For Sunita Narayan

In solidarity with bookseller Sunita Narayan, this is from WTW:

“India: What is a “terrorist” book?

20 November 2006. A World to Win News Service. A contingent of 70 armed police invaded the Chandrapur Book Fair and surrounded the stall of the publisher Daanish Books 15 October. They made a list of some 200 books they found “objectionable” and “anti-national”. Among the authors were Clara Zetkin, Bhagat Singh, Che Guevara, Baburam Bhattarai, Li Onesto, Anand Swarup Varma and Vaskar Nandy. These books are not banned in India; they can usually be bought anywhere. Yet the police surrounded the bookstand for three hours. On the initiative of the Superintendent of Police, they returned the next day to seize 41 titles and arrest the owner, Sunita Narayan.

She was interrogated for 14 hours and finally charged under Section 18 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a law passed two years ago when the new government came in that was presented as a step away from the widely hated (and US/UK-inspired) Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). The section under which she is charged states, “Whoever conspires or attempts to commit, or advocates, abets, advises or incites or knowingly facilitates the commission of, a terrorist act or any act preparatory to the commission of a terrorist act, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.” The authorities have made it very clear that her “terrorist act” was publishing progressive books.

Although Narayan was released three days later, after protests locally in the state of Maharashtra and on the national level, she was given written notice to present herself if and when the police summon her.

At a 20 October press conference at the Press Club of India in New Delhi, a dozen independent publishers, half a dozen organizations and individuals condemned this arrest. In their statement, they pointed out that this was not an isolated incident:

“Similarly, a few weeks back, the performance of a play dealing with the history of Mumbai mills was forcibly stopped in Nagpur and the theatre group harassed.

“We are also concerned with the increasing menace of vigilantism by right wing groups in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Orissa, and the tacit or open support provided to them by the state agencies. This spells danger to the free exchange of ideas and the freedom to read, write, publish, disseminate and perform.”

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So now we at Goldies anticipate controversy over our Mao Workshop even though we are not selling any of these revolutionary books by old retired Naxals and Che etc – but we already had some curious mail, including from India wondering why we were doing a conference on Maoism (a journalist from The Telegraph). Timely though – yesterday I was slightly dismayed to see that already the publishing machine that is Slavoj Zizek is introducing a new edition of Mao’s “On Contradiction” in January with Verso – in some small way our efforts will help prepare the ground for that I guess, and Verso will profit – I am remembering with poignancy that it was the Black Panthers 40 years ago today that sold the Little Red Book as a fundraiser… in these times commodification of Mao expands exponentially.

Come to our workshop. Details here.