popular poet of Punjab. His poetry published much before the Indepence of India included qissas of Punjabi folktales like Heer Ranjha, Dulla Bhatti, Mirza Sahiban, and Bhagat Singh etc. His works have been published by the state-run Language Department, Punjab, besides various other publishers. A new reprint of those works cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered to be a criminal offence. His works and the mention of the then used caste names in his poetry have to be understood in the historical context.
Making a reference to traditional caste names in academic works cannot be construed as name-calling. Some scholars make it clear in the beginning of their works that references to historical caste names are just for interpretation of the contexts rather for any other purposes. Moreover in the case of the publishers the intention is not at all for the abusive use of the particular caste category. It is in this context that this case needs to be understood.
The Punjab government, in its overzealous thoughtlessness, has entered a wrong territory, as this is not the only text containing traditional caste names. Such a cleansing, as the Punjab government has attempted to carry out, will need doing away with all the classical Punjabi literature containing the traditional caste names. This includes not just poetry by the likes of Bhai Gurdas, Waris Shah, Shah Husain and Dhani Ram Chatrik, who are regularly published by various state departments and universities run by the Punjab government, but, the sacred text of Guru Granth Sahib too.
Also, the government should have bothered to inquire from its agencies whether these publishers and writer are really against Dalits or not. All these people are known for producing pro-Dalit and pro-working class literature at affordable prices.
We appeal to the people, whose feelings have been hurt by these books should look these texts in broader context.
This act of Punjab government is not only against freedom of expression but also abuse of the law and this is not for what this law meant for.
We condemn the government’s move and demand immediate release of all publishers and editors booked under the SC/ST Act.
Parmod Kumar, chairman, Punjab Governance Reforms Commission
Ajmer Aulakh, Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer
Amarjit Chandan, London-based poet
Navtej Bharti, Canada-based writer
Ronki Ram, ICCR Chair Professor of Contemporary India Studies, Leiden University, The Netherlands
Om Prakash Gasso, Shiromani Sahitkar
Harish Puri, political scientist and historian
Nirupama Dutt, writer and journalist
Gobind Thukral, veteran journalist
Rajinder Singh Rahi, writer
Pritam Singh, Oxford Brookes University, UK
Rajeev Sharma, Filmmaker
Jainder Mauhar, Filmmaker
Daljit Ami, Filmmaker
Baljit Balli, Editor, www.babushahi.com
Meena Dhanda, head, department of philosophy, University of Wolverhampton, UK
Prabhsharandeep Singh, student, Oxford University, UK
Satnam, author of Jangalnama
JALANDHAR: In a joint press release eight book publishers flayed the Punjab government’s move to arrest two publishers and two book editors for publishing the poetry of Babu Rajab Ali.
Flaying the arrest of publishers Amit Mittar of Tarak Bharti Publication Barnala and Ashok Garg of Sangam Publication, Samana and book editors Jagjeet Singh Saho Ke and Swantantar Singh under Prevention of Atrocities Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, , the publishers in the statement said that everydescription knows that Tarak Bharti Publication, Barnala and Sangam Publication Samana are known for publishing scientific and progressive literature in Punjabi and Hindi languages for past several decades.
They said that everydescription knows that Babu Rajab Ali was a famous qissa exponent and a poet. They said that folk tales of Heer Ranjha, Dulla Bhatti, Mirza Sahiba and Bhagat Singh are part of Punjabi folklore. These qissas and poems have been published time-to-time by various state government run publications like Language Department, Punjab and various publications of universities including Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar and Punjabi University, Patiala.
The publishers said that if any contemporary publisher including the state government owned publications reprint the literature of past or classical texts, which contains castes names, it doesn’t mean the publishers are anti dalit or they want to hurt the sentiments of a particular caste or community. Reproducing old texts is not a crime.
The caste references in Babu Rajab Ali’s poetry should be taken in a historical context because these poems are more than half a century old. And the reproduction of these texts by the publisher shouldn’t be taken in such a manner that they intend to hurt the feelings of a particular community or class.
The arrest of the publishers, who have published hundreds of pro dalit and progressive literature as well, is an irresponsible act of the Punjab government and Punjab police. We take it as a serious attack on academic freedom and freedom of expression.
Such kind of ruthless tactics by the state police and the government will pose a serious threat to creativity in Punjabi literature. This act of the state government and the Punjab police is very dangerous for the future of publication business as well. The publisher will live under uncertainty and threat and no publisher will be able to publish any books in future. We demand the immediate release of publishers Amit Mittar and Ashok Garg and editors Jagjeet Singh Saho Ke and Swantantar.
Baba Bhujha Singh Yadgari Publication, Banga,
Punj Aab Publication, Jalandhar,
Balraj Sahni Yadgari Publication, Bathinda,
Jagriti Publication, Samrala
Dildeep Publication, Samrala
People’s Forum, Bargari, Punjab
Chetna Parkashan, Ludhiana
Chintan Publication, Ludhiana
Press statement by 22 mass organisations
BARNALA: We condemn the arrest of two publishers and editors by the Punjab Police on the directions of the state government, for publishing Babu Rajab Ali’s poetry.
We a group of 22 mass organizations including students, peasants, dalit organizations, associations of journalists, writers and rationalist and agricultural labourers have taken a serious note of the arrest of Amit Mittar and Jagjeet Singh Saho ke by the Punjab Police on the directions of state government.
We warn the Punjab government that this kind of repressive tactics against the pro people publishers and writers won’t be tolerated. We are of the firm view that the arrest of publishers and editors is not an attack on freedom of two individuals but it is an attack against each organization, each pen, each writer, each columnist and each language. It will not be tolerated at any cost. It is a known fact that these publishers are known for their stand by the masses in any struggle against the anti-people policies of the government.
We feel that it is not an act out of ignorance or of isolated arrests but it is a planned conspiracy of the state government and Punjab police to silence each voice of dissent and resistance.
Everydescription knows that these books were just reproduced, which were written decades back. The entire classical poetry of early 20th century contains references to castes. The intellectual bankruptcy of the Punjab police and the state government is now out in the open, now they are unsuccessfully trying to portray that these publishers were anti dalit.
It is an established fact that Tarak Bharti Parkashan has been publishing progressive literature for around two decades. So, we warn the state government to release both the arrested publisher and editors immediately.
Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan)
Bharti Kisan Union (Krantikari)
Bharti Kisan Union (Dakaunda)
Punjab Kisan Sabha
Jamhoori Kisan Sabha
Pendu Mazdoor Union
Punajb Khet Mazdoor Union,
Mazdoor Multi Morcha
Pendu Mazdoor Union (Mishaal)
Kirti Mazdoor Union,
Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union
Dehati Mazdoor Sabha
Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab (AFDR)
Kendri Punjabi Lekhak Sabha
Punjab Sahit Sabha,
Tarksheel Society, Bharat
Tarksheel Society, Punjab
Inqulabi Kender, Punjab
Lok Morcha, Punjab,
Pragatisheel Istri Sabha, Punjab
Panjab Lok Sabhiyacharak Manch,
Radical People’s Forum, Punjab