PEN Delhi notes with concern the 4 August 2017 order of the court of the ACJ-CCJ-ARC (East) at the Karkardooma District Courts in Delhi restraining Juggernaut Books from the publication and sale of their book, Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev.
The order was passed ex-parte without hearing either the publisher, Juggernaut Books, or the author, Priyanka Pathak-Narain. While any reader or the subject of a book has the full right to protest and question or to seek legal redress if they find the content to be defamatory, it is important that the views of all concerned parties to a dispute be taken into account before the courts arrive at a verdict. India’s robust tradition of legal recourse and remedies has always upheld this principle, and it is particularly important that it be further validated in cases which concern issues of the freedom of expression.
PEN Delhi also notes that, in view of the lengthy time taken to resolve legal disputes in India, injunctions can result in a piece of literature being held up for many years while the case is heard and decided, and thereby seriously impact the free speech rights of authors and publishers.
An environment of free thinking and expression is both important and necessary for a vibrant writing and publishing culture to flourish. The restraints imposed on publishers and writers from freely placing their content in the market for people to read, judge, comment on and differ with, are what endanger a healthy and democratic culture of writing and reading.
Unfortunately, muzzling free speech is becoming increasingly common in India. Such censorship can chill any speech that a particular section of society finds distasteful, as noted in a 2015 PEN International report.
The courts have recognized the danger of such restraints as mentioned in the judgment about the restraints on the publication of Khuswant Singh’s autobiography in 1995,
“82. The previews of the proposed autobiography stated to be an authorised version were published in the 31st October, 1995 issue of India Today. The ex-parte injunction was granted soon thereafter and was subsequently confirmed. Almost six years have passed. The book could have been published possibly soon after the October edition of India Today in 1995. The appellant has been prevented from writing and publishing his thoughts, views, personal interaction and his perspective of life in his proposed autobiography for almost six years at this late stage of his life. In our considered view this cannot be countenanced.”
It is our hope that the principles of the above judgment will be kept to in order to allow a vibrant publishing culture to flourish.