Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is in the news in India after a judge asked an activist to explain why he had a book “about war in another country”. Vernon Gonsalves had appeared in the high court in Mumbai city on Wednesday for a hearing on his bail plea. The judge’s question sparked a flurry of tweets, with users both outraged and bemused by it.
Five activists, including Mr Gonsalves, were arrested in August 2018 in connection with caste-based violence. Police raided and searched their homes at the time and submitted a list of books, documents and other belongings to the court. The public prosecutor told the court that police had found “incriminating evidence” in Mr Gonsalves’ home, including “books and CDs with objectionable titles”.
“Why were you having these books and CDs at your home? You will have to explain this to the court,” the judge told Mr Gonsalves. He also pointed out a CD titled Rajya Daman Virodhi or “in protest against state oppression” saying, “The title itself suggests it has something against the state.”
Police said that all five activists incited Dalits (formerly untouchables) at a large public rally on 31 December 2017, leading to violent clashes that left one person dead. They accused them of “radicalising youth” and taking part in “unlawful activities” which led to violence and showed “intolerance to the present political system”.
The arrests had been criticised by many at the time who saw them as an attack on free speech, and even a “witch hunt” against those who challenged the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). So the judge’s question quickly made news and War and Peace was soon trending on Twitter. The tweets ranged from jokes to shock over the state of India’s judiciary.
The judge should leave his Pride and Prejudice aside, and try use his Sense and Sensibility, and then he'd realise that the matter of reading War and Peace is not about Crime and Punishment, but about Power and Glory, lest his tenure will be a time for Laughter and Forgetting. https://t.co/LUkvxpez5P
— Salil Tripathi سلیل تریپاٹھی સલિલ ત્રિપાઠી (@saliltripathi) August 29, 2019
— Advaita Kala / अद्वैता काला (@AdvaitaKala) August 29, 2019
Astounding! HC judge asks an activist alleged to be a Maoist, "Why have you kept (Tolstoy's classic novel) War & Peace in your house?"! What kind of HC judge would ask such a question?! What have we done to the judiciary?!https://t.co/X6qfcT35fC
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) August 29, 2019
"War and Peace is about a war in another country,” Justice Sarang Kotwal said. “Why were you having these books and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court.” India. Today. https://t.co/YOEkg2gZqq
— naresh fernandes (@tajmahalfoxtrot) August 28, 2019
Others wondered how they would fare in a courtroom given what’s on their bookshelf, and some have issued a call out asking people to share books from their own “subversive” collection.
Realized that my chances of getting bail are slim in today's India.
Have have much 'worse' literature on my bookshelf than #WarAndPeace
Manto, Doniger, Rushdie, EVEN A BOOK ON JINNAH 😲😲😲 pic.twitter.com/ERLKyDWRFA
— Akash Banerjee (@TheDeshBhakt) August 29, 2019
— Menaka Guruswamy (@MenakaGuruswamy) August 29, 2019