Bookshops are afraid to stock James Laine's Shivaj i: Hindu King in Islamic India, even after the Supreme Court struck down the Maharashtra government's ban on it. Film-maker Anand Patwardhan, one of three petitioners who challenged the ban, speaks to Jyoti Punwani :
What prompted you to challenge the ban?
Ambedkar gave us a Constitution. It is up to us to protect its spirit. Whether it is Ambedkar's Riddles in Hinduism or works by Taslima Nasreen, we must not allow bullies to dictate what we read. I would oppose a ban even on books i abhor, like those by Golwalkar and Godse. The real inspiration and the legal hard work, however, came from human rights lawyer P A Sebastian. We have won many court battles against the censorship of my documentaries. In each case, the courts upheld my right to freedom of expression and the public's right to information. Naturally when we heard about a book banned under pressure from right-wing groups, we intervened.
Shivaji is revered in Maharashtra. Didn't you anticipate an adverse reaction?
Bankrupt caste politics led to the ban. An academic book on Shivaji would have remained largely unnoticed. But our politicians have many economic crimes to hide and identity politics is a convenient public diversion. An emotive rumour that Laine had questioned Shivaji's paternity spread, since no one had actually read the book. A research institute was attacked, historical manuscripts destroyed, then the publishers were attacked and books burned. The government, dominated by the same caste forces that rampaged in the street, banned the book.