Angry Indians Outrage after Bombay HC Calls 'War and Peace' Objectionable
Vernon Gonsalves was arrested last year by the Pune police after raids at residences and offices of several activists in connection with the Elgar Parishad case.
Image credit: PTI
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday raised quite a commotion on Twitter when he asked Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case accused Vernon Gonsalves to explain why he kept “objectionable material” like a copy of "War and Peace" among his collection of books and CDs at home.
A single-judge Bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal hearing the bail plea of Mr. Gonsalves and others also said that “such books” and CDs prima facie indicated they contained some material against the State.
“...'War and Peace' is about a war in another country. Why did you (Mr. Gonsalves) keep objectionable material such as books like War and Peace, and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court,” said Justice Kotwal.
In the #BhimaKoregaon bail hearings today at #BombayHC : Pune police- Vernon Gonsalves had copies of books such as 'War and Peace', 'The Marxist Archives'Court- #WarandPeace is about war in another country. Why did you have these books at home?"Any #Tolstoy fans on my TL?— ayesha arvind (@ayeshaarvind) August 28, 2019
As the news got on Twitter, people instantly thought the judge was referring to Leo Tolstoy’s 'War and Peace', the classic novel about Russia during Napoleonic wars became a point of contention during the day’s hearing after the Pune Police probing the case claimed that the book was part of the “highly incriminating evidence” it had seized from Mr. Gonsalves’ house in Mumbai during raids conducted a year ago.
Justice Kotwal's grilling over 'War and Peace' evoked a number of reactions from Indians on social media and has, in fact, raised the level of interest in the almost 150-years-old literary masterpiece.
Many on Twitter came up with creative responses to Justice Kotwal's objections to the book:
Does this logic apply to Harry Potter books too?It's about a war in a magical universe.Asking for a friend.— meghnad (@Memeghnad) August 28, 2019
?! That’s like the 2015 Marathi film Court where a social activist gets questioned about the reading material recovered from his home #RealvsReel— Gargi Rawat (@GargiRawat) August 28, 2019
What about Mein Kampf, is that allowed?— Kajal K Iyer (@Kajal_Iyer) August 28, 2019
The judge should leave his Pride and Prejudice aside, and try use his Sense and Sensibility, and then he'd realise that the matter of reading War and Peace is not about Crime and Punishment, but about Power and Glory, lest his tenure will be a time for Laughter and Forgetting. https://t.co/LUkvxpez5P— Salil Tripathi سلیل تریپاٹھی સલિલ ત્રિપાઠી (@saliltripathi) August 29, 2019
Please remind me to hide my copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace as soon as I reach home. 😕— Sania Ahmad (@SaniaAhmad1111) August 29, 2019
Why keep #WarAndPeace at home?This was what a Mumbai HC judge asked an arrested activist apparently.I have the same book at home dear honourable https://t.co/p40G5I68i8 do millions. People who read,think & are literate normally do keep books at home.This one’s a literary classic— ShutUpSona (@sonamohapatra) August 29, 2019
I have a pretty decent copy of War and Peace which by the way I stole from Daddy's collection when I was in 12th.— Katherine Abraham (@katie_abraham) August 29, 2019
if war and peace is objectionable, then green peas is a possible risk.— Heightsix (@jpoomath) August 29, 2019
Russian literature: War and PeaceAmerican literature: War and PieceBritish literature: War and Piece of Cake at High TeaGerman literature: War on Jews and Peaceniks French literature: War and pièce de résistanceIndian literature: How Dare You Possess War and Peace?— Angshukanta (@angshukanta)August 28, 2019
People even shared images of their own "anti-national" bookshelves.
Realized that my chances of getting bail are slim in today's India.Have have much 'worse' literature on my bookshelf than #WarAndPeaceManto, Doniger, Rushdie, EVEN A BOOK ON JINNAH 😲😲😲 pic.twitter.com/ERLKyDWRFA— Akash Banerjee (@TheDeshBhakt) August 29, 2019
Meanwhile, Flipkart and Amazon's 'War and Peace' pages have been experiencing high traffic since yesterday. Upon opening a Flipkart listing of the book, a News18.com employee was redirected and asked to come back later as the page was experiencing a "surge" in traffic.
But was it really Tolstoy's War and Peace?
However, as was later clarified, the Bombay HC judge was not referring to the Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace after all. Journalists including Mumbai Mirror editor clarified on Twitter that the 'War and Peace' found in Gonsalves's possession was NOT the one written by Leo Tolstoy but rather called "War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists" written by Biswajit Roy.
All of us in the media got in wrong. The Bombay High Court was not referring to Tolstoy’s #WarAndPeace rather a book called War and Peace in Junglemahal:People, State and Maoists by Biswajit Roy. Though literature of any kind can’t be used to incriminate people.— Meenal Baghel (@writemeenal) August 29, 2019
Mr. Gonsalves was arrested by the Pune police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after raids at residences and offices of several activists in connection with the Elgar Parishad case.
The police had claimed provocative speeches made at the Parishad on December 31, 2017 were responsible for the caste violence around Bhima-Koregaon village in Pune district the next day during an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. One person was killed and others were injured in the violence.
Police are probing alleged Naxal links in organising the Parishad, which was held at historic Shaniwarwada in Pune.
Other arrested accused in the case include activists and academics Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, and Gautam Navlakha.
Mr. Gonsalves’ counsel Mihir Desai told the High Court that Pune Police had based the entire case against him on the basis of some emails and letters recovered from the computers of other people.
“None of these letters or emails were written by Gonsalves, or were addressed to him. Therefore, in the absence of any cogent incriminating evidence against him, Gonsalves shouldn’t be denied bail,” Mr. Desai argued.
Opposing the bail application, advocate Aruna Pai, who is representing Pune Police, said while police did not find any electronic evidence against Mr. Gonsalves from the computer and hard disk recovered from his house, the raid had yielded “highly incriminating evidence” in the form of “books and CDs with objectionable titles mentioned above“.
Mr. Desai countered the prosecution argument saying “mere possession” of such books and CDs “did not make Mr. Gonsalves a terrorist, or a member of any banned Maoist group.”
Agreeing with defence that mere possession of such material does not make anyone a terrorist, Justice Kotwal, however, said Mr. Gonsalves will have to explain why he kept such material at his home.
The judge also said Pune Police too have to do “much explaining” to convince the court that the material found on such CDs and in the books is incriminatory against Mr. Gonsalves.
“So far, the police have failed to provide details of what was on the CDs or in the books and pamphlets recovered that linked Gonsalves to the case. Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. Have you tested these CDs? What if they turn out to be blank inside?” the judge asked.
“If you (prosecution) do not place on record the content and details of such material, the court will have to ignore them,” said Justice Kotwal.
The Bench also directed police to provide details of the source of the emails and letters, and their authors and recipients.
The arguments are likely to continue on Thursday.
Dalits celebrate the anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle every year as they believe that the Army of the British comprising ‘Mahars’ or scheduled caste soldiers had defeated the forces of the Brahmin Peshwas.
(With inputs from PTI)
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