HS Shivaprakash: “A writer is as much free or bound as everybody else”
Vinutha Mallya speaks to Prof HS Shivaprakash, author of Mahachaitra

Q. Did you think that your rights as an author were violated when certain groups wanted the government to ban Mahachaitra?

A. Not at all. A writer is as much free or bound as everybody else. That was for me not the question. I had written something with inner conviction. Some people opposed it. A lot many supported. But I was willing to stand by what I had written without bothering about other people’s reaction.

Q. But when pressure groups exert pressure, the impact on intellectual debate is devastating. In a sense, your play fell victim to that, especially because it brought up concerns over textbook policy.

A. I don’t think so. With great difficulty and with a lot of arm-twisting of the Government, the detractors could only get the book removed from the syllabus. That is all. But by default, they also made a whole lot of other people read the book. It was, in this case, not a fight between the Government and the writer, but a fight between two different ways of looking at history and the present. But the people who supported the book had read it. They conducted seminars about it in cities, towns and villages.

Q. The controversy around Mahachaitra was compared to The Satanic Verses by Girja Kumar in The Book on Trial: Fundamentalism and Censorship in India (Har-Anand, 1997). Did you think so?

A. Beyond a point, the comparison misses the point. The Satanic Verses was opposed by fanatics, but there was no movement in its favour. In the case of Mahachaitra, there was a veritable movement led by exploited caste groups and classes – Dalits, OBCs, women’s groups, etc. This did not happen in the case of The Satanic Verses. It was supported only by spokespersons of liberalist intelligentsia.

Q. In your opinion, what did the incident/events reveal? And what lessons could be drawn from it? Should we accept such bans or challenge them? Or, do bans indirectly play a role in getting the book read more than it may otherwise have been?

A. Lesson A: If the writer has in his bones the good of the community, and writes after transcending his ego, in other words, if he is rooted in collective consciousness, there are always people to support him.

Lesson B: The writer does not belong to any special species that is above debate.

Lesson C: The writer should be aware of his responsibility to the people more than of his freedom.

Lesson D: He should have the guts to accept both praise and criticism, however bitter. But such debates cannot be properly understood by the liberalist mindset.

Q. Could you elaborate on the last statement?

A. The liberalist mindset assumes that everyone has absolute freedom, particularly writers and artists. This is a myth. Freedom is not given; it has to be earned. The price is to assume responsibility. The liberal mindset oversimplifies the issues.

HS Shivaprakash: “A writer is as much free or bound as everybody else”

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