(The recent ban imposed by the state govt. of Jharkhand on the sale of the book “The Adivasi will not dance” by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is outright horrendous and an intellectually poor decision .)
A terrible ban, really !
My first impression of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar was formed only recently, when I was skimming through The Hindu , at times missing the headlines even . But my eyes got fixed on this article that spoke of an agitation in Jharkhand that a book named ‘The Adivasi will not dance’, claimed to be ‘pornographic’ by many of the agitators, had spurred . I was both amused and annoyed by the choice of words to castigate a book . Pornographic, really ? I laughed it off . A few days later , I read that the book has been banned in the state .The available copies are being reduced to ash. Now, the thought of a book getting banned arrested me and I couldn’t quite abandon it easily . What’s worse , the writer who worked as a Govt. doctor at a district health centre in Pakur has been suspended and asked for an explanation.
Many writers, academics and artists have shown their support against the ban but the Govt.’s intellectually hollow decision drowns out everything else. Having been honoured with the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar for his debut novel “The mysterious ailment of Rupi Baskey “, little did Dr.Shekhar know that his no-holds-barred writing would create such storms for him.
I am pretty sure that most of the opposing people haven’t read the book properly. I say this confidently because I went through the book and there wasn’t a single fragment of writing that portrayed “Santhal women in bad light”, as alleged by the corroding forces of a civilized society.
A collection of 10 short stories , “The Adivasi will not dance” is a sincere attempt to bare the harsh realities of Adivasi lives- a theme many writers would shy away from. Dr.Shekhar has crafted an assortment of poignant and sometimes, cutting tales about Santhal people – a world he lives in and definitely, knows. We have seen these people like we see many other things, only fleetingly. We hardly make the effort to scratch beneath the not-so-good-looking surface. Therefore, the book is a mandatory read for the elites, the privileged and the ordinary who are safely away from a (un)fair share of harshness. It reminds us of an India hidden beneath bloated GDP figures and misleading statistics , an India where casteism, snobbery and exploitation of the poor hasn’t been eradicated yet.It is an earnest writing about both power and powerlessness. As you keep reading one story after the another, you realize a gamut of emotions being stashed within and wanting a channel out, quite similar to the characters who seek respite in the most ordinary.
The Sorens are a family who get transferred to Vadodara, Gujurat. They are asked by the house owner not to eat non-veg inside the house as Vadodara is a clean place.
The short story ‘Sons’ tells us about divine construction that only He understands – a privileged brat ends up in darkness and on the contrary, a boy with limited means cracks the tough medical entrance exam .
How do you not feel for the poor Sona who has harboured feelings for Nirmal, an unfeeling but reach goon (literally!) who frequents the brothel Sona works at, lends her the strength to hope and dream and then, one fine day, shatters her world with ruthlessness and expletives.
‘Desire, Divination and Death’ shows the motherly story – how a mother preoccupied with hundreds of thoughts comes running home to an ill child , after a hard day at the mill .
The third story in the collection ‘November is the month of migration’ is the shortest and the one that has irked the protesters . I wonder how it has managed to do so . It’s the most cutting of all and one that succeeds at hitting your soul, straight and hard. It tells about a twenty-year-old Talamai Kisku who agrees to sell her body for fifty rupees and two cold bread pakoras – hollering what poverty and hunger can be like. It’s so distressing that you will take a pause for sometime to stomach such bitter realities of struggling lives. An excerpt from the story : “Then he starts pumping, grunting as he leaves himself into her. Talamai lies quietly observing the changing contours of the policeman’s face in the dim light.”
In the end, you find the eponymous story which narrates the tale (based on a true incident) of a troupe-master who gets beaten up black and blue by the police because he refuses to perform in front of the president of our country. Now ask me, why would a person in his sane mind, refuse a chance of such honour ? The answer is simple – When you are foisted with a Govt. order that demands your home and families to be uprooted in order to make space for a thermal power plant (for corporates) and the president has come to lay the foundation stone of the very plant that took away everything, you just can’t be happy, you cannot dance . The Adivasis shouldn’t be seen as ‘heritage-toys’ whom we call on our own will, to showcase the rich cultural diversity of India. An excerpt from the story : “Many times, I felt like asking them :’How can all of you be so indifferent? How can you expect us to sing and dance when our families are being uprooted from their villages ?’ ” .
Dr.Shekhar has written his stories with mortar of themes that reflect upon the bleak lives of Santhal tribesmen but has used bricks of, a more universal, love and longing. He maintains a matter-of-fact-ly tone but never so much that may render his writing artifice . A right dose of humour also helps.
All the praise for this talented man would be relegated to nothing if we didn’t show our support for him in his time of need . We can make an attempt at showing our solidarity, by buying his book ( It is available outside Jharkhand and on the internet ) and giving a sincere try to a sincere writing.
The book was published in 2015. So why this clarion call now ?
Social pressure and mob violence can’t always prompt the Govt. to ban a book in the name of ‘law and order’ . When you ban a book, you destroy and steal an artist of his precious work with a single stroke of pen , how easy ? It took Dr.Shekhar 13 years(2002-2015) to pen these stories of socio-economic relevance . It’s a shame that in a civilized society like ours, the Govt. is banning a book for lack of the authorities’ wit to perceive subtext. The horrendous act has been commited via “Under section 95 of Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPC), state governments can ban and seize books, newspapers, paintings or other items that ‘appear’ to violate criminal laws on sedition, obscenity, prompting enmity between different groups or hurting religious sentiments” . The controversial “Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie was banned in India citing the last one of the offending items in the above rule.
Now what does Dr. Shekhar do ? He goes to the court for the ban to be lifted . I wonder with curiosity and emphasis, if the procedure could be the other way round – The govt. taking the judicial route to impose a ban.
The ban raises questions on curtailment of the right to freedom of expression and needless to say, in the digital times we live in, the ban brings more stress, as if internet-backlash, virtual world – torture and trolling wasn’t enough.
The book might be banned in Jharkhand but it’s voice will surely reach far and wide, into the consciousness of its readers, for the book is one for and about them.
P.S -I would exhort my readers, who are willing, to pick up this fine book.