The eviction of a publisher-cum-author from a stall at the ongoing 43rd edition of the Chennai Book Fair (January 9-21), organised by the Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI), is being seen as an infringement on the freedom of expression by writers and publishers.
BAPASI took action against V. Anbazhagan for ‘selling a book on alleged corruption in Chennai Corporation’s smart city project.’
The BAPASI claimed that displaying and selling ‘controversial’ books against the government violated rules agreed to by booksellers. However, the rules framed by the BAPASI does not mention anything about ‘books against the government or controversial books.’
A notice served on Anbazhagan by BAPASI president R.S. Shanmugam said the sale of books against the government in the stall violated the rules. “Hence, we ban you from continuing and participating in the book fair. We advise you to vacate the stall immediately,” Shanmugam said in the notice.
Asked why they were against the sale of books critical of the government, BAPASI secretary S.K. Murugan told The Hindu that they had the rule for the past 42 years. “We are here to promote reading and we do not want any controversial or banned book to be displayed,” Murugan told The Hindu.
Writer Perumal Murugan, whose book ‘One Part Woman’ was in the eye of a storm, sees it as a hint to writers.
“The organisers cannot ask the publisher to leave because the book is controversial. Everyone will have different opinions on different books. Everyone will not like all the books. So, one cannot stop any book and remove any publisher just because it is controversial,” Perumal Murugan said.
Even when ‘One Part Woman’ became ‘controversial’ and the police allegedly intervened in one of the book fairs to stop its sale, the BAPASI intervened and told the police that the book was not banned by a court or the government. “So, they allowed the book to be sold,” Perumal Murugan said.
D. Ravikumar, MP, writer, and publisher, also felt it was undemocratic for seller and publishers to evict a publisher from a stall.
“It would lead to curbing the rights of the writers. It is also a kind of censorship and BAPASI does not have the right to censor the content of the book. Book fairs are organised to explore different aspects of literature. They do have books preaching different religions,” Ravikumar said.
He also sought transparency in the conduct of the book fair. “If it is not ensured there is the need for a parallel organisation that would be more democratic and transparent,” Ravikumar said.
A publisher, who did not want to be identified and not part of the Chennai book fair, said the BAPASI action was because of its proximity to the government and government contracts.
“The books to government libraries are being sent only from the publishers who are committee members of BAPASI. So, if they don’t go against Anbazhagan, it would probably affect their business in future,” he said.
BAPASI vice-president Nagarajan from Bharathi Puthakalayam has written to BAPASI president expressing his dissent. “Banning a book is not acceptable in a democratic era. However, we all have accepted to not display and sell banned books. But, removing a publisher for displaying and selling books against the government is completely not acceptable,” he said.
“In such a fundamental policy and rights related issue, a full executive committee should have been convened and a decision taken,” he said.
The Tamil Nadu BJP unit has urged the organisers to ban books on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The demand of the state unit comes at a time when the booksellers at the Chennai Book Fair have been seeing a surge in the sale of both pro-LTTE and anti-LTTE books.
If it is so , the organizers should not allow the sale of books on the Banned Organisation LTTE and Prabakaran, and ask the concerned Shops to vacate with immediate effect. https://t.co/LvRr7gDstl
— Narayanan Thirupathy (@Narayanan3) January 12, 2020