Don’t judge a book by its cover- A recent incident of violence in Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) gave literal meaning to this idiom.
A book titled “JNU Diaries” written by Mithilesh Priyadarshi and translated by Amarnath Chandaliya in Marathi created a furore on the SPPU campus on Constitution day, November 26. The book, which has been published by Hariti Publication, became the centre of controversy when ABVP termed its content ‘anti-national’ merely because of the mention of “JNU” in its title.
As per members of Hariti Publication, on November 26, they had organised a book stall in which books with democratic, secular and progressive values were displayed for sale. One of the books was “JNU diaries.”
Reportedly, ABVP members came to the stall and started creating ruckus. Their contention was that JNU Diary propagates anti-national sentiments and promotes “Naxalite ideology”.
Hariti Publication’s representative, Shyam Ghuge, who was present there, tried to calm them down and tried telling them that all of Hariti’s publications had an ISBN number. The said book in question had been published two years back in Marathi and that it wasn’t illegal. He further added that Hariti follows the ideals of Phule, Shahu, Ambedkar, Marx and others. Ghuge also told them that Hariti’s books evoke the thirst for knowledge in the society and take the tradition of different ideologies forward. However, all their pleadings fell on deaf ears and ABVP members continued arguing, after which they resorted to assaulting those who were present there. Allegedly, Shyam Ghuge’s shirt got torn in all of this. Meanwhile, units of other students groups, SFI and NSUI reached there and tried to bring the situation under control and tried to hush away those who were indulging in vandalism.
NSUI member and a student of English Department, Satish Gore said, “While the ABVP students tried to create problems at the stall on Saturday, we feel they are no one to object. The books that were being sold were based on various thinkers. The JNU one, too was informative and had its own thought process. And, as soon as ABVP created a ruckus, the book was immediately bought by many students and was read with interest.”
“ABVP saw only the cover of the book and objected to it. They could have at least read it and then decided to hinder its sale. We have demanded that SPPU should have such bookstalls on campus more frequently that gives readers variety,” he added.
Shyam Ghuge responded by saying, “Hariti Publications believes in disseminating knowledge. We respect the constitution and law. Our books evoke the hunger for democratic values and consciousness and knowledge. Hariti is working towards promoting free, creative thinking in Marathi language and is working to promote social consciousness. We want to build a culture of knowledge and thoughts”
Shyam Ghuge has said that the book stall had been set up as a refresher course was in progress. He added that the book stall will be there on campus till the course goes on. They also said that they had oral permission from the Registrar Prafulla Pawar.
The Registrar commented, “While the decision to set up the book stall would have been taken at the department level, there is no harm in selling a book if it is officially published.”
Ajay Choudhary, a student of the Hindi Department and president of ABVP’s SPPU unit, however, maintains that they “went to check if the publication house had permission to sell books. The book related to JNU has an anti-national reference and should not be sold on campus as it could have a negative impact on students.”
Hariti Publication was started in 2013 with the aim of spreading, what they call “reading cultures.” With the intention of looking at ‘reading as a movement’ they engaged in activities and evolved their slogan, “Intervention, Dialogues and Change.”
They carry their own political affiliations with larger anti-caste, anti-class and feminist movement in India and are trying to produce and circulate progressive material of various scholars and academicians. Texts that they have published till now, include Gopal Guru, Late Com. Rajiv Kalelkar, Vilas Sonawne, Keshav Waghmare, P. Sainath, Prakash Shirsat, com. Datta Desai, Charu Gupta, Mithilesh Priyadarshi. Some more books of few renowned activists and academicians in various movements are in progress, these include Vidyut Bhagwat, Dilip Chavhan, Suhas Palshikar, Pratima Pardeshi, Sanjiv Chandorkar, Bharat Patankar, Rajkumar Ghogare. Producing and circulating such progressive material in the form of ‘book stall’ is one of the important initiatives taken up by Hariti Publication.
With the aim of making good reading material available as well as developing culture of reading, discussion on the university campus, books published by Hariti are often made available and are circulated on Savitribai Phule Pune University Campus in various programmes. Students on the campus also support this activity.
Hariti Publication members note in a mail communication, “ABVP, a right wing militant organization violently opposing this activity of circulation of progressive reading material is not at all surprising! Violent attack on Hariti book stall and incident of beating Hariti book distributor Shyam Ghuge on November 26 on Savitribai Phule University campus thus can be seen as a part of the series of violent attacks on progressive thinkers, academicians and educational institutions such as JNU, that are taking place especially since BJP government has come into power. There has been constant attempt by right wing forces to curb the voice of equality and democracy in the form of violent attacks on speeches as well as writings of progressive thinkers, academicians such as Kancha Ilaiah, Gauri Lankesh, Romila Thapar, Kalburgi, Com. Govind Pansare, Rana Ayyub, Dr. Dabholkar, Ravish Kumar, and S. M. Mushrif est.
Hariti Publication has planned to hold a meeting on December 2, 12 pm at SM Joshi Socialist Foundation (parking), Pune and have requested participation from various organisations and individuals.
The recent incident indicates ABVP’s haste and the threat they feel from progressive thinkers and books. Looking at the recent movements for students struggles, JNU’s example, if at all, is a good example of successful students struggles. It appears that this bothers ABVP cadres to an extent that they didn’t think it was necessary to go through the content of the book before launching their “assault.”