Sign up and go to court to speak out. People’s Book Society, in the eye of a storm following its decision to publish Taslima Nasreen’s Dwikhandita (Split in Two) and the subsequent court stricture and government ban, is doing just that to make itself heard.
A signature-collection drive is underway, say representatives of the publishing house hitherto known for bringing out ‘parallel literature’ refused by others.
A move in Calcutta High Court has also been “seriously discussed” to counter the state government’s “undemocratic and self-contradictory response” to the book.
At the inauguration of the Jadavpur Book Fair on Sunday, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee exhibited that contradiction. Minutes after pillorying “some other states” for not respecting authors and their freedom to be heard and “for burning books”, he refused comment on his government’s decision to ban Dwikhandita.
People’s Book Society, meanwhile, has started its fightback. A week after author Syed Mustafa Siraj, editor Ahmed Hassan Imran of weekly Qalam, State Planning Commission member Osman Ghani, former Calcutta High Court judge Shamsuddin Ahmed, former Calcutta Alia Madarsa and College principal Mohammad Shahidullah and Red Road Imam-e-Idain Qari Fazlur Rahman submitted a signed protest to the government, the book’s publishers had educationists Amlan Datta and Shibnarayan Ray to start their own signature-collection drive on Sunday. In the evening, the brains behind the firm met up with their lawyers. “Going to court against the ban is being seriously considered,” one of those present at the meeting said.
Admitting that there was a lot of debate within the firm itself — about the decision to print the third part of Nasreen’s autobiography, exactly as it had landed in its Bankim Chatterjee Street office — those actively involved in the debates and the ultimate decision said they expected as much maturity from the Left Front government as they themselves had shown.
“We decided to print the book as it had come to us. We felt we should print what the author wanted to tell her readers,” one of them said.
“There were some who felt this decision was wrong, but in the end it was a collective decision we took when we felt that we were not the right persons to sit in judgment,” he added.
State home secretary A.K. Deb denied knowledge of any government decision to lift the ban on Dwikhandita if the controversial parts were deleted, but the publishers said they were ready for the next two sequels planned by Nasreen, whatever be the fate of Dwikhandita.
“We are going to judge the next two proposed texts on the strength of the manuscript and will not be influenced by the ongoing controversy,” one of them said, adding that the books would be judged by their “literary merit and nothing else”.