Curbs on free speech in Karnataka

An eminent Kannada litterateur is questioned in a rural police station for his criticism against handling of farmers’ agitation.

Two incidents seen as curbs on free speech and expression by the BJP Government in the State have drawn criticism from writers, academicians and media in the State. In the first instance, the Public Library Book Selection Committee withdrew its recommendation to purchase the book titled Rama Mandira Yeke Beda? (Why should there be no Rama Mandira?) by eminent writer K. S. Bhagavan. In the second instance, senior Kannada writer Ham Pa Nagarajaiah was summoned by a taluka level police station in Mandya district and questioned as to why he criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a public speech. The two incidents within the span of ten days have raised the ire of the literati in the State.

K. S. Bhagavan

Bhagavan’s book which has sold out three editions is a collection of critical essays on the politics around Ram Mandir. The book was published two years ago and its fourth edition will be out soon. The Selection Committee which is led by Kannada writer Doddarange Gowda, removed the book from the list of recommended ones for purchase by the State Libraries as ‘it hurts the sentiments of a section of people’. Prior to the removal, Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Mr. Suresh Kumar had stated that no book that hurts the sentiments of any section of the people will be bought for the State Libraries.

Writer Bhagavan maintains that the book has been in circulation for the last two years and no one has raised any objections. He told the media that if BJP or other organizations had any objections against its contents, they could counter it by writing another book and had no right to censor his book”. He further said public libraries are supposed to offer books that represent all shades of thought and should place no curbs on content and arguments that do not gel with those of people in the Government.

Kannada litterateur Hampa Nagarajaiah

Summoning of senior and eminent writer Ham Pa Nagarajaiah (pushing 86 and popularly known as Hampana) has even drawn protests from a group of writers, retired judges and members of academic bodies. The action followed a speech by Hampana in which he had criticized the Prime Minister’s handling of the protests by farmers against the three farm bills. He made this observation while inaugurating the conference of Taluk Sahitya Sammelana at Mandya, a district town 90 km south of Bengaluru on the road to Mysuru, on July 17. The summons were issued following lodging of a complaint by Ravi, an RSS activist. Hampana told the media that his observations were not derogatory and as a citizen of the country, he was fully entitled to air his opinion on any issue that pertains to the people. “This is an attack on freedom of expression,” he added.

The group of writers who have condemned the action by the low level police station, include writers like Baraguru Ramachandrappa, former Chairman of the State Textbook Committee; retired jurists V. Gopala Gowda, Nagamohan Das and Justice A. J. Sadashiva; and, writer G. Ramakrishna. KPCC President D. K. Shivakumar termed the action by police as an insult to Kannada literature, not just insult of an eminent litterateur of the stature of Nagarajaiah. Karnataka Rakshana Vedike Chairman T. A. Narayana Gowda described it as ‘an attack on the democracy and the Constitution’.

Hampana, renowned as a writer and expert on Jainism, was dean of Arts faculty Bangalore University and held the position of Director of Research in Jainism. He has published almost 300 books and lectured on Jainism at leading universities.

However, in this case, a State Minister has regretted ‘the hasty action’ by a cop at the lower level of police force and regretted the same.

M A Siraj is senior journalist based in Bengaluru. He writes for several publications in the country.                                                        

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