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No censorship for books at WBF

By Our Special Correspondent



The Union Human Resource Development Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, at a book stall after inaugurating the 16th World Book Fair at the Pragati Maidan in New Delhi on Saturday. — Photo: Anu Pushkarna

NEW DELHI, FEB. 14. The 16th World Book Fair (WBF) opened here today to the chanting of Vedic mantras, the rendition of the Saraswati Vandana, and an echo of the controversy surrounding the Bangladesh author, Taslima Nasreen.

Faced with accusations of "saffronising'' book fairs and "stifling'' free expression, the chairman of the National Book Trust (NBT), B. K. Sharma, used his opening remarks to deny banning any book or writer from the nine-day event.

Without once mentioning Ms. Nasreen, the controversial book "Dwikhandita" — which has been banned by the West Bengal Government — or NBT denying her publishers space at the Fair to release the book, Mr. Sharma said participants could invite any writer or bring any book to the fair.

About the NBT's insistence on participants seeking its permission to host "book release'' or "meet-the-author'' functions, he said this was aimed at managing the show and not censorship.

With a number of publishers eager to use the platform provided by the Fair to launch their new books, Mr. Sharma said NBT has decided to ask participants to inform it about their functions so that they are allotted a time and space.

This decision, he said, was taken for the sake of public convenience as unregulated functions could well result in crowds at stalls.

However, the chairman did not explain why Vani Prakashan was not allotted space for its "meet-the-author'' programme in which the publisher had proposed to bring Ms. Nasreen for releasing the Hindi translation of "Dwikhandita." In response to Vani Prakashan's application for space, the NBT informed the publishers "that due to unavoidable circumstances, we are not able to allot any slot during the Fair."

This apart, the inaugural session saw most speakers lament the manner in which literature had been made subservient to market forces.

The tone was set by the Nobel laureate, V. S. Naipaul, who said marketing interests had begun eroding literature in the true sense of the word. Picking up from where Sir Vidia signed off, the Union Minister for Human Resource Development, Murli Manohar Joshi, said instead of books being dominated by the market, the market ought to be dominated by books.

Another common refrain in the speeches of Dr. Joshi, Mr. Sharma and the Sahitya Akademi president, Gopi Chand Narang, was the manner in which Indian literature had been shortchanged in the world. While Dr. Joshi and Mr. Sharma maintained that Western scholars had not given Indian literary traditions their due, Mr. Narang was of the view that even now the nation's literature remained subservient to Western trends.

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