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KOLKATA: "This is not a victory for me or for the book but for literature, democracy and the safeguarding of the freedom of speech," Bangladeshi author in exile Taslima Nasreen told The Hindu here on Thursday shortly after the Calcutta High Court quashed the ban on her controversial book Dwikhandita (Split in Two).
An autobiographical novel, the book had been proscribed by the West Bengal Government in November 2003 for containing matter that, it claimed, could incite "enmity between different groups on grounds of religion."
Order to release copies
A three-judge Bench of the court comprising Justice Dilip Seth, Alok Bose and Soumitra Pal, directed the State Government to lift the ban and release all copies of the book seized by the police following its proscription. It observed that the argument in favour of the ban was not tenable.
"This only goes to prove that India has an independent judiciary. It also should be a warning to authoritarian governments which are against the rights to debate and expressing one's views on issues concerning the oppression of women, in the name of religion," a delighted Ms. Nasreen said.
"I had expressed shock over the West Bengal Government's decision when it [the ban] was announced, not having expected it from a State which was doing what a fundamentalist Government in Bangladesh had done," Ms. Nasreen said. "I would like to point out to all governments that whatever the circumstances, they should not resort to proscribing any book nor impinge on the right to read whatever one may choose to."
Ms. Nasreen herself had, on occasions, visited the court to follow proceedings in the course of the hearing of an individual petition challenging the ban in April 2004.
Well-known Bengali novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay welcomed the decision as it "endorsed the freedom of speech." "All I had done was request Taslima to delete two pages from the book's Bangladesh edition for the sake of communal harmony," he added.
Sujato Bhadra, a human rights activist and teacher, who challenged the ban, said he had exercised the legal option on grounds that freedom of expression was being curtailed, the right to disseminate information denied "as was the right to oppose Taslima's writings, which would not be possible if one could not read her."
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