‘Big Brother is watching you’

Justice Markandey Katju-


A Bombay High Court judge, Justice Kotwal, asked Vernon Gonsalvez, one of the accused in the Bhima Koregaon case in the state of Maharashtra in India, why he had a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in his home. In the Bhima Koregaon case the accused have been charged under section 124A (sedition) and 153 ( incitement to riot ) of the Indian Penal Code. They have also been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention ) Act for allegedly having links with a banned organization which is seeking the violent overthrow of the state.

This novel approach, treating War and Peace as seditious literature, if it is taken to be the law in India, may lead to strange consequences, and declaring a lot of world literature seditious and illegal.

  1. Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities is in the background of the French Revolution of 1789. So, a person having it in his home library may be accused of preaching revolution and sedition. Quiet Flows the Don by Sholokhov, Dr. Zhivago by Pasternak, Mother by Gorky and his ‘Song of the Stormy Petrel ‘, and John Reed’s ‘ Ten Days which shook the World ‘ are in the background of the Russian Revolution of 1917, so one having these works at home may be charged for preaching Bolshevism and insurrection. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo refers to the French Revolution of 1830 and speaks favorably of the French Revolution of 1789 (in the chapter ‘ The Conventionist ‘ or ‘ The Bishop in the presence of a New Light ‘ ). The Robbers by Schiller seems to preach Revolution. So, do the works of Rousseau, Thomas Paine and Chernyshevsky. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s novel Pather Dabi refers to a revolutionary organization and was banned by the British rulers ( the price of one copy at one time was said to be the price of a Mauser pistol ). Much of Urdu poetry sounds revolutionary e.g. Hum Dekhenge by Faiz, and Kya Hind ka Zindaan Kaanp Raha Hai by Josh. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck seems to indirectly preach agrarian revolution, as does Godaan by Premchand (which depicts the terrible plight of Indian peasantry).
  2. Much of literature, like War and Peace, refers to war in a foreign country, which appeared objectionable to the Hon’ble Bombay HC judge, e.g. Iliad by Homer, Caesar’s Commentaries, A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Beau Geste by P.C.Wren, etc
  3. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, Mrs. Warren’s Profession by Bernard Shaw, the short stories of Maupassant and Manto, the Rubaiyats of Omar Khayyam and much of Urdu poetry may appear to His Lordship to be obscene, lascivious, salacious, lewd, or calculated to deprave.
  4. 1984 by George Orwell may appear to mock the government, and therefore be regarded seditious.
  5. The Prince by Machiavelli seems to say that all governments practice trickery and deceit.
  6. Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, and stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiel Hammett, Agatha Christie, etc may spread crime.
  7. Candide, Zadig etc by Voltaire, and Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky may appear blasphemous.
  8. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert may sound abetting a suicide, which is a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code.
  9. The Quiet American by Graham Greene may appear to be an incitement to terrorism
  10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain may be regarded as racist (as it often uses the word ‘nigger’)
  11. The Tamil epic Silapathiharam narrates the story of a man falsely implicated and executed for a theft he did not commit. So this may insinuate false implication by the Maharashtra police of the Bhima Koregaon accused ( by manufacturing false evidence against them )
  12. An Area of Darkness by V.S.Naipaul generates hatred for India

One may, therefore, be well advised to get rid of these books and not to keep them at home in India

Today the Judge said that he had not referred to Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but another book with the same name. But what difference does that make? How can keeping a book be an offense?


[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]


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